A federal court in Ottawa, Canada, has refused the asylum application of a former operative of the special anti-robbery squad (SARS),Olushola Wazzi Popoola.
Popoola became a member of the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) in 2002 and was attached to SARS until 2005. He was later transferred to the anti-robbery unit in Lagos, where he served until 2009.
Between 2009 and 2011, he was deployed to the SARS office in Lagos.
Following the death of his father in 2011, Popoola resigned from the police but his resignation was not accepted. He was thereafter transferred to Iju where he attained the rank of sergeant before leaving the in 2015.
In 2016, he left Nigeria for the United States from where he crossed to Canada and claimed refugee status.
However, his claim was suspended while his case was referred to the immigration division (ID) of the Immigration and Refugee Board for a determination of his admissibility.
After reviewing documentary evidence, the ID, on October 15, 2019, found Popoola inadmissible pursuant to section 35(1)(a) of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.
According to the ID, the Nigeria Police Force and SARS, in particular, have committed crimes against humanity.
“This is because mistreatment and torture of police detainees is endemic in Nigeria, for a number of reasons including corruption and impunity. Extrajudicial killings are frequent.
“The SARS, in particular, is singled out in the documentary evidence as one of the most brutal units of the Force,”the ID said.
POPOOLA APPEALS ID’s DECISION
In his appeal against his inadmissibility to Canada, Popoola argued that “he spent most of his time with the force in units other than the SARS, and that his five years with the SARS is a relatively short time.”
He noted that his contribution to crimes committed by the police force was not significant.
Popoola told the court that the “ID breached procedural fairness by rejecting his testimony without providing adequate reasons.”
But in a judgement delivered on April 8, Sébastien Grammond, the judge, agreed that the ID was right in its decision.
“A finding that Mr. Popoola engaged in crimes against humanity does not require proof that he personally tortured detainees— which he denies.
“Rather, his contribution to the organization’s crimes must be assessed according to the test laid out by the Supreme Court of Canada in Ezokola v Canada (Citizenship and Immigration), 2013 SCC 40,  2 SCR 678 [Ezokola].
“In this regard, the ID considered that Mr Popoola voluntarily joined the Nigerian Police Force; that he spent five years with the SARS, a unit known for being especially brutal; that he admitted knowing about the prevalence of torture and mistreatment of detainees in the organization, although he tried to minimize its scope in his testimony; and that he resigned for personal reasons, not because he learned of human rights abuses.
“As to his contribution to the organization’s crimes, the ID concluded as follows: Since Mr. Popoola reasonably knew that when he was a member of the SARS the suspects he handed over to the criminal investigation department would be subject to human rights violations, the tribunal finds this to be a significant contribution to the criminal purpose of the organization since he had the knowledge of what could befall the individual subject to investigation.
“For these reasons, Mr Popoola’s application for judicial review will be dismissed,” the judge held.
During the October 2020 #ENDSARS protests, Nigerians in Canada were vocal in their support of the movement.
Kaycee Madu, a Nigerian-born lawyer and Minister of Justice in a Canadian province, had backed the protest and encouraged Nigerians to lend their voices to the fight for freedom from police brutality and injustice.
Madu had said his cousin, Chrisantus Korie, was killed by the police in Nigeria in 2013 and that the murder was not investigated.