A physically-challenged man, Ajayi Adetola, lost over five years of his life in the Kirikiri Medium Prison over an offence he knew nothing about.
The 37-year-old was discharged and acquitted by a Lagos State High Court five years after he was arraigned on counts of robbery, stealing and conspiracy by operatives of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, Ikeja.
Punch Metro learnt that SARS operatives had arrested Adetola’s former acquaintance, Rashidi Sikiru, for allegedly stealing a vehicle.
The suspect was said to have been tortured by the policemen, who asked him to name other members of his gang.
Sikiru was said to have fingered Adetola. Punch correspondent gathered that the duo were arraigned in court after which they were remanded in the Kirikiri Medium Prison.
After Adetola’s counsel stopped coming to court after collecting N300,000 from his family, the judge was said to have assigned the case to a lawyer from the Lagos State Office of the Public Defender.
The lawyer was said to have interviewed Sikiru, who confessed to have mentioned Adetola in the heat of police torture.
During the trial, he was reported to have testified that the Abeokuta, Ogun State indigene, was innocent.
When the Justice Kudirat Jose court delivered judgment in the matter, she was said to have convicted Sikiru of stealing and sentenced him to four years’ imprisonment.
Adetola was, however, discharged and acquitted on all the three counts.
While recounting what led to his arrest and imprisonment, the father of three said his life had been damaged by the incident.
He said his first child had stopped going to school due to financial constraints.
He said, “I am a commercial driver. I hired a bus and delivered returns to the owner every week. Rashidi (Sikiru) was my friend; I met him in 2010. He always begged me to release the vehicle to him to work. I did that to assist him, mostly on Sundays, when I went to church.
“However, I got a call that the police at Ikorodu had arrested him for an offence. He called to inform me. I went and picked my bus. The bus was registered with the Disable Sports at the National Stadium, Surulere, so that made it easier for me to get the vehicle back.
“But since that time, I stopped releasing my vehicle to him. Later, I learnt he got another vehicle he used to work and he was arrested over a crime and transferred to SARS.
“Sometime in June 2012, some SARS operatives came to my house at midnight and asked if I knew him. I said he had driven my vehicle in the past. The policemen did not hear anything further. They arrested me and my brother-in-law, who was living with me then. They left my wife and children.”
He explained that when his family members got to SARS office at Ikeja, they were told that Sikiru was caught stealing a vehicle and he (Adetola) was an accomplice.
He said the police refused entreaties to release him, adding that they insisted he knew about the crime.
“My family secured the bail of my brother-in-law with N100,000. They begged for my bail as well and the police demanded N800,000.
“I was taken to court after spending two months in their custody, from where I was taken to prison. A lawyer we hired demanded N500,000 and my father sold his land to raise N300,000. I had spent over one year in prison that time and the matter had been transferred to the high court. But after collecting the N300,000, the lawyer’s attendance to court was not regular and at a point, he stopped coming,” he added.
Adetola said the judge in charge of the case, Jose, became concerned over his lack of legal representation and urged a counsel with the OPD to take up the matter.
The counsel, who took over the case in 2014, was said to have taken the statements of both men.
She told Punch Metro that in the course of the interviews, the first accused (Sikiru) told her he lied against the second defendant.
“He said he was tortured by the policemen to name members of his gang and he gave a random name. He said when he saw the way the matter was going, he told the police Adetola was innocent, but they did not listen to him. I asked him if he could say that before the judge and he said he was ready to testify, which he actually did. He (Adetola), however, could not be released because the matter had to be concluded and judgment delivered.
“The matter dragged for about six years because the prosecution’s witnesses were not forthcoming and there were some technicalities. After the delays, the court gave judgment on December 19, 2017.
“The second accused was discharged and acquitted on all the three counts, while the first accused was convicted of stealing and sentenced to four years’ imprisonment,” she added.
Punch correspondent learnt that Sikiru was later released, having spent over five years in prison as well.
The Director of the OPD, Mrs. Olubukola Salami, confirmed the case, saying the agency would continue to fight for indigents in the state.
She said, “The mandate of the Office of the Public Defender is to provide free legal aid. The office, through its committed and trained officers, has continued to provide quality legal representation to indigents in Lagos State.”