By Godwin Onyeacholem*
By this time last year, fate had dealt a cruel card to the Odama family. Instead of basking in the celebratory mood of Christmas and the New Year, Philomena Odama and the rest of the family were immersed in a deluge of full-blown grief.
It is now one year since the tragic death of Philomena’s promising daughter, Joy Odama, in the house of one Alhaji Usman Adamu in Karmo, one of the many clusters of slummy suburbs in Abuja. Joy, and indigene of Cross Rivers State, was a 200 Level Mass Communication student of Cross Rivers State University who returned home December 2016 after the close of school to celebrate Christmas and the New Year with her family in Abuja.
Usually, that would be the natural undertaking for anyone who cherishes the unique ambience of familial love and unity offered by festive occasions. But the callous Adamu ensured Joy would not be part of it. She had escorted a friend to the house and there Alhaji Adamu violently snuffed life out of the young lady, thus robbing her of the hopes of tomorrow and putting the family in a state of unrelieved sorrow.
As expected, the police stepped in but in its usually very familiar trademark of untidy and unprofessional conduct heavy with deliberate bias, they messed up the case and so far ensured that justice remains unattainable – for the Odamas, the suspect and the society.
With a mind-boggling notoriety for extra-judicial killings, unholy alliance with criminals and brazen compromise of cases, it is not easy to see why the 2016 report of World Internal Security and Police Index International, WISPI, rates the Nigeria Police Force the “worst” in the world after an assessment of 127 countries in four key areas of capacity, process, legitimacy and outcomes.
By the time Joy died and Adamu frantically sought to deposit the corpse in the morgue at the Federal Staff Hospital in Jabi in the Federal Capital Territory, it was Ralph Nkem, Chief Superintendent of Police and Divisional Police Officer in Karmo who forced the hospital staff to accept the body after the suspect had initially been turned back on suspicion of foul play. It turned out Nkem is the suspect’s “tight” friend and a habitué of the latter’s residence where, according to a witness, the officer often savoured fried meat and wine.
Therefore, instead of arresting the suspect, Nkem was the one who began what was undoubtedly a well-perfected criminal protection of a suspect coordinated from the office of the Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Idris. When the Odamas were prevailing on the police to arrest the suspect, Nkem was the officer who intimidated them and issued threats, telling them that fumes from the generator which was switched on that fateful night of December 21, 2016, was responsible for Joy’s death, not Adamu.
Undaunted, the deceased’s family sought and obtained an autopsy report at the National Hospital Abuja which says the possible cause of Joy’s death is “cardiogenic shock secondary to diffuse myocardial infection secondary to possible acute cocaine poisoning.”
Jolted by an autopsy report which didn’t favour their cause, the police turned the screw of intimidations and threats harder. When the Odamas refused to forego the pursuit of justice, the police opted for bribery. Money was offered but was rejected. The police then invited the star witness, Victoria Ezekiel, threatened and forced her to change her original statement from the fact that the generator was never switched on that night to the police-invented fable that the generator was on and, therefore, its fumes were responsible for Joy’s death.
But for the efforts of a non-governmental organization, Basic Rights Enlightenment Foundation run by two lawyers, Austin Okechukwu and Ikechukwu Mmaduike, the police were bent on killing the case. The outfit, together with the progressive wing of the media, sustained the tempo of the call for justice.
In the midst of a groundswell of intense public outcry demanding urgent action, the police reluctantly declared the suspect wanted. Meanwhile, it was a ruse. The police knew all along the whereabouts of the suspect and had indeed been protecting him. Evidence: At a meeting they arranged at their headquarters to meet with the family of the deceased, the suspect whom they announced to the world that they declared wanted suddenly surfaced. So, when did the police arrest the suspect? And why didn’t they announce his arrest?
Not until Governor Ben Ayade of Cross Rivers State announced the interest of the state government in the case that the police hurriedly organized a press conference June 30, 2017, at which Force Public Relations Officer, Jimoh Moshood, a Chief Superintendent of Police, announced that the police had concluded investigations and were ready to prosecute the suspect.
By December 30, 2017, it will be since months since that press briefing, and from all indications, the police are not prepared to arraign the suspect in any court. And for all you know, the police may not have begun any investigation much less concluding same.
Meanwhile, in September the Cross Rivers State government through Alphonsus Eba, Director General, Due Process and Price Intelligence Bureau, restated government’s determination to pursue the case “to any level of justice.” To that end, he said N2.2m had been paid for a fresh toxicology as the police disputed the earlier one obtained by the Odamas.
The state government also released N10m for Joy’s burial which held September 28 in one of the villages in Yala Local Government Area of the State. But her soul continues to cry for justice from the grave.
Senator Rose Oko, representing Cross River (North) at the National Assembly, the senatorial district of the deceased, is also geared up for battle with the police on this matter. Together with the government of her state and conscience-driven citizens who place premium on the value of human lives of Nigeria, she must ensure that, like Joy, this matter is not buried until justice is served. That is the only way her innocent soul would rest in perfect peace.
*Godwin Onyeacholem is a journalist. He can be reached on email@example.com