Activists rescue him; to help him realise his dream to be an officer
By Ozioruva Aliu – Benin City
Although he was taken back into custody shortly after he was brought into the open space where the police wanted to parade suspected criminals who were involved in the violence that trailed the EndSARS protest in Benin City, his presence as a minor, wearing the uniform of a police sergeant, had caught the eyes of journalists and in few minutes, his picture was already in the media as one of the suspects to be paraded.
Others who were later paraded included some of the inmates freed from the two correctional centres in the state capital during the crisis, those who went to loot several government and private owned warehouses and those who vandalised and torched police stations, carting away their ammunition.
The story of 11 years old Gift Osayuwu who is an orphan changed after that brief encounter as human rights activists and lawyers became interested.
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The Benin branch of the Nigerian Bar Association issued a statement condemning the parade and demanded for his immediate release and compensation just as it also condemned the practice of parading suspected criminals before trial.
The activists led by Marxist Kola Edokpayi were interested in rescuing the lad and to stand as guarantor to guide his future while the lawyers represented by Felix Isere Esq were first interested on the infringement of his right by being paraded being a minor and wondered how he could be involved in such a heinous crime of participating in the destruction of a police station and then have the audacity of wearing a police uniform.
These combined interests were able to negotiate his release with support from the state Ministry of Justice through the Department of Public Prosecution (DPP) and today, he is back to school and believes he would one day become a police officer and the Inspector General of Police.
Arrest and detention
Young Osayuwu and her elder sister help their mother in selling sachet water and soft drinks at the popular Ring Road since they lost their father about two years ago.
On the day the EndSARS protest turned violent in Edo state when it was hijacked by suspected hoodlums and led to the attack on the two correctional centres in the state capital and the destruction of police stations, Gift was sent by his mother to get water from their supplier but that turned out to be the beginning of his woes as he was caught in the middle of the protest and was given the uniform of a policeman who apparently may have escaped from the station pulling off and abandoning his uniform to escape from the hoodlums who took it away.
His mother, Mrs Happy Oyere Osayuwu from Udo in Ovia South West local government area told Saturday Vanguard that: “On that day (October 19), we came out as usual to sell and when I exhausted the ones I had, I sent him to go and buy more water. But I waited endlessly; I didn’t see him so I started moving towards where he was supposed to go and buy it.
I looked for him everywhere but I couldn’t find him. It was later I was told that somebody gave him a police uniform to wear and immediately I became scared. I started looking for him everywhere. I went to Ogida police station but police were shooting teargas and sending people away. I went to Evbuotubu police station, everywhere was rough and they didn’t allow me in to check if he was there. I went to Oba Market police station but the whole place had been destroyed so they did not allow anybody go there.
I went to our family house to see whether he would be there. I knew that he would be released because of his age if I saw him but he was not there. Gift is not a thief and he is a small boy, yet I did not find him.
For four days I couldn’t find my son. Police now called me on Thursday that my son was with them. They described to me how I would get to the state command because I had never been there. When I got there, the policeman who called me now took me to see my son. I thought they were going to release him to me since he is a small boy but they said no, because he committed a grievous offence and would be tried in a court. I went to buy food for him and I appealed to them but they refused to even let me talk to my son. They only allowed me to give him food but refused to let me talk to him. They said I should be bringing food to him everyday. I cried and begged them but they refused to release him to me.
“I went to meet a lawyer, the lawyer said I should come and pay first. I was confused and always crying but there was no hope for me to see my son. Sometimes I would take food there about 9 am but I would not be able to give him the food until 2 pm. Police were shooting teargas at people, maybe because they felt the bad boys wanted to attack the state command.
“It was a harrowing experience for me but I thank God that God sent helpers to me. The day he was eventually released to me, the lawyer said I should bring N30,000 to facilitate his release. I went everywhere but couldn’t get money so I resigned to fate and about 2 pm, I took food to him and it was when I got there that I now met these activists who were interviewing my son and when they saw me, they interviewed me and they promised they would release him to me and that was how my son was brought back to me.”
Narrating his own experience, Gift who said he had always wanted to be a policeman said ”The man that gave me the uniform was also arrested by the police and he was paraded. It was when my mummy sent me to go and buy water and when I was coming back, I met them near the police station. Then he gave me the uniform to wear.
“When I was with the police, every morning they used to beat me, they would say I should tell my mummy to bring N100,000 to bail me. I have always said I wanted to be a policeman. I used to tell my mummy that I wanted to be a police officer”
Release and setting up a trust fund
One of the facilitators of the release of Gift, Marxist Kola Edokpayi recanted his experience to Saturday Vanguard. He said; “We saw it on social media that an eleven years old boy was paraded by the police. After two days, we approached the Commissioner of Police and we told him that we were interested in the matter, that we wanted to make sure that we rehabilitated him. Though it took us some time to convince the Commissioner of Police thereafter he agreed that he would release the boy to us. We also liaised with the DPP which also agreed with us so at the end of the day, the boy was released to us and we have taken him to school and started the process of rehabilitation.
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“We have opened a trust account for him, there are so many friends who have shown interest in the matter. Some have been sending their contributions and we appeal to others to do more. He has resumed school and we have promised to fund his education so that he can fulfill his ambition”
On his part, the Secretary of the Fund, Felix Isere said the rescue and planned rehabilitation of Gift and his family was one of the positives that resulted from the #EndSARS protest. He called for more support for the process.
“I became interested in the matter because I was convinced that there was no way that boy could commit such an offence and I was concerned about the breach of his fundamental human rights being a juvenile.
“We went to their house and it was an emotional moment when we saw their one-room apartment where they stay. We felt that we should not allow his dream to die and that we should use him as a reference point to other children in the street as a way of challenging the government that every child in the street are not miscreants, they are not all criminals, they all have potentials, they have dreams but unfortunately, they don’t have the necessary government support to make them what they want to become.
“We appeal to every Nigerian who believe that the EndSARS struggle was for the ordinary man, that the struggle was a revolution for the downtrodden to support him and make him become what he wants to be.”
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