Lagos auto parts dealer dies in SARS custody

An auto parts dealer in the Owode Onirin area of Lagos State, Lukman Ogundele, has died in the custody of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, Lagos State Police Command.

Although the police formation had been reportedly  evasive on the whereabouts of the father of two children, a police charge sheet sighted by our correspondent marked his name ‘late’. learnt that Lukman and his friend, Saheed Abayomi, had been arrested by SARS operatives for facilitating the sale of a stolen Toyota Camry.

It was gathered that the police apprehended Lukman in the midnight of December 29, 2017 and took him into custody in Ikeja, where he was detained alongside Abayomi and two others.

Our correspondent learnt that Abayomi and Lukman’s families searched for them at police stations across the state, until on December 31 when Abayomi’s mother traced him to the SARS office.

It was gathered that Lukman’s wife, Wunmi Ogundele, and relatives consequently visited SARS office on several occasions, but were not allowed to see him.

“Any time we went there, policemen would chase us away and they did not allow us to see his friend, Saheed (Abayomi), so we could ask after him (Lukman). I had travelled with the children for the Yuletide when he was arrested,” Wunmi added.

His cousin, one Isaac, who went to the station on January 6, was reportedly told that the Investigating Police Officer, Inspector Edwin Obam, had taken him out.

After failed attempts to see him, his mother, Yemisi Ogundele, who lives in Taraba State, was said to have travelled down to Lagos.

Yemisi said, “He sold auto parts and iron in Owode Onirin. A man wanted to sell a car. He and Saheed got a buyer for the vehicle and the person sold it to someone else. On December 29, in the night, some SARS men went to his house in Itowolo, Ikorodu, with Saheed, and arrested him.

“Our family members went to the SARS office, but the policemen did not give them any attention. Last Wednesday, I came down to Lagos State and went there. The policemen I met said they did not know anybody by that name.

“I saw Saheed while he was being taken to the Ikeja Magistrate’s Court that day with two others. I asked for my son, but they chased me away. They did not allow me to get close to Saheed.”

The mother explained that Lukman’s brother and she met with an official at the court, who showed them the charge preferred against him.

She said she was shocked when she discovered that her son was charged with robbery along with one Kehinde Hassan.

“His name on the heading of the charge sheet had been cancelled, but in the content, it was written as late Lukman Ogundele. That was when I realised that my son died in the police custody, but they were trying to cover up.

“When my daughter prodded the IPO further, he made a call. After a few minutes, about eight armed policemen came to scare us away,” she added.

Lukman’s uncle, Pastor Bolaji Michael, said a policeman confided in him that Lukman was dead and appealed that the family should take the death in good faith.

He said the family had contacted a lawyer to petition the police and take up the matter.

He said, “Lukman and Saheed were arrested for introducing a buyer to a stolen vehicle. But he was charged with a separate count bordering on robbery. We will be in court on Tuesday (today) to see what happens. We will also get a lawyer to petition the Inspector-General of Police.

“Officially, SARS has not told the family that he is dead, which is wrong. It was a policeman that told us that the boy slumped in custody and died. He said he was not tortured and advised us to let go of the matter. He said he would help us to collect his corpse. He said if we let the case drag on, we might not get his corpse in one year.

“I disagreed with him and said we would take it up. This was a man who had two kids of seven and nine years old and a wife. He must not die just like that.”

Abayomi’s mother, who wanted to be identified as Iya Saheed, said a SARS officer had promised her that Lukman and her son would be released on bail as soon as the prime suspects in the case were arrested.

She said, “The officer promised that Saheed and Lukman would be released once they got one Idowu and Kehinde, the prime suspects, arrested. But after the two were caught, they did not release them.

“I was surprised when I got a call last Tuesday that they would be charged to court. Saheed, Idowu and Kehinde were brought to the Ikeja Magistrate’s Court last Wednesday, but Lukman was not there. The police have postponed their arraignment to Tuesday (today).”

The Lagos State Police Public Relations Officer, SP Chike Oti, said Lukman died naturally on January 2, adding that the victim’s relatives were informed about the death through a family member, who is a policeman.

He said, “The boy was arrested for armed robbery with four others. Along the line, he was sick while in the cell and was taken to the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, Ikeja. The doctor treated him and the police took him back.  He was returned to custody.

“The next day, he collapsed and was rushed back to the hospital. On getting to the hospital, he was confirmed dead by a doctor. Other gang members have been arraigned and remanded in prison.”