BY GODSGIFT OSHIORIAMEN AGBOMEKHE (2020 Kectil Colleague)
These reports were written first hand (directly from the victims) to air their ill experiences with SARS officials and to promote the #EndSARS campaign.
Unless stated, the names of the characters in the report were changed to protect their identity.
Godsgift Oshioriamen Agbomekhe is documentary and lifestyle photographer, a writer and an aspiring journalist whose aim is to document the plight of the underprivileged and the abused; to help give them a voice, point them to hope and a better life. He advocates for good health and wellbeing; Mental health especially and Quality education. He is an alumnus of the Millennium Fellowship, a United Nation Academic Impact program, a Global Youth Ambassador for Theirworld and a 2020 colleague of The Kectil Fellowship.
STORY OF MRS JANE DOE
Sometime this year (2020) around March, Jane Doe and her husband were on their way to Atlantica beach Lagos. She was due the next week so was heavily pregnant. However; she was the one driving and while they were on their way, a Toyota Sienna car drove ahead of them and stopped them and some hefty men on casual cloth and bullet proof vest with guns jumped out of the vehicle and cocked their guns pointing it at her; it was evident that they were SARS officials. Of course all her Bond movie moves disappeared and she struggled to park the car. Her husband quickly came out and was shouting at them because she was in intense shock and was shaking. She quickly jumped out of the car while still in shock and faced them with her bump so they would see that she was unarmed and heavily pregnant hence not shoot since they had already cocked their guns and she knows how brutal they could be if her husband don’t stop. She begged her husband to stop shouting and enter the car; then one of the SARS official said “Make we leave them” (Let’s leave them).
With the shock she had gotten from their attack even as a pregnant woman, she couldn’t have imagined what would have happened if it was her husband driving and if she wasn’t pregnant.
Nathan and Friends Experience with SARS
It was some time last year (2019) and school had just resumed, Nathan and his friends Evans, Kunle (not their real names) booked a ride to Benin from Effurun Roundabout Warri Delta State. They took a Sienna car and instead of the usual four passengers at the back, they paid for the extra seat; so it was just three of them there.
On their way, they met a SARS checkpoint some way past Sapele Roundabout (still in Delta State) and the SARS officials asked their driver to stop.
They asked the driver a few things; the boys didn’t really care because they were just students who were anxious to get to school. However, one of the officers walked towards their window and looked at the three of them suspiciously and asked them to get out of the vehicle, while pointing his gun at them.
They were putting on jeans trousers and sneakers. Nathan’s jean wasn’t ripped, but Evans was on ripped jean and his hair was short but forming little dread at the top.
The SARS officials asked for their bags and boxes; searched them and saw that they all had laptops. Evans had an Apple Pad on him; he was practically the most expensive amongst the boys while Kunle had just gotten a new HP laptop because he does animations. Evans does graphics and a lot of Blockchain business, very legit mind you and Nathan is a Media Manager, so they all had pretty good gadgets on them.
Next they asked them to sit on the tarmac and at gun point; they asked if the boys were in a group as in; if they were a cult group. Kunle replied “No we are not” and got kicked by one of the officers. “Una be ballers na. You wan lie? See wetin small boys like una dey carry sef, which student they get this kind iPAD!” stating that the boys are criminals and if they’re not, why on earth would they be having iPads and other expensive gadgets “laptops” as students.
They held them hostage for a long time and were abusing them with words, forcing them to acknowledge that they were criminals. After much torture, they asked them how much they we “picked” last. Forcefully stating that they were cyber criminals; asking them how much money they got from their last scam and that they haven’t paid their “tithe”.
The boys stayed there for over thirty minutes denying the unnecessary and extremely false accusations and when they threatened to put them in a van because they were not “cooperating” and take them away, seeing that they had wasted a lot of time and they had a long way to get to Benin, Evans had to part with ten thousand naira (N10,000) that day. And surprisingly, the SARS officers had a POS machine with them for easy cash extortion.
A YOUNG LADY’S ILL EXPERIENCE WITH SARS
It was 14th November 2019 and the University of Benin was preparing for second semester exam. Bunmi (not her real name) had gone to visit a friend at Ekosodin (neighborhood just around environ of the University), and it was dusk.
It was getting dark but wasn’t 7pm yet, she couldn’t cross to the other side of the road to get a bus because she have a phobia crossing very busy road especially in the evening when everyone is in a rush so, she decided to walk as the campus was walkable from where she was. A friend of hers was waiting for her at the school gate; she had called him to wait on the other side of the road since she couldn’t cross. She was about dropping the call when a man tapped her from behind and said “I have been calling you since and you refused to answer so I had to cross to come meet you. Is that how to behave?” he was a SARS official but he wasn’t with a gun. At least, not with any that she could see. Then she greeted him and apologized and told that she didn’t hear him calling. Then he replied her “That’s rubbish!! That’s how you girls behave all the time. And what are you doing on the road alone by this time of the day?” she told him that it wasn’t even 7pm yet and that she was just on my way to school. He then said it was late and that she shouldn’t be all alone by that time. Then he introduced himself and said he was with the other officers and they were on patrol. So, Bunmi greeted him properly again and apologized to him if she had offended him then she got set to leave. As she was walking, all of sudden, the SARS officer gripped her and started dragging her along the road and said she was being disrespectful. She apologized and told him that she was on my way to school and like he had said, it’s getting late so she needed to hurry up to school before it gets dark.
Then he threatened her that he would remove her teeth, slap her mercilessly and drag her into a ditch with dirty water and make her roll inside the ditch after which he would take her to their headquarters where she would be locked up and won’t be released until exams are over. She was scared so; she begged him that she is very sorry for being disrespectful. Then he asked her to shut up and that if she doesn’t, he would beat her up there and a lot of other threats. He opened his phone and showed her a picture of a dead body in a bush he showed her another picture of dead body again and he said that they killed those people the previous week at Ekehuan road and it was because the girls (the dead bodies) didn’t comply during interrogation so they used (raped) them and dumped their bodies in the bush and that Bunmi would end up like them since she wasn’t complying. He called on the other officers (on phone) who was on the other side of the road and he kept dragging her and said the only way he would let her go is if she give them what they want. So she asked him what they wanted, the officer told her to shut up and stop behaving like a child and pretending that she doesn’t know what they wanted. He said that if she doesn’t give “them” what they wanted; they would take it by force and kill her.
Then he asked her who her parents were and if they were working for the governments or something then Bunmi told him that her dad is a pastor and that she is sorry for being disrespectful and that he should please let her go. He called the other officers and told them to come meet him; he was telling them where he was with Bunmi and he kept dragging her towards a nearby bush.
When he got on phone with the other officers, he was distracted. There was a truck parked beside the road and a trailer was approaching in quite a distant and now, it was already past 7pm and the other officers were close by. People were passing by but couldn’t intervene so; Bunmi was evidently helpless. So, she immediately forced herself out of his grip and ran into the road despite the fact that a trailer was approaching and she has a phobia for busy road. She didn’t know what she was thinking but she felt that she just had to get away because she didn’t want to think of what would happen if the other officers come and meet them at that point. She didn’t want to experience what would happen first so, she ran into the road not minding that a trailer was approaching and very close. She ran into the road and crossed and luckily, the trailer didn’t hit her. She ran in-between the static truck and the moving trailer and the force from the moving trailer made her to fall and the driver in the parked truck shouted and asked who was after her that she wanted to kill herself. Still on the ground and while the other driver was calling out for her, she heard a gunshot and in fear, she got up and continued running. At this point, her shoe had cut, she was wearing a jumpsuit and it had torn at the knee downward because of the dragging and all. She ran and saw three (3) officers coming so, she comported herself and walked past them by this time, she was close to the school gate so, and she ran into the school that was how she escaped whatever evil they would have done to her that day.
MY (GODSGIFT AGBOMEKHE) EXPERIENCE WITH SARS
We were on a short break in my 200 level and I had a summer class where I was improving on my basic computer skills in 2016.
It was quite a distance from my house to the learning centre and I had special days for class. So this particular day, I took a commercial taxi from my junction (Benin-Auchi road) heading to the learning centre (Ihama, GRA) and I was sitting in front with my bag neatly on my lap and the seatbelt well fastened. About five (5) minutes into the journey, I heard tyres screeching from the left side of the road and very close to my taxi. Then some men in police van were pointing at the driver; ordering him to stop the car immediately, then he parked the car and we were all inside. I thought maybe the driver had broken a traffic rule, hit a car and ran or probably did something to them that I didn’t take note of so, I just waited for them to come sort things out with the driver. While still anticipating them to come meet the driver, two of the men came with guns; one of them cocked his, pointed it at me and asked me to step out of the car.
Confused I was and I felt maybe they had mistakenly missed the car they were after; so while still sitting, I tried explaining to them that they might be mistaking me for someone else. The man yelled at me and said I must be stupid to think that he doesn’t know what he is doing and threatened to hit me with the gun if I don’t step out so, I stepped out of the car. Then he ordered me to go and enter the van without even telling me what I had done wrong. I refuted and asked him why; then he tried hitting me with the end of his gun but I ducked. Frightened at what he might do if I don’t comply, I helplessly entered the van and they drove off.
While I was in their vehicle, they drove to the other lane and started searching everything I had on me. They searched my bag, my wallet, my pocket, my phone (text messages, pictures and chat inclusive). They couldn’t find anything in them meanwhile; I was still asking them what I had done wrong for all the unlawful searching and harassment. They asked me what I do for a living and I said I am a student and that I was in 200 level, they asked for validation to my claims and I tendered my school identity card then one of them asked me “You sure say you be serious student so? If you be serious student, why you come dey wear vintage shirt? You come even get beards” subtly telling me that I am not a genuine student and that I am a criminal for wearing a vintage shirt and having beards. I countered him and made it clear that I am not a criminal, I am a student and a citizen of Nigeria who knows what is good and knows my right. Then one replied in pidgin and said “Shut up your mouth!!!! Person wey no reach to cut into two (2) dey say make dem cut am into ten (10). If you do anyhow, I go show you say you no know any law” meaning that I am only trying to prove what I am not and that he’d deal with me if I don’t keep quiet.
After a long struggle with the harassment for about 20-30 minutes, they knew I was a hard nut to crack so; they stopped the van in the middle of a very busy road (Benin-Auchi express road) and asked me to get out. I got down from the van and they zoomed off.
-GODSGIFT OSHIORIAMEN AGBOMEKHE
REJOICE’S EXPERIENCE WITH SARS
Rejoice, her father and her younger brother were on their way to Benin from Abuja January this year (2020) she is a student of the University of Benin (Benin) and her brother; a student of Ambrose Alli University (Ekpoma) both in Edo state. They were both resuming school for the year. Their father had a business to do in Benin and offered to take them to school so, they traveled in his car.
On their way, they met security checkpoint every ten (10) minutes not exaggerating; they met Army checkpoint, Police checkpoint, Road safety and others. They would ask for vehicular documents and other security question and her father would present them. They finally entered Edo state and were at Okene. This time; she was tired and dozing. They met another security checkpoint; this time, it was a SARS checkpoint, she had known from the logo on their vest. They stopped them, asked her dad for his vehicular permit and all, he gave them all; knowing they were all in check. The officer told her dad that one of his documents was invalid; it was his driver’s license. No, it wasn’t invalid; her dad’s license had expire, so he went for renewal and normally, they give a temporary document to show at checkpoint that the license is under process, this was the document the officer claimed was invalid. Her father explained to the officer and clarified that the temporary document has over a month left till it is due. Seeing that he couldn’t pin anything on her dad, he asked him to go open his boot. While her dad went, the officer walked forward; viewed the plate number and walked back, held his phone and said “is this not your car number XXXXXX? I just received a text stating that I should apprehend you” her dad requested to see the text but the officer didn’t show him; so, Rejoice told her dad using their dialect that the officer is not telling the truth and her dad replied that he knows. At this point, she perceived foul play so she brought out my phone and started a video record. She made the mistake of not turning off her flash while recording; she had forgotten. The officer said that they would have to go to the office for further questioning; when they asked her dad to turn and enter his car for the station, the flash from her recording video caught their attention and one of the officers started shouting and furiously heading towards her. He was shouting “You this stupid girl, so you are recording us!!!” so, she turned the phone and noticed the flash so she turned off the recording and put the phone inside her shirt; literally inside her bra. So the officer walked up to her and without saying a word, violently dipped his hands into her shirt to get the phone. Her brother got pissed at what the officer had done, so he grabbed the officer by his collar and pushed him away; he stated that that was sexual harassment and on no account should it be done. Then the officer escalated the whole scenario and started slapping her brother.
The others came and tried to calm the furious officer; then he said that her brother was trying to beat him and that her brother is a cultist while Rejoice, that she is a prostitute. Meanwhile, they still held her dad for whatever they claimed he had done while they were forcefully dragging her phone and beating her brother. They changed the whole story right before them and said they had freed the family then Rejoice and her brother started insulting them and that they are useless children.
The week before, Rejoice had removed a tooth so she was still healing and the stitches were still fresh. The officer tried slapping her on that very spot of her stitch twice but she didn’t know how she managed to obstruct the slap with her hand. Her brother tried protecting her and they’d beat him out then she’d try to pick her brother up then they’d push her out. They finally were on the floor after much torture then the officers called their pickup van and cuffed Rejoice and her brother for arrest.
She didn’t know how her dad finally got to beg them not to take she and her brother away; she said that he probably must have paid them the money they demanded, then they removed the cuff from her and her brother and asked them to get into car and go; they suspiciously became friendly all of a sudden; then they asked her to open her phone and delete the video and she did that. Then the particular officer that dipped his hand in her shirt, asked for her number right there and was throwing advances at her.
It was really a horrible and terrifying experience for Rejoice, she had a bruised lip; it was broken and was bleeding. She also suffered PTSD days after the incident.
-Rejoice Aisosa John
Via this article, Godsgift also shares a few photos he shot during the