By Evelyn Usman
In early 2000s, LagosÂ Â state was like a theatre ofÂ Â war, full of violent crimes, instilling the people with fear. Lagosians literarily went to bed with one eye opened.
The situation then could best be described as â€˜war between men of the underworld and the Policeâ€™. It degenerated to an extent that policemen resorted to wearing mufti publicly for fear of being identified and felled by bullets from armed robbers.Â That not withstanding, the command still lost many of its brave officers during several encounters with the dare-devils.
One of such unforgettable incidents occurred on January 30, 2002, where a 40-man robbery gang opened fire on a police patrol team at Okokomaiko, along the Badagry expressway.
The heavily armed men ended up riddling the bodies of policemen inside the vehicle with bullets.Â After ensuring that the policemen were all dead, they went on with their operation, undaunted by challenges from any quarters.
Surprisingly, after the dare-devils disappeared from the scene, one of the policemen was found to be alive.
He was quickly rushed to hospital where doctors battled to save his life.Â Luckily, in spite of the gravity of his wounds, he survived.Â But not without sad tales from the bloody encounter.Â Today, the only surviving victim of that encounter, Sergent Augustine Ugwu is a very sad man.Â This is because after he was discharged from hospital, he has been unable to live a normal life.
He is presently passing through excruciating pains as a result of the injuries he sustained on his waist and legs.Â His condition has been worsened by an addiction to Pentazocine injection, a pain killer injection prescribed for him.
The then Sergeant who was later promoted to the rank of Inspector still has several bullets in his waist which need to be extracted. As you read this piece, his right hand has gone limp,Â apparently as a result of adverse effect of the injection and his skin is conspicuously showing injection holes.
One look at the police officer, described as one of the best hands in his division then, will definitely show that he is now a shadow of his old vibrant self.
Inspector Augustine Ugwu, who hails from Obollo Afor area of Enugu stateÂ needs the sum of N2.5 million to carry out a correction treatment as recommended by medical experts at the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LUTH).
In this heart rendering interview with Crime Guard, Inspector Ugwu recalls how he regained consciousness at the hospital three months after the unforgettable incident which snuffed life out of his other colleagues comprising an Inspector who led the team and two Corporals.
â€œIt all happened on January 30, 2002. Then I was serving at Ojo division. I was about closing for duty at about 6.30pm when a distress call came in that robbers were operating at Ijanikin last bridge .
Four of us left, with an Inspector leading us.Â Â But as we were about turning at Celenizer, around Okoko, to face Ijaniki, we saw two commercial buses loaded with men in military camouflage.
â€œThey disembarked from the buses on sighting the policemen and opened fire on us . They first got the driver, in the process of which the vehicle lost control and hit an electric pole. We all fell off from the car and before we could stand on our feet, they surrounded us and opened fire on us again. They said even if we had charms on us,Â it would not work. One of them boasted that even if we called on God that he would not hear us because it was the devil that was in charge that day. The one that pointed his gun at me told me that in my next world, I would not come back as a policeman .
â€œHe said we got what we wanted by intruding into other peopleâ€™s affairs. After that, he rained bullets on me. When I opened my mouth to talk, he shot me in the mouth and the bullet came out through my right chin.Â My waist, my head and legs were riddled with bullets. When they finished shooting, they shook everyone of us with their legs and said we were all dead. After that, they went ahead with their operation.â€
A part- three student of the Lagos State University(LASU), Ojo, and a driver of an expatriate were also killed in that operation.
Continuing, Inspector UgwuÂ said: â€œAfter they had finished, people gathered and I managed to stand up and begged the on- lookers to take me to the hospital. A man in the crowd attempted to carry me but others stopped him saying if he took me to the hospital, he could be arrested. With that, he left me and I managed to crawl to where the walkie talkie was inside the car and radioed the control room. That was all I could remember until the day I opened my eyes, only to realize I had spent three months in the hospital in coma.â€
At this point, tears started pouring out of his eyes uncontrollably. Thinking he let his emotion loose on recalling the incident, this writer offered him a handkerchief. But the next reaction took her by surprise as he began shivering and at the same time behavingÂ abnormally .
At this point, this writer became apprehensive as he was no longer coherent. But to everyoneâ€™s surprise, he made for his pocket and brought out a syringe with which he injected himself , and later calmed down.
He wasted no time in providing answers to the curious look on this writerâ€™s face, â€œ Sister, this is what I have been going through since seven years. After regaining consciousness at Onyems Hospital, in Ojo area, I could neither hear nor see for 13 months. I was placed on Pentazocine injection, which is a pain reliever. But the problem I am faced with at the moment is that I have become addicted to the injection. If I stay up to 30 minutes without taking the injection, I will be reacting negatively just like you saw me did.
â€œThe injection itself costs N3000 and I need one sachet per day. Because I must get it, I have sold most of my valuables. The last property I sold was my power generating set to get the injection. I have gone bankrupt and I am presently owing pharmacists.
The least I am owing is N28,000. Most times, I buy the drugs on credit with a promise to pay at the end of the month but I end up accumulating more injections than my salary can afford.
Because of this, I have withdrawn my four children from their private schools because I can no longer pay their fees. It was not until recently that I enrolled them in a public school where I still find it difficult to pay even their Parent Teacher Association(PTA) levies.â€
In search of remedy to his present predicament, Inspector Ugwu, who currently serves at Shogunle Police Division, was referred toÂ LUTH where he was assured of medical treatment that will address his addiction and also extract the remaining bullets on his waist. But he is currently faced with the challenge of footing the bill which runs to the tune of N2.5 Million.
In an apparent show of concern, the Lagos State Police Commissioner, Mr Marvel Akpoyibo, in one of the meetings with senior officers of the command, raised the pathetic issue of Inspector Ugwu andÂ the sum of N1.2 million was raised for him.
Commending the CP for such magnanimous show of concern, the wounded police officer said, â€œ the command under the leadership of CP Akpoyibo actually came to my aid, by giving me the sum of N1.2 Million .
Even when I was asked to bring my account number, I told them I had no money to even feed, let alone having an account. The CP gave me N20, 000 to open an account beforeÂ giving me N1.2Million. That leaves me with the urgent need for additional N1.3million to go for the treatment.
I am looking forward to a day I will be relieved of this burden and I am counting on the financialÂ assistance of well meaning Nigerians. Please come to my aidâ€, he appealed.
The Commandâ€™s spokesman, Mr Frank Mba, who described the policemanâ€™s case as a pathetic one, said the command had done the little it can, adding however that response from well meaning members of the public would be a welcome development.