A Benin-based tailor in his mid-30s, Johnson Eze, on Monday told the Edo State judicial panel of inquiry for victims of SARS and related abuses, how the police arrested him over an allegation that he was gay, tortured and extorted him of N100,000.
Mr Eze said he was detained for three days at the Iyekogba Police Station in Benin on the orders of the area commander, Johnson Acha, who he further alleged abused and coerced him to sign a statement prepared by the police.
Two other persons, Hyacinth Inhanrebhor and Pascal Omozee, also alleged that they were forced to pay N50,000 and N60,000 respectively by officers who arrested them for allegedly being homosexuals and took them to the same Iyekogba Police Station.
Narrating his ordeal, Mr Eze said he was arrested on June 15 by the area commander, Mr Acha, and his team and was detained till June 18 after which he was forced to pay N100,000.
He said, “I was arrested along Textile Mill Road in Benin on June 15, 2020, by the Area Commander and his team. They seized my sewing materials and my phones after arresting me. They took me to the police station and forced me to agree that I was homosexual. They used a stick to beat me to say the truth and after then they detained me.
“I sustained an injury in my forehead and my leg during the beating. They molested and detained me based on accusations that I was gay. I was molested and humiliated for three days from June 15 to 18 after which I was forced to pay N100, 000.
“After the frustration, I was made to pay N50, 000 cash and another N50, 000 through PoS machine using my ATM card. They called a girl to bring the PoS machine to me. They threatened to trace and kill me if I told anyone that I paid money to them.”
Under cross-examination by counsel to the police, Polycarp Odion, Mr Eze, however, said he did not obtain a medical report from the hospital to substantiate his claims of being beaten and injured.
Mr Odion told the panel that the complainant was only blackmailing the police after he had been caught in the act of homosexuality.
But counsel to the complainant, Innocent Ukpai, said it was the pattern of the area commander and his officers to invade the privacy of Benin residents, arrest, detain, molest and extort money from them for unsubstantiated reasons.
Mr Ukpai, who is also the counsel to the two other complainants, Hyacinth Inhanrebhor and Pascal Omozee, said in all the arrests, the police ensured that the family and relatives of the victims did not communicate with them or knew where they were until the victims agreed to pay money demanded by the officers.
“Our clients are law-abiding residents in Benin City, Edo State who have been variously and unconscionably exploited, beaten, molested, and detained by the Area Commander, Iyekogba Police Station, Benin City, unconstitutionally, illegally and utter abuse of office,” Mr Ukpai added.
Mr Ukpai, therefore, demanded N10 million compensation to be paid to each of the three complainants.
“It is based on the foregoing facts and circumstances that we therefore humbly apply that you may use your good offices to dispassionately investigate this matter and the actions of the Area Commander and his cohorts and where they are found culpable, prosecute and recommend appropriate sanctions (dismissal) against such officers from the Nigeria Police Force. We apply for the compensation of the said victims in the sum of N10 million each,” he added.
After listening to the arguments, Ada Ehigiamusoe, chairperson of the panel, adjourned to Tuesday for further hearing on the matter.