A wife and mother of two recounts how her husband was tortured to death at the hands of SARS for a crime he did not commit.
It was at about nine in the evening of February 8, 2020. Three armed policemen knocked on a room’s door. They called out a name: Adebimpe Adebowale-Sobowale.
“You are under arrest,” one of them boldly said to her.
As the officer handcuffed Adebimpe, herself and her husband looked on in shock. She was driven to the satellite office of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) at Obada-Oko in Abeokuta.
The next day Adebimpe was brought out of the cell for the interrogation to commence. She was thoroughly quizzed about her personal life and her marriage. It was not a comfortable conversation to have.
They showed her pictures of some men and asked if she knew any of them. I honestly did not know the faces so I could not pick out any familiar faces. They finally said what they had in mind. “You are one of these gang of fraudsters,” one officer said.
She was shocked and teary. This was trouble looming about something she was totally unaware of.
They began to torture her. In the interrogation room, the policemen had an electrocution device connected to the power socket. They would dictate words and ask her to write exactly the same.
The incriminating statement was that she belonged to a gang of fraudsters and we had just defrauded an unknown woman of N700,000.
To all of these demands, she retorted, “no!” She could not implicate herself when she was totally innocent. “They electrocuted me with the device just to break me,” Adebimpe recalls, “It was like the stuff you see in movies.”
To make matters worse, while being tortured, she was three months pregnant with her second baby, who she would later name Olukayode. So, the pain was palpable. The police officers told her all they wanted was for her to make the statement against herself, to corroborate whatever narrative they already had.
They said an airtime recharge of N200 was traced to her (old) Airtel phone number and the telecommunication company had given them her personal details.
It was at that point she made them realize she had stopped using the SIM card for about six months. You see, when her phone was damaged, she had given the SIM card to her husband to keep but he had misplaced it.
Her husband, Sunday Sobowale, was a woodseller in Ijora, Lagos state and barely had time for leisure. He was a busy man. So when he misplaced the SIM card he never bothered to look for it. Neither husband nor wife knew the unblocked lost SIM card would become a problem in their lives.
Immediately the officers heard this explanation, they assumed her husband was the fraudster. They arrested her husband and another suspect shortly after her own arrest. He was also tortured.
A few times during her three-day stay in the cell, the police gave Adebimpe the chance to call a surety. A family friend stood for her as surety and bailed her out on February 11, 2020. Spending three days in the SARS cell was most horrific for Adebimpe who while being tortured wondered how her three-year-old child was fairing without her mother.
Upon being bailed, she sought care in the house of her in-law in the same Abeokuta. She was there until her father called on February 16, 2020, asking that she come see him in Agege, Lagos state the next day.
Unknown to her, her husband had died in detention and their families were already aware. The news that led to the biggest trauma of my life was broken by my father.
“How did he die? But he didn’t do anything,” she wondered, distraught with grief.
To her, Sunday’s death was a replacement for hers. First, the police said they had a case about her. After she told them how she lost the SIM card, they freed her and picked her husband, whose only crime was misplacing his wife’s SIM card. Adebimpe felt almost guilty for her husband’s death.
If Adebimpe had known early that the panel set up by Ogun State for complaints on police brutality would restore her peace, she says she would have been the first to bring forth a petition.
After the death of her husband, she was too traumatized. But everyone around her wanted justice, including her lawyer, so she yielded to their advice to present her story before the panel in January 2021.
“Today,” she says, “I now feel relieved and partly comforted because of the revelation at the panel.” The same woman, Mrs Blessing, who had falsely accused Adebimpe of fraud, finally came out to admit her errors. It was via Truecaller that she saw Adebimpe’s picture when they checked her old SIM card, and assumed she was the thief.
The pain however is far from healed. “I kept having nightmares about my deceased husband,” Adebimpe says. “It was because of this that I was advised to leave our old rented apartment,” she continues.
“If Blessing had not exonerated me of this crime before the judicial panel, I might not have forgiven myself of the crime I never committed,” Adebimpe says. “Let’s see if justice will now be served with the whole truth before the panel.”
There has been no word on the next steps following the recommendations of the judicial panel to the Ogun state government.
Meanwhile, Adebimpe and the late Sunday’s first child Oluwasegun, is in pre-nursery class. And Olukayode, the baby in her womb while being tortured, clocked nine months in May 2021.
“I used to be a caterer,” Adebimpe says, “but stopped for now. I don’t want to be a burden to anyone so I sell sachet water for now to feed my children.”