“There’s a thin line between life and death. It’s God’s Grace that shows us how fragile we all are,” Timothy Pina, an American author, once said in his book, Hearts for Haiti: Book of Poetry and Inspiration.
Just like anyone else, Wisdom Godday Francis, 28, had got out of bed on August 14 hoping to have a day full of wonderful tidings.
As it was a Sunday, the furniture maker attended a service at His Covenant Chapel, a church in his neighbourhood in Ajuwon, Ifo Local Government Area, Ogun State.
Wisdom was not just a church goer, but an active member who belonged to several youth units in the church. After the service, he returned home to rest. In the evening, he decided to go to a store close to his residence on Wale Osoba Street, Ajuwon, to buy noodles.
On his way back from the shop, he witnessed a brawl between two youths in the neighbourhood. He instinctively intervened and was successful in breaking up the fight.
After separating the fighters, he decided to take things one notch up by brokering peace between them. This was when the unthinkable happened. This was when the thin line between life and death was crossed.
FIGHT OVER N100 TOOK A LIFE
Nsugha Amedukpo, Wisdom’s uncle, who also happened to be the only father figure left in the furniture maker’s life, narrated the ugly incident that ended Wisdom’s peace-making efforts to FIJ.
“Wisdom, my nephew, never smoked or drank. He was a friendly and hardworking young man that was well-loved in his neighbourhood,” Amedukpo said.
“On his way back from the store, he saw two youths he knew from his neighbourhood fighting. After he had successfully separated them, he decided to know why they were fighting so he could broker peace between them.
“It turned out that Abideen Fatade, one of the two young men fighting, had tricked the other party into giving him N100 under the guise that he sold Indian hemp.
“When Abideen failed to give the fellow the hemp he gave him N100 for, he requested to be given his money back.”
According to Amedukpo, the issue degenerated into a brawl between the two and it was at that point that Wisdom tried separating them.
“When Wisdom eventually knew the reason they were fighting, he blamed Abideen for claiming he would sell Indian hemp to the fellow when in actual fact, he was only trying to swindle him,” Amedukpo said.
“My nephew then went on to advise Abideen to return the N100 to its owner.”
Wisdom’s recommendation did not go down well with Abideen, who first rained curses on the furniture maker before sprinting home.
“Before leaving, he told Wisdom ‘to wait for him if he was truly his father’s son,'” Amedukpo said.
“To everyone’s shock, Abideen returned with a knife and stabbed Wisdom in the neck.”
After stabbing Wisdom, Abideen tried fleeing the scene but was prevented from doing so by witnesses. The 28-year-old was first rushed to two hospitals but was refused treatment. It was at the third hospital he was taken to that he was declared “dead on arrival”.
His body was then taken to a mortuary while Abideen was immediately arrested by men of the Ajuwon Police Station.
POLICE WANT N200,000 TO PROSECUTE SUSPECT
After preliminary investigations were carried out at Ajuwon Police Station, the matter was transferred to the police headquarters in Elewe-Eran, Abeokuta, Ogun State.
“When we got to Abeokuta, the policemen we met asked us to bring N200,000. They said they would use the money in arranging a vehicle from Abeokuta to Ajuwon to carry out a raid in the area and to also conduct a proper investigation,” Amedukpo said.
“This was after Abideen had been arrested and transferred to Abeokuta. When I told them I did not have that kind of money, they reduced the price to N100,000.”
The laundryman said that when the officers saw that he did not also have the N100,000 being asked for, they told him to pay N50,000. He could not come up with the sum till he left the command.
“On our way back home, the police officer that accompanied us from Ajuwon said if we had N20,000, we could send to them at Elewe-Eran. The truth is that I didn’t even have the N20,000 we were being advised to pay. I am just a poor dry cleaner who washes people’s clothes with bare hands,” he said.
WISDOM’S LAST DAYS
Adekunle Oginni, one of Wisdom’s closest friends, told FIJ about his last interaction with the deceased before he was stabbed.
“When we saw on Friday, August 12, we talked and joked into the night. When he eventually stood up to go home, he told me he would like to have a very important discussion with me the following day,” Oginni said.
“When Saturday came however, we both had businesses we needed to attend to, so we were unable to see.
“On Sunday, I did not bother to reach out to him in the morning because I knew he never joked with attending church services. My plan was to make sure I saw him in the evening of the same day when he would have returned from church.
“It was however surprising when someone suddenly came rushing to my place in the evening to tell me that he had been stabbed.”
Oginni told FIJ that the moment he got to the scene of the incident, he and some other youths quickly rushed Wisdom to the nearest hospital.
“After two hospitals initially turned us away, a third hospital allowed us in,” Oginni said.
“I immediately left the hospital to see to it that Abideen was arrested by officers of the Ajuwon Police Station. While writing a statement at the police station, I got a call from one of the youths who were at the hospital with Wisdom that he had died.”
Oginni said when Wisdom’s body was finally deposited at the morgue, they were told they would pay N90,000 for body embalming and N700 per day as storage fee.
“After documentations were sorted on Monday, the matter was transferred to Elewe-Eran,” said Oginni.
“When we visited the command on August 17, one police officer we met called Helen at the SCID building, homicide department, said a bus could be arranged by the police from the unit to visit Ajuwon Police Station, the morgue, the scene of the incident and Abideen’s house for further investigation.
“She said for that to happen, it would cost us N100,000. When Pa Amedukpo explained to them that he did not have that kind of money, the price was brought down to N50,000.”
Oginni went on to tell FIJ that Wisdom’s family and friends were still unable to come up with the money.
WHO WAS WISDOM FRANCIS?
Bose Francis, Wisdom’s elder sister, described the furniture maker as God-fearing, easy-going, friendly and hardworking.
“Our parents migrated to Nigeria over 30 years ago in search of greener pastures from Bogan, a southwest locality in Togo,” Bose said.
“Wisdom was just an infant when we arrived in Lagos but this is where we have lived all our lives.”
Bose said Wisdom had to take up menial jobs as a young boy to support the family because their parents had no money.
“After our dad died, he learnt furniture-making and this was what had been putting food on the table for him. He was hardworking and honest, and everybody loved him,” Bose said.
“On the morning of the day the incident happened, my mum, who had been ill, had called him in the morning to assist her with some money and he had promised her he would send what he had. I am so sad this could happen to him. I still don’t want to believe he is dead. I am positive he can still wake up.”
Bose told FIJ that Wisdom moved into his apartment in December 2021.
“He only recently just moved into his apartment in December 2021. He is just starting his life. My brother can’t just die like that. This is difficult to accept,” she said.
On September 2, this reporter visited the homicide unit of the State Criminal Investigation and Intelligence Department, Elewe-Eran, in the company of one of Wisdom’s relatives. The motive behind the visit was to get firsthand knowledge of the way the matter was being handled by the police. To achieve this, this reporter posed as a relative that was just getting to hear of the incident.
After a harrowing wait of about seven hours, Olaide Lawal, the IPO in charge of the case, arrived to speak on the matter.
“It is unfair that you people decided not to follow up on this matter since it was first transferred here in August,” Lawal said while addressing this reporter and the relative.
He was told that the reason it took the family a while to return to the SCID was that it was still grieving over its loss.
“Abideen Fatade made his first court appearance at the magistrate court in Ifo, Ogun State, over a murder charge on August 25,” Lawal said.
“After the proceedings ended, he was remanded in Oba Correctional Centre in Agbamaya, Abeokuta. He will next appear in court on October 22.”
When this reporter asked Lawal about the payments Wisdom’s relatives were told to make when the case was first transferred to Abeokuta by some police officers, his answer did not address the question.
“Presently, there is an issue. The issue now is that a proper autopsy has not been done on the deceased. You guys were not patient enough to hear us out the day the case got here,” he said.
“The deceased’s body is supposed to have been transferred from the private morgue where it is currently to the state hospital in Ifo, where an assigned doctor would have visited to carry out an autopsy on it.
“As it is now, the body is just lying at the private morgue and no concrete examination has been done on it. To build a proper case against the accused, an autopsy report has to be included in the case file. If not, there’s a 50/50 chance that the defendant could be acquitted.”
Lawal also pointed out that the doctor’s report from the hospital where Wisdom was declared dead was missing from his case file.
He advised that the report be traced back to Ajuwon Police Station because it was one of the vital documents needed by state prosecutors.
‘SOMEONE SPOKE TO THE PRESS ON THIS MATTER’
As the discussion with Lawal was about to come to an end, he accused Wisdom’s relative of speaking to the press over the matter.
“I ordinarily would have not said anything on this matter,” Lawal said.
“When this case was first transferred to us, someone immediately spoke to the press about it. I don’t want to be quoted wrongly. However, if you want justice for your brother, things would have to be done the proper way.
“The number one thing that needs to be done now is to ensure that the missing doctor’s report is recovered and included in the case file. Then we take it from there.”
When the relative spoke to the police officers at Ajuwon about the report, they said they wouldn’t treat issues already transferred to Abeokuta.
Eventually, the doctor’s report was found and handed over to the police at Elewe-Eran. In return, Wisdom’s burial pass was issued to his family members.
“We have been through enough as a family. All we intend to do now is to look for how we’d bury our dead. We’ll leave the police to prosecute the accused as they have promised,” the relative said.
The non-inclusion of state police in the constitution has been considered by many Nigerians as a grave omission. Apart from the several security challenges the country is presently combatting through the inadequacy of central policing, citizens have also have to contend with corrupt practices from police officers. This was clear in the way the police at Elewe-Eran devised questionable means of extorting money from Wisdom’s grieving family, a freshly bereaved people.
In October 2020, Nigerian youths, through the #EndSARS protest, registered their displeasure and grievances over incessant torture, extrajudicial killings and extortion by the police. In the various incidents that led to the protest, it was evident police officers just wanted to extort their victims.
When the problem was further dissected, the reason for the poor actions of the policemen was attributed to poor remuneration, training and welf-being.
In the United Kingdom, a police constable earns an annual net salary payment of £27,000, that is an equivalent of N22,365,000 (using the parallel market exchange rate).
In Nigeria, and based on the 2018 salary package approved by the Muhammadu Buhari-led government, the Inspector General of Police takes home N8,537,980 annually.
This means a police constable in the United Kingdom earns more money annually than the highest-ranked police officer in Nigeria. This means poor remuneration remains the number one reason police officers in the country devise various means of extorting citizens.
One of the biggest agitations made recently has been for the introduction of state policing. The proponents of this argue that centralised policing is no longer enough when it comes to securing Nigerian lives and property.
It is believed that state governments, because of the budgets at their disposal, are capable of providing necessary security once section 214 of the Nigerian constitution is reviewed and the law devolves power to them.
The argument goes further to claim that with state-run police forces, governors would be fully responsible for the actions of the policemen, including their reform and emoluments.
However, a flip side to these arguments is that the police can easily become a tool of oppression in the hands of governors. A more dangerous argument is that some governors may end up becoming warlords and resort to using the police to instigate secessions.
Finally, and more importantly, it is feared that most states will struggle to successfully finance their state police units because they struggle to pay the minimum wage and are so reliant on federal allocations. This risk of underfunding can create very different levels of policing across the country.
For example, the fact that Lagos State is able to cater to police salaries may not mean that Ekiti State will be able to do the same.
Presently, the solution to brazen acts of corruption within the police is still not within sight.
Also, bereaved families like Wisdom’s may never enjoy humane and professional gestures from the police as they continue to combat the issue of poor pay.
On September 19, Wisdom was buried by family members and friends at the Jafojo Cemetery in Agege, Lagos State.
This report was produced with support from the Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism (WSCIJ) under the Collaborative Media Engagement for Development Inclusivity and Accountability project (CMEDIA) funded by the MacArthur Foundation
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