By Evelyn Usman
With thoughts far off and stares blank, it was obvious that all was not well with 62-year-old Paul Ajugwogu, who queued among other customers in front of a local food vendor at Oriagu, in Owerri, the Imo State capital.
It took a shove from a visibly hungry man behind him to bring him back to reality. And with a sigh, evident of a frustrated man, Ajugwuogu approached the local food vendor and requested for boiled rice worth N100, with a piece of meat sold for N50. But as he made to cover the food, it fell from his hands. Rather than assist the helpless man, the hungry customer behind him looked away, as he ordered for his own food.
Ajugwuogu absent-mindedness attracted this reporter, who at the end of a short conversion with him, discovered that all was not well him after all. The first tragedy that plunged the father of four into a dilemma occurred 12 years ago, following the demise of his wife in an accident, which saddled him with the responsibility of taking care of their kids all alone.
He eked out his meagre pay as a bricklayer, a skill he passed on to Obinna, his only son. While the family was smarting from the harsh reality of their loss, another ugly incident occurred again on May 25, 2015. This time around, it befell Obinna Ajugwuogu, the heir apparent .
Obinna, Crime Guard gathered, went to a hospital which was under construction in Nkwoumunumo, to check if work had begun on the plastering, in order to apply for him and his father. Then all of a sudden, a team of armed policemen reportedly stormed the uncompleted building, during which one of them allegedly fired a shot which hit Obinna. The policemen, according to an eyewitness, took Obinna into their car and zoomed off, leaving a haze of dust billowing.
Tension at home
Meanwhile, back home, apprehension had set in following Obinna’s absence at about 5pm, a habit described as usual of him whenever he was not at work. Tension heightened at 10pm, after telephone calls to his friends and family members did not give the desired response.
In this interview with Crime Alert, Mr Ajugwuogu revealed: “We went to bed hoping he would show up with an excuse for keeping late.” But he did not.
“Next day”, continued Paul Ajugwogu, “I went to the hospital under construction where I sent him to check if they had started work, only to be told he was shot the previous day by some policemen. But nobody could tell where they took him to. I was afraid and begged God to spear my only son’s life.
“I went to Uriaga and Aba Police Divisions to look for him but was informed they did not have anybody like that with them. Thereafter, I went to check the divisions around Orlu; he was not there either. The second day, I went to Okigwe Area Command, where the policemen checked for his name on the board. Again, my only son’s name was not there. I proceeded to Ukumago, under the Area Command, where I was told he was with them and that they had been taken him to Saint Mary’s Hospital.
“Before I left for the hospital, the policemen said I should refund N26,500, an amount they claimed they deposited for my son’s treatment. Aside that, they asked me to pay N3,500 for his bail. When I asked what his offence was, they could not say. When I persisted, I was told that they saw him and two other boys gambling in front of the building under construction and that my son attempted to run on sighting them.”
Handcuffed at hospital
Continuing, the widower said: “To my shock, when I got to the hospital, I saw my saw handcuffed to the bed like a common criminal. My question is why would a person who did not steal be treated like a common criminal. And to think that nothing is being done or has been done to the policemen is sickening, to say the least.
Obinna is still at the hospital because the bullet affected his bone. I don’t have anyone to run to. I am a poor bricklayer. Obinna learnt the skill from me and he has been of much help to me and his siblings. I cannot work as much as I used to because of my age. He is the one assisting me”, lamented Ajugwuogu, who hails from Ehime, in Mbano Local Government Area of Imo state.
NOPRIN to the rescue
Crime Guard gathered that the Network On Police Reform in Nigeria (NOPRIN), a network of 46 civil society groups committed to promoting police accountability and respect for human rights had, on Wednesday last week, petitioned the Inspector-General of Police, Mr Solomon Arase, urging him to pay particular attention to what it described as “the excesses and lawlessness” of policemen serving in the South-East Zone.
NOPRIN, in the petition signed by its coordinator, Mr Okechukwu Nwagunma, noted that citizens in the zone had consistently cried out about police alleged brutality, urging the IGP to prevail on the Imo State Commissioner of Police to investigate the matter at hand and bring the perpetrators to book.
The petition dated June 3, 2015 read in part: “No receipt was issued to Mr Ajugwuogu by the hospital or the police for the amount paid. In an attempt to shield the hospital, the hospital personnel refused to issue any receipt to the victim’s father even when he demanded for receipt for additional payment of N1,500.00, which he made when he took his son for a check-up and for the removal of the stitches, and the dressing of the wound on the 1st of June.
The victim was also not issued with any hospital card or properly documented as a patient in the hospital. The doctor told the victim’s father that he would only give receipts for any payment for his treatment to the police who brought him to the hospital. “All efforts by the victim’s father to get the details of those who brought his son to the hospital were rebuffed.
The refusal by the doctor to disclose to the victim’s father, the identities of the police officers who brought his son to the hospital suggests that the doctor is working in cahoots with the Okigwe Divisional Police to cover criminal and illegal activities. “The victim’s father said that when he visited Okigwe Police Division and inquired about the police officers who shot his son, a policeman came up to say he was the Investigative Police Officer (IPO).
The victim’s father said that the yet-to-be identified IPO told him that his son was involved in gambling with others at the site and that when he saw them, he started running. The IPO collected his details but refused to release his own identity, and promised that he would call him on his telephone number, a promise he is yet to fulfil till date.
“It took 11 days of efforts by an Owerri-based civil society organisation, CCIDESOR, led by Mr. Emeka Ononamadu to obtain the identity and contacts of both the DPO of Okigwe Division and the doctor of the hospital where the victim was treated. That it took so much time and resources for a civil society group to obtain such basic information is a clear indication of the level of impunity that protects law enforcement agents in the South-East Zone of Nigeria.
“But the identities of the policemen who carried out the illegal and criminal operation are still being shielded by the authorities at Okigwe Division. “From the foregoing narrative, it is very clear that if the victim had died, it would have been very easy for the police to cover up or label him an armed robber or kidnapper.
“Currently, the poor boy and his father have been abandoned in their village without proper medical attention. There are fears that the victim’s left leg may become gangrenous and result in amputation if not properly and urgently treated.
“NOPRIN therefore calls on the IGP to direct the CP Imo to prevail on the DPO Okigwe to provide his men who carried out this operation. They should be subjected to appropriate disciplinary action. They should also be made to take full and adequate responsibility for the treatment and rehabilitation of the victim”, Nwaguma stated.
However when Crime Guard contacted the Divisional Police Officer in-charge of Okigwe, Mr Iwu Christian, a Chief Superintendent of Police, he stated emphatically that no case of such happened in his jurisdiction. Also contacted to ascertain the command’s position, the Imo State Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO), Mr Andrew Enwerem, a Deputy Superintendent of Police, he said he was not aware of the case.