Relatives and dependants of policemen killed during the #EndSARS protest that engulfed major cities in the country a year ago are still lamenting their woes and losses.
The #EndSARS was a decentralised social movement and a series of mass protest against police brutality in Nigeria. The slogan calls for the disbanding of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), a notorious unit of the Nigerian Police Force (NPF) with a long record of abuses.
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The #EndSARS protest, which lasted two weeks, was peaceful until it was hijacked by hoodlums, who looted public and private-owned warehouses, burnt police stations and destroyed property.
Not less than 22 policemen, seven soldiers and 59 civilians were killed during the protest, according to the toll announced by President Muhammadu Buhari during an emergency meeting with former Nigerian leaders.
These policemen were the breadwinners of their families. The plight of their widows can be described as a desperate struggle for survival as they are now left with no other choice but to fend for their children, a task which some of them were not exposed to during the lifetime of their husbands.
Promises were made by the NPF as well as state governors to, among other things, offer scholarships to the children of the late policemen and employ their wives, especially those with academic qualifications.
Curiously, hundreds of people who were reportedly brutalised by operatives of the disbanded SARS have been awarded millions of naira in damages and compensation by the various judicial panels set up by state governments at the instance of the federal government.
The sitting and outcomes of the findings by the judicial panels were meant to assuage the minds of victims and Nigerians at large.
Sadly, not much is being heard about the policemen killed during the #EndSARS protests and other incidents before it after the normal ritual of giving their families peanuts in the name of death entitlements and letter of condolences.
Even the panels set up by the state governments did not say anything about police officers who were killed during the #EndSARS protests even though most of the deceased officers had nothing to do with SARS.
The operatives died while serving their fatherland and protecting the citizens.
Wives, children of slain operatives on the streets
The non-fulfilment of the promises made to the families of the slain police officers has forced their wives and children to relocate to the village. The pain of some of them is also compounded by their in-laws who took the lion share of whatever they were given.
A 39-year-old Olamide was thrown into early widowhood and burdened with the responsibilities of caring for three children left by her late husband, Inspector Ayodeji Erinfolami, who was killed when some arsonists who hijacked the #EndSARS protest made attempt to overrun the anti-kidnapping unit in Surulere.
Erinfolami, who joined the police in 1996, along with his team, tried as much as they could to protect the facility from being overtaken during the #EndSARS protest, but at the end, he, along with a civilian, paid the supreme price, while two other policemen were lucky to escape with varying degrees of wounds.
Olamide, who heard about the death of her husband on the social media, is still grieving the loss and the burden of taking care of their three children.
Unable to cope with the cost of living in the city, Olamide and her children relocated to her parents’ house in Ado-Ekiti, where she is now engaged in petty trading.
The young widow, who said she was yet to benefit from the job promised by the Lagos State Government, appealed to the NPF and the state government to redeem the pledge of scholarship promised to their children to lessen their burdens.
“I was happy when the governor promised that he was going to offer us a job so as to complement the cash given to us. Right now, I am into petty trading in my home town,” she said.
Mrs Hannatu Yaro, wife of the late Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP) Yaro Edward, told Daily Trust Saturday that the former Inspector General of Police (IGP), Mohammed Adamu gave N200,000 each to families of the slain officers. His wife also gave N100,000 each to support them.
Hannatu said she returned to her village in Niger State after the burial of her husband.
“The governor of Lagos State, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, gave N10million to each family, with a promise that he was going to follow it up with scholarships for our children. As we speak, the government is yet to fulfil the scholarship aspect of his promise,” she added.
More worrisome is the allegation by one of the widows that they were yet to get any death benefit, either from the police or their husband’s pension fund administrators.
“I have tried to process my husband’s death and insurance benefits, to no avail. They keep pushing me from one end to another, in search of signatures and documents. The moment you meet up with one, they will bring up another issue,” she said.
The officers who were killed in Lagos during the protest were Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP) Edward Yaro, attached to Denton station; Inspector Ayodeji Erinfolami, attached to the defunct anti kidnapping unit; Inspector Aderibigbe Adegbenro, attached to Meiran division; Sergeant Bejide Abiodun, attacked to DOPS SHQ; Ehibor Samson and one other attached to Orile division.
Double jeopardy as widows battle with in-laws
Speaking on the challenges facing the family on Thursday, wives of the slain officers said the death of their husbands had turned them to beggars, adding that paying the school fees of their children is their major challenge.
Beauty, the widow of James Akanmu said, “It is true that the federal government has given me money, but it is not enough to care for the children’s needs. We have three children and I have to care for them. I paid the house rent, as well as the school fees of the children. We don’t know where to go after our rent expires next year.”
Tokede Bolanle-Ajibola, the wife of Adegoke Ajibola, said the insurance benefits paid by the federal government had resulted in a battle between her and the family of her husband.
While the family insisted that the money must be paid into their account, Tokede Bolanle-Ajibola maintained that her two children are entitled to the money.
“Things are very hard for me. The most unfortunate thing is that the family of my husband insisted that the money must go to the family’s account. They even arrested me, saying that my children were not bearing the name of their father in school. I had to take their report cards to the station before they could believe me.
“I had to run from pillar to post before feeding the children. The money is still with the police because they (in-laws) wanted to take the whole money. The police have asked them to give me half while they take half,” she said.
Mrs Abegunde said the last one year had not been easy for her and the children, especially in meeting the demand of their education.
She asked the federal government to consider their children for scholarships.
While others battle in-laws for the sharing of the insurance benefits of their late husbands, Mrs Esther Alidu is yet to get the benefit of her husband, a situation that has turned her to a beggar in the neighbourhood.
“I heard that money was paid to others, but because my name does not correspond with the name on my husband’s documents, I am yet to receive mine. But I have done change of name and hope the money would be paid soon.
“My fear is that the future of our children is not certain. They are young and lacking fatherly care. I hope we can give them the best treatment in life, but I am afraid,” she said.
The woes of widows of the slain policemen in Oyo State are compounded as there is no support from the state government. They are feeling abandoned and rejected after their breadwinners paid the supreme price.
We need information to process scholarship – Police
The spokesman of the NPF, Frank Mba, said the force was committed to taking care of the relatives of policemen who paid the supreme price in the line of duty.
He said some relatives were unable to enjoy the offer because they were unable to provide the needed information.
“At a recent meeting with CPS, the IGP made it clear that the Force is opening a new scholarship scheme, not just for the #EndSARS case but for relatives of officers who died in the line of duties. However, if you don’t provide basic information, such as the names of the children, their schools and others, it will be difficult to process because it is not the late officer that will enjoy the scholarship,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Oyo State Government said it would act on the recommendations of the panel set up in the aftermath of the protest.
“The panel just submitted its recommendation. The governor will study it and act accordingly,” Taiwo Adisa, the chief press secretary to the governor said.
Abiodun Alade, Eugene Agha, Christiana T. Alabi Lagos & Jeremiah Oke, Ibadan