PUBLIC HEARING ON OYERINDE’S MURDER: Nigeria Police Vs State Security
By SIMON EBEGBULEM, Benin City
In what is turning out to be a tragi-comedy, the public hearing on the investigation into the murder of Comrade Olaitan Oyerinde, the late Principal Private Secretary to Governor Adams Oshiomhole of Edo State, revealed a gaping hole in the police investigation. Pitched against the report by the Department of State Security, DSS, the state government and civil society organizations are seeking to understand why the police are parading some persons different from those arrested by the DSS for the same crime.
Worse still, the persons the police are holding responsible for the crime were, according to their own records in the cell, just as the alleged weapon used in the dastardly act was also in the custody of the police. This is the report of the public hearing.
The House of Representatives Committee on Public Petitions, led by Hon. Uzo Azubuike, on Wednesday, heard the petition filed by the Conference of Non-Governmental Organizations (CONGOS) in Edo State, which accused the police of cover-up and professional misconduct in the investigation of the murder of the late Principal Private Secretary to Governor Adams Oshiomhole, Comrade Olaitan Oyerinde.
The hearing, which commenced at about 2pm, lasted till 7:15pm and the disclosures were quite shocking and embarrassing to the nation’s security community. Oshiomhole arrived the complex at 1pm and was eager to present his case before the lawmakers.
The Director General of the Department of State Security (DSS), Mr Ita Ekpenyong; the Deputy Inspector General of Police in charge of the case, Peter Gana; and the investigating police officer, IPO, Deputy Commissioner of Police Chris Ezike, were at the hearing.
Mr O, Olatigbe, a Deputy Director at the Ministry of Justice represented the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mohammed Adoke. Mr Wole Iyamu, the Solicitor General of Edo State, stood in for the Director ofPublic Prosecution in the state; Femi Falana was there for the civil society organization while Gadzama (SAN) represented the police.
Action Congress of Nigeria (CAN) members in the House of Representatives, such as the Minority Whip, Samson Osagie, Pally Iriase, Rasaq Bello-Osagie, Jim Adun were on hand to give solidarity to Oshiomhole. Others who witnessed the proceedings include the President of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Abdulwahid Umar, President General of the
Trade Union Congress (TUC), Comrade Peter Esele, and NLC Deputy National Vice President Isa Aremu. The petitioners had alleged an attempt by the police to shield the real killers of Oyerinde by arresting the Executive Director of the African Network for Environment and Economic Justice (ANEEJ), Rev.David Ugolor, who also was a close friend of the late Oyerinde, as a suspect in the murder case.
A charged Edo governor was the first to speak during the hearing and he took time to narrate his ordeal in the hands of the police during the investigation of the murder of his PPS. While recalling how he was being briefed by the Edo State Director of the DSS, on a daily basis, as investigations progressed, Oshiomhole lamented how he was starved of information by the police despite the fact that he was supposed to be the chief security officer of the state.
He disclosed that he started sensing mischief on the part of the police when Oyerinde’s closest friend and a human rights activist, Ugolor, was arrested and detained for 41 days by the security agency over the murder. He told the committee: “When eventually I got DCP Chris Ezike to brief me, after his narration, I discovered a lot of inconsistencies.
He told me there was communication between the suspects and Ugolor; infact he said that morning he received the call log of Maisamari (suspect). But he could not show me any call log. I called the IG and informed him that ‘I had had interaction with your DC and, from his narrative, there are lots of contradictions.
I ask you to please show more than casual interest in this investigation because you owe that to me as a friend’. Because MD Abubakar, I can call a friend, as I knew him not as a governor and I did not know him as an AIG. I knew him long before he became an AIG. I told him that he could not excuse me that he did not know what his people were saying ab
out the investigation, they could not stand the test of any judicial scrutiny.
“Even when I told them what the SSS did, the police dismissed it and became the defense counsel to the suspects instead of saying, `okay, let us go and find out more’. And I told them they could not dismiss what the SSS did. And, incidentally, the suspects had Olaitan’s phone but you (police) have not shown me any thing at all”.
While the governor noted that he was satisfied with the DSS investigation “because I interviewed the suspects and I saw Olaitan’s phone with them”, he described as a national embarrassment the disagreement between the DSS the police, and insisted that DIG Gana and DC Ezike should be sacked for alleged attempt to shield and the real killers of Oyerinde. Oshiomhole concluded his submission by saying:
“The life of Olaitan is more important to my job and it remains a national embarrassment if two security agencies are coming up with different conclusion on the same case. I believe those who are responsible for the murder of Olaitan had prevailed on the police to help them shield them from possible prosecution and they were deliberately attempting to divert attention by giving the impression that Olaitan was killed by a friend, a human rights activist so as to embarrass the human rights community.
The first police report that was before the magistrate shows that the suspect who allegedly killed Olaitan was in police custody as of April 24, 2012 but Olaitan was killed in May. Secondly, the weapon that was used, according to the police entry, shows that the weapon was recovered on the 24th of April from an armed robbery operation and it was entered in a diary at the Esigie Police Station and that crime dairy was attached. “I called the AIG, that from the narrative of the DC, it was clear that the police killed Olaitan.
He said, `how?’. I said the suspect ‘according to your own findings was in your custody at the time Olaitan was murdered. It is either the police released him to go and kill and return to cell or some thing like that. Again, the weapon that was used was in your custody according to your own findings’.
So if the findings of the police are reliable, it means the police are behind the killing of Olaitan. But if their findings are not reliable even though they were acting on the orders of President Goodluck Jonathan, then Nigeria cannot be safe with people like these in uniform”.
On his part, the Solicitor General of Edo State Iyamu, alleged that the gun that was used to kill Oyerinde was traced to Esigie Police Station, adding that the police had refused to produce the police officer that the gun was issued to on the grounds that he traveled outside the country on an international assignment.
“In every statement that the police had made, up till the brief they submitted to this Committee, they have failed to address the question of this gun. The only thing they said about the gun is that the officer who made the entry traveled on an international assignment. No name has been given, no details.
The fact that at some point in their own report they acknowledged that this so-called principal actor was in their custody as at the 24th of April, any attempt to attribute it to printer’s devil is negligence and is direct attempt to cover-up the crime. Again, the police admitted that they had the call log but they have not addressed the issue of call log.
We were described as busy bodies by the police whereas the murder was done in Edo State. The fact that they attempted to bypass the office of the DPP to Abuja to receive advice shows the mindset of the police and the contempt in which the police treated the Ministry of Justice in Edo State.
They ran to the Federal DPP because it was obvious that they wanted to achieve their own selfish agenda because the murder was committed in Edo State and, as the law demands, the case belongs to the state”. The chairman of the House Committee, Hon. Azubuike, became infuriated when the representative of the Minister of Justice was asked to comment on the disparity between the DSS report and that of the police. Olatigbe, a Deputy Director in the Ministry, admitted that the ministry was in a dilemma as to what to do with the two reports and the parading of different suspects by the DSS and the police.
He said: “We are still weighing the two reports, but we are confused, we don’t know what to do”. Azubuike, who responded angrily, asserted: “It is very shameful and embarrassing that in a situation like this, the office of the Attorney General of the Federation is confused and not in a position to advise.
We have two sets of report; in a situation like this where Nigerians are looking up to you to give us a guide on where to go, you are telling us on record that, after reading the two reports, you are confused and don’t know what to do. It is sad and embarrassing to the nation”.
Tension in the hall further heightened when the DG of the DSS, Ekpenyong, took his turn to give account of their investigation. He gave a detailed account of their findings and explained how one of the suspects, Abdullahi, admitted shooting Oyerinde after he thought that the deceased was trying to bring out a gun.
He disclosed that after scientific investigations, six of the suspects were handed over to the police for prosecution. Apparently reacting to the complaint by the police of inadequate funding, the DSS DG, said, “It is not how much you are given. That issue is, what did you do with the money you were given?
It is a matter of priority. We have a lot of equipment for tracking criminals and that was what we used to get the suspects”. But DCP Ezike denied receiving any exhibit from the DSS. “None of the exhibit items handed to the police by the SSS related to the items stolen from Oyerinde’s house”.
To also denounce the allegation that the police did a shoddy job, Ezike and his boss, DIG Peter Gana, who led the investigation, made frantic efforts to also narrate the investigation carried out by them. Gana replied the DSS boss on the issue he raised that security agents need modern gadgets to fight crime and not the “analogue” method which is outdated. Gana said: “We have modern equipment too and I want to say that the police is not analogue.
We tracked the suspects through our own expertise”. Ezike insisted that the DSS never handed over any exhibit or report of their investigation to the police and that among the seven suspects handed over to them by the DSS, only three were involved in the Oyerinde murder. “And it is not as if they were the killers, they bought items stolen from the scene while some of them are criminals terrorizing Benin City, raping people”.
Ezike insisted that the police arrested the real killers after a painstaking investigation that brought 35 crack detectives across the country to Benin City. But, again, in his usual subtle manner of addressing posers from the police at the hearing, Ekpeyong said: “Only four of my men handled the investigation.
We didn’t need that crowd because everything is scientific now. We can go to my office and I will show you people how the system works. Every thing now about investigation has gone scientific”. While DC Ezike was buttressing his point that the police did a thorough job, the House Committee members observed contradictions in his explanation of the gun traced to Esigie Police Station; consequently he was asked to explain the matter properly.
The police officer had said that the gun was found in a compound through the confession of one of the suspects, Danjuma Musa, adding that the landlady of the compound took the gun to a police corporal who took it to Esigie Police Station. He however indicted the officers at the Esigie Police Station, saying they may have doctored the police diary or that the controversial gun was not properly recorded in the police extract.
According to him, “We went to Esigie and asked after the gun. Initially the DPO said he was on casual leave and that he needed to find out about the gun. He got the gun and brought it to the investigation team, we support it with document.
The DPO now gave us an extract. This extract showed 24 April, 2012, as the date the gun was registered at the station. The issue here is that the armed robbers who raided Olaitan’s house went with three guns. It is not our duty to falsify extracts. Let me also say that the extract in its self had a lot of inconsistencies. Even the timing in the extract made by the police was wrong.
The timing shows that the entry had been made before the gun was brought into the police station”. His answer elicited condemnation from Falana and members of the House Committee who observed that the suspects paraded and the gun were in police custody since April 24, while Oyerinde was killed on May 4.
Which was why Oshiomhole argued that “it is either the police killed Oyerinde by releasing the suspects from police custody to go and kill him and come back or that they are parading innocent Nigerians as suspected killers”. Since the DSS said the suspects were armed robbers and not assassins, Ezike was asked by the Chairman of the House Committee to categorically tell Nigerians the outcome of their investigation. The IPO said, “It was pure assassination. We believed so because there were two men in the house and the gunmen asked the deceased’s wife to identify her husband which she did before Oyerinde was shot”.
Falana quickly observed that while the police said the real suspects were in their custody, “the police took them to the magistrate court in Benin City for prosecution but they are being charged for armed robbery and not murder. Again, the DCP told us that Mrs Oyerinde identified three of the suspects as those that killed her husband through pictorial.
But, according to the same police report, the robbers used torch light when they came, even while asking Mrs Oyerinde about the husband, they were pointing the torch light on her. So the question is how could she have identified three persons in such darkness? This is funny”.
After Falana made his observation, Ugolor broke down in tears raising the alarm over threat to his life, accusing the police of masterminding his arrest and subsequent detention over the death of his bosom friend, Oyerinde. But the Chairman of the House Committee appealed to him to be calm and assured him that God will protect him.
The House Committee members lamented the lack of synergy between the police and the DSS in the investigation of the murder and stressed the need for better cooperation between the two security agencies in the interest of national security. Hon.Azuibuike thanked Oshiomhole for personally attending the hearing and assured that the House will make appropriate recommendations to ensure that no murder goes unpunished in the country.
Meanwhile, in a twist to the Oyerinde murder, the Minister of Justice, on Thursday, disclaimed the statement credited to his representative at the hearing, Olatigbe, that his office was confused on the two reports by the police and the DSS on the matter.
According to him, the prosecution of the matter, being a matter within the purview of Edo State, the Federal Ministry of Justice had no hand in it.
“It has been widely reported in the electronic and print media that Mr. Olatigbe while making his presentation to the Committee, stated among other things that the Ministry of Justice was confused as a result of the investigation reports it had received from the Nigeria Police Force and the State Security Service (SSS) which appeared to have indicted different sets of suspects for the alleged murder of Oyerinde and that the Ministry could not proceed further with the prosecution of the suspects because of the need to harmonise the two reports,”Adoke said in a letter to the House.
He continued: “I wish to completely disassociate myself from the comments purportedly made on my behalf by Mr. Olaitigbe as the comments were at best, a figment of his imagination and very far from the truth. Mr. Olaitigbe was under firm instructions to inform the Committee that:
“The Federal Ministry of Justice had examined the powers of the State Security Service as provided by Section 3 of the National Security Act, Cap.N.74 LFN, 2004 and the powers of the Nigeria Police Force as provided by section 4 of the Police Act Cap. P.19 LFN, 2004 and had come to the reasoned conclusion that the power to investigate crimes of the nature under consideration (murder) resides with the Nigeria Police Force while the power to gather intelligence lies with the State Security Service, and
“Murder, the offence allegedly committed by the suspects is exclusively within the jurisdiction of the States in the Federation. The Criminal Procedure Act, Cap., C. 38 LFN, 2004 is very clear on this matter. The Federal Ministry of Justice therefore has no power to prosecute murder cases as murder is a state offence committed against State law and that the matter was already being handled by appropriate authorities in Edo State.
“In view of the foregoing clear instructions and position, I am shocked, embarrassed and utterly disappointed by the representations reportedly allegedly made on my behalf by Mr. Olatigbe. I have accordingly instituted an internal investigation to unravel the mystery and appropriate measures will be taken to discipline any officer found wanting in this deliberate propagation of falsehood.
“In the meantime, I wish to assure your esteemed members and the general public of the principled stance of my office on this matter as already elaborated above and to inform you that my office was never at any material time confused as to the steps to be taken in this matter. I sincerely regret the misrepresentation and the apprehension that it has generated in the minds of Honourable Members of the Committee, as well as the general public”.