Pandemonium has fiklled the air in the case of a businessman who died in the custody State Criminal Investigation Department (SCID), Panti, Yaba, Lagos, as the post-humous Covid-19 test carried out on the deceased turned out positive, reports says.
POLICEMEN and detainees at the State Criminal Investigation Department (SCID), Panti, Yaba, Lagos, are jittery, following a revelation that they are at high risk of contacting the coronavirus disease, following the death of an infected suspect, Godwin Chukwudi Julius, in custody.
The 48-year-old businessman was said to have been arrested and detained on May 22, 2020, following his alleged complicity in one Obinali Osuwoke’s fraud case involving the sum of N75 million.
Julius was arrested by operatives of the Anti-Fraud Unit of SCID alongside his bereaved wife, Ogorchukwu, who was later released in the evening of the same day. He however died in police custody on Saturday June 6.
It was said that the police ignored doctors’ advice that Julius, a hypertensive patient, should be granted bail when it became obvious that his health had deteriorated in custody.
It was also gathered that the deceased was improperly detained for about 15 days before he was taken to court on the eve of his death on June 5, where an order for his detention was obtained.
The Public Relations Officer (PRO) of the Lagos State Police Command, Mr Elkanah Bala, had confirmed to The Nation that Julius was taken by operatives to an isolation centre for Covid-19 patients on June 6 where he died.
Bala said: “From the brief I got (from SCID), he was detained on court order on the allegation of using federal government documents to defraud an international organisation.
“He took ill in custody and was referred to an isolation centre for Covid-19 patients at Yaba, where he died.”
It was gathered that the result of the Covid-19 test allegedly carried out after Julius slumped and passed on was positive.
According to sources, the deceased, while in police custody, was detained in different cells with hundreds of inmates.
He was also said to have had unprotected contact with several policemen including the Investigating Police Officer (IPO) in charge of the case and several individuals including family members and court officials.
Sources said that none of the people the deceased had contacts with before his death, including his wife (who was detained with him for some time), his children, relatives, policemen and individuals at the court where his detention order was obtained, had been taken into Covid-19 isolation centre for test and treatment.
A source who spoke in confidence said: “I knew the time they were procuring drugs for him from a nearby drug store at Panti. We later learnt that the suspect’s Covid-19 test was positive, which means that he died from the disease.
“But what is baffling is the silence of the police authorities on the development, because the suspect was detained at SCID with hundreds of other detainees for about 16 days before he was taken to Military Hospital, Yaba, Lagos, where he slumped and died.
“As we speak, none of the police personnel and detainees at SCID, who he mingled with before his death, is in isolation. This is like putting the lives of policemen and numerous suspects there at risk.”
Another police source who is familiar with the case revealed that operatives thought the late suspect was feigning sickness to secure his freedom. Hence he was detained till he died. “Right from the moment he was arrested and brought into detention facility, he had shown signs of illness. But the policemen handling his case did not believe him despite advice by medical personnel. They thought that he was merely pretending so he could be freed on bail.
“Since his Covid-19 test result was positive, it means that everyone he had mingled with at SCID is endangered, as they may have been infected with the virus. It is even more worrisome that none of them is in isolation centre as we speak.”
Family vows to press charges
Family sources, who expressed reservations about the result, also upbraided the police for their complicity. They argued that the result showed that the lives of policemen and detainees were being put to risk in the bid to cover up the case.
Speaking with The Nation, the family’s spokesperson, Hon Iyke Anyahie, said the family would press charges against the police authorities for their misconduct in the arrest and subsequent death of their son.
He said the countenance of the police didn’t show any sincerity in the events leading to Julius’ death and his controversial Covid-19 test result.
He said he discovered through a source at the covid19 isolation centre at the Military Hospital, Yaba, that the result of the test carried out on his brother was positive.
Anyahie also disclosed that the family had rejected the result on the premise that it was contrived as a cover up by the police for their indiscretions in the death of Julius.
Anyahie said: “Our family believes that the police have tagged his (Julius) case as Covid-19 positive to cover up their complicity in his death.
“If indeed he tested positive, what happens to more than 500 detainees and policemen he mingled with in the custody of SCID and the family members who had contacts with him before he died?
“How come the NCDC personnel have not contacted the family to ensure that those he had contacts with, including his wife, four children and relatives, are compelled to isolate or are taken to Covid-19 isolation centre about 25 days after his death?
“We are going to press charges against the police for this falsified result because the SCID at Panti is still in operation and has not been shut down while none of the personnel there has been isolated, tested or treated for Covid-19.”
Julius’ widow, Ogorchukwu, also demanded justice over her husband’s death in police custody, saying that the wrath of God would visit the officers for maltreating her husband till he died.
She said: “My husband was hale and hearty when he was taken away by the police to SCID. I was arrested with him but they later released me in the evening of the day because we had locked up our four children at home while we were being arrested, and there was no one to take care of them in our absence.
“We pleaded with ACP Oketunji, who is in charge of the Fraud Unit, to consider my husband’s health. My husband was hypertensive and he was sleeping on bare floor with exposure to stench from the cell. So, he started coughing and his health deteriorated.
“Even the doctors who tested him at the instance of SCID said he should be released on bail because of his deteriorating health, but the police, especially ACP Oketunji, refused, leading to my husband’s death in custody.”
How deceased businessman died in military hospital
Recalling the events that led to Julius’ death, Osunwoke, who was arrested alongside the deceased said he was with Julius throughout the period of his detention until he died.
He said: “I was picked up on Saturday, May 23. From the first day we were arrested, our family members came for our bail, which was turned down by the police. The case was directly under ACP Oketunji.
“My people then approached Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP) Longe, who is the head of SCID. 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.
“First, the cell was overcrowded. People were collapsing right inside the cell. While we were still in detention, three people slumped. They brought them out but we didn’t know what happened to them subsequently because we were inside the cell.
“There, detainees slept just anywhere they found space, sitting, standing or kneeling down until the next morning. We were lumped together with murder, rape, robbery, kidnapping suspects, among others.
“Right from when he was detained, my brother (Julius) had been complaining of ill health to the Investigating Police Officer (IPO), Mr. Adebowale.
To be honest with you here, the IPO was very good to us. He did everything he could to help my brother after he found that he was hypertensive.
“After some time, he complained of feeling feverish and kept on complaining that he was not strong. The IPO relayed the complaint to his immediate boss.
He told his boss that my brother was not feeling well. The IPO was instructed to take him to a nearby drug store opposite the Anti- Fraud Unit’s office.
“We took him to the pharmacy. They checked and gave him some drugs, including antibiotics. He paid about N3,000. He was brought back to the cell. But his condition did not improve. Rather, it got worse.
“While in the cell, we didn’t wear any clothe; we only wore shorts. We slept on bare floor. Despite the drugs, he was still complaining of ill health.
“Penultimate Wednesday when our family members came to SCID, we told them his condition was deteriorating. On that same day, the police took us to court to get an extension of the period of our detention. The court asked us to come back penultimate Friday.
“When the police lawyer read what they were asking for, our lawyer explained to the court that we had been detained for more than 15 days for an offence we could be given a bail.
The lawyer also drew the court’s atten tion to the precarious health condition of my brother, but the judge gave the police permission to detain us for another 21 days.
“Immediately we came out from the court that Friday, his condition became worse. The IPO saw the condition when we returned to SCID, Panti, and called his boss again, explaining the condition of my brother.
“When his boss came upstairs to where we were, he asked them to call somebody I presumed to be a doctor. He asked my brother what was the problem and my brother started explaining.
“The medical personnel they called said mere looking at my brother, he was not strong. He said he was not going to examine him, not to talk of treating him.
“He asked the police officers whether the offence was bailable. The officers said it was bailable, and he advised that he should be allowed to go home and treat himself.
“The only thing the man did was to examine his eyes. The IPO’s supervisor met us there and took the medical personnel out for a private discussion. My brother was subsequently taken to a hospital at Obalende, Lagos Island, but the hospital at Obalende rejected him.
“From there, they took him to another hospital in Yaba. I didn’t go with them. After about 40 minutes, they came back. That was between 6:30pm and 7pm on that Saturday.
“The IPO called his bosses. When they came, a senior policewoman shouted that the deceased should be taken to a Police Hospital at Falomo. She also instructed that I should go with them and hold my brother.
“When we got there, they called the doctor that was to examine him. After the doctor examined him, he said that he was not going to admit him because his breathing was not normal. The doctor also asked if the offence was bailable and the IPO said it was bailable.
“The police doctor at Falomo advised that they should grant him bail so that he could see his personal doctor for proper medical treatment.
The doctor told them categorically, ‘Please, do not put him back in cell. Don’t put him in a crowded area.’ The doctor also prescribed some drugs.
“When we returned to SCID, Panti, the IPO went upstairs to inform DCP Longe about the situation. He came back to tell the officers on duty that DCP Longe instructed that we should be detained in a place they called ‘Open Cell’.
“Those at the counter said they had no such instruction from their boss.
“When we got inside the cell, I sat in the open place. They wanted to take us inside and I was complaining to them that DCP Longe gave instructions that we should not be taken in there because my brother was sick, but the policemen did not listen to me. Instead, they asked if I was the one to teach them their job.
“My brother was trying to explain with difficulty when the officers hit and pushed us into the main cell. After some time, one of the officers on duty instructed that my brother should come to the open cell. I told them to allow me to come out since I would be the one to monitor his condition, but they refused.
“I was able to observe him through the gate to the main cell. Throughout the night, he was snoring and coughing. I was hearing the noise.
“Around 3 am, convinced that he was seriously sick, the policemen asked for his IPO and we told them. They asked me to come and stay with him.
“Around 6 am when those on morning duty took over and it was time for head count of detainees, they also asked who my brother’s IPO was and I told them. They called him and he came around 9 am.
“We were brought out and told to dress up. My brother was shaking feverishly and breathing with difficulty. They made a call to ACP Oketunji and requested that we should go home because of his condition. He instructed that he should call our relatives but that my brother should be rushed to Military Hospital at Yaba.
“They brought a car. I was holding him. While on our way, ACP Oketunji was calling, trying to monitor the condition. I was also calling my people.
“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 pronounced him dead.
“After some time, they came again, removed his face mask, brought something like cotton wool, pushed a long medical tool into his mouth and brought it out.
They also asked me to open his nose. I told them that nobody should come and tell me that he was COVID-19 positive. He was not.”