Tuesday, 9 June 2009

The Apo Six: Four Years After

In 2004 while still working with the Abuja Bureau of the Guardian Newspapers of Nigeria as a Health Correspondent, one of my articles outside the field of my jurisdiction titled, ‘The Nigeria Police: A Bunch Of Disgrace To The Nation’, won the 2004 edition of the UCIP Journalism Awards under the category of International Award For Excellence In Journalism.

The article was not only my spontaneous reaction but an emotional one on the monumental corruption and excesses of the Nigeria Police. What I did in that article was to toe a line of argument that has never been toed before by writing in detail about the evils, corruption and impunity being perpetrated by the Nigeria Police. It was more of stripping them naked for the world to see how corrupt they are. In fact I called a spade, a spade.

They wanted someone and frankly speaking has been anxiously waiting for someone to wash their dirty linen in public for them and what I actually did in that award-winning article was just to help them realise that dream. I was therefore not surprised that the article did not only win the award but was also singled out by the Panel of Judges for praise for the exceptional stand I took despite all odds to bring the problem to the lime light.

On my way to Thailand to receive the award, I stopped over in London for an interview appointment with both the Network Africa and Focus Africa programmes of the BBC African Service on the award and other salient issues in Nigeria. During the interview I repeated same allegations I made in the article and even added that the Nigeria Police are corrupt to the extent that they could kill to cover up or achieve their aim. I was asked if am not afraid of saying that over the air and my response was that if all of us become afraid then that change would never come.

To my surprise the interview was monitored by the Nigerian Police and they actually took all I said with a pinch of salt and as very insulting. When I came back to Nigeria, it was a hell I will never forget. The details of what happened will be for another day. However the summary is that I ended up becoming a guest of the Nigeria Police for a night at the Abuja Police Station in Garki under a trumped up charges. Couple of days later I lost my laptop under a very mysterious circumstance. The only copy of the award-winning article went with the laptop.

My problem with the law enforcement actually started before I left Nigeria. Due to what I perceived as a huge corruption within the NDLEA, unit of the Nigerian Police, I made a damning report against the officers involved with the Due Process Office of the Federal Government and that warranted an investigation that nearly made some of them to lose their job. However I was assured that none would lose their job because I threatened to withdraw my allegation, if that would lead to sacking of those involved. My intention was to raise an alarm and never to witch-hunt. That is not my idea of journalism, neither is it part of my philosophy.

That is the background. Now why am writing this is because of a new angle that was introduced into the corruption within the Nigeria Police and the ugly incident took place months after my return from the UK. That was a real vindication of my interview and my article though I was so sad it happened that way.

On the night of June 8, 2005 during their regular patrol, a team of Nigerian Police led by one Ibrahim Danjuma met a group of young people heading home after a night out in their car. There were five young men and a girl. On routine check, they noticed that the occupants of the car had a huge amount of money in the boot of their car which is very normal with most business men in Nigeria. On enquiry, one of them, the owner of the money explained that the money belonged to him and that he had the intention of going on business trip with the money after the night out.

The police men instantly agreed amongst themselves to kill the six, place their guns on them as if they were victims of armed robbery shoot out with the police and then made away with the money. And that was exactly what they did and took the life of innocent people who were going about their normal business lawfully.

Reports identified the six youths later to be called the Apo Six in reference to the part of Abuja where they traded in auto spare parts as Ifeanyi Ozor, Paulinus Ogbonna, Anthony Nwekeke, Augustina Arebon, Chinedu Meniru and Isaac Ekene, all aged between 21 and 25 years. After the shooting they were hurriedly buried at Utako District in two shallow graves, two bodies in one and four in the other.
A judicial commission of Inquiry set up by the government after 50 days of sitting, ordered for the exhumation and post-mortem of the bodies. It concluded that the six victims died of injuries due to ‘high velocity missile’ consistent with AK 47 rifle.

The victims' families asked the government to publicly acknowledge that the victims were not robbers, to provide them with a proper reburial and to pay compensation for each of the dead. They also asked for death penalty for the officers, and, as a final memento that a street in the capital be renamed ‘Apo Six Street’. Each of the families was paid N3 million by the government, the Police apologised and provided ambulances for the bodies to be carried to their hometowns for a proper re-burial.

However, the sad story is that four years after the ugly incident, the other demands have not been met. Trial is unnecessarily being slowed down and appears discouraging. Relatives of the victims continue to lose faith in the judicial process. I want therefore to use this medium to appeal to the Federal Government to ensure that justice is done in this case. The victims are law abiding citizens and therefore should be rewarded for being faithful, loyal, honest and law-abiding till the point of death.

The Nigeria Police are a big disgrace to all of us and a dent on the image of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The government must therefore do something to ensure that this callous behaviour is not encouraged by making sure that Ibrahim Danjuma and his cohorts are brought to the book. The police are supposed to be there to protect us and that is exactly what we expect from them and nothing less. We are the government and not the police and as such they must respect us the taxpayers who pay their salaries.

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