A Lagos pepper seller, Mrs Basirat Akinmushire, who was arrested by the police in Lagos over an alleged involvement with a robbery gang has died while in police custody and the family are calling for an investigation into her death.
They said the 54-year-old, who was arrested at a market on Isolo Housing Estate, Isolo, was hale and hearty until the police called to inform them that she had died.
According to Punch Metro, a rights group, Network for Police Reforms in Nigeria, had written the Police Service Commission on behalf of the family, alleging that the suspect was extra-judicially murdered.
A man, Olatunde Adetunji, had earlier been arrested by the police team in the Ikeja area for alleged robbery and cultism.
Adetunji, an alleged member of the Eiye Confraternity, was said to have claimed that Basirat, aka Area Mama, kept the gang’s weapons.
The 31-year-old allegedly said they usually paid her N5,000 after every successful operation.
The pepper seller, who was subsequently arrested, was said to have told the police that she was coerced into keeping the guns used by the gang.
She allegedly confessed to have transferred two guns belonging to the gang to one Junior, aka Jungle.
Basirat, according to a statement she allegedly made to the police, said the gang threatened to kill her if she leaked their secret.
The police had claimed that the woman, while leading detectives to Junior’s hideout, attempted to escape and fell into a ditch where she got injured.
The deceased’s younger brother, Babajide Lateef, while denying the allegation of arms keeping, said the mother of three was arrested on September 13.
“Since that Thursday that she was arrested, we started going to their office in Ikeja, but we were prevented from seeing her. This was ongoing when we read it in the newspapers that she was attempting to escape when she fell into a ditch.
“On Friday, September 28, the police called us and announced that she was dead. On October 2, we were taken to a morgue to see her corpse. We were told that it was when she was running away that she fell and she was taken to a hospital, where she was admitted to until her death.
“She was not the kind of woman that would keep guns for robbers. She was a gentle woman and did not make trouble with people. I am not saying this because I am a family member; ask from her church members and co-tenants and everybody will testify to her good character.
“Initially, we decided to take her corpse for burial after we were asked to write a letter for the release of her corpse; we had called a lawyer who drafted a letter for us. But when we were told to swear to an affidavit that after the body was released to us we would not make any trouble, we consulted some lawyers who advised against it because the police could use it against us and arrest family members.
“At this point, what we want is the help of the government to unravel the cause of her death and the reason for the affidavit.”
Lateef lamented the effect of the death on the deceased’s husband, a retired head teacher.
He said the widower, Samuel Akinmushire, was admitted to a hospital for three days and had suffered depression.
The National Coordinator of NOPRIN, Okechukwu Nwanguma, in a letter to the Chairman of the PSC, asked that an autopsy be conducted on the corpse.
“The police claimed to have carried out an autopsy, but the family did not know when and where this happened. The family demands a thorough and impartial investigation to unravel the actual cause of death. As part of this investigation, the family demands a transparent autopsy where the family medical and legal representatives will be present.
“NOPRIN calls on the PSC to ensure a prompt, impartial and thorough investigation into the cause of death and that necessary actions should be taken against any officer involved if a case of extrajudicial killing is established,” he said.
The state Police Public Relations Officer, CSP Chike Oti, said there was no foul play in the death.
“The police were investigating a very serious case of armed robbery and gunrunning. Along the line, the woman became a suspect in the case. She was arrested on the suspicion that she was the gang’s armourer and she admitted to the crime.
“She mentioned the name of another suspect whom she claimed had some of the guns. She was taking police operatives to the place when she suddenly jumped out of vehicle and started running. They chased her and she fell and broke her leg.
“She was taken to the Police College Cottage Hospital, Ikeja, from where she was referred to the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, Ikeja, for better treatment. LASUTH further referred her to the National Orthopaedic Hospital, Igbobi. Days later, the woman died at the hospital.”
Oti explained that the affidavit demanded by the police was only a requirement by law to ensure the deceased’s family did not return to deny receiving the corpse.