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Crime & Punishment of Friday, 5 August 2022

Source: Saharareporters

EndSARS: I have been in prison since 2020 for a crime I didn't commit – Nigerian man cries

Dare Williams is a music producer Dare Williams is a music producer

According to him, he usually goes to a recording studio with his coursemate to record videos and audio music which he shares with his contacts on social media.

Dare was arrested by personnel of the Nigeria Police Force from Sabo Police Station in Lagos State during the #EndSARS protest in October 2020 on his way back from a studio where he went for his routine video music recording with his coursemate.

Narrating his ordeal since he was arrested, Dare, who has been in Kirikiri Prison in Lagos told SaharaReporters that upon his arrest, the policemen searched him and his mobile phone but they did find anything implicating on him except the #EndSARS protest videos, the officers accused him of being a cultist and an armed robber.

Dare, whose coursemate, Bethel Chukwuocha, was also later arrested, said they were both charged to court on two counts of conspiracy and armed robbery before they were remanded in Kirikiri Prison.

Dare, a student of Federal College of Education, Lagos, believes that his arrest was connected to his active participation in the #EndSARS protest where he said that he actively participated in and shared many videos of the protest on his Twitter page and a WhatsApp TV he created with about 20,000 contacts including police officers.

“Last year during the #EndSARS protest, I was active and I was always posting videos of the protest on my Twitter and WhatsApp status. I have a WhatsApp TV and I have got close to 20,000 viewers on my WhatsApp.

“The night when the shooting happened at Lekki Toll Gate, I left there a few minutes before the shooting started and went back to the studio,” he said.

According to him, he usually goes to a recording studio with his coursemate to record videos and audio music which he shares with his contacts on social media.

“The following morning, they sent me some videos and I posted them. Then there was a particular video sent to me of a police officer that was killed. They shattered bottles on his head. He was in a wheelbarrow and they sent it to me to post. I posted the video on my Twitter account and marked it with my WhatsApp number and I started getting calls and texts that I should take the video down, that what was my business with #EndSARS protest.

“I didn't answer. I declined and school resumed about a month later. We did our exams and after our exams, if I am not in school, I will be at the studio or I will be spending time with my dogs.”

But Dare said that most of the officers in Sabo Police Station were on his WhatsApp TV because he had some of their numbers and that made it possible for them to see everything he posted about police and the #EndSARS protest.

He said, “They see basically everything on it and sometimes they just send messages like ‘Hmmm’ and that ‘hmmm’ means a lot but they won't say anything and I will just read and not answer them.

“Then they were randomly picking guys on the street on that fateful day, and the night before that morning I got arrested, my coursemate and I went to the studio to record a new song, and from there we were actually going to study together because we were always doing videos about it.”

On his way to buy shawarma and other things from the University of Lagos resort before going to study with Bethel, the policemen stopped him and ordered him to unlock his phone.

“I said I could not do that, that I didn't know them from anywhere. Next thing, the man slapped me, that I should give him my phone. I brought out my phone and they collected it and asked what the password was. I said that I would not tell them the password to my phone. They said ‘put this guy inside the car’ and they took me to the police station.”

According to him, the police officers were discussing among themselves, saying that “this is one of the hoodlums that have been disturbing the area and disturbing the peace of the nation and everywhere.”

At Sabo Police Station, the policemen ordered him to unlock the phone again and “I unlocked my phone, they searched my phone and before they even searched my phone, they asked me where my gang members were. That I am a cultist. Where are my cult members?

“I told them I am not a cultist and they asked where my gun is? I told them that I don't have a gun. I never shot or had a gun before. They chained me to a motorbike in the station, beat me and sprayed my eyes with pepper spray. They said that unless I confessed, but I told them that they had the wrong guy; that I didn't know all these things they were asking me. I have never done them before.”

Dare said the policemen who arrested him know him because they were the ones who had been seeing him pass by the station with his dogs.

“They were like, "we know this boy. we 'sabi am nah', no be you dey come to this station”? I said yes. I always run my dogs past the station. They had promised to patronize me one day, that I have healthy dogs. That was how we exchanged numbers.”

However, “I opened my phone, and they went through my WhatsApp messages. They went through my text messages and my pictures. They didn't see anything. Then they went into my Twitter and saw the videos and on my WhatsApp messages, they saw the people I sent these videos to and everything.

“They then asked me about the guys in some of the videos. How can I provide them (the people in the video who happened to be the ones who hit the policeman in one of the videos he posted) for them (the policemen). I said I don't know their whereabouts. And they said I should give them their number, I said I didn't have their numbers.”

When Dare could not provide any information about the people in the video, the police officers started beating him again.

“I had my cross-back bag with me everywhere I go. I am always with my bag and my ID card was there. My school ID card and ATM card with my passport were there. I had just collected my passport; I was processing my travel documents.

“There was a recent video I recorded with one of my coursemates where we were singing in the studio. They asked me who was the one on the video, that he was also a suspect. I said he was my coursemate.”

According to him, the incident happened shortly after he finished his examination in school and his exam papers were still inside his bag, but although the police officers had searched his mobile phone, they wanted to search his school bag. Therefore, they requested a search warrant from Sabo Divisional Police Officer (DPO).

They also insisted that they needed to arrest Bethel, saying that he was a suspect too. Immediately they got to his school, the police officers went to the school authorities to ask for the name of Dare’s friend and how they could locate him.

But while Dare told them Bethel’s name, they could not “allow anyone to talk, they told the school authorities that we are criminals, and that they caught one of them (Dare) parading on the street.”

Meanwhile, Dare said he maintained that he was not a criminal and wanted to explain himself “but the man said he would slap me if I talk. So, I did not say anything.”

“They brought the rector in and took us to our hostel (where they arrested Bethel). They searched the hostel room and they didn't see anything, still they insisted that they must take us back to the station. They took us to the station but because my house is not far from the station, the DPO issued them a search warrant for my house.

“On getting to my house, they met my grandma downstairs and my grandma was surprised to see me because it had been about four months since I came home because I was always in school, sleeping in the hostel.”

Dare said his grandmother tried to find out what happened but the officers only said that they were directed to search the house. And when the old woman said that it had been up to four months Dare returned to the house, “They looked at themselves, then they said I should get back to the station. We went back to the station and they started beating us there.”

At the station, Dare said that the DPO berated him for joining the protest calling for an end to police brutality and SARS (Special Anti-Robbery Squad).

The DPO, according to him, threatened “To show me what the police are capable of doing. That he will send us to where we don't like.”

Dare and Bethel said they were accused of carjacking “and I was surprised”.

He continued, “Even my grandma told them that I didn’t have time for all that. I even tried to convince them that I don't even have a gun. I have never shot a gun before and I requested that they run a fingerprint scan on my palm but they insisted that we must admit that we committed the crime, else, they will deal with us and we will confess.”

The disbandment of SARS had been announced when the incident happened but Dare said that the next morning, they were called out without any of their people around and they were taken to the SARS unit at Ikeja Police Headquarters.

“On getting to Ikeja Police Headquarters, that parade ground, I saw journalists everywhere. I saw the suspect that SARS paraded with guns and everything. We became afraid that they might kill us there.

“I said to Bethel, look at where these people brought us to. Are they actually going to label us as criminals, something we did not do?”

“We were afraid because we were told that any suspect taken to SARS, they kill them. They don't shoot them again. They cover their head in a polythene bag and tie it so they won't be able to breathe, then they will die. Some they will hang; after hanging and torturing them for like 2 hours, they would untie the rope and take them to their cell and give them water to drink. We were told that once we got to SARS, they would kill us,” he said.

He said that they were not given an opportunity to write a statement, rather, the police gave a statement on their behalf, of which they were never allowed to know the exact content.

“They didn't allow us to see our statement. They wrote it for us. We didn't write our statement ourselves. We didn't know what was inside our statement.”

He said that while they were being tortured at Sabo Police Station, “they asked who is our buyer, that we should take them to our buyer. I asked, “Which one is the buyer?” and “they asked who sells guns to us and I said no one sells guns to us.”

Dare said that when the journalists at the Ikeja Police Headquarters asked what they did, the DPO allegedly said they were trying to carjack a vehicle, and did not allow them to talk.

However, Dare told SaharaReporters that due to the degree of torture they had received and the fear that if they refused to admit to the crime they did not commit, they would be killed.

So according to Dare, when the journalists asked them why they wanted to carjack a vehicle, “I said we went to snatch a car because we want to feature Davido in our music.

“But we did not do anything but they said we must confess unless they will continue torturing us, of which we did not do anything. Nothing at all. They did not see any single thing to blame us with but the torture was getting too much.”

He added that “They were about to take us to another cell in Ikeja police headquarters when an officer I didn’t know asked, did they catch you with a gun? I said no they didn't see us with any gun. Then he said they should transfer us to Panti state CID. They took us to Sabo and the following morning they took us to Panti. When I was in Panti, I didn't even know what was happening because we spent up to 2 months in the cell before they took us to court.

“After taking us to court, the matter was adjourned and on our second adjournment, the court didn't seat. They took us to prison that midnight. We are being detained for what we don't know, for what we didn't do or know anything about.”

Dare lamented that they have had up to three lawyers but “they are not doing anything. We just pay them money”.