Investigative reporter IBRAHIM ADEYEMI probed the grand cover-up of the extrajudicial killing of two students by policemen attached to Bisi Fayemi, wife of Ekiti State Governor. In the first of a three-part series on extrajudicial killings by the Police in different parts of the country, he chronicles how the Ekiti First Lady bribed parents of victims to silence them.
Echoes of gunshots. Everybody is on the run. Police officers attached to Bisi Fayemi, First Lady of Ekiti State, are shooting at students of Federal University Oye-Ekiti (FUOYE).
It is a burning afternoon on September 10, 2019. The university students are no longer comfortable with the months-long darkness on their campus; they troop out to demand electricity supply.
But one of them, Kehinde Dada, 23, has just been shot in the eye. He dies on the spot. Hearing of his friend’s sudden death, Okonofua Joseph, 23, rushes out of his residence at Irona, Oye-Ekiti, to confirm the sad news.
Bullets from sporadic gunshots by one of the policemen hits him too. They rip his stomach and pull out his intestines. Blood gushes out as he struggles for breath. After several hours of writhing in pains, in a pool of blood, he dies.
NIGERIA POLICE ‘WILL KILL YOU AND NOTHING WILL HAPPEN’
The murder of these university students is not a rare case of extrajudicial killing by the police in Nigeria. The youth especially have been indiscriminately killed by power-drunk police officers and the perpetrators often go unpunished. There are records of a few such cases but many have also gone unrecorded.
In March 2019, stray bullets fired by a police officer chasing a man wearing dreadlocks hit an innocent boy watching a football match in Lagos. That same year, in Abia State, a policeman killed a 21-year-old for refusing to dim his vehicle light. And another police officer was said to have shot an 18-year-old boy dead in Imo State, for returning a slap.
Again, in early 2020, four young persons were killed following a riot that broke out over the killing of one Frederick, popularly known as Original, in Azagba community, Edo State. In Ogun State, a police officer killed three persons in a protest against the death of a Remo Stars footballer.
“I’ll kill you and nothing will happen,” a police officer was heard saying in a viral video while threatening some youth in 2017.
Statements such as the above have been used by the police and other security agents in Nigeria to scare and extort innocent citizens. And when such extrajudicial killings occur, the culprits most times go unpunished and victims do not get justice.
‘LIGHT UP FUOYE’… REVELATION OF THE GENESIS
Every student of the Federal University Oye-Ekiti is familiar with the frequent and lengthy power cuts in the school. This endemic darkness has lingered for many years, frustrating their academic sojourn.
Dozens of the university students told FIJ that the lack of power supply had forced them to pay more for darkness. They pay huge amounts of money to charge their phones and laptops at many business centres located in strategic places in the citadel of learning.
“We experienced difficulties studying at night because there was no light and everywhere was always dark especially in the hostel,” one student said.
Therefore, on September 10, 2019, hundreds of them marched on the streets of Oye-Ekiti to protest the darkness ruining their academic careers.
The protest continued peacefully even when they marched to the office of the Benin Electricity Distribution Company in Oye-Ekiti and locked it up, waving placards with various inscriptions, chanting: “We need light”, “Who off light, Nepa?” and “Light up Fuoye.”
VIOLENCE AFTER SILENCE
The demonstration was peaceful until the presence of Bisi Fayemi was announced. Before then, around 12 pm, many of the students had left the protest ground for their respective residences, after lending their voices to the agitation. Hearing that Mrs Fayemi was at the Civic Centre in Oye, some of them trooped out again to directly express their grievances to her.
Earlier, the First Lady had avoided the routes flooded by the protesting students, having been briefed by her security team. Escorted by mobile police officers from the Governor’s office, she found her way to the Civic Centre where she was to attend a women empowerment programme.
But unknown to her, some of the leaders of the protest were aware of her presence and had rounded up the centre, shouting on top of their voices to get her attention. She ignored them; and when the students pushed further to see her, her police officers attacked them. One of the police officers slapped Oluwaseun Awodola, then the President of FUOYE Students Union. His fellow students went really mad at the policeman for assaulting their leader. The atmosphere became tense and rowdy. Fear gripped everyone, including the First Lady, who decided to leave the place rather than address the students.
As the siren of the vehicle conveying her out of the venue blared, the students became more furious at her “lackadaisical approach”. They booed her as she sped, convoyed by the security details. But in her defence, the policemen began to shoot ruthlessly to disperse the rowdy crowd and unfortunately, one of them fell from a moving van. He was mobbed by the angry students until he passed out.
Minutes after the First Lady’s departure, the police officers regrouped. A group of their vans trooped into the community, armed to the teeth, shooting and indiscriminately targeting the students.
As the policemen fired bullets, the students threw stones and sticks to fight back. But while scores of them sustained injuries of gunshots and canisters from the officers, Joseph and Kehinde died in the course of demanding adequate power supply from the authorities.
‘A SHINING STAR GRUESOMELY MURDERED’
Until his nascent soul was wasted by the ruthless police officers, Joseph was fondly called ‘Icon’ by his friends at the university. Renowned for his comedy skits, the 300-level student was already taking his career beyond the campus. With his brand name ‘Icon Entertainment Empire’, he had organised a series of theatrical events that got him commendations by mainstream comedians with thousands of social media followers.
“Look at this man beside me, his name is Icon and he’s a very funny comedian. Please patronise him,” Woli Arole, a popular Yoruba comedian, once said, endorsing Joseph.
Icon was not only funny, but he was also brainy. His friends say he was also one of the best students in the university, known and respected for his academic prowess. “But he’s been killed,” says Elex, one of his friends. “A shining star has been gruesomely murdered.”
Like Joseph, Kehinde, the other student shot dead by Mrs Fayemi’s police escort never thought his academic career would end so soon. The 100-level student was the Class Governor of his course-mates. He was brilliant and ambitious.
He is described as “someone who loved unionism and had dreams of becoming a student leader”. But sadly, before attaining the level to contest a Students Union position, his dream was killed by the police.
BLOOD ON THE HANDS OF EKITI GOVERNOR’S WIFE
Despite foolproof evidence, the First Lady attempted to exonerate herself from the killing of the students. Her official narrative was that she never saw or met any protesting students during her visit to Oye community.
“If I had met a group of protesting students, as a social justice activist myself, I would have listened to their complaints and addressed them,” she says in a Twitter thread posted on September 11, 2019.
Contrarily, she also said: “Half-way through our event, there was a disturbance outside. The FUOYE students (and possibly infiltrated by local thugs) had re-grouped and were trying to get into the venue.
“The security officers prevented this from happening. We finished our programme, and by the time we got outside, we found that vehicles from my convoy and those of my guests that were parked outside the venue had been vandalised.”
I firmly believe in citizens’ rights to protest on issues of concern.
I am deeply saddened that at least one fatality has been recorded. As a mother my heart bleeds. All these students are my children, and no mother prays to weep over their offspring.
— Bisi Fayemi (@bisiafayemi) September 11, 2019
But this is not the same as the accounts of students, market women and other eye-witnesses. One of the on-the-spot footage obtained by FIJ shows the moment the First Lady’s convoy was gagged by the protesting students, while she was trying to avoid addressing them. In the short video, the students were seen shouting on top of their voices.
Multiple sources in the Ekiti Governor’s office who spoke to FIJ on pleas of anonymity said the First Lady had deliberately ignored the protesting students and had wondered why they would stage the protest at a time she was to visit the community.
“The First Lady intentionally ignored them (the students),” says a police officer who is very familiar with the matter. The officer quotes the Governor’s wife saying: “Why is it that it is today that they know they will protest not having light? Why is it that it is today that I’m passing that they now want to stage a protest?”
SON OF A POLICEWOMAN KILLED BY A POLICEMAN
All Esther Okonofua wanted was to give the best to her only two sons, Joseph and Michael. In 2003, the single parent took up a police job in Ekiti in order to be able to realise her ambition.
But nearly two decades of serving the Nigeria Police Force, Joseph, who is her first and favourite son, was murdered by a fellow policeman.
She recalls, being a police officer herself, the ethics of shooting in a riot as taught and trained in the police college. She also condemns how the police attached to the wife of the Governor shot recklessly at “the peaceful protesting students”.
“Most of the police officers nowadays are not doing the job in the way of the Lord. They don’t have the fear of God in their hearts. This job is a good job. But there are so many people in the job that are bad, although there are a few good ones that have feelings too,” she says.
“We all were taught before we became police. We were also taught that as a police officer, you can only use your firearms in some areas. Maybe they did that so that they could say they were defending Fayemi’s wife. But in the real sense, they were not supposed to shoot anything in that place.
“When a riot is taking place, the authorities will send police officers to calm the riot and when they’re being sent to riot grounds, they don’t send them there with arms and ammunition. They send police officers with riot guns and teargas to probably scare the rioters.”
No amount of consolation or condolence messages, she says, can wipe off the image of how his son was slain by the police. Although she has forgiven the police, she finds it very difficult to believe that the killer officers gone scot-free.
Asked how she feels that a police officer like herself killed her own son, she says: “I’m sad. I feel really bad. But what can I do?”
It’s nearly two years after her son was brutally killed by the police, Mrs Okonufua still wishes she had the power to “fish out the officers and punish them”. So far, efforts to bring the killers to the book have been frustrated by the powers that be.
“Even if they have covered them up because they’re following the Governor’s wife, I know that the Bible says ‘those who live by the sword shall die by the sword’. I know that one day, the officers will reap what they sow.”
CASE STRUCK OUT
Barrister Morakinyo Ogele prides himself as a human rights lawyer in Ondo State but his actions conflict with his rhetoric. In October 2019, he instituted a lawsuit against the Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, at a federal high court in Ado Ekiti over the extra-judicial killing of the two FUOYE students.
Pursuant to Order 11 Rule 1 of the Fundamental Rights (Enforcement Procedure Rules) 2009, Ogele filed the suit, seeking N1 billion damages.
In the suit, numbered ‘HAD/A09RFRM/2019’, the applicant asked the court to decide whether it is legal for the police officers of the respondents to execute the students extrajudicially. He urged the court to determine whether it is lawful for the court to award damages against the respondents under the circumstance.
“It’s an abridgement of the rights of the deceased as enshrined in section 33 of the 1999 constitution and that such action amounted to extrajudicial killing,” he writes in an eight–paragraph address attached to the application.
But when contacted by FIJ on this case, Morakinyo said the court struck out the murder case on grounds that he found it “mysterious and unacceptable”, but he didn’t give the details. FIJ asked him for the case file and the court judgement, but for several weeks, he suspiciously refused to provide them. He had also vowed to “take the case to the Court of Appeal and Supreme Court”, but this didn’t happen.
“When you’re suing in any fundamental human rights case such as this, it takes the courage of a judge to exhibit or to display a rare fearlessness. And that’s the problem we have with our judiciary,” he says.
“I analysed everything about the murder case, and at the end of the day, the judge came out that we’ve not done some things and by virtue of justice in the rule of law, I have never seen such judgement in my life.”
Barrister Ademola Owolabi, a human rights lawyer in Lagos, suggests that the case could have been struck out because of lack of diligent prosecution on the side of the lawyer who filed the suit on behalf of the victim’s family.
N50,000 MONTHLY BRIBE TO SILENCE VICTIMS’ PARENTS
The First Lady invited the mothers of Kehinde and Joseph and persuaded both of them to forget the case and keep quiet on the matter henceforth, after gifting them them small amounts of money.
Multiple sources from the office of the First Lady also confirmed how Mrs Fayemi paid off parents of the deceased but failed to prosecute the perpetrators of the killing.
“She told them that she never planned to kill anybody and that it was just an incident. She pleaded with them and pacified them, saying that they should take it as the will of God,” says one of the sources.
“After talking to them, she gave them some money and pleaded that they should not be angry with her. She said the state would equally give them something. She also said that even when the issue just happened, she had the intention of coming to meet the families of the late students but people told her not to come because of the tension in town. That is why she allowed everything to calm down before inviting them.”
For Joseph’s mother, the governor’ wife pledged “taking care of the deceased younger brother, Michael and promised that every month, she would be giving them N50, 000”.
FIJ can authoritatively report that the First Lady gave the sum of N50, 000 to Joseph’s mother in January, 2020, as pledged. But after then, the mother didn’t get the monthly pay off, until when some FUOYE students did a one-year remembrance for the deceased in September 2020 and shared pictures of their visitation to Joseph’s family on social media.
“The First Lady then reached out to the mother to say that they wanted to start paying her the monthly N50, 000 they promised again. And that September, they paid and also paid for October and November.”
An ally of late Kehinde’s family also revealed that the parents of the deceased had been warned not to entertain any external interference from anyone who might want to seek justice on their behalf.
“They’ve paid them off. That’s why they are not willing to talk to anybody over the matter,” he says. “I also understand that Fayemi’s wife is sponsoring the education of Kehinde’s twin brother in Kwara State, as a way of compensation.”
‘THE GOVERNOR’S WIFE’S CASH GIFTS WERE ILLEGAL’
According to human rights lawyer and activist, Barrister Mutiu Akinsanya, it is illegal to settle a murder case out of court as the First Lady did.
“It is wrong to collect money to compound offences under our laws,” he said.
“Murder is not an offence that can be settled out of court. The deceased would have been in the position to collect any such money, assuming it was right. The person or family who collected the money could as well be charged as an accomplice.”
He also says that murder is a capital offence and “therefore non-compoundable because it belongs to the same class as Armed Robbery and Rape.
“Generally speaking, criminal offences are offences against the state and therefore only the state, through the AG, can discontinue such action or the governor or president can grant pardon to the culprit.
“There is no law that empowers anybody to settle (a murder case) out of court unless the Attorney General, who is the Law Officer of the country or State, decides to say the case will not be prosecuted. But for anybody to pay any money anywhere, it is illegal and criminal.”
Yet another human rights lawyer, Barrister Ademola Owolabi, believes it was possible for the wife of the governor to evade justice and outmanoeuvre the victim’s families because they’re simply voiceless and downtrodden.
“Social rights are embedded in economic rights. Fundamental rights are nothing if the economic rights of the people cannot be sustaine,” he says.
“If assuming the person that was killed is Afe Babalola’s son, then the First Lady won’t go to that (referring to the out-of-court compensation for a capital offence). It’s just unfortunate that we have a situation where the weak are overtly weak and the well-to-do are overtly well-to-do.
‘NOT ON GROUND’… SILENCE EVERYWHERE
Contacted for reactions on the findings in this report, Mrs Fayemi did not respond to a December 16, 2020 email requesting to know if the killers of the two FUOYE students had been arrested and punished.
Her spokesperson, Funmi Ajala, tersely said she had no information on the matter because she was “not on ground” when the incident occurred. Also Frank Mba, the Public Relations Officer of the Nigeria Police Force, did not respond to messages and calls from FIJ.
ONE OTHER THING: SELECTIVE DEMAND FOR JUSTICE
Mrs Fayemi prides herself as a social justice advocate and child rights activist. On many occasions, she had had the cause to add her voice to calls for social justice, especially on issues relating to violence against women.
For example, on May 21 2020, she condemned the killing of one Uwavera Omozuwa, 22, who died after being severely raped and assaulted in a church in Edo state. With the hashtag: #JusticeForUwa, she tweeted: “It is time for the Federal Government to declare a state of emergency on Violence against Women. Enough is enough.”
Commenting on the post, SF Adebayo, a Twitter user, reminded her of the killing of two FUOYE students. “The Ekiti State students that died as a result of your nonchalant attitude by not calling your police escorts to order. Remember them? What have you done to bring justice to their deaths?”
Another Twitter user, who simply identifies herself as Biola, also said: Madam! The Police shot and killed students under your watch just last year. Possibly at your call. We haven’t forgotten…#JusticeForFUOYE.”
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