Oyerinde: Two years on, justice still a mirage
Oyerinde: Two years on, justice still a mirage
by SEBASTINE EBHUOMHAN on Apr 27,2014
Comrade Olaitan Oyerinde, the Principal Private Secretary to Edo State Governor, Comrade Adams Aliyu Oshiomhole, was murdered at about 1.00am on Friday, May 4, 2012 when unknown gunmen pumped bullets into his head, chest and stomach in his house at 2nd Ugbor Street in Benin City, Edo State, in the presence of his wife and in-law.
He reportedly died in the arms of his fellow activist and friend, Reverend David Ugolor, who had joined Oyerinde’s terrified wife, Funke Labake, in that wee hours to rush him to hospital for treatment after the assailants had gone away with the phones of the victim’s family.
Some days later, the police made a cerebral arrest of Ugolor, a well acknowledged pain in the neck of the Federal Government on issues of impunity and corruption, before events began to unfold. It was not surprising, therefore, that Ugolor, who accused the Federal Government of a frame up with the government’s allegation of sponsoring the murder, challenged his detention in court and duly obtained acquittal as well as N5m compensation against the Nigeria Police Force after the court affirmed his innocence.
In spite of the criticisms and complaints of the Inspector-General of Police and Attorney-General of the Federation against the judgment of Justice Esther Edigin of Edo State High Court, Justice Helen Ogunwumiju of the Court of Appeal upheld the judgment, which the police are presently appealing at the Supreme Court as notice of appeal: CA/B/360/12 and suit: B/496M/2012.
But the police had also considered issues indirectly related to Oyerinde death to detain Ugolor. Such an issue was that Oyerinde had in the evening socialized in the company of a female friend, Miss Blessing Ada Ogbonna and her younger sister and Ugolor. Our correspondent investigation reliably gathered that the relationship between Oyerinde and his friend was causing disagreements in his home.
So, an inconsolable Oshiomhole was not just burdened by the gruesome killing of an aide that served him from the NLC and who he fondly called “my son,” he also began to see his effort to find the killers stiffly resisted by amongst other things, the competitive, contentious and conflicting reports of the police and DSS, leading to the detention of two different groups of suspected killers of Oyerinde, in spite of a N10m offer for information. It also resulted in an altercation between Governor Oshiomhole and Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation, Mr. Mohammed Bello Adoke, in Abuja.
Unsurprisingly, two years after the murder, those who killed Oyerinde are yet to be prosecuted. Instead, the people have continued to be fed with drama of security agencies’ disagreements while the cry for justice for the dead echoes.
Unsubstantiated Allegations The investigation of the killing of Oyerinde has been dogged by many controversies and problems; not the least the litany of unresolved claims surrounding it. For example, while the police initially paraded Ugolor and eight other suspects for the murder, the SSS paraded a gang of six different suspects for the same murder days later. The SSS suspects have since been handed over to the police for prosecution.
Notably, the police that are constitutionally empowered to make arrest and prosecute a suspected criminal were unable to substantiate their claims against the principal suspect, Ugolor, as the murder sponsor. The unsubstantiated claims and controversies included: alleged telephone calls to accomplices, records of payments of parts or all of N20m allegedly promised for the murder, a criminal error of omission or commission to affect an autopsy early on the corpse, incorrectly entered data for weapon and suspected criminals at Esigie Police Division and disrespect for a competent court ruling amongst others.
The abnormality did not escape the attention of Governor Oshiomhiole in a statement from Edo State Government House.
“Like every other Nigerian, the Governor is extremely worried about the claims of two federal security agencies, which, no matter what anyone says, at the end of the day, one of the arms must clearly be playing out a script designed to shield the actual killers and, or their sponsors and make it fits into the unenviable record of unresolved politicallymotivated murder cases in the country, which Mr. President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, has denounced publicly when he ordered the security agencies, in unmistakable terms, to fish out the killers of Comrade Oyerinde.”
“For the avoidance of doubt, there are too many contradictions in the narrative of the police and their reluctance even to brief the Governor on the progress as the Chief Complainant and also as the Governor of Edo State.”
“With the level of technological advancements in the world, and given the police admission that a lot of the exchange of conversation between the alleged suspects was on the telephone, the Governor is of the view that the police ought to have established through the call logs the evidence between the suspects before the detention of Rev David Ugolor,” the statement concluded.
The cumulative effects of the contradictions on the search for justice could not have been painted sordidly by any other person than Edo State Attorney- General and Commissioner of Justice, Mr. Henry William Idahagbon.
In an exclusive interview, Idahagbon lamented, “The position now is that the matter has been stalemated. This is the only country in the world where such a thing will be possible: where you have two different security organs of government parading two different sets of criminals who claimed to have killed only one person. Oyerinde could have only been killed at a particular time by a gang of criminals. So, for us to have two sets claiming to have killed him, it is not possible for a man to be killed twice. So, that has created the stalemate. Honestly, how to navigate out of that stalemate, I cannot pontificate on it right here. But it has created difficulties for us as prosecutors.”
Motives for Oyerinde Murder
The Nigeria Police Force in Abuja traced four possible motives for the murder. They were: political assassination, landlord and tenant dispute, armed robbery, and Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) leadership dispute. The police explained that “the avalanche of media reports cum speculations on political assassination, perhaps, arising from the heightened political tempo as a result of the impending governorship election in the state,” informed the searchlight on political assassination after the fatal accident involving the governor on April 28th 2012.
The police also explained that Oyerinde had a legal dispute with his landlord, Architect Hope Akpo Eju, for which reason the landlord avoided paying his family a condolence visit after his death.
The police also argued that the fact that the two girlfriends Oyerinde lodged in a hotel in Benin socialized with him and Ugolor earlier in the evening of May 3rd 2012, informed the motive of armed robbery to ascertain whether anybody trailed them from the hotel and back.
Furthermore, the police explained that the motive of NLC leadership dispute was to determine whether the expected assumption of office by Oyerinde as Acting Secretary-General of NLC followed due process and whether it was received cordially or acrimoniously.
But there was a fifth motive the police did not know about, a certain nude picture of a top politician that was posted on the internet, as Sunday Mirror investigation revealed. Oyerinde was said to have damned the consequences of posting the picture, as our correspondent discovered, with the intention of publicly ridiculing the governorship campaign of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in Edo State, against the advice of some senior government officials, who declined to post the picture for fear of being killed and who craved anonymity to speak.
House of Representatives Report
Following an investigative hearing that was conducted last year, the House of Representatives availed its recommendations in a report titled: Report of the Committee on Public Petitions on the Petition by the Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) in Edo State on the Murder of Comrade Olaitan Oyerinde and Alleged Complicity of Police in Shoddy Investigation, a 20-page report released at the end of 2013.
In its seven-point recommendation signed by the Chairman, Hon. Uzo Azubuike, the House of Representatives Committee on Public Petitions mandated the Inspector-General of Police to harmonise the conflicting reports of police and SSS and handover the case file to Edo State Attorney-General for prosecution.
It mandated the IGP to investigate the DPO and officers of Esigie Police Station for the manifest inconsistencies in the documentation of arms in its Crime Diary and Exhibit Register.
Also, it mandated the IGP to investigate Ugolor “beyond the confession of a suspect, subject to diligent pursuit of his suit for his arrest and detention”; a recommendation that is clearly antithetical to the ruling of a competent court that discharged and acquit Ugolor in the murder, and which the whole House later deleted after the police started moving to re-arrest Ugolor.
Furthermore, it urged inter-agency cooperation and collaboration, condemned the publication of classified communications in the media, directed the sharing of information of future investigation of similar cases by the IGP with Governors “as Chief Security Officers of their States” and commended the police and SSS for the bad job done.
A review of the report last month by the Network on Police Reform in Nigeria (NOPRIN Foundation), lambasted the Committee for presenting a compromised report that strenuously failed an attempt to “exonerate the police on the allegation of complicity in shoddy investigation of the murder of Comrade Olaitan Oyerinde,” according to the National Coordinator, Mr. Okechukwu Nwanguma.
It is even more shocking as Edo State Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Mr. Henry Idahagbon on Thursday in a telephone response denied being handed the case file since by the police since the Committee’s report was released. He also stated, categorically, that there was no chance of a successful prosecution of the killers of Oyerinde with the two reports that are presently available.
It would therefore, seem that the reason there are many cases of awaiting trial in Nigeria is because cases stay too long in courts. However, the delay in diligent prosecution or non-prosecution of cases owe mainly to poor investigation, bad prosecution, absence of cooperation between agencies, lack of communication between government authorities and law officers, constitutional inadequacies, corruption and impunity.
The situation calls for a broader support of the European Union (EU)-sponsored, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC)-implemented Federal Justice Sector Reform Coordinating Committee (FJSRCC) Programme, a pilot programme in nine states that unexplainably omits Edo State in spite of the posers of Oyerinde murder.
While the FJSRCC was constituted in 2008 to develop an Action Plan, coordinate all justice reform programmes and create a synergy between the numerous justice sector institutions and agencies, the Committee has, after a painstaking research and working review of justice facilities for a crime and justice data bank, introduced a bill. The Justice Sector Reform Bill seeks to streamline the time between arrest and prosecution of suspect in court and review the Nigerian Prison Standing Order.
For example, it makes it mandatory for state Commissioners of Police to brief state Attorneys-General and Inspector-General of Police to brief Attorney- General of the Federation. Also, it seeks the quick passage of about 10 other justice sector bills, one of which seeks to initiate finger print data, according to Justice Sector Reform National Technical Expert, Mrs. Ugonna Ezekwem.
As for the problem of antiquity, Mr. Wali, SAN, suggested the automation of Nigeria’s judicial system by both Federal and State Governments. Automation of the system, he says, would help to save time by rescuing Judges and Magistrates from the pain of writing in long hands as counsels, clients and witnesses argue and counter-argue in courts.
Until all these things and other right things are done, the cry for justice in the murder of Olaitan Oyerinde may not end.