Kill the suspect, obliterate the clue: Reasons why Crimes persist in Nigeria


May 3, 2022

By Suyi Ayodele

“Like the biblical joy among the Angels in heaven over  a sinner that repents, the arrest of Mr. Emmanuel Ovie Edafe Thomas, or Edafe Thomas, for the man changes his name the way the chameleon changes its colour, elicited joy and celebration in all the security agencies in Edo State that fateful Friday, July 16, 2004”. This quotation is the introductory paragraph of the story titled: “Question Over the Mysterious Killing of A Pipeline Vandal”, published in the Saturday Tribune of July 31, 2004 on pages 6 and 25; written by yours sincerely.

My old secondary school principal, Chief A.E O. Agidigbi’s refrain about the Monkeys of the Pampas of Argentina, gave me an inkling of why the Nigeria Police Force will continue to make the same mistake. Chief Agidigbi studied History, a subject he was fascinated about and good at. As a thorough administrator and teacher, the Chief hated forgetfulness. “He who acts the same way gets the same results”, is one of his numerous  epigrams. That epigram stays with me till date. He told us the story of how Argentine hunters hunt monkeys. They rely on the lack of retentive memory of the monkeys, which will always make the same mistake. He would conclude by telling us, anytime we forgot his past admonitions that: “You are like the monkeys of the Pampas of Argentina; you have learnt nothing and have forgotten nothing”. How I wish the Nigerian policemen all passed through Chief Agidigbi.

The Inspector-General of Police, AIG Zone 5, Benin, had declared Ovie Odafe wanted for illegal oil bunkering. The Edo State Command of the State Security Service, SSS, also went ahead and impounded about four cars namely: a Honda Accord, a Peugeot 505 saloon car, a Toyota car and a Mercedes Benz 230 V-Boot from the suspect, who was described as “the most notorious oil pipeline vandal” by the security agencies. Then one beautiful afternoon, information filtered in that Odafe had been arrested by the men of the Edo State Police Command. As reporters, we rushed to Edo State Police Command Headquarters, where Odafe was paraded. According to the police, the suspect was arrested following a tip off by a popular Benin transporter, who alerted the police as Odafe made to sell a 30,000-litre tanker of stolen premium motor spirit, known as petrol to the fuel dump of the transporter along Sapele Road. It was a cheering news for new hounds. The SSS, on its part, said that the agency would take custody of the suspect after the police might have concluded its investigation. The then Director of SSS in Edo State boasted that with the arrest of Odafe, an end had come to illegal oil bunkering in the state, and by extension, the Niger Delta region. The top secret police officer could not have been boasting in vain. Newsmen were told that the suspect had started making confessions and naming those big men behind the illegal act. The names that were confidentially mentioned were very big indeed. We waited for the conclusion of the police investigation and the arrest of Odafe’s accomplices and godfathers.

Some days after Odafe’s arrest, the unthinkable happened. It was a simple invitation by the police. Reporters were asked to come over to  the Military Hospital on Airport Road for an “emergency briefing”; no further information. We scampered to the Military Hospital to  cover the “emergency briefing”. There, the then Commissioner of Police and the PPRO were waiting. On the floor was a corpse, covered. The CP announced that Odafe had been shot dead while trying to escape from police custody. How? When? Where? What happened? The questions were coming in torrents. The PPRO, an eloquent English Language speaker, rose to the occasion. According to him, Odafe was cooperating with the police investigators. He agreed to take the police to the hideout, where his implements for the illegal bunkering were hidden. “As they proceeded, he immediately took to flight and the police had to fire to demobilise him. Unfortunately, it was fatal and he died”, was his explanation. Was the suspect not handcuffed or leg chained to impair his movement while taking the police to the place? The PPRO answered in the negative. I became curious. I asked if we could be allowed to see the corpse, at least to be sure that it was that of Odafe. The police obliged. The cloth covering the corpse was lifted. The suspect was lying face down. A glance at his back showed a large outlet, with torn flesh; an indication of where bullets exited the body. The corpse was turned such that it was facing the heavens. Close to the chest was where the bullet penetrated. I sought an explanation. “Sir, if you said that the suspect was running away when he was shot, does it mean that the person who shot him outran him and was able to shoot him on the chest because with what I am seeing, the bullet entered from the chest and came out at the back”? I asked. The explanation by the police was novel: “What you are seeing at the back of the suspect is the ricocheting effect of the bullet”. “Richo-what? “Which hard object did the bullet hit before bouncing back to hit the suspect”? I further asked. Don’t let me bother you with the explanation. It was and still as puerile as the blabbing of a six-month old child. Suffice to say that with the killing of Odafe by the police, the boast of the Edo SSS Command then to end illegal oil bunkering in the state and to a larger extent the Niger Delta region ended when a “singing” prime suspect, who was said to have named some big men, suddenly died in the hands of his captors. Nigeria is the worst off today. The business of illegal bunkering has gone beyond the sale of a 30,000-litre tanker, to the laying of direct pipes from the source of crude oil to the high sea, where ships ferry the product to foreign land. We are still counting our losses.

Again on July 30, 2009, the Nigerian nation lost the golden opportunity to nip in the bud, the  monster known as Boko Haram. That was the day the police in cold blood, murdered the founder of the dreaded and deadly religious sect, Mohammed Yusuf, also known as Ustaz Mohammed Yusuf. The sect held the entire Borno State by the jugular in the month of July 2009. Yusuf and his gang of killers were so vicious that the police could not handle the situation. The Military was called in. In a matter of days, Yusuf was apprehended at his in-laws house and handed over to the police for further interrogation and possible trial. On July 30, a buxom looking Yusuf was summarily executed at the front of the Borno State Police Command Headquarters in Maiduguri, by the same police. The explanation, of course, was similar to that of the killing of Odafe in Edo State. Yusuf, the police told a bewildered nation, was shot when he was trying to escape! End of story! End of investigation! The news of Yusuf’s death infuriated his lieutenants, who immediately went off the deep end, visiting sorrow, tears and blood on all of us. Nobody in Nigeria today has the statistics of how many of our fellow citizens the Boko Haram insurgents have killed. And nobody will ever know the number of more Nigerians the adherents of the bloody sect would still kill. Just on Sunday, October 23, 2022, the United States of America Embassy in Abuja issued a security alert  of “an elevated risk of terror attacks in Nigeria, especially in Abuja…”. The US Embassy listed target areas to “include, but not limited to government buildings, places of worship, schools, markets, shopping malls, hotels, bars, restaurants, athletic gatherings, transport terminals, law enforcement facilities and international organizations”. You may wish to ask: where else will people go to in the entire Abuja if all the listed places are soft targets for terror attacks? This is what a nation gets when its police deliberately kill suspects who have clues to an emerging crime.

Like the monkeys of the Pampas of Argentina in my old principal’s cliché, the Nigeria Police Force has learnt nothing with the killing of suspects. It repeated the same thing on Friday, October 21, 2022, when one of the top echelon of the police in Edo State, shot to death, point blank, the only suspect arrested after the deadly attack on the convoy of the General Overseer of the Omega Fire Ministry, Auchi, Edo State, Apostle Johnson Suleiman, during which three policemen, two drivers, one housemaid and one other were killed. The Edo Police Command, while confirming the incident, through its PPRO, Chidi Nwabuzor, said: “The attack on Johnson Suleiman was actually true. He was attacked by hoodlums yet unknown at about 5:00 p.m. He was attacked at home”. Suleiman immediately put a lie to that vide two separate videos, where he claimed that the attack on him was an assassination attempt that was carried out on the road. The police was later to affirm that when, on Saturday, October 22, the Command’s deputy PPRO, Jennifer Iwegbu, issued a statement to confirm that the attack “occurred yesterday 21/10/22 at about 1745hrs along Warreke-Auchi Road, Edo State where the convoy vehicle of the General Overseer of Omega Fire Ministry, Apostle Johnson Suleiman was attacked by unknown assailants suspected to be assassins”. A former human rights activist, Sheu Sani, who said he spoke to Suleiman affirmed: “I have just spoken with Apostle Suleiman. He confirmed to me that it was an assassination attempt on his life and that some of his aides lost their lives. He also confirmed there was an arrest”. Then a new dimension was introduced, when a viral video, with a voice over narrated that the suspect, earlier believed to have been arrested, was actually shot dead during a gun duel with the police.

Suleiman would not have that. The preacher, in another post on his Twitter handle, alluded to a cover-up, alleging that the suspect was handed over to the police flesh and blood and wondered why he should be killed if not that the police was trying to cover-up, stressing that there was no basis for his killing. Later in the day, a new video, showing the arrested suspect in a car and one of the policemen drawn from Auchi Police Division, pumping hot bullets into his body went viral. It was a gory scene. The policeman, as depicted in the video, first fired shots at the helpless suspect on one side of the vehicle and moved to the other side to finish off the suspect. A friend of mine, after watching the two minutes fifty second-video described it as “murder in public! Public execution without trial! This guy is either mentally unstable. He did it like Maliyamugu”. You need to remember General Isaac Maliyamungu of the Uganda Army during the infamous reign of self-promoted Field Marshal Idi Amin Dada. The suspect was arrested by the vigilante and handed over to the police. The locals gave the police another opportunity to get at the very root of the matter. But what did the police do? Acting on the prompt of the crowd, policeman, rained bullets on the suspect and killed him in a car! There was no trial. There was no profiling. Just a summary execution of a suspect arrested by civilians and handed over to a supposedly civilised agency like the police. Iwegbu, in another two-paragraph statement on Saturday, said that  “As part of the measures of the Command concerning the circumstances that led to the death of one of the surviving members of the monstrous gang that attacked the convoy of Apostle Johnson Suleiman, General overseer of Omega Fire Ministry, the outgoing CP now AIG Abutu Yaro fdc has ordered the withdrawal of CSP Ayodele Suleiman, DPO Auchi for debriefing at the State Headquarters with immediate effect”. As the nation awaits the outcome of the CP’s investigation, the fact should not be lost on us that once again, the police have obliterated the clue to unraveling those behind the attack on Apostle Suleiman. Why the policeman did what he did, he alone can tell. Incidentally, nobody is asking any questions in that regard. What was the policeman trying to do? Was he paid to do that? Was he just being overzealous? Is the killing a cover up? Questions, questions and questions.

But beyond the interrogation of the Auchi Police Divisional Officer, the police authorities should also call in Apostle Suleiman himself for questioning. Why? The Apostle, in the immediate video he released after the attack said that he knew those behind the attack but would not name names! Hear him: “Since 2017, there are certain things that have been happening, that I have been quiet about…My car was attacked, they opened fire on my car and kept spraying it with bullets and my wife and kids were there… People who did this expect me to come out, mention their names so that they would come out and deny. I won’t do that…” Bunkum! Apostle cannot afford to keep quiet on this. He knows the perpetrators; if he fails to tell us their identities, then he is guilty of the crime of “accessory after the facts of mass murder”! For crying out loud, seven beautiful souls were wasted and here is a principal witness telling us that he would not mention the names of the perpetrators! Who does that? What about the families of the slain individuals? How do you assuage their pains, when the man, whom they sacrificed their lives for would not reveal the identities of the killers? Can I commend my lord, Apostle Suleiman, to the Biblical injunction as espoused by his brother Apostle Paul, in 2nd Timothy 4: 14, to wit: “Alexander the coppersmith did me much evil: the Lord reward him according to his works”. Suleiman cannot do otherwise!

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