Family of man who died in detention demand answers from the Nigerian police

The family of a man named Godwin Chukwudi Julius Akano, 48, who died while in police detention, are asking for answers from the police.

The late Julius, an importer of goods from Europe, was arrested on May 22 for alleged complicity in a case of fraud with one Obinali Osunwoke. He was arrested alongside his wife, Ogochukwu, but she was later released in the evening of the same day. 

Julius died in police custody on Saturday June 6.

His family are now asking for an explanation from the State Criminal Intelligence Investigation Department, SCIID, Panti.

The spokesman for the family, Mr Nnamdi Akano, said the late Julius, despite obvious signs of serious illness and complaints, was denied medical help until it was too late.

Akano said: “He ought to have been given or allowed medical help and then face whatever charges the police have against him. He was an importer, a breadwinner for his family with a wife and four children that are now left to bemoan the crude fate that befell them and a future without their beloved father.”

Obinali Osunwoke, who was in custody with Julius and watched the ill-fated drama unfold, said: “I was arrested a day after my brother, Julius, and I was with him throughout his detention until he died.

“I was picked up on Saturday, May 23. From the first day, we were arrested and our people came to bail us, the police refused to grant us bail.

“The case was directly under ASP Oketunji. My people went and requested bail for us while the police continued with their investigations. He refused, so they approached Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP) Longe, who is the head of Panti Unit.

“When they met the woman, she said she could not do anything and that the police should be allowed to do their work. That was how we were detained.”

Osunwoke said they were kept in a crowded cell and it was not conducive for Julius’ health.

He said: “My brother had been complaining of not being strong to our Investigating Police Officer (IPO), Mr Adebowale.

“To be honest with you here, the IPO, as a human being, was very good to us. He did everything he could. When we talked about drugs, because Julius was hypertensive, the IPO will go and bring them.”

Julius’ family alleged that the deceased was denied medical attention while in the detention despite the advice of two police doctors.

According to Osunwoke, medical personnel at the Police Clinic recommended that Julius should be released, yet he was not until he died at Yaba Military Hospital.

Osunwoke recalled: “When we got there, it took about one hour to get his details. It was not treated as an emergency. This was between 10:30 am and 11:00 am.

“My brother was breathing with difficulty and sweating profusely. They went and brought an oxygen tank, and put an oxygen mask on his nose. He took a deep breath, slumped, and died. The doctor tried to resuscitate him, but later was saying there was no life.

“After some time, they came again removed the face mask and brought something like cotton wool, opened his mouth, they pushed the long thing and brought it out. They also asked me to open his nose. I told them that nobody should come and tell me that he is COVID-19 positive, he is not.”

Reacting, the Lagos State Police Public Relations Officer (PRO), Mr Elkanah Bala, said Julius was detained on court order for his complicity in a fraudulent transaction, but he took ill and died. He added that the suspect did not die in police cell but in the Covid-19 isolation centre at Yaba.

“From the brief I got, he was detained on a court order on the allegations of using federal government documents to defraud an international organisation.

“They were two suspects arrested for international fraud, running into several millions. They were charged to the court for fraud. But the court remanded them in police custody because the Correctional Centres don’t accept inmates. So the burden was on us to keep the suspects. 

“Along the line, one of them, Julius developed some symptoms, the police rushed him to police hospital Falomo, where he was referred to Isolation centre, Yaba, where he died. Because of his death, we granted the second suspect bail to go into isolation so that he will not infect other suspects in our cell. The symptoms is that of COVID-19”.

But the family’s spokesperson, Akano is asking why the police waited until it was too late to get Julius medical help.

He said: “My brother was traced by the police and arrested on May 22. He was accused of fraud/forgery with one Obinali Osuwoke.  When he was arrested and interrogated by the police over a certain amount in his account, he explained to them that  it was a friend’s money. He subsequently took them to the person  through which the money came into his account (Obinali Osunwoke).

“When he got to the police and explained the whole situation the head of Panti, Mrs. Yetunde O. Longe, a deputy commissioner of police, wanted to release him on bail so that he could come whenever he was needed. But  her deputy,  Mr. Oketunji, an assistant commissioner of police, refused saying that granting him  bail would  jeopardize the investigation. Consequently, the late Godwin Julius was detained.

“As a family, we are bitter and we are calling for an investigation. Why did the police refuse  doctors’ advice to take our brother for proper treatment until he  collapsed and consequently died.”

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