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Death in SARS Custody: Police dissociate self from accused officer

Says Police will not appear for accused officer if proven that he did not act in his official capacity

The Nigeria Police said it will not appear for CSP Danjuma Ochejeh at the resumed sitting of the Independent Investigative Panel on allegations of Human Rights Violations by SARS and other units of the Nigerian Police (IIP-SARS) if it is proven that he did not act in his official capacity while allegedly carrying out unlawful arrests and detention of some members of Odekpe Community in Anambra state over a land dispute.

CSP Ocheje was petitioned before the panel alongside personnel of IGP Intelligence Response Team Abuja over arbitrary arrest and detention, unlawful use of firearm and abuse of office leading to the death of one Mr. Aboy Uduaka Okewu of Odekpe Community.

Counsel to the Nigerian Police, Godwin Ijeoma stated that the Police may not represent CSP Ocheje in the Panel chaired by Justice Suleiman Galadima (rtd).

He pointed out that there is no way Police Counsel would appear and defend him if it is established that he acted outside his official capacity in the alleged arrest and harassment of members of Odekpe Community in Anambra West LGA of Anambra state.

However, the Chairman of the Panel advised him to wait until the panel hears from CSP Ochejeh concerning the allegations made against him and the personnel ofIGP-IRT FHQ Abuja.

A witness before the panel and member of Odekpe Community, Mr. Henry Ugwujede told the panel that Ocheje led a team of Policemen to the Community.

The Policemen shot sporadically in the area leading to the death Mr. Aboy Uduaka Okewu of Odekpe Community.

In his testimony before the panel, Mr. Ugwujede told the panel that Chief Peter Ikechi and Peter Ekwealor (now deceased) represented the Odekpe Community in a peace committee.

The committee was set up by the Anambra state government to make peace over a disputed land allegedly owned by Odekpe Community and contested by Alla/ Onugwa Village where CSP Danjuma Ochejeh hails from.

According to him, on Thursday 11th June, 2020, the complainants representing Odekpe Community were returning from the reconciliatory meeting brokered by the Anambra state government.

That was when CSP Ochejeh used Police officers of IGP-IRT and arrested the complainants and one Mr. Ekene Okona at his place of apprenticeship at Asaba Woods Market and they were tortured in detention.

The witness told the panel that CSP Ocheje also threatened the son of late Ekwealor, Nicolas when he allegedly called the wife of the deceased to warn his son before what happened to his late father befalls him.

He stated that Nicolas had called CSP Ocheje telling him that he killed his father but cannot kill God.

The statement had allegedly angered the officer leading to his call that wife of the deceased should caution her son.

He also informed the 11-Member Panel that a petition was written on behalf of the complainants to the Inspector General of Police and the Officer in charge of the IRT both dated 15th June, 2020 over unlawful arrest and that there was no reprieve.

Not until one of them, Mr. Peter Ekwealor allegedly died in custody on 23rd June, 2020 as a result of torture.

According to him, it was after the death in custody of Ekwealor that the Police hurriedly freed Chief Peter Ikechi and Ekene Okona both from Odekpe Community.

Counsel to the Complainants, Ebenezer Egwuatu agreed with the Chairman of the Panel that the petition ought to be updated to synchronise with addition of facts.

The facts are contained in the testimony of the witness, Ugwujede in respect of narration of his visit (in the company of some Police officers), to inspect the corpse of Ekwealor at the University of Abuja Teaching Hospital, Gwagwalada among other developments.

He told the panel that he intends to call two more witnesses, being the surviving complainants, Peter Ikechi and Ekene Okono respectively.

The matter was adjourned to February 22nd, 2021 for continuation of hearing.

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