By Tony Eluemunor
Monday, 25th of last month, some of those suspected to have abducted and killed the King of Ubulu-Uku, Obi Ofulue III, were in court once again. But the court session was not reported by a single news outlet in Nigeria. Yet, that day’s session was important because Pastor Afam Ugboh, who was abducted with the king but escaped by 3.30 pm two days later and arrived at an Mbiri village farm settlement by 9.30 pm, testified in court that those four persons arraigned in court that day were among those who kidnapped them.
When the defendants’ lawyers tried to rubbish his testimony, pointing out that his police statement did not describe the suspects in detail … he replied that those who kidnapped them wore no face masks all through the ordeal they put him through, and he knew the names they called themselves, so he knew them intimately. Thus, he ascribed certain actions to the relevant accused persons in court, and said that he had also identified the suspects during a parade the police organised.
Why would a case that had so captivated the nation suddenly grew so cold that no news media was interested in it? Well, one reason is that five good years have elapsed since the kidnapping and murder. Then, the Covid-19 pandemic further poured cold water on the case as it went into abeyance for months. Also, the normal court where the case used to hold was in Asaba, but it was destroyed by hoodlums during the anti-SARS protests which rocked Nigeria last year.
When that case broke on Tuesday, January 5, 2016, it was regarded as murder most foul. Yes, by 2016, that a traditional ruler of a major town could be kidnapped and slaughtered by suspected Fulani cattle herders or any group at all, was a devilish novelty. Even wanton kidnapping was just crawling into the country. So the news hit Nigeria like a slap on the face. Respectable sensitivities were scandalised everywhere and cries rose up from every corner, asking for justice to be brought swiftly on the criminals’ heads.
The late monarch, His Royal Majesty, the late Obi Akaeze Edward Ofulue had wanted to go to Asaba, the Delta State capital and some persons, including his younger brother, Nzekwu were waiting for him at an agreed spot. But instead of going east as the crow flies, he turned west, because he wanted to drop somebody at Onicha-Ugbo, then he would continue on his trip.
That act of kindness was his last deed on earth as he and the passenger he was giving a lift in his Land Cruiser vehicle/full-size SUV, were abducted. The king was leaving Obior to enter the Benin-Asaba expressway at Igbodo. The unassuming Obi was in his noted simplicity driving himself, and no guards drove ahead of, or behind him.
Those who knew him closely would have been aware of that easy-going nature of his. He was totally down to earth, and was the sort of Christian that never allowed accidents of birth or position in the society to interfere with the way of life he had embraced; remarkable simplicity. Nothing worried him unduly. Almost always, a smile played on his lips. Whether privately or in public, he preferred that to the grim visage most assume when they become kings.
After a terrible interlude of 15 days, 15 horrible days in which, grief, worry and uncertainty reigned in Ubulu-Uku, the Obi’s remains were discovered near Umunede town.
The ransom money had been contributed equally between an Asaba-based daughter and an Abuja-based son of Ubulu-Uku, and only doubts from the relevant authorities had counselled that the ransom money should not be delivered because it had appeared as though the king was dead, as the kidnappers no longer put him on the phone.
But once the dead body was discovered the police stopped all pretension and went into an investigation over drive. In a matter of days the results showed. The Commissioner of Police, Alkali Baba Usman deservedly, gloated mid-February that “In the course of investigation, on February 8, the late Obi’s Samsung handset was recovered from Jamilu Ahmed at Abraka market, Asaba and was promptly arrested. The suspect’s useful statement to investigators led to the arrest of Umar Abubakar who claimed to have sold the handset to the former.
Abubakar said the phone man claimed that a man nicknamed ‘Money Dey’ now at large gave him the Samsung handset to sell for him.”
CP Usman disclosed that Usman Musbau, who deleted the contacts from the Obi’s phone has been arrested, Suleman Musa, the second-in-command to the kidnap kingpin, Farida Abubakar, a girlfriend to Dogo who was in possession of Afamefuna’s (the person kidnapped with the Obi) Nokia Asha 201 phone was nabbed in Adamawa State and Garba Abubakar, the leader of the gang nicknamed Dogo, was arrested at a Fulani settlement in Alfarma village in Gangaza local government area of Sokoto State.
So, the trial had appeared like an open and close one. Yet, five years later, it is still on. This has made Ubulu-Uku people worried. Now that the trial has resumed, the anger in the town’s peoples’ hearts are burning again, as discussions are becoming passionate again.