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Death of suspects in custody

News of the death in police custody last week of the prime suspect in the deadly Offa robbery, Michael Adikwu, was received with shock all across this country. This is because Adikwu, a dismissed Police Constable, was said to have confessed to being the mastermind of the robbing of five commercial banks in which over 30 persons were killed and millions of naira was carted away.

The heinous nature of the crime and police’s mention of some highly placed persons including Senate President Bukola Saraki, greatly raised public interest in the upcoming trial. The death of Adikwu, which was made known by Kwara State Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice Kamaldeen Ajibade, was a shattering anti-climax to the entire saga.

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Ajibade said the head of Police investigation team informed him of the death. Confirmation of the suspect’s death came months after Senate President Saraki alleged that the key suspect had died in police custody. Police spokesman Jimoh Moshood said a post-mortem report on the cause of Adikwu’s death is available, without revealing details. “Michael Adikwu ‘M’ 30Yrs was not murdered but slumped and died in detention while investigation into the Offa bank robbery was on-going,” Moshood said. Many Nigerians have since criticised the police and demanded to know how the suspect died.

A few days after that incident, Senator Dino Melaye alleged that one of the suspects arraigned with him, Nuhu Salisu aka Small, had died in police custody. It would be recalled that Melaye was arraigned alongside Small and Kabiru Saidu aka Osama before a court in Lokoja, Kogi State over illegal possession of arms. The suspects were said to have named Melaye as their sponsor. The police are yet to confirm or deny the allegation.

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There were also rumours that Sunday Adefonou Anani, the Togolese cook who allegedly murdered the Credit Switch Tech boss, had died in custody, although the police denied it. About two months ago, a mother of three, 54-year-old Mrs Basirat Akinmushire, died in police custody after she was arrested on charges that she was the armourer of a robbery gang.  Also, an unidentified man who reportedly fell asleep during a robbery operation was said to have died in police custody. Ondo State police command spokesman Femi Joseph told reporters that the suspect never woke up from sleep.

These are just some of the reported cases of suspects who died in police custody. There are several others that are unreported and this growing trend is a source of concern. It is often forgotten that a suspect is innocent of the crime until proven guilty in court. Several persons have alleged that the deaths are due to torture which policemen subject suspects to in order to obtain confessions. That horrible practice should be brought to an end quickly. We expect the police to make optimal use of modern forensic technology to tackle cases rather than put suspects through inhuman treatment.

In any case, confessions obtained under such conditions are often not a true reflection of what happened. Persons are known to admit to crimes they never committed due to torture. In such cases, nothing has been achieved as the real culprits are out creating more havoc.  Furthermore, a suspect is entitled to food, health care and decent treatment while in detention. Those who require to see their doctors because of peculiar health conditions must be allowed to do so. The state of many police cells leaves much to be desired and something should be done about that.

Police authourities should as much as possible endeavour to provide the basic needs of a suspect  in its custody until the courts decide the person’s fate. We call for a thorough investigation into the deaths of all suspects, starting with Michael Adikwu. The findings should be made public while those found culpable should be adequately punished. These deaths create a cloud of suspicion on the cases they were involved in.


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