■14 years after, police yet to pay insurance claims, retirement benefits
■Children withdrawn from school, he now begs to feed
By MATTHEW DIKE, Lagos
The pathetic story of ASP Augustine Ugwu (retd) will make teardrops roll down the cheeks of any Nigerian. At first glance, one would think he is suffering from elephantiasis. But Ugwu’s swollen hands, legs, and wounds on different parts of his body have nothing to do with a natural disease, but are the stark result of the attack by armed robbers, disguised as soldiers in military uniforms, who pumped 10 bullets into him. Three other policemen, namely, Inspector Jimoh, Corporal Mumuni and Corporal Bekeh, who were with him in the patrol vehicle died instantly. Ugwu was a sergeant at the time. But he lived to tell the story of what happened that fateful night.
After the attack, Ugwu recalled that he and his colleagues were moved to the mortuary of a hospital, but mother luck smiled at him, when he suddenly shook his body. If not for the man that noticed the sudden movement, he surely would have been a living man mistakenly deposited in a morgue, who would later die.
He was in coma for one week before regaining consciousness. During surgery, five bullets were extracted from his body apart from the other five that pierced and exited from the opposite side.
With bitter tears, Ugwu who retired from the police force on May 30, 2016, after 35 years of meritorious service to the nation, recounted how the police authorities abandoned him to die without paying him his retirement benefits. He is deeply saddened that the police authorities have refused to pay his N500,000 police insurance claim, retirement benefits and other entitlements.
A surgeon at the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH) who spoke about Ugwu’s case under the condition of anonymity told Sunday Sun: “Because of the gangrene in his hands, if not carefully handled, they may be amputated.”
In Flat 23, New Block 5, Queens Barracks, Apapa, in Lagos State, where he lives, Ugwu said that if he should untie the bandages wrapped round the deep wounds on his hands anybody who sets eyes on them would not eat for three days. He described the wounds as “an eyesore.” He spends N3,000 everyday on drugs to reduce the pain and swelling of the wounds. He said that the hands would swell up each day he did not take the drugs. The stench is better imagined.
Doctors had advised him to travel to India to get better treatment, but non-availability of funds has been the major hindrance. If his two hands were amputated, that would mean that he would no longer be able to feed himself, but become totally dependent on another person to do this, either his wife or children. The stark reality of such a situation would be that another person would also have to clean him when he defecates, assist him to urinate, bathe and dress him like a child.
To survive, Ugwu after selling all his property including land, generating set, motorcycle, laptop, among other things, has descended to begging former colleagues and other people for whatever little amount they are able to give to him. A visit to his flat puts his wretchedness in bold relief.
His loving wife, Ify, who used to own a boutique had to sell off everything and used the money to care for her hubby. Later, an attempt to run a canteen also collapsed because of her husband’s health.
Recalling what happened on the fateful day that the robbers attacked the patrol team, he said: “Three other members of the anti-robbery team and myself attached to Ojo Police Station of the Lagos State Police Command were in our patrol vehicle, on January 30, 2003, patrolling our division, along Badagry expressway. Unknown to us, the occupants of the Nissan Urvan bus following us closely from behind were not soldiers but armed robbers in military uniform. We never envisaged any danger. We were so comfortable seeing soldiers behind us. We were relaxed but suddenly we found out that we had made the worst mistake of our lives. A fatal mistake that took the lives of three officers at once while I’m still battling with the multiple wounds I sustained during the attack. We were not suspecting them to be armed robbers. We believed they were soldiers going back to their barracks. The incident occurred around 7am. We had approached Cele Nica bus stop on the Badagry expressway and wanted to make a U-turn. Out of the blues, Inspector Jimoh who was sitting in front asked what the time was and I responded: ‘Five minutes to seven’. It was in the morning. Corporal Bekeh wondered why our commander, Inspector Jimoh, should ask me, who was sitting at the back, for the time instead of himself sitting beside the inspector and was driving. He jokingly added that my wristwatch was a menthollatum watch. We all laughed. We were still sharing jokes when the men we thought were soldiers started shooting at our vehicle. I attempted to cock my rifle but a bullet hit me from behind. Then more bullets hit me. I was still conscious as blood gushed out of my body. The patrol vehicle stopped in a ditch. The men of the underworld alighted from their operational vehicle and were still firing at close range, to ensure that they killed all of us. The other three policemen died instantly. The robbers blocked the road and I was hearing them as they shouted at motorists, ‘where’s the money? Bring your handset. Give me the money or I will kill you.’ The robbers shouted till I became unconscious and didn’t know anything again. I woke up in a hospital. They said I was in coma for seven days. Apparently I was being carried to the mortuary along with the three dead policemen when I shook my body and somebody then alerted the doctors that I was still breathing. They would have put me in the mortuary without knowing that I was alive. I found myself at Onyems Hospital, on Oba Daudu Street, Ojo. I sustained bullet wounds on the spine, head, my elbows, legs, waist, back and stomach. Five bullets pierced my body and exited while doctors extracted five from my stomach. Over 10 bullets were fired at me, more at close range. They knocked off my tooth with the butt of the gun and also two others.”
For several months, Ugwu was in agony and writhing in pains. In a somewhat strange show of callousness, the police authorities at the headquarters refused to pay his police insurance claim, curiously stating that he did not apply within the first 90 days after the incident. The fact that he was hospitalized for months was disregarded. Even though the senior hierarchy was aware of what he suffered, it did not matter.
For the past 14 years, Ugwu has been treating himself with the money he was able to raise from friends and former colleagues as gifts. In the course of time, Ugwu said he has spent all his savings and cash gifts from friends. The only time he got genuine assistance was when the Deputy Inspector General of Police Marvel Akpoyibo (retd) was the Lagos State Commissioner of Police in 2010.
Ugwu said: “Akpoyibo tried very much for me; he coordinated donations by area commanders and divisional police officers at that time. I received over N700, 000. But the money was not enough to take me to India where doctors recommended. I needed N2 million. I also needed the N500, 000 insurance money. I just want to appeal to the person sitting on my insurance money to have pity on me. How can NPF Insurance say I did not notify them within 90 days after I was attacked when I was still battling to survive the incident that is now killing me slowly? Do they want me to die before they pay me? How could I have written a letter or gone to those in charge of payment when I was still in hospital suffering in pains? The police authority has not paid me even one kobo since I was attacked. I have been begging friends and former colleagues for money to survive till today. The effect of the wounds keeps getting worse everyday I fail to take my drugs that cost N3,000. I spent N600,070 at Onyems Hospital. I was transferred to another hospital where I spent N400,000. I was later referred to Lagoon Hospital Apapa. I paid N100,000, which amounted to 10 percent of the total cost. I was discharged from Lagoon Hospital but the problem resurfaced while I was still serving at Area ‘B’ Apapa Command. I wrote three letters through my Area commander. Doctors advised me to go to India, I tried to raise the money but the amount I realized was far below the expected amount of N2million that would take me to India and also settle the bill for the treatment and other things. The doctor said my body has become addicted to the drugs I have been using and unless I travel and necessary drugs and medicament given to me, it would be difficult for me to survive. They said the situation has affected me so much and it is telling on my behaviour. He said I could stop taking the drugs on my own because the injured areas of my body would begin swelling again. At times when I don’t have money and stop using the drugs, the wounds will swell up. My hands are gangrenous now. They stink. The doctors said the chemical from the bullets is killing me slowly. The bullets are reacting in my body. I would have travelled to India for treatment if the N500, 000 had been paid to me at the time.
Passionate appeal for help
On account of his very poor financial situation, Ugwu had to withdraw his two children from school. One of them, a 200-Level student of Osun State Polytechnic was studying Business Administration. His daughter could not continue her education. She was attending Pathfinder Secondary School, Olodi-Apapa and was withdrawn too as he couldn’t pay her WAEC fees. As at last year, his son’s school fee was N120,000.
“I want to appeal to the National Assembly, Lagos State Government, Enugu State Government, Inspector General of Police, Minister of Interior and Chairman of Police Service Commission to intervene in my case. Please intervene or help me out. Don’t let me die. I have served the Nigeria Police for 35 years. I cannot feed my family now. I’m now living by His grace and some friends and well-wishers. If I don’t beg, I will not eat.”
First encounter with death
In 1985, Ugwu had his first encounter with death while serving at the Satelite Town Police Station. He was a constable and had gone to Ikeja to give evidence against six armed robbers standing trial before a military tribunal headed by a senior naval officer, Akeredolu.
He takes up the tale: “I was returning from the tribunal where I gave evidence against the six armed robbers brought for trial. At brewery bus stop, Ijora, a motorcycle rider abandoned the road and rammed into me and I suspected that it was an intentional act. The rider must have been hired by the robbers to terminate my life so that there would be no concrete evidence at the tribunal the following day. I sustained a fracture in the leg and a deep cut on my hands. A patriotic Nigerian I don’t know till today saw where I was lying down unconscious with blooding gushing from my body. He searched my pockets for an identity card. When he was sure I was a policeman, he rushed me to the police hospital, Falomo, Ikoyi, Lagos State. I was abandoned on the bare floor till the next day and blood congealed on me. Nobody even touched or treated me. It was the next day at the tribunal that one policeman informed the tribunal that I was involved in an accident. The chairman of the tribunal, Akeredolu did not believe him, and said that policemen usually gave flimsy excuses instead of providing evidence in court. He had even issued a bench warrant against me before he decided to visit the police hospital, Ikoyi, when he got there, he saw me lying on the floor untreated. He got angry and shouted at the personnel at the hospital. It was then that the nurses brought water to wash off the blood that had already congealed. Akeredolu decided to move me to the Navy Hospital, off Mobil Road, Apapa. The Navy Hospital was better equipped than the police hospital. They treated me like their friend. Everyday they would take me in the ambulance to my house after treatment and come back the next day to me back to the hospital. I was happy. They also took me to the tribunal. The armed robbers were convicted and sentenced to death by firing squad. Because of this experience I swore never to go to the police hospital for treatment. The fear of what they did to me in 1985 still lingers in my memory.”
Security expert berates police
The chief executive of Angels Guards Securities Limited, Mr Israel Asigbe, a security expert offered this view: “The Nigeria Police should put its house in order. What is happening to retired ASP Ugwu and some other police officers is enough to kill the morale of police officers and men who are sacrificing their lives to protect the society. This kind of situation usually dampens their morale and that’s why many of them don’t want to take any risk for the country. Because if they are in difficult situation the authority would not take care and protect them. I think it’s high time for the Police Service Commission (PSC) and the Nigeria Police hand over pension and gratuity to a private insurance company to handle. There is a lot of madness in the system. That’s why many police are not risking their lives to do the job. It is wrong not to pay insurance money to them. They are not well taken care of when they are injured in the line of duty. Only few can boast of that. Some that were maimed in the process were abandoned to use their money to treat themselves. That’s very bad. We have heard that members of the Department of State Services (DSS) are insured for N10 million.
Meanwhile, until the filing of this story, all efforts made to reach Lagos State Police Public Relations officer, DSP Famous Cole on phone, to comment on the issue proved abortive.