From Geoffrey Anyanwu, Enugu
The death of a 23-year-old only child, Martin Chinemelum Ogbu, allegedly in police custody in Lagos, has thrown the Ogbu family into inconsolable grief.
It has also triggered crisis in the hitherto robust relationship between the families of Ogbu from Ihenyi, Ehamufu, in Isu-Uzo Local Government Area of Enugu State, and Edoka, from Inyaba Ngo Umudim Nnewi, in Anambra State.
Chinemelum was, before his suspicious demise on March 28, an apprentice to Mr. Fidelis Edoka, a Lagos-based businessman. The present situation is so bad that it has become difficult for the two families to sit together to discuss the issues surrounding the death of the young man, the only child of Mr. Michael Nnaji Ogbu.
The heartbroken father told Daily Sun that it was unreasonable for his late son’s master, Fidelis, to “pretend and send people to come and beg me for us to settle. Settle what? What are we going to settle now that my only child is dead?”
He said: “I begged him, after they tortured my son and damaged his left eye and he escaped from where Fidelis locked him up in his house and returned to Nnewi, to come let us settle whatever it is. His own father begged him also but he refused and insisted I must bring him back to his house in Lagos to settle. With all he did to him, I still took him to Lagos only for him to bring policemen, who took my son away and wasted him when he was aware he was my only child, and now he wants me to settle with him.”
But Fidelis said he could not have killed the young man, whom he took as a son and brother and gave access to his warehouses even when he was not his manager.
He said he had already petitioned the Inspector-General of Police for a thorough investigation into the circumstances that led to Chinemelum’s death in a police cell.
Similarly, Chinemelum’s father, Ogbu, has, through his lawyer, Mr. Oboigede Agbo of Casmir Uchenna Agbo and Associate, Enugu, petitioned Force Headquarters, Abuja, requesting the transfer of the case file from the Trade Fair Police Post, Lagos, to Abuja and for the arrest of Fidelis, his wife and even the IPO for the death of the young man. He also demanded an independent autopsy for the cause of death and for all culpable persons to be charged to court.
Chinemelum’s father’s account
Narrating the journey that led to the loss of his only child, 56-year-old Ogbu, who is a carpenter and had been residing in Nnewi since 1982, said: “What happened was that, while my son and only child, 23-year-old Martin Chinemelum Ogbu, was in secondary school, JS2, Mr. Joseph Edoka, from Inyaba Ngo Umudim Nnewi, approached me to release my son to come and live with him as he had no person living with, his children were all grown and had left home, hence, he needed someone to assist him in the house. We considered him, being that we were living close to his house and our eyes could reach the boy while there. So, Chinemerem stayed with him and completed his secondary school education.
“After his secondary school education, the first son of Mr. Edoka, Fidelis, who lived in Lagos, came and said he wanted to take (Chinemelum) to Lagos to train him in his motor parts business. I asked my son if he wanted to further his education or go into business, he said he wanted business. So, we discussed with Fidelis and agreed that he would stay with him for six years and he would settle him. Since that four years and some months, because he was supposed to settle him next year August, he had not for once given any bad report about Chinemelum.
“But in March this year he (Fidelis) called me on phone one night, asked if I was sick. I said I am okay now that I was sick sometime ago. He switched off the phone and after some minutes called back and complained that Chinemelum sold some of his goods and kept the money with him but refused to acknowledge it. He gave the phone to my son and I asked my son and he said he was not with his master’s money. I then told Fidelis that I would come to Lagos so that we could settle the issue. He asked when, and I said when I get money and he said okay and turned off the phone. The next day, very early in the morning, his father, Mr. Edoka, came to my house and, after pleasantries, I asked if everything was okay for him to come so early. He said there was no problem just that he heard I was sick and decided to come and check on me. I asked him if his son called him on phone, he said no and I told him that his son (Fidelis) called last night and told of the issue he was having with my son and that I promised to visit Lagos for us to settle it. But because he had come, I was not going to Lagos anymore. He should call his son and tell him to bring Chinemelum home so that all of us would settle the matter together and he agreed that he would do so.
“The next day, in the evening, I went to Mr. Edoka’s house and I asked if he had given the son the message as we agreed the previous day. He asked me if I did not see his son in my house in the morning, I said no that I left my house very early that day and he said his son was in my house in the morning and that he saw my wife. So, I left for my house and, on getting home, my wife told me that Fidelis came with policemen to the house and arrested her and took her to the CPS Nnewi. That the police told her to write a statement because, according to them, her son ran away with his boss’s thirty-something million naira and they could not find him in the room where he was kept in Lagos. She said that the police wanted to lock her up after her statement but for her complaint that her child was sick. They, however, told her to tell me to report to the station. But it was late, I couldn’t do anything. The next morning I went to his father’s house, and both Fidelis and his father were in. I asked Fidelis how come the matter has reached bringing police to arrest my wife, he said he did what he was supposed to do, that my son took his money and ran away, that he ran away from the room where he kept him. He said all he wanted was that I should look for my son and make sure he returned his money to him. I said okay, until I see my son to know whether he is with your money or not. He said I should go and report to the police, but his father and one of their brothers who was there insisted that he (Fidelis) must go with me so that the police would not detain me. He later agreed and took me in his car to the police, where I wrote my statement that I did not know anything about the money, until I see my son to know whether he was with the said money. Police said I should go and look for my child. I said I would, but that his boss whom I handed my son to should also be looking for him, and we left.
“After two weeks, my son called on phone one evening and said he was at Nnewi Roundabout and I went there to pick him and from there straight to Mr. Edoka’s house. The boy had wounds all over his body and one of his eyes was damaged. I told Mr. Edoka that the boy should sleep with him and tell him the full story of his journey with his master but he said no, I should take him to my house first. I said, Okay, let him tell you what he knows about the matter and return to the house later. I left him there and he later returned home. Around 8pm, Mr. Edoka sent his in-law to come and tell me to come with my son the next morning by 8am. That night, I asked my son what he knew about the over N30 million his Oga claimed he ran away with and he said he knew nothing about it.
“He said that the torture was too much for him and he told them he gave me money to go to hospital so that they would leave him. He said all he knew about was N345,000, which he even informed the manager about. He was duped of the money by somebody, whom he gave it to buy goods and return to him within one week, not knowing he was a fraudster. My son told me that they tied him and beat him as they liked, and locked him up in a room. But when blood started to come out of his chest, he cried and shouted so loudly that his master sent someone to loosen him a bit. With the rope being a bit loose, he hung it around the door handle and began to pull it until it cut. He said he had to break the ceiling around 2am and escape through the roof as his life was in danger.
“That morning, after waiting for some hours at Mr. Edoka’s house as he said he was waiting for a brother so that the matter would be resolved, Mr. Edoka said his son called and said that I should bring my son to Lagos for us to settle. I said why don’t we settle this matter here in Nnewi than going to Lagos and he said I should not bother that, as far as he was concerned, the matter would be settled amicably. And I agreed that we would go to Lagos. So, on Friday, March 19, 2021, we left for Lagos: my son, myself and Edoka’s brother, Chijioke. We got to Fidelis’ house exactly 3pm. On our arrival, Fidelis began to question my son on many transactions and my son told him that the only one he knew about was the one of N345,000. Immediately, he invited the police and they came and took him away and detained him. The next day being Saturday, I told him that I wanted to see my son and he said he had no time for that, that he was talking about his money, but he would drop me at the gate of Trade Fair Police Station and come back for me when he finished for the day, which he did. When he returned around 4pm and asked the IPO if my son had said any other thing, the IPO said no, that my son was still repeating what he said before, and he returned him to the cell. That Saturday morning, he told me that his father had called him to ask him to have mercy on my son that he was like a son to them, but he did not. He said he would do whatever he liked and the highest thing that could happen was that he would not return home for two years after which his father would have calmed down. When we returned from the police station that Saturday evening, I was still standing at the gate when Fidelis approached and asked if I had told my people in Lagos of the matter and I said I had told my in-law and he said he would come the next day, Sunday. He said why he was asking was that Chinemelum must give him the over N30 million or he would pay with his blood.
“On Sunday morning, I told Fidelis that I wanted to go to the police station and he said he had no time and I requested for his manager to take me and he said the manager could only do when had finished his work. I collected the manager’s phone number, in case I missed my way, and left. When I got to the police station, I saw the IPO, a woman, I requested to see my son and she said, no, the case had changed. Within a short time, Fidelis, his lawyer and the manager came in. Shortly after, my in-law came. My in-law began to speak to him and pleaded with him for amicable settlement but he said no one should beg him, that his heart had become stone, that he would do all he wanted to do.
“He was talking when the IPO called us that the DPO wanted to see us in her office. When we went in, the DPO was there with one huge man and after identifying us, the man said he was Assistant Commissioner of Police, Lagos, that what he wanted to say now may not be pleasing to us, that Chinemelum committed suicide by hanging himself in the cell. I shouted uncontrollably and my in-law held me and started calming me down. I asked them to show me where he hanged himself but they refused. I requested to see the body of my son, they still refused, saying that they kept it in the hospital, that I would come next time with his master. Then I went to Fidelis and said, you told me yesterday that Chinemelum must pay you over N30 million or he would pay with his blood and you have done it. He said nothing. I left with my in-law and I returned to Nnewi the next day. I only saw the body of my son after over one week of the incident when I went back to Lagos.
‘My people in Lagos took me to the ASPAMDA, which is the body of the spare parts dealers, and they told us that they had set up a committee to look into the case and they facilitated my seeing the body of my son. They told me that they had taken over the matter, that they would invite Fidelis and I to settle the matter. But since then I have not heard from them and they have done nothing about it. Since then, Fidelis has been sending his friends and brothers for us to settle the case and I told them that it can no longer be settled in Lagos or Nnewi. They should go to my people in the village and settle with them and they said they would not go to my people, and that is where we are since then and my son’s body is still in Lagos and I don’t know what Fidelis is doing with it.”
Asked what he wants, Mr. Ogbu said: “The only thing I want is for Fidelis to bring back my son I handed over to him five years ago, whom he should be settling next year August, dead or alive. He should come and tell my people in the village what he has done with my son. This boy served his father for about four years without any complaint and his good behaviour was what Fidelis saw and insisted on taking him to serve him too and he had served him for five years and this is how he has decided to pay me, making us childless.
Giving account of what transpired between him and his boy, Fidelis disagreed with Mr. Ogbu, saying: “There was never a time I said that the boy must pay with his blood. The condition did not arise as I was not convinced that the boy squandered the money but rather he had associates that lured him into the act. Why should I kill the boy when he had not revealed the identity of his partners?”
He also denied ever torturing him before reporting him to the police, noting that, if he had done so, the police would not have accepted him. “We all know the laws of the land,” he said.
Fidelis told Daily Sun that he was interested in knowing what happened to Chinemelum: “I wrote a petition to the Inspector-General of Police seeking an investigation into the circumstances of his death in police custody. The investigation is ongoing at the Force Criminal Investigation Department, Abuja. I also requested for investigation and autopsy, as that may help establish clearly the facts of the case and my innocence on his death. His death is very unfortunate and sad. I pray for the repose of his soul. Amen.”
Fidelis, whose shops were said to have been looted and set ablaze by an angry mob who felt he was responsible for Chinemelum’s death, said: “My son/boy, Chinemelum Ogbu, lived with my father at Nnewi in his secondary school days. After his WAEC, he joined me in Lagos as an apprentice in 2017.
“We lived well and I regarded him as my blood brother, hence, I trusted him with many of my personal things, including access to my warehouse even when he was not the manager. Only him, out of my boys, had key and access to my warehouses.
“On March 1, 2021, I discovered a charm in form of mystic red and black oils with other fetish things I cannot describe here but will be forwarded as an attachment to this. He confessed that he actually brought them for the purpose of confusing me so that I would not discover any of his wrongdoings. At first, he said that his mother gave them to him for prayers and, when confronted, his mother agreed to have given them to him. But when the matter worsened, she said that she was not the sender that her son told her to cover him up. (Evidence of this in her statement is at Nnewi police station, It can be verified). The father retorted that the oil issue was solely between the mother and the son that they did not use such oil to do any family prayer in his house.
“I later discovered also that Chinemelum had been selling my goods in the warehouse without invoice or any form of recording. While collecting payments from customers he will lie and convince them that his master needed cash not direct transfer to bank; so he collected the cash and used it without recording or informing anyone in the company. He normally switched off CCTV cameras whenever he wanted to carry out his wrong doings. Without proper stocktaking, just on two items alone, it was discovered that over N30m was missing from the warehouse that only him was solely responsible for.
“On my preliminary findings based on one on one frank discussion, he admitted having 15 per cent in another business with someone whose identity he refused to disclose. He admitted collecting cash from debtors without remittance, or appropriate recording. He initially said he gave his father N340, 000 for his hospital bill but when his father confronted him, he changed and said that he did not give it to his father but to his girlfriend to assist her relocate to Abuja, etc.
“My son Chinemelum was not consistent in his words hence I told him that we will go to the bank for BVN biometrics. This prompted him to run away from the house while everyone was sleeping. The incidence was then reported the following morning –March 3, 2021 to Festac police station, ASPAMDA Market Union Security Office, Trade Fair police station and on March 5 to Nnewi Police Station.
“After two weeks, his father found him and took him to my father in the village. Due to old age, my father did not understand all his explanations hence they demanded that I send transport fare for them to come to Lagos for discussion and reconciliation.
“Upon arrival with his father and my cousin on Friday, March 19, 2021, I and his father asked Chinemelum more questions in my house and persuaded him to disclose the identity of his partners, he abruptly refused to disclose and even said that he had deleted their numbers. At this point, I had no other option than to invite the police to help in questioning him. The police came, arrested and took him to their station where they questioned him with a view to also getting him to disclose the identity of his partners in crime but all to no avail. I and his father went with them to the police station and later came back to my house together. The father slept in my house till that Sunday though he went and stayed with him in the station throughout Saturday and was there before me on Sunday with his in-law. On that Sunday at about 11am I was called by the police to come to the station that the boy was opening up. I called my lawyer so as to document everything. On getting there, after a brief police protocol, the Area Commander broke the news to Mr. Ogbu, his in-law, I and my lawyer that ‘the boy hung himself.’ They showed us a picture on phone, took us to the cell and told us that they had taken his corpse to the Navy mortuary and deposited it. We were told by the police to report back the next day being Monday so they can take us to the Navy mortuary where they deposited his corpse.
“I was there that Monday with the police waiting for his father but unfortunately learnt after several calls by the police that he travelled back to Nnewi that Monday. That same Monday, my closed shops were broken, looted and my goods totally burnt by angry mob that thought the boy died in my custody.
“Our traditional ruler, my father, my kinsmen and some other notable and respected men from my town and other towns in Igbo land have been appealing to Mr. Ogbu to liaise and come to terms with me so we seek justice by first conducting autopsy but he has been playing dice even to answer the police call for autopsy.
“I have been mourning Chinemelum for over two months now. My businesses are closed since after his death and my health being managed.”
When contacted, the police public relations officer in Lagos, Muyiwa Adejobi, confirmed the matter.