Officials at the Kaduna custodial centre have demanded that relatives of inmates who died during the April 1 violent protest at the centre must sign an undertaking absolving the authorities of being responsible for the deaths.
The undertaking is part of the conditions set by the centre’s management to be met by the late inmates’ families before the bodies are released to them.
A copy of the letter obtained by PREMIUM TIMES is addressed to the controller of corrections at the Kaduna State corrections headquarters, through the deputy controller of corrections in charge of the centre. It is accompanied by an affidavit sworn to by a deponent.
Apart from stating in the letter that the inmates died of natural causes, the signatory is also to pledge that they would not institute any legal case against the authorities of the centre over the inmates’ death.
The undertaking reads in part; “On behalf of the family of the above named inmate (late), we are pleading with the Nigerian Correctional Service to release his body to me for burial, and that we don’t have anything against the Nigerian Correctional Service about his death.
“We believe that he died a natural death.”
This is happening despite the fact that the report of the probe panel, the Nigerian Correctional Service (NCS) claimed it set up to investigate the fatal protest, is yet to be submitted.
While the deputy controller of corrections in charge of the centre, Usman Ahmed, said he would comment on the matter only if our reporter could disclose the source of the information, the centre’s welfare officer, Abubakar Sadangi, confirmed the development.
Mr Sadangi made the confirmation believing he was talking to a member of the family of a victim whose relations are yet to comply with the centre’s instruction.
This newspaper had earlier reported protest by inmates of the custodial centre on April 1 over the fear of the spread of coronavirus disease at the facility, and the government’s failure to urgently decongest the custodial centres as earlier promised.
The protest had gone out of hand leading to full-blown violence, which left four inmates dead.
PREMIUM TIMES earlier reported the centre’s continued denial of the fatalities recorded during the riot, insisting that no life was lost.
However, following this newspaper’s report on April 4, detailing the death of the inmates and injuries sustained by NCS officers during the crisis, the management made a volte-face, declaring that ‘only four inmates died.’
But rather than giving details of the dead inmates, a statement signed by the controller of Kaduna State correctional headquarters, Sanusi Danmusa, said those who died as a result of injuries sustained from the incident were condemned inmates and not those awaiting trial.
This claim has also been found to be false as details reported by this newspaper have proved. But the centre is yet to provide details of the victims to the public.
Three corpses collected
Meanwhile, investigations by PREMIUM TIMES have revealed that three of the four bodies have been claimed by the concerned families who signed the undertaking already prepared for them by the custodial centre.
But the family of 24-year-old Wisdom Felix, who was allegedly tortured to coma before his eventual death at an undisclosed hospital, is reluctant to sign the undertaking.
Apart from describing the manner through which their son’s death was announced to them as callous, the Cross River indigenes are querying the circumstances leading to Mr Felix’s death.
According to his sister, Doris Felix, Mr Sadangi called her one morning with a brief introduction of who he was and said, “If you are interested in Wisdom Felix’s body, you need to come for it.”
The devastated sister said she was shocked by the official’s attitude but could not shout because she was close to their bedridden mother.
She said; “We had been agitated since we read in the news that Wisdom was in coma but we could not go anywhere because there was lockdown. We kept making calls but no one seemed to be telling us the truth.
“So it was sudden and devastating when Mr Sadangi called to say we should come for his corpse. Just like that?”
The day the prison officials visited the address in the inmate’s records, Doris said, since they had relocated from the area, she had to let her fiancé, Ahmed Usman, who still lives in the area, to meet the officials in front of Nevilla hotel on Constitution road, near Kigo Road in Kaduna.
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Upon getting to the custodial centre in the company of representatives of three other families, Mr Usman said right in the office of the deputy controller in charge of the centre, he was handed a copy of the letter serving as an undertaking.
“I told them I could not sign because I’m just an in-law to the family. So I was handed a copy to serve as a format to be used. Felix’s name was written as replacement for the late inmate’s name in the copy, while the details of where the family representative’s name should be inserted is also clearly indicated,” Mr Usman told PREMIUM TIMES on the phone.
Since the deputy controller of corrections in charge of the centre refused to speak, our reporter pretended to be one of the late Felix’s relation to speak to the centre’s welfare officer, Abubakar Sadangi, who confirmed the development.
According to Mr Sadangi, it was the practice to guide families of dead inmates on how to write the letter as a condition for the release of the bodies.
Mr Sadangi said; “Yes, others have come to collect the bodies. We printed for them because no one has the format except us. In fact, we would have printed for the man that came for Wisdom Felix too but he said he is just an in-law.
“But if you authorise (him) to collect the body, I can call him tomorrow (Monday) so that he can come over and he would sign, then we would go to high court for affidavit. Do you want to bury him here or you are taking him to Cross River?”
Meanwhile, the NCS spokesperson, Austin Njoku, has said he is unaware of the development, saying the probe panel set up to investigate the incident was yet to conclude its task.
“This thing you are telling me is strange to me. We are yet to be through with the report of the committee because the entire service is currently concerned on how to ensure that no centre records any case of coronavirus,” he said.
Family seeks justice
The family of the late Felix has accused the NCS of compounding their woes, describing the circumstances that surrounded the arrest and trial of the deceased as “unfair, unjust and unbelievable.”
The deceased, whose father, Felix Orga, was said to have retired as a trainer at a police college before he died in 2006, was said to have missed the opportunity to further his education, like his other siblings, due to the vacuum created in the family by the father’s death.
According to the victim’s eldest sister, Doris, though they are from Cross River State, they have stayed for a very long time in Kaduna.
She said their father’s death and the attendant financial crises faced by the family had led to the ill health of their mother, Ruth Orga.
While we were trying to care for our mother, Wisdom, who was working at a barber shop as a barber, was arrested in 2018 following a disagreement with an unnamed girlfriend over a lost phone, she said.
“We thought it was a minor issue until we realized that the SARS men that arrested him had suddenly paraded him for armed robbery, which was clearly far from what he was arrested for.
“He was charged to court and for the past two years his matter had been coming up at the state high court 3. Later, there was disagreement between our lawyer and the judge over different things entirely, and that was what we learnt led to his case dragging. Even the girlfriend went to court to say she wasn’t interested in his trial but all to no avail,” she said.
According to Doris, the matter led to the paralysis of their mother, who she said was very attached to the late son.
“Till his death, our brother was the head of a Christian fellowship in the prison, and so we were shocked when we read about his torture. Now, I do not work because the lockdown in Kaduna has ruined my snack business. How do we break such news to our mother who is already bedridden,” she added.
Mr Felix’s younger sister, Felicia Felix, who also spoke to our reporter on the phone, also said it would be difficult for the family to claim the corpse of a man she noted was illegally remanded.
“Now we are being asked to beg for the corpse and still pledge that we would not sue the prison for killing an innocent child. We need God’s intervention. We don’t know what to do because we can’t even tell our mother,” Felicia said.