Freedom at Xmas: Siblings get freedom after three years of unlawful detention

For the duo of Leke and Segun Ajayi as well as three others, Santa Claus finally came this year as they got the gift they had been praying for in the last three years: freedom from the Igbeba Non-Custodial Centre, where they had been remanded after being arrested in front of their father’s house at Itokin on May 15, 2018 by the Federal SARS, Ogun State. YEJIDE GBENGA-OGUNDARE reports that though it had been three years of dashed hopes, agony and trauma, they finally got freedom to celebrate Christmas with their family.

There was jubilation on the premises of the Ijebu Ode High Court on December 15, 2021, as two siblings: Leke and Segun Ajayi, alongside three others, Wasiu Ogunlana, Gabriel Oriola and Adeboye Opeyemi, all remanded at the Igbeba Non-Custodial Centre on various charges after their arrest and eventual incarceration were freed by the court.

Victory songs rent the air as the five men broke down in tears of relief and joy that finally, they had been vindicated and set free from bondage of unlawful detention caused by police brutality. While the trio of Wasiu Ogunlana, Gabriel Oriola and Adeboye Opeyemi were remanded at Igbeba Non-Custodial Centre on July 15, 2018 on allegation of armed robbery without any identification parade and no allegation filed by any individual, the Ajayi brothers were arrested in front of their father’s house.

The men had a story to tell after their freedom which was made possible through the intervention of the Centre for Justice Mercy and Reconciliation (CJMR). Leke Ajayi while narrating his experience stated that, “I was arrested on May 15, 2018 by the Federal SARS Ogun State. I was arrested in front of my father’s house at Itokin; I was asked if I knew any ‘area boy’ in that area. I told them I didn’t know any; I was then asked which cult I belonged to and I told them I was not a cultist. I was thereafter asked to enter the vehicle and taken to Idowa Police Post where I met lots of people in the cell. I was instructed to produce one million naira for my bail. Those of us who could not meet the bail conditions were taken to Imagbon SARS office, Abeokuta.

“While in the cell, I got a phone from a female suspect that was detained behind the counter. I used it to contact my wife; she later came with my elder brother, Biodun. Surprisingly, Biodun was also detained with me in the cell and we were severely tortured. While at the cell, they switched on my phone and this allowed my other brother, Olusegun’s call to get through. He was asked to meet them somewhere. He was brought to the station. Again, one million naira was demanded for our bail. He went aside to call our relations and informed them of the high demand by the police.

“He called the police thieves for making such demand in his conversation and a policeman who was listening to his conversation arrested him! He was mercilessly beaten and locked up with us in the cell, making the three of us from the same parents in the cell. After a week, one of the officers ordered the release of our eldest brother, Biodun while Segun and I were arraigned for armed robbery with three other people that we met in the cell,” he stated.

For his brother, Segun: “I was arrested on May 21, 2018. My father sent for me and requested that I searched for my brother, Leke and Abiodun Ajayi, who was arrested about two weeks earlier. I had been calling Leke’s line but it was neither connecting nor picked. Fortunately, it was picked on Friday and the person informed me that my brother could not speak with me because he was in the cell. He said if I wanted to see him, I should come down to Magbon Police Station, Abeokuta.

“I was instructed at Magbon Police station that I could only bail my brothers with one million naira. I went outside in the compound of the police station to call another brother of ours to inform him of the bail requirement at the police station. And during my conversation, I said that these people were thieves; we ere being extorted by the police and the demand was high. A police officer who heard me promptly dragged me into the station and had me beaten up and detained. Our elder brother, Biodun was later released and all efforts by the lawyer and my brother to bail us were rebuffed by the police.

“On July 15, 2018, my brother and I were charged to court along with some other people I had never met in my life. During our stay at the station, nobody pointed at me as an armed robber and there were no complaints or allegations,” he added..

Their co-travellers that were arraigned alongside on the same armed robbery charge also narrated their story. Gabriel Oriola explained that “I was arrested along with two people that I did not know on March 21, 2018 at Oke Owa, Ijebu Ode but the two people were bailed at the police station. I also sent for my sister and she came with a lawyer but the police were annoyed. And because an argument ensued between her and the policeman because the amount they demanded from her was too much, the policeman threatened to deal with us, and that was what led me into being arraigned for armed robbery.”

Adeboye Opeyemi on his part was arrested in Ijebu Ode on May 19, 2018. He said, “I am a trailer driver and I usually park my trailer at Obalende, Lagos. Very early in the morning around 6 am I heard hard knocks on my door, they were SARS officers. They broke into my mother’s house and beat my mother and I. I was then taken to Idowa police station where I met a lot of people in the cell. I sent for my wife to come and meet me at the Idowa police station and a huge amount was demanded for my bail. We were taken to Abeokuta because we couldn’t meet up our bail demand.

“And on July 15, 2018, I was charged along with the people I had never met in my life. The charge sheet listed conspiracy, stealing and armed robbery. Meanwhile, nobody accused me of stealing from them or identified me as being the person who robbed them. In fact, I was never taken out for any investigation.”

And since their arraignment, they remanded in custody and had been wasting away in detention with the case stalled before the court. Such was the hopeless situation they were until help came their way through CJMR. The case of the five men is just one in many that had been discovered by CJMR in its case work on prisons.

According to Pastor Hezekiah Deboboye Olujobi, the founder and Executive Director of CJMR, an analysis of the case of the Ajayi brothers and their co-defendants revealed that charges against them could not be proven; there was no complainant, victim or eyewitness to the charges. “What fired our passion in this matter was the untimely death of their mother due to the treatment being meted out to her sons for offenses they did not commit. There was nothing their lawyer could do till the trial commenced in the High Court. So our legal partner, Yemi Adeshina Esq, of Graystone Chambers, Lagos joined hands with their lawyer Mr. Ayodeji Kehinde Shofola of Ewenla Chambers, Ijebu Ode, to file a Motion for Speedy Trial. This is what led to the quick justice after three years in detention,” Olujobi said.

Speaking on the fate of people falsely accused and remanded, he said “judges have been unconsciously used to remand individuals in detention without trial due to the incompetence and connivance of prosecutors from the Ministry of Justice. There should be a limit to the number of adjournments due to the excuse of awaiting legal advice. We are not senselessly defending criminals; we are simply praying for the rule of law to take its cause.  It is not good to keep an innocent in detention when there is no substantial evidence for prosecution. The Chief Judge should shift focus to the presumed innocent awaiting trial inmates in custodial care on allegation of capital offense and grant them access to justice through speedy trials like this.”

For the Ajayi brothers and their co-defendants, Santa indeed delivered their goodies as they had a chance to celebrate Christmas as free men and also visit their mother’s grave.

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