Emma Amaize, Regional Editor, South-South
WHILE he was alive, not many people in Delta State, except his native Okpe local government, Uvwie and environs, reckoned with 38-year-old former governorship candidate of the Citizens Popular Party, CPP, Chief Ogbe Onokpite, but, since November 26 when he was shot dead by the police at Beeland hotel, Orhuwhorun in Udu Local Government Area, he had grown larger than life in death.
The fact that he was an Urhobo son and opposition member, who on a number of occasions in the past, criticized the ruling government in the state, headed by Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan, made some people to conclude that he was eliminated by the police on the instruction of the powers that be to stop his “damaging ” activities.
Though, Uduaghan vehemently debunked the claim that Onokpite was a strong critic of his government, the insinuation has not been completely doused because of the circumstances surrounding his death.
He was picked up by the police about 6.00 pm on the ill-fated Saturday following the arrest of a suspect, Malick Okorokporo, who confessed that he was instructed by the deceased to deliver two AK 47 rifles found on him to one Mr. Collins Egbara. But why he was shot dead and circumstances that led to the shooting have become a contentious affair.
The Inspector General of Police on December 14, sixteen (16) days after solicitor to the family, Festus Keyamo Esq, forwarded , November 28, a strongly worded petition to him on the killing of Chief Onokpite, directed the Commissioner of Police, Delta State, Mamman Tsafe, to investigate the incident. Keyamo rejected the instruction, saying the Commissioner should not be saddled with the responsibility of investigating a matter in which he had already taken side.
Family drags police to court
It is not known whether the Commissioner has carried out the instruction of his boss in view of the strong objection, but the Onokpite family of Ugolo –Okpe, Okpe local government area had sued the Inspector General, Commissioner of Police and Area Commander, Warri at a High Court in Warri.
Saturday Vanguard, nevertheless, gathered on good authority that Commissioner Tsafe was investigating the death of Onokpite as instructed by his boss.
A senior police officer, however, said that by going to the court, “The family is asking the Inspector General of Police to stop the investigation, which they called for and the police would have no option than to wait for the outcome of their court case”.
In a motion on notice filed by J.E. Odoohisi Esq, the family, represented by the eldest man in the Onokpite family, Mr. Lawrence Onokpite, Chief Victor Onokpite and Mr. Diemo Onokpite , urged the court to declare that: “The killing of Mr. Ogbe Onokpite by the third respondent’s men on the 26th of November, 2011, through multiple bullet wounds, is a breach of the said Ogbe Onokpite’s fundamental right to life as protected under Section 33 of the 1999 Constitution”.
Furthermore, it asked the court to declare that the killing of Mr. Ogbe Onokpite was done without or in the absence of a valid sentence/order of a court of in respect of a criminal offence and therefore, illegal, extra-judicial, unconstitutional and without due process.
Another relief sought by the family is an order by the court for an autopsy examination and/or a Coroner inquest into the cause and circumstances of death of the said Mr. Ogbe Onokpite, which death occurred on the 26th day of November, 2011, while he was in police custody.
The family’s grounds for the relief were that the deceased was killed in breach of his fundamental right to life by the police without any court sentence whatsoever and without due process.
The matter was adjourned to January 6, 2012 to enable the police respond to the application by the family.
Police also takes suspect to court
The official police version of Onokpite’s death is that: “The suspect (Malick Okorokporo, the mechanic found with 2 AK 47 rifles) took the patrol team to Beeland hotel to apprehend his principal (Ogbe Onokpite), who attempted to take to flight
on sighting the police, but was maimed. The principal gave up the ghost on the way to the hospital”. That is what Mamman Tsafe said in black and white.
However, he told Saturday Vanguard that Onokpite was armed and in fact, opened fire on policemen in his bid to escape, which made the police to stop him by shooting at him.
On Monday, December 20, few days after the Onokpite family went to court, Malick, who fingered Ogbe Onokpite as the owner of the guns was charged to a Chief Magistrate Court at Otor-Udu in Udu local government area for conspiracy and unlawful possession of firearms. He was remanded in prison custody while the case was also adjourned.
An Assistant Commissioner of Police who spoke to us on the condition of anonymity said, “I don’t know why people are worried about Onokpite. This guy had been arrested for many criminal offences in the past, he is a criminal”.
Ex-council boss corroborates police claim
A former chairman of Uvwie local government council in a petition/report to the police over a shooting incident, 2010, in Effurun, which was obtained by Saturday Vanguard corroborated the claim of the police officer, saying, “This is not the first time that the businessman will be causing this kind of problem in and around Uvwie local government area.
“Reports of his antecedents abound with security agents in and around Delta state and it is a known fact that he has been involved in buying and distribution of arms to thugs in and around Uvwie, which is now freely used at the slightest and minutest provocation”.
He named some of the boys “trained, fed and equipped” with guns to include Onoriede, alias Obaze, Tega, alias Puyo, Akpesiri, alias Arise and Shine, Daniel, Kingsley, alias Abunky, Wilson and others, who he said brandished sophisticated rifles and other dangerous weapons in a free for all fight that caused panic in the local government in 2010.
One of the boys, Wilson, was said to have shot dead a Coca-Cola truck driver when he resisted being robbed during the shooting spree.