Sunday 26 May 2024



Family Cries Foul Play As Mechanic Dies While In Police Custody In Rivers


While the family alleged that Chukwudi was tortured while in detention at the Police Unit following his arrest, the police said the suspect was a kidnapper and a cultist, debunking the claim of torture.
 Chukwudi Okereke Abraham

The Rivers State Police Command and the relatives of Chukwudi Okereke Abraham, a motor mechanic at the Spare Parts Market in Ikoku on the Mile 2 axis of Port Harcourt, are currently at odds regarding the circumstances surrounding his demise during his time in custody at the Octopus Strike Force Unit of the Police.

While the family alleged that Chukwudi was tortured while in detention at the Police Unit following his arrest, the police said the suspect was a kidnapper and a cultist, debunking the claim of torture.

Spokesperson of the State Police Command, Grace Iringe-Koko, said in a statement in Port Harcourt on Saturday that the deceased was implicated in a case of kidnapping, armed robbery, and cultism.


Iringe-Koko disclosed that the late Chukwudi was involved in the abduction of a businesswoman in the Diobu area of the metropolis on September 7, 2023, saying the victim was held captive for one week and was released after her family paid a ransom of N3.5m.


She said the police held a meeting with the parents and spouse of the deceased, who were accompanied by two of their family legal representatives, and they agreed that the family would participate in the autopsy to determine the cause of his death.

The statement read, “The Rivers State Police Command is aware of a press conference held on May 23, 2024, by a member of the Civil Society Organisations regarding the death of one Okereke Abraham Chukwudi, who was a suspect in police custody.

“The police would like to inform the public that the deceased was implicated in a case involving kidnapping, armed robbery, and cultism. This relates to the kidnapping of a female business tycoon (name withheld) in the Diobu area of Port Harcourt on September 7, 2023.

“The victim was kidnapped by five armed gunmen and taken to a hideout in Elechi Waterside. The kidnappers were armed with AK-47 rifles, a pump-action shotgun, and locally-made pistols. The victim was held captive for seven days and was released after the victim’s family paid a ransom of ₦3.5 million.

“Investigations revealed that the deceased was a member of the Dey-Gbam secret cult gang. He and his accomplices purchased one of the AK-47 rifles used during the operation. Two of the kidnappers have been arrested, and they are also members of the Dey-Gbam cult group.

“Sometime last month, the police held a meeting with the parents and spouse of the deceased, who were accompanied by two of their family’s legal representatives. During this meeting, it was agreed that the family would participate in the autopsy to determine the cause of death.


“The case of the death of the suspect has been transferred to the State Criminal Investigation Department (SCID) for discreet investigations to ensure a thorough and impartial examination of the circumstances surrounding this incident. We remain committed to ensuring transparency and accountability throughout the investigative process.”

Meanwhile, the father of the deceased, Abraham Okereke, said at a joint news briefing with the Rivers State Civil Society Organisation that his son is not a criminal, saying months after his arrest the police denied keeping him in their custody but that his remains were found at the University of Port Harcourt.

The distraught man stated, “On January 11, I was at Choba when I was called that my son was arrested. I thought it was a normal arrest, not knowing there was something behind it. My son is a mechanic.

“His junior brother said I should not worry that he would come back. Two days after I went to the Octopus Unit, they chased me. I started going from one police station to another, with my son’s wife and his younger brother.

“I went back to the Octopus again, but they chased me. I contacted Human Rights Watch to inform them. So after three days, the police brought my son to his shop and searched everywhere, but they didn’t see anything. They took him back.

“When I went back to the Octopus, they didn’t even allow me to enter the place again. So I went back to human rights, who promised to follow it up before I heard that they had killed my son.

Continuing, he said, “One of the policemen saw me on the road, stopped me, and asked if I was Chukwudi’s father. I said yes. I asked how he knew me because he wore a uniform, so I thought they wanted to kill me like they killed my son. He now said I will not see my son again because I don’t have a long leg to reach where he is.”

While fighting back tears, he said, “I want the government of Nigeria and Rivers State to come and help. Even the governor should assist me because, like the policeman said, I don’t have anybody. It is by the grace of God and the help of civil society that I saw my son’s corpse where the police hid it from me.”

Meanwhile, the Chairman of the State Civil Society Organisation, Enefaa Georgewill, faulted the police over its handling of the case.

Georgewill expressed sadness that even after the mechanic’s arrest on whatever allegations, the police didn’t make any effort to contact his wife or any family member, adding that even when they found out, they were denied access to him.


He explained that from January until about three weeks ago, when the family got wind of his detention at the Octopus Unit, they started visiting the facility, but that they neither allowed them nor their lawyers to see Chukwudi.

He alleged that “later a directive from the Inspector General of Police came instructing the Rivers State Commissioner of Police to investigate the matter within record time, but no action was taken until we (the CSO) approached the CP, who now assigned the matter to the State Criminal and Intelligence Department.”

Georgewill, however, said for a whole month he and the family were going to the State CID. It got to a point where the Deputy Commissioner of Police in Charge of the State CID told us that operatives of the Octopus Strike Force refused to honour his invitation.

Georgewill said, “In fairness to the CP, he called members of the Octopus Strike Force, and we all sat down. While we were discussing this for over four months, it was the first time the family of Chukwudi, members of civil society, and the lawyers handling the matter got to hear that Chukwudi Okereke Abraham was dead and that he died in the Octopus facility.

“Armed with that information, we asked how he died and where his body was. The corpse was at the UPTH mortuary.”

He added, “We insisted that an autopsy be carried out because they are claiming that he took ill in their custody, and they took him to the police clinic, where he was referred to the Accident and Emergency Unit of the UPTH. And that was where he was confirmed dead.”

The State CSO chairman expressed disappointment in the manner in which the police handled this matter, which spanned four months, and called for the arrest and prosecution of all operatives involved in the death of the mechanic.

He stated, “We are demanding that an autopsy be conducted immediately at the instance of the police to ascertain what caused the death of Chukwudi.

“We are demanding that the Commander of the Octopus Strike Force, who had the guts to keep a torture chamber in his facility as against the spirit of Section 7 of the Anti-Torture Act, who allowed his men to torture suspects, be immediately arrested and prosecuted in line with Section 7 of the Anti-Torture Act.

“We equally demand that all the officers directly involved in the torture and death of Chukwudi Abraham be brought to book. If actions are not taken immediately, the civil society in the state will be left with no other choice than to down tools within the ambits of the law.” 

 

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