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Victim of Ochadamu 2019 mayhem cries out for justice

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Ogwu’s burnt house

The last may not have been heard of the infamous November 18, 2019, mayhem in Kogi’s Ejule community during which Mrs.

Salome Abuh

, a politician, was burnt alive in her home by assailants.

Citizen Yakubu Ogwu, Abuja-based Estate Surveyor and indigene of Ejule Community in Ofu Local Council of Kogi State, relays his ordeal in the hands of armed gangs, who stormed his residence in Ejule on the eve of last year’s governorship election in the state and made away with cash and other belongings.

Two days after the election, his home was amongst houses set ablaze in Ejule. For him, it was a lucky escape as he left the village for Abuja immediately after casting his vote. His neighbour, PDP Women Leader in Ochadamu ward, Ejule, Mrs Salome Abuh, who also had her house burnt, was not as lucky as she was burnt alive.

The news of the brutal murder of Mrs Abuh, 60 and mother of four, came as a shock to many; even the United Nations condemned the killing. Following a visit to President Muhammadu Buhari by UN Deputy Secretary, Aminat Muhammed, on November 24, 2019, to register the global body’s concerns, the president condemned and ordered “scrupulous investigation” of the heinous crime.

Angry Governor Yahaya Bello, who spoke through his spokesman, Kingsley Fanwo, had expressed disappointment over what was termed “mindless attacks by rival parties in Ochadamu”.

The governor went further to promise that culprits will be punished regardless of party affiliations.

“We feel disturbed at reports of violence in Ochadamu that has led to loss of lives and property in the community. It was reported that a supporter of the All Progressives Congress (APC) was stabbed to death, while party members were jubilating over the outcome of the governorship election. The reprisal attack by alleged APC members, which led to the death of an innocent woman, is criminal and condemnable. Our government would not shield party members who break the laws of the land,” he said.

But seven months after the incident, Nigerian police is still on the trail of the perpetrators. Days after the presidential riot act, six persons were reportedly arrested in connection with the murder and for robbery. Since the arrests, it seems still a long way to justice for the Abuhs and other living victims of the mayhem.

It will be recalled that Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO), Mr William Anya, a Deputy Police Superintendent, while noting that the killing of Mrs Abu was as a result of reprisal attack after an initial clash between supporters of two political parties, had said that three other houses were burnt in the neighbourhood, but it was unclear whether there were additional casualties from those attacks.

One of the living victims, Yakubu Ogwu, tells his story: “I got to the village on November 15, 2019, a day before the election. Barely 25 to 30 minutes after I arrived the village, two cars drove and parked directly where we were seated in front of my house. Normally, whenever I come to the village, the boys will chant, ‘leader, leader! Here comes the leader.’ They would come around and I give them food and drinks. I am not under any task, I am an estate surveyor practicing and I feel I am not burdened by questions of dividends of democracy.”

He continued: “Early in life, I started by helping parents, who could not afford to send their wards to higher institutions. So, through that, my popularity soared; I became a relying point for the town (Ejule). It has always been that in any election, if I come home and I said this is the candidate I support, the boys that are loyal will follow my steps. I never went to the village for any election campaign; I was just ready to go home to exercise my franchise.

Ogwu

“So, like I was saying, himself,” he said, pointing to a young man to his right, “and two of my older brothers, we drove home from Abuja on the eve of last year’s governorship election, sat outside in the compound on plastic chairs. Barely 30 minutes later, the two cars came. One of the occupants said, ‘this is him!’ One of them with a gun came and held me by my belt; he slapped me, collected my wallet with a thousand dollars and N77, 000. One pushed me towards the entrance door, ordered everybody, including my cousin and his father, to lie down on their face. Someone was inside, but so terrified that he locked the door from inside. I was calling him to open the door for them. They banged and kicked the door until they were able to force the security door open.

“They moved me inside and started shouting, ‘where is the money you brought home to give to people?’ I told them there’s no money anywhere. The yelled at me, ‘you cannot come from Abuja to the village to tell us there is no money anywhere.’ As we were talking, they moved me into my bedroom. They saw my bag, turned it and then picked the N250, 000 from there. They pushed me to the sitting room and on their way out, they started breaking the chandeliers in the house. Their next target was the car, the forerunner that we came with to the village.

They got into the forerunner and started the engine, but the problem they had was they were not used to that type of car. The car would not move, so, they broke all the window glasses and windscreen and abandoned it. People, who heard the sound of gunshots in my house, started throwing stones over my fence into the compound. So, when they saw this, they left that day.”

Asked if he reported the case to the police, he said, “Yes, we called the DPO, who said they were in election time preparing their men for the election. The police said we should wait until after the election. I told them mine was to report the matter because I would pursue the case from here. The next morning after casting our votes, we returned to Abuja because I didn’t want the robbery to have any connotation. On November 18, I went straight to the Force Headquarters in Abuja to report that I was robbed. The people that robbed me were not wearing party uniform to make me assume it was a party thing or political; I was robbed, that’s all. I told the police that they left with our phones, including two 2019 phones and other things. At the Force Headquarters, I was advised by one of the most senior officers to turn in a petition.”

It was while he was writing the petition that a call came from the village that some thugs came to burn his house.

“They came with a truck, moved some of my belongings into the truck before they sprayed and set the house ablaze. After I made my report, the police called me and told me in confidence that they were not going to purse the matter immediately. They said that since the robbers went away with our phones, very soon, they will track them because they will start using the phones. After three months, they started using the phones; that was how the police started going after them. Those that burnt the house were apprehended. Those are the ones that are in Lokoja; they were also charged with the burning of the PDP Woman leader, Mrs Abuh alive in her house. So, I was a target. Luckily for me, I had left. The police at Lokoja called me and I went there. They asked what do I want them to do? I told them I do not want to do anything; do what the law says you should do.”

He continued: “They told me to write my report and I did. The policemen on duty did not know that I was reading the written statement of one of the accused persons, who was in the cell. I took note of what the guy wrote and how he said someone sent them and he mentioned their names. I took it up with the police officers and asked them when they were bringing them in. One of the cops said they wanted to make arrests, but the people are not staying at home. The point I want to make is that I believe there are pressure from various angles for them not to go after those ones whose names were mentioned,” he alleged.

Ogwu informed that the burning of his house and the burning of Mrs Abuh happened the same day.

“November 18, 2019, newspaper reports had it that four more houses were also razed in the neighbourhood. I heard Senator Jibrin Isah Echocho (representative of Kogi West Senatorial District) said on the floor of House of Representatives that the attacks were retaliatory. How do you retaliate, while I’m in Abuja and my house was in the village? I had no issue with anyone. Whatever transpired between Mrs Abuh and others at the polling centre, I was not privy to it,” he noted.

Reminded that Senator Echocho’s comment was in reference to the slain Mrs Abuh and not to him or any others, he retorted,​ “It was a joint thing; they burnt my house just as they burnt the woman’s house. My house is 1.2 kilometers from Mrs Abuh’ s house; the difference is I was not killed. If I had been killed, I would have been in the news as well. It has been seven months since my family continues to live with the trauma; I could not go home with my family. After waiting on the police all these months since the arrests, I decided to take my case to the public court.”

Dissociating himself from any political group, he said, “I’m the leader of all parties as far as Ochadamu is concerned; I’m not attached to any party. If I see a good candidate that I feel should be beneficial to the community and I said this is our candidate, the whole boys will follow. As we speak, I have spent millions of Naira trying to rebuild my house that was burnt in the village. The state authorities have not called me to ask about what happened to the house thereafter,” he said.

Asked if there’s a link between the alleged political attack on Mrs Abuh and the burning of his house based on his role in politics, he said, “I said it before that I am treating a robbery case and leaving the political colouration for government and security agents to deal with. I have never been invited since then; I have never gone to the village without my personal security. If I were aware that that kind of thing was going to happen that day, I wouldn’t have travelled that day. For Mrs Abuh, she could have lived if she had left the village as suggested by her husband. From what I heard, some guy (name withheld) had walked up to her and slapped her at the voting centre. From the shock of that slap, she was taken to the hospital; the husband also left after voting. But his wife said she needed some rest after the incident at the polling centre. She had planned to join her husband in Abuja the next day.”

For Ogwo, all he wants is justice. “Diligent prosecution of anybody found to be involved in the robbery and burning of my house is all I seek. I cannot sue because it was done in mob action; I can’t identify the culprits. The police have arrested some; some are still working free. Some names have been mentioned, that’s why I called for diligent prosecution. The question that should be asked is, ‘How did your name come up in this because this person we arrested mentioned your name? So, come and clear yourself.’ This shouldn’t be ta difficult thing to do,” he declared.

On the rising cases of insecurity in Nigeria, he said, “There should be a house to house mopping of guns; anything less than that, this will not stop. Or, they should allow all Nigerians to register for ownership of guns. When criminals shoot at you, you shoot back at them. You will find these criminals carrying guns and ammunition that even the police and the army do not have. Government knows what is happening and as long as the government lives in denial of what is happening, the worst is yet to happen. The bandits, the kidnappers, the killer herdsmen carrying sophisticated weapons, where are those guns coming from? For as long as people in high places are supplying and protecting people carrying guns, people who are not supposed to even carry knives, it will continue. For me, if you feel gun is good for one person, it should be good for others.”

When contacted, the police public relations officer in Kogi State, Williams Aya, told The Guardian that the suspects, who were arrested with link to the burning of the houses, have been charged to court. He also confirmed that the same hoodlums burnt Mrs. Abuh alive in her house.


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