•Hit and run commercial driver admits killing him

NUJ reacts, Senate President, Govs Okowa, Ortom commiserate with family, Vanguard Newspaper

By Henry Umoru; Levinus Nwabughiogu; Dirisu Yakubu &Luminous Jannamike

One month after a reporter with Vanguard Newspapers, Mr Tordue Salem, was declared missing in Abuja, the Police authorities yesterday paraded a 29-year-old commercial driver, Itoro Clement who was said to have hit and killed Tordue but ran away.

This was as the House of Representatives Press Corps, HoRPC has petitioned the Nigerian Union of Journalists, NUJ on the matter, demanding justice for their late colleague.

Essentially, the NUJ in response to the petition of the HoRPC demanded that an independent enquiry be established and an autopsy carried out on the body to determine the date and time of his death.

Salem, a Journalist covering the House of Representatives got missing on October 13, 2021 in Abuja at about 8pm on his way from work. His sudden disappearance subsequently elicited concerns from Nigerians and corporate organizations including  the Nigerian Union of Journalists, NUJ, Federal Capital Territory, FCT and Civil Society Organizations, CSOs.

Recall that members of NUJ in the FCT council staged a peaceful protest to police headquarters, urging them to find Salem. Similarly, miffed by the ugly development, both chambers of the National Assembly, Senate and the House of Representatives on Tuesday passed a resolution on the matter, mandating the security agencies in the country to investigate the circumstances of Salem’s disappearance and possibly find him.

On the heels of the resolution, the Police, 30 days after Salem’s disappearance said they have found the body. Addressing newsmen on the incident at the premises of Intelligence Response Team, IRT located in the former Special Anti-Robbery Squad, SARS, headquarters in Abuja, the Force Public Relations Officer, FPRO Mr. Frank Mba who was flanked by the Head of IRT, Tunji Disu,  said upon interrogation, Clement, a commercial driver admitted to have hit Salem around Mabushi/Wuse area of Abuja metropolis at about 10 pm on the day of he got missing. He said the driver took off immediately and never reported the accident to the police.

How we found Salem’s body at hospital morgue-Police

According to Mba, further police investigations indicated that Salem’s body, already identified by members of his family, was deposited at Wuse General Hospital’s morgue. He said that the police were however able to retrieve three identity cards and two Automated Teller Machine (ATM) cards of two commercial banks when the body was searched. The identity cards included those of Vanguard Newspapers, the National Assembly (House of Representatives) and the Nigerian Union of Journalists, NUJ.

He said: “Henry Tordue Salem was last seen on the 13th of October, 2021. A friend of his reportedly dropped him off at a gas station somewhere in Shehu Shagari way, and from that moment, he was never seen again. When that case was reported to the police, the IGP Usman Alkali Baba gave very clear instructions to our detectives in the Force Intelligence Bureau to take up this matter which was already being investigated in different departments at the National Assembly police station and the FCT CID.

“The Intelligence Bureau was mandated to take over and consolidate all the case files and conduct very discreet investigation into that case. Acting on that directive, detectives from the IRT swung into action. Henry’s movement was trailed up to BJ Gardens located somewhere in Garki close to old CBN. A young lady that had an interaction with him on the night of disappearance was located and detectives spoke to her. From that point, investigators expanded their investigation by working on different suppositions and hypothesis.

“A major breakthrough was however made when his phone, an iPhone 6 that had already been smashed into pieces was trailed and found in a garage somewhere in Mpape called ‘Good Friends’ garage.

“It was discovered that a text call was made from his SIM card and following detailed and intensive digital and forensic analysis on both his CDR and IMEI and the scrap phone, major arrest and breakthrough was made. One Itoro Clement who happens to be a commercial driver in charge of a Toyota Camry 2014 model with registration number, BWR 243 DK was subsequently arrested.

“On interrogation, Itoro Clement stated clearly that on the night that Henry Tordue Salem disappeared, he had a hit-and-run incident somewhere around Mabushi – Wuse interchange.

“That accident reportedly happened at about 10pm. The driver stated that after knocking down an unknown pedestrian, he did not stop but continued his journey, and immediately ended up his activities that day. He drove his vehicle to ‘Good Friends’ garage where he normally parked his vehicle every night for a fee. 

“At that point in time, his vehicle was already badly damaged. The windshield suffered a major damage. The image of the damage was retrieved from his phone. He parked his car and left it there and went away.

“The next morning when he arrived the garage, he found a phone broken and stuck in between the smashed windshield. The phone itself had already been smashed. He pulled it out and threw it away. But some other young persons playing in that garage eventually picked up that phone. Part of the components of this phone was allegedly sold off by the kids while they tried to make a text call with the SIM card.

“On the strength of this, detectives moved to the General Hospital that covers that area. Yesterday, the 11th of November, 2021, after a lot of painstaking search, a body believed to be that of Henry Tordue Salem was found at about 11:20am at Wuse General Hospital morgue. Detectives have already contacted the family members and his body has been positively identified by family members as that of Henry Tordue Salem.

“In addition to that physical and positive identification, detectives also searched the body of the late Journalist and these items were recovered: A Keystone bank debit card bearing his name; a Union Bank debit card bearing his name; an ID card issued by Vanguard Newspapers identifying him as Henry Tordue Salem and a staff; another ID card from the Nigerian Union of Journalists, and a temporary ID card from the National Assembly identifying him as a member of the House of Reps, Press Corps.”

Asked who deposited the body and why the hospital didn’t contact the police at the time, Mba said he could not speak for the hospital. He however attributed the gap to some administrative negligence, admitting that due diligence may not have been done.

The interface went thus:

Journalists: Who deposited the body and why didn’t the hospital report when an unknown body was brought to the hospital?

Mba: I can’t answer for the hospital

Journalists: Are there not people that should be arrested in this case ?

Mba: As far as we are concerned, the basic message today is the fact that we have been able to find his body and positively identified  him. We have the driver who will speak to you and explain further on what transpired. We will also be looking at other persons who were supposed to take certain actions as well as issues of negligence and failure of any individual to carry out his duties as responsible as he should. These are issues we will deal with after this case”.

We arrested another suspect in Port Harcourt—Mba

Mba also revealed  that another arrest was made in Port Harcourt, Rivers State of a young man of 25 years old who had demanded ransom in connection with the case.

“We appeal to all those in charge of automobile to see it as both civic and sacred responsibility to report every incident involving a hit on innocent road users. If you feel very strongly that the incident occurred at night in an unsafe place or you feel there is a chance of an angry mob descending on you if you stop; if there is any fear over your safety or the safety of other persons, the best thing for you to do is to go to the nearest police station and willingly, voluntarily and responsibly turn in yourself. Report the case, if you do it, you will just be helping to save someone’s life. Perhaps, with a quick response, someone’s life might be saved. It will also give you a sense of penance to go through the entire criminal justice system and reduce the trauma you suffer psychologically for accidentally knocking down another human being. If he had had that report properly made, we would have been able to solve this problem a long time ago.

“It will surprise you to know that we arrested one Prince Enehinyi, 25, in Port Harcourt. He is currently in one of our detention facilities in Rivers state. Following the massive media activities around the disappearance of Henry Tordue Salem, this young man went to a bulk SMS platform, originated a message and sent it to Henry’s family claiming to be a kidnapper who had kidnapped Henry and demanded a ransom of N20m.

“Unluckily for him, the family worked very closely with us on this matter. We followed up on that and by the time we arrested this young man, it was clear to us that he would not immediately take us to where Henry was at that point in time. Once again, I advise citizens to be wary of people who come calling whenever people are in challenging situations. There are people who will merchandise every challenge or distress others are going through.

“On our part, we will continue to do everything humanly and operational possible to tackle all forms of crimes and criminality in this country. We will continue to work with relevant stakeholders, community leaders, the media and faith-based organizations and government at all levels to deal with emerging crime trends in our country”, Mba said

How I killed Salem—Commercial driver, Clement

On his part, Clement also narrated the incident, saying he thought the person he knocked down was an armed robber. He said the person hurriedly crossed the road as if he was being chased by some people. The hit and run driver added that the spot where the incident occurred was notably notorious which made him not to stop.

READ ALSO: Tordue Salem: It’s hit-and-run, Police claim; parade suspect

He said: “On the 13th of October, I was coming from Jabi, going to Wuse Market. I was driving at 100kmph. After the Mabushi bridge towards Wuse Market, I saw people rushing to cross the road. The first person crossed while the second person ran into my vehicle and was knocked down. But I moved on. The reason I did not stop there was because I had earlier been attacked there by robbers in October.

“I told the policemen at the nearest check point that I knocked someone down. Then, I went to park my damaged car. I had serious injury in my hand. Truly, I didn’t follow the advise by the policemen I met to report the case to the Wuse Divisional Police Station. Where I used to park my car, they know me as a taxi driver. The next morning, I called a panel beater to fix my car and found out that there was a smashed phone stuck in the wind shield wiper. I thought it was an armed robber who was chasing a victim that I knocked down so I didn’t stop. On seeing the phone, I simply threw it away”.

How my son picked Salem’s phone-Guard

Similarly, the security guard in charge of the garage, Mohammed Musa who the police said would serve as the prosecution witness also narrated his own side of the story.

He said, “I am a security officer in charge of ‘Good Friend’s garage. I know  Itoro Clement as our customer. On October 13, he came as usual to park his car, and we discovered he came with a broken wind shield at the driver’s side. Clement was supposed to buy his parking ticket that night but he didn’t. I wasn’t bothered because he would definitely pay before taking his car away.

“The next day, he came with a friend to the garage. After they inspected the damaged car, he removed the damaged glass and took the car away. I can’t confirm, if he eventually paid for the outstanding ticket. Shortly afterwards, I saw a damaged phone on the ground. My son later came and picked the damaged handset but I dismissed it as a damaged phone.

“Eventually, another boy came and took the damaged handset from my son, removed the SIM CARD. I advised him to drop it because it was a risky thing to do. Later, I learnt he sold the phone as scrap for N200. “Clement didn’t tell me he had an accident. He simply said it was an armed robbery attack”, he said.

HoRPC petitions NUJ

Meanwhile, leading the members of the House of Representatives Press Corps to the Secretariat of the NUJ in Utako, Abuja, the Chairman of the Press Corps, Grace Ike said that the body should ensure justice for Salem.

We are here today to ask that the FCT Council Nigeria Union of Journalists  ( NUJ ) wades into this and see that justice is done for Tordue. It can be anybody. So, we must rise up to put a stop to it. We must rise and tell the international community and the whole world that journalism is not a crime.

“Just like the placards we had when we marched out to the police headquarters with promises here and there but all hope today is dashed.

“The House of Representatives press corps is here with the copy of the petition to Council”, she said.

We demand Independent investigation, autopsy on the body – NUJ FCT Chair

Responding, the Chairman of the Council, Comrade Emmanuel Ogbeche who picked holes in the police narrative demanded for independent investigation and an autopsy on the body to determine how and when Salem died.

“Journalists and media practitioners in this country are endangered species.  Nothing best reinforces that fear than the despicable manner which  Mr. Tordue Henry Salem was murdered. I want to thank my colleagues from the house of Representatives press corps for being proactive and in demand in for justice for our deceased colleague .

“Not until today did we get to know that it happened in Mabuchi and the vehicle recovered in Mpape there so many disjointed and missing link with the story that they fed us.

“For us at NUJ, we have studied carefully and we are going to issue a statement and petition but before then one of the resolutions  we have reached  is for an independent inquiry into the death of Mr. Tordue Henry Salem.

“We call on President Muhammadu Buhari and Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Federation  to set an independent inquiry and to also conduct and independent autopsy to determine the time of death and the cause of death. Those are the only factors that can determine when he died and how he died.

Okowa condoles with Vanguard management, family

Delta Governor, Senator (Dr) Ifeanyi Okowa, has commiserated with the management and staff of Vanguard Newspaper over the painful death of its House of Representatives Correspondent, Mr .Tordue Salem.

He also condoled with the family of Salem, roundly acknowledged as a humble and resourceful reporter, saying that the rather bizarre circumstances surrounding his tragic demise, made it more devastating.

According to the governor in a statement by his Chief Press Secretary, Mr Olisa Ifeajika, in Asaba on Friday, the raging trauma the immediate family and his Vanguard colleagues and close associates bore during the period his whereabouts were unknown could only be imagined.    

“On behalf of the government and people of Delta State, I send our condolences to Vanguard Newspapers management and the Salem family on the sad demise of Tordue Salem in a horrible circumstance.”

I’m deeply saddened——Senate President, Lawan

President of the Senate, Senator Ahmad Lawan who expressed shock at the news of Tordue’s death said he was deeply saddened. In a statement yesterday by his Special Adviser, Media, Ola Awoniyi, the President of the Senate said that the concern of the National Assembly, when the Senate and the House of Representatives passed separate motions over the disappearance of Mr Salem, was that he would be quickly found and reunited hale and hearty with his family and colleagues.  Lawan said, “It is therefore shocking to hear that the journalist had all the while been killed by a hit and run driver in an accident. This is a very unfortunate and heart-rending development.”

The President of the Senate  therefore condoled the family of Mr Salem, the management of Vanguard Newspapers, the National Assembly Press Corps and the Nigerian Union of Journalists(NUJ) over this sad loss.

Governor Ortom mourns

Benue state governor, Dr Samuel Ortom also expressed shock over the circumstances surrounding Tordue’s death saying the manner of his disappearance and eventual death has left a sour taste in the mouth of Nigerians who were looking up with optimism to his safe return.

In a condolence statement signed by Nathaniel Ikyur, Chief Press Secretary to the Benue state governor, Ortom noted that such “a mysterious recovery of the body of the deceased reporter was suspicious and deserves to be thoroughly investigated.” He appealed to the Inspector General of Police, Director-General of the Department of State Service, DSS, and other sister agencies to do everything possible to unravel the mystery surrounding the gruesome murder of the Benue-born journalist.

Governor Ortom further reiterated the commitment of the state government to the safety of all her citizens and residents alike, even as he vowed to go the whole distance to ensure that the perpetrators of the act are brought to justice.

Omo-Agege tasks police, security agencies to unmask killers

In his own reaction, Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ovie Omo- Agege, called on the Inspector- General of Police, IGP, Usman Baba and other security agencies to as a matter of urgency, unravel the mysterious circumstances surrounding the killing of Tordue. Omo-Agege expressed regret over the unfortunate incident and emphasized the need for conclusive investigations that would unmask all those involved in his death.

In a statement yesterday by his Special Adviser, Media and Publicity, Yomi Odunuga, the Deputy President of the Senate said that the parade of Itoro Clement – a commercial driver who allegedly knocked down and killed the Journalist has raised further questions on the circumstances leading to his demise. He said, “I am particularly worried that this is happening at the heart of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). Reports abound of kidnappings and other security breaches in the nation’s capital. I extend my condolences to the family, friends and associates of the deceased, the government and people of Benue State, the Vanguard family, House of Representatives Press Corps, Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) and pray God to give them the fortitude to bear this irreparable loss.”

VANGUARD NEWS NIGERIA

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