At about 1.30 a.m. on Friday, May 4, 2012 four assailants forced their way into 62, 2nd Ugbor Road, Benin City, the home of Olaitan Oyerinde, the principal private secretary to Governor Adams Aliyu Oshiomhole of Edo State.
They gunned down Mr. Oyerinde in the presence of his wife and other family members.
The suspected assassination was both horrific and bizarre. On the surface, the victim, a notable trade unionist, did not seem to have any identifiable enemies. Thus his gruesome death set allegations flying. A few weeks earlier, his boss, the governor of Edo, had been involved in a suspicious motor accident when a Mercedes Benz truck ran into his convoy, killing three journalists.
In the weeks following Mr. Oyerinde’s murder, the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), under whose banner Governor Oshiomhole was then running for reelection, accused the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) of masterminding the assassination.
The ACN alleged that the murder was part of a grand scheme to disrupt their governorship candidate’s campaign which was being overseen by Mr. Oyerinde – and to send a chilling message to the electorate.
Governor Oshiomole himself stopped short of accusing PDP Board of Trustees chairman, Tony Anenih, as the architect of the assassination. Said the governor: “A certain old man, in his 80s, a godfather, in Edo State is the mastermind of the assassination of Olaitan Oyerinde.”
The befuddling circumstances around the killing have been rendered even more complex by the way the police and the State Security Service (SSS) have handled the case. For one, nothing has been achieved since President Jonathan directed security agencies to look into the matter. At one stage, the police paraded 10 suspects, but nothing has come of it.
According to the police, the suspects had confessed under interrogation that they were contracted by Reverend David Ugolor, a friend of Mr. Oyerinde’s and the Executive Director of the Africa Network of Environment and Economic Justice (ANEEJ) for a sum of N20 million to kill the governor’s aide.
The alleged motive was Mr. Ugolor’s desire to take over Mr. Oyerinde’s job. The police also alleged that Mr. Ugolor had already paid an advance of N200, 000 to the alleged hired assassins.
Soon after the police released these allegations, the Edo State Attorney-General and Commissioner of Justice, Osagie Obayuwana, raised objections. He alleged that he was by-passed by the police for unknown reasons. Apparently the police took instructions directly from the Federal Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, in contravention of provisions of the law.
A month earlier, the SSS had also publicly paraded another set of six different suspects in Abuja, alleging that the suspects had voluntarily confessed to Mr. Oyerinde’s murder. Surprisingly, the SSS concluded that the case was one of murder and not a politically motivated assassination.
The police subsequently freed two of the 10 suspects for lack of evidence and are yet to prosecute the SSS suspects. After a year of analyzing Mr. Ugolor’s call logs, bank accounts and transactions, the police are yet to make their results public. Mr. Ugolor was discharged and acquitted by an Edo Magistrate court for lack of evidence and awarded N5 million in aggravated damages.
Mr. Ugolor has maintained that he was being framed by the Jonathan government for his advocacy against the administration’s corrupt practices. After his release, he declared, “Impunity by the police must stop. The citizens might resort to violence if impunity by the police is allowed to continue. The judgment has shown that with the judiciary and the media on the side of citizens, the common man still has some hope.”
Meanwhile, fresh information available to SaharaReporters suggests that some of the police suspects were tortured and intimidated into offering questionable confessions. The ostensible suspects, including Garba Maisamari, Danjuma Musa and Moses Asamah Okoro have stated that they were coerced into admitting that they had killed Mr. Olaitan Oyerinde, a man they insist they did not even know.
The suspects’ revelations came to light during the sitting of the Public Petition Committee set up to look further into the matter. The committee, which began hearing on February 13, 2013, draws its powers from section (62) order 121 of the House of Reps rules and section (89) of the 1999 constitution.
Speaking to reporters, Garba Maisamari said he was not only shot and tortured by police officers but was also threatened with death if he refused to incriminate Rev. David Ugolor as the prime architect of the crime. He revealed that Mr. Ugolor’s photograph was brought to him in the police cell, and he was ordered to implicate Mr. Ugolor at the identification parade.
According to Maisamari, the first time he saw Mr. Ugolor was when they were in the Black Maria being conveyed to prison after a court session.
Danjuma Musa also pointed out that, contrary to police allegations that he was arrested on April 27, 2012 he was actually detained by the police on April 24, 2012 – more than a week before Mr. Oyerinde was killed on May 4. He further denied telling the police that the gun allegedly recovered by the police at Esigie on April 24 was the same gun used to kill Mr. Oyerinde. He said he could not have possibly told the police so as he was in police cell on May 4, 2012 when Mr. Oyerinde was killed. He also denied knowing Mr. Ugolor.
All three “suspects” maintain that they were put under intense pressure, with threats of death and an actual shooting, to admit to a crime they had no idea about. “I will tell you the truth,” Mr. Maisamari told our reporter, “I do not know David [Ugolor]. It is the police that told me to say that he was the one that hired us to kill Olaitan. I was not the one that told the police that David killed Olaitan. They told me so.” He said the police had drafted his so-called confession themselves, and did not even allow him to read the document before forcing him to thumbprint it.
According to him, “the police shot me in their attempt to force me to identify [Ugolor] as the person that paid us to kill Oyerinde.” He identified the policeman who shot him as “Action,” an assistant superintendent of police. He also said the officer who brought the photo for him to “identify” Mr. Ugolor was one Prince Oyomah.
Musa challenged the police to produce records of the so-called phone conversation between Maisamari and David Ugolor in which the transaction was purportedly made.
In one other aspect of the shoddy or even corrupt nature of the investigations, the police and the SSS had presented conflicting reports pertaining to the phone records of the late Oyerinde and his wife. Besides, media reports suggest that a consultant pathologist, Dr. W. O. Akhiwu, who supposedly conducted the autopsy on Mr. Oyerinde, turned out not to be a consultant at all but an Assistant Commissioner of Police, who is still in the service of the Nigeria Police Force.
Amidst all the evidence of a botched investigation, the Oyerinde family keeps grieving for justice. Mr. Oyerinde’s family and friends fear that the real culprits are probably relishing the prospect that they might never face justice. With so many suspects and conflicting narratives, many are left wondering whether the truth is permanently compromised and whose interests are being served by a seeming cover-up. The case has also exposed the challenges facing Nigeria’s justice when it must deal with state and federal authorities at once.
The SSS had insisted that President Jonathan and Governor Oshiomhole were being continually briefed by the agency on its efforts to crack the murder case. But Mr. Oshiomhole has maintained that, if the police report is valid, then the police must be responsible for the murder of his late principal private secretary. He believes the police were merely looking for scapegoats to pay for their crime.
At the hearing, the chairman of the legislative committee chastised the representative of the Federal Ministry of Justice for stating that they were confused on the case on account of conflicting reports from the police and the SSS. The committee expressed concern about the way the police and the State Security Service carried out their investigations.
The committee members promised to produce their report diligently and report back to the House of Representatives, and said they could invite any party if the need for more clarification arose.
What is clear now is that the original targeting of Mr. Ugolor was a scandalous and mischievous. Mr. Ugolor’s alleged motive for contracting assassins against his friend is both weak and unconvincing. Nobody is surprised that, for a year, the police have not been able to bring a real case against Mr. Ugolor. In fact, the so-called evidence against him has been discredited by the accused persons. To cap all, a court not only acquitted him but also offered compensation in his favor.
A lawyer family with the case told SaharaReporters that the police and other investigative bodies must broaden their scope and bring in professional experts if indeed they are interested in finding the real killers of Olaitan Oyerinde.
For now, the answers to who murdered Mr. Oyerinde seem too baffling for Nigerian authorities.
Yet, for many Nigerians, the murder case is hardly a mystery. They believe that the lackadaisical attitude of the police and other security agencies raise questions about the involvement of Mr. Jonathan’s PDP in plotting the murder – and then working behind the scenes to cover the trails. The motive, many people believe, was to wrest the governor’s seat from Governor Oshiomhole.