If it were the eighteenth century, they could have been slaves lined up for auction. But it was 2018 — May 28 precisely — and they were men labelled criminals by the Lagos State Commissioner of Police, Imohimi Edgal.
Bayo Jimoh, a 26-year-old transport worker, and about 35, others were paraded before the media for different criminal offences ranging from cultism, kidnapping, ritual killing and sexual assault to abuse. The CO told pressmen at the suspect parade that Jimoh and 30 others were members of the ‘Eye’ cult group arrested in different parts of the state.
However, as pressmen interrogated these suspects who had been condemned as criminals without as much as a thorough investigation from the Police, Jimoh and two other men kept weeping, claiming they were not members of any cult group.
“We are not cultists. We were arrested in our room. The Police kicked our door open. We had even thought it was robbers trying to get in until we discovered it was SARS. They did not tell us what we did, they just brought us here,” Jimoh and one other male suspect told SaharaReporters as they wept like babies.
The commissioner did not budge; he walked past crying Jimoh and his mates without paying them any serious attention. “These ones are cultists,” a junior officer told the CP as he led pressmen from one suspect to the other.
A Mother Looking For Her Son
Two weeks after the parade, Saharareporters traced Jimoh’s home, located along Lagos-Abeokuta Expressway and found his mother, a light-skinned woman probably in her late forties.
Mrs. Jimoh, who received this reporter at the corridor — it also served as a kitchen — of her home, told Saharareporters that the policemen at the anti-cultism unit in Gbagada, where she learnt her son had been taken, denied her audience.
“I was told to go back home and wait for my son to be shown on television,” she said.
Jimoh’s mother would not have known her son had been arrested had someone not alerted her of the raid later on Sunday morning.
“Someone came to ask for Bayo and I told him that he went to a party and only came home to pick the key to his tricycle,” she said. “He then asked if I had not heard what had happened, that my son was part of those that were raided by the police overnight.”
She recalled how she traversed different police stations before she was finally directed to the command headquarters in Ikeja, Lagos.
“We didn’t know the station they took him to. We first went to Ipaja but he was not there. The men then said I should go and wait at home that they would go find out where they had taken him to. The men then told me it was Gbagada; I went to Gbagada and I was told to go home to watch my son on television.
“I went to Lagos Island, thinking that was where he would be. It was at a police station on the island that I was directed to Ikeja. It took me a while to locate the Ikeja police station because I am not familiar with the route.
“I found the station [Ikeja Police Command] on Monday afternoon; I met other women who had come looking for their sons. At first we were not allowed to enter. We were told to stay outside. I saw a bus drive past us but I did not know my son was in the bus. It was later he told me he saw me standing with other women outside.
“We went back to Gbagada but I could not secure his bail on Monday. The officer I met said he would need to seek permission from his superior first, so I was told to come back the next day. On Tuesday, we signed some papers and they released him to me.”
When asked if she paid for her son’s bail, she simply asked: “is it possible to go to a police station without parting with money?”
However, she refused to disclose how much she paid, instead choosing to be thankful that her son was released.
“I just thank God that my son was released and I don’t have to deal with court case,” she said.
The Charade — ‘Cooperate With Us For Your Freedom’
Jimoh was arrested in the early hours of Sunday, May 27 at Alagbado. He explained that he was in the area after a party that ended late on Saturday night. He decided to pass the night at his friend’s room but unfortunately the police anti-cultism team decided to raid the street that night.
During the parade, Jimoh and his friend still had on similar green Ankara print clothe they wore to the party the day before their arrest.
Narrating the scenarios that unfolded after his arrest, Jimoh said he and the others raided were taken to the anti-cultism unit in Gbagada.
"When they took us to the station, we were kept behind the counter. At the time, they had collected all the money I had with me and my phone. They [the Police] were still treating us very well, though we were not allowed to call anyone. They bought food for us," he said.
“Later, 'Number 1' (an officer whom Jimoh said had 01 on his beret) told us that if we cooperate with them, they would let us go. They said we were not supposed to say anything when we meet the commissioner.
“They did not allow us to write any statement. The next morning, we were taken into the bus and taken to Ikeja.”
Asked if he had been interrogated by the commissioner before the parade, he said: “The first time I saw the CP was when he was telling people what we did.”
A police officer who wore a vest with SARS printed on it asked reporters to ignore their cries, saying that were lying. He said: “Don’t mind them, they are lying. Go and talk to those ones ready to tell you the truth” — the truth being a confession that truly they were cultists.
Some of the suspects indeed said they were cultist but Jimoh and his friend insisted that they had been wrongly accused.
Punished For Speaking Out
Frightened by the possibility of going to prison for an offensce he claims did not commit, Jimoh could not keep to his end of the bargain; he could not ‘cooperate’. He kept crying and begging for help. He and two others continued screaming: “I am not a cultist”.
“They said we spoilt their work because of what we said during the parade. They took one guy into the cell and beat him for talking. The rest of us were also thrown into the cell and locked up," he said.
“It was after the parade on Monday we were given statement form. They brought us out one after the other to write statements and then take us back into the cell.”
On Tuesday, May 29, after 48 hours in police detention followed by a humiliating parade, Jimoh was released to his mother. His friend, Jimoh told Saharareporters, was also released.
“Why did they release you??” this reporter asked him.
“They said they were looking for a suspected cultist who lived on the street where we were raided," he explained. "They were entering room to pick all the boys they found. Maybe they realized we were not the person they were looking for.”
Lagos Command Ignores Inquiry
All efforts to get the reaction of the Lagos State Police Command on this incident were unsuccessful. On Tuesday, our correspondent was at the Public Relations Officer’s office in Ikeja but the Lagos PRO, Chike Godwin Oti, visibly ignored our correspondent.
At about 10am that our correspondent got to the PRO’s office, a female officer who was in mufti told her to wait while she attended to other visitors and changed into her police uniform. Minutes later, she came to enquire about what had brought the reporter. She got the information and went back into the PRO’s office.
“You will have to speak to the PRO himself. You have to wait,” she said emerging from the PRO’s office minutes later.
Having waited for another 45 minutes, Oti, walked past the reporter where she was seated and said he was heading out.
“I am going out,” he simply said as he walked past.