Following the horrific death of Remo Stars assistant captain, Kazeem Tiamiyu after he was arrested by SARS officials on Saturday, JOHNNY EDWARD and KELVIN EKERETE write on the experiences of some of the country’s star footballers in the hands of policemen, in this report
The gruesome death of Remo Stars defender and assistant captain Kazeem Tiamiyu threw the Nigerian football community into mourning, with some of the country’s footballers home and abroad condemning the officers of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad of the Nigeria Police in, Sagamu, Ogun State for their role in the death of the 26-year-old.
Tiamiyu, nicknamed Kaka, was crushed by a hit-and-run driver on the Sagamu-Abeokuta Expressway after he was arrested and was being taken to the SARS office in Abeokuta.
While the police said the footballer jumped out of the vehicle in an attempt to escape and was crushed by an oncoming vehicle, Sanni Abubakar, a friend and teammate of Kazeem, who was also arrested by the SARS officials, countered the claim.
Sanni said they were both being taken to SARS office in Abeokuta when suddenly the cops stopped on the Sagamu-Abeokuta Expressway and pushed Tiamiyu out of the Toyota Sienna car.
“The SARS officers are not telling the public the truth. I saw them pushing Kazeem out of the car onto the road, where an oncoming vehicle knocked him down,” he told our correspondent.
Tiamiyu’s killing sparked protests in the usually peaceful town of Sagamu but another tragedy occurred on Monday, when a police officer allegedly shot dead one of the protesters.
SARS, an arm of the Nigeria Police Force, has over the years, earned a notorious reputation of a brutal agency following cases of extrajudicial killings, torture, ill-treatment of detainees and extortion of suspects.
The SARS officials, rather than carry out their constitutional duty of investigating cases of armed robbery, have more often beamed their searchlights on the country’s youths, who they most often refer to as ‘Yahoo Boys’ (internet fraudsters).
Footballers have not been spared either as several of them had suffered various forms of harassment and abuse in the hands of policemen and other security personnel before Tiamiyu’s death.
The case of Izu Joseph, an ex-Shooting Stars defender is even more pathetic. In 2016, the powerful centre-back was shot dead in his hometown, Okaki, in Bayelsa State.
The player’s father said Joseph was killed by troops battling Niger Delta militants.
Reports said Joseph was killed at a restricted area by soldiers on a raid, with his identity as a footballer only established after he had been shot.
Some of the footballers, who by a stroke of luck survived the torture, pain and harassment unleashed on them by the country’s security personnel especially the the SARS arm of the police, recounted their ordeal after Tiamiyu’s death.
“What is wrong with SARS killing innocent football players hustling or citizens back home in our country? This has to stop. That was how a player was killed some years back,” Super Eagles and Al-Adalah midfielder, John Ogu, tweeted.
Ogu added that he was recently harassed by the same unit (SARS) of the police.
“I’m trying to remember the ANIMALS that stopped me some days back, when I know their names, I will tell everyone what they did.”
They collected N45,000 from me – Solomon
Katsina United player, Babatunde Solomon, who recounted his ordeal with the police, said he was threatened at gun-point while driving in 2015.
“They almost shot me inside my car in 2015. I was crying like a baby. After the threats, they took me back to their office and extorted N45, 000 from me. This country is so backward, and now they have succeeded in killing the breadwinner of a family,” he wrote on Twitter.
“The death of (Tiyamiyu) Kazeem is really painful because it could have been me back in 2015. That experience is the worst I have ever encountered. It was the first time I saw my mother crying through the window of where I was locked up.”
Anthony Okpotu, a former Nigeria Professional Football League top scorer who currently plays for Tunisian side US Monastir, says the country is not doing enough to protect its citizens.
“In other countries when you see the police, you’ll feel safe but in Nigeria the moment you see the police (SARS) you’ll want to run from them as quickly as possible because they’ll look at your appearance and tag you whatever they want,” he stated on Twitter.
“It is a pity because those with the duties of protecting us are the ones killing us. It has gotten worse to the extent that they are now killing footballers after they have toiled for years. It is a pity we’ve never heard or seen anyone getting sued for illegally killing an NPFL or Nigeria National League player by our beloved NFF who supersedes football in Nigeria, or the lives of these players don’t matter because they play in Nigeria?”
‘SARS officer hit me with a gun’
Former AC Milan striker Nnamdi Oduamadi, who was part of the Super Eagles squad to the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup in Brazil, also recounted his ordeal in the hands of policemen, while in the country to honour a national team invitation in 2013.
He said, “Not every Nigerian youth commits illegal acts. I arrived in Nigeria around 11:50pm from my base in Italy to honour a national team invitation in 2013. But when we got to Apple Junction just off the Oshodi-Mile 2 Expressway on the way to my house some minutes past midnight, we were stopped by Special Anti-Robbery Squad for a routine search.
“I wasn’t worried initially until one of the (SARS) members asked me where I got the money to buy the expensive necklace I had on and I replied that I was a footballer and that I bought it from my base in Europe.
“I was asked to step out of the car and before I could identify myself to the officer that I was a Nigerian footballer in town for a national assignment, I was hit with a gun and he threatened to lock me up, yelling, ‘Are you Ronaldo? We don’t know you.’
“I was allowed to go after two hours of delay and confirmation from Google that indeed I was a Nigerian international. Due to the pains I suffered, I told the coach in charge then what happened and he granted me a day extra to recover from the trauma.”
‘Police deflated my tyres with gun shots’
Also, 2007 U-17 World Cup winning captain, Haruna Lukman, also has tales of woes after he was beaten up by police officers in 2016.
Lukman, who was then based in Russia, said he was stopped under the flyover at Ikeja, Lagos and asked to present his tax ID.
“The fact that I smiled at the question earned me the beating of my life; I thought I was going to die,” the midfielder, who was in the Super Eagles squad to the 2010 World Cup, said.
“My car tyres were deflated with gun shots and I was treated like a criminal. I was returning to the national team after a five-year absence, so I still had to report in camp despite the trauma.”
Olayinka branded Yahoo Boy
Slavia Prague striker Peter Olayinka also had a taste of police harassment while on vacation in Lagos last year.
Paul of the defunct P-Square, who witnessed the event, said cops at the Lekki Phase 1 entrance gate labeled the footballer a criminal and internet fraudster for wearing short dreads.
“They were harassing and calling him (Olayinka) all sorts of names. Criminal, yahoo boy and all,” Paul wrote on his Instagram page in November.
“I told the police to stop calling him a criminal, ‘the young man said he’s not a criminal, that he’s a footballer. And one of the policemen said, ‘that’s what all you criminals and yahoo boys say.
“I got pissed, brought out my phone and started making a video, the police were uncomfortable, that’s was how they decided to let him go…To cut the long story short, I saw this same young man playing against Barcelona in the Champions League.”
Enyimba’s Chukwude harassed in Enugu
Last August, a video of Enyimba forward Stephen Chukwude being harassed by a policeman in Enugu because he drove a Mercedes Benz went viral.
The 24-year-old was heard asking the police officer what else he wanted after identifying himself as a footballer.
But the policeman insisted that any youth who owned a Mercedes Benz was a yahoo boy.
This happened before the police officer grabbed the footballer’s phone after noticing he was being filmed.
The awful incident drew condemnation from the public, who called for the policeman to be punished.
If you think footballers are the unfortunate set amongst sportspeople to suffer victimisation in the hands of security operatives, you are mistaken.
McLeod’s mum killed by trigger-happy cop
Angel McLeod, the 18-year-old tennis sensation, will never forget October 26, 2015, when a cop shot and killed her mother, Beauty, who is also a tennis player, in Lagos.
Based in the United Arab Emirates, Beauty and Angel, her only child and then 14, were in Nigeria after attending a tennis event in Ghana, when she was killed by Corporal Joseph Aminu at the Emperor Guest Inn, a hotel on Balarabe Musa Crescent, Victoria Island, after an argument that resulted in a scuffle.
Though the wounds of seeing her mother shot in the leg and bleeding to death on that fateful October night are still there, Angel has resigned herself to fate.
“I try not to recall what happened that night because anytime I do, my spirit gets low. That man (Aminu) took away my mother; everything I had in life,” Angel said.
But her uncle, Desmond Nwankwo, said some people were bent on ensuring that Aminu was not brought to book. He also alleged that the corporal was on illegal duty at the hotel, when he shot Beauty.
“My sister’s killer Corporal Aminu is from Taraba State. We learnt that they are sitting on the file because Aminu was on annual leave (when he was on duty at the hotel). We learnt he lives in Abuja but came to Lagos on a visit but they deployed him to the hotel so that they can make money, which he would share with his superior officers.
“I’ve been to the Customary Court, where the case is, three times and every time they say the Director of Public Prosecutions hasn’t given them advice. And all this while, Angel is losing form. That’s why I abandoned them to take care of the girl. Ever since, nobody has called me. When you call them, they don’t pick.”
But Nwankwo is not deterred and hopes to fight for justice.
“When I manage to put Angel in the right place, I will come for them. There’s no expiry date to fight for justice. They hid our file in DPP and told us that DPP hasn’t brought an advice. It’s nonsense,” he said.