■ Nigerians seek re-opening of unresolved murders of Ige, Rewane, Dikibo, Marshall, Williams, others
By ENYERIBE EJIOGU and SIJIBOMI FATAYO
IT has been 14 years since Chief Ajibola Ige, former Attorney General of the Federation, who was known as the Cicero of Esa Oke was shot dead with a single bullet in the chest region in his home at Bodija, Ibadan, about 9pm on December 23, 2002.
The incident was said to have occured after he went upstairs to rest, while his security men had gone out to have dinner.
The gunmen were probably lurking around the place waiting for an opportune moment, and that came when the security men stepped out of the premises. The gunmen stormed the house, overpowered and tied up members of the family and then asked one of them to lead them upstairs to the bedroom of Ige. They locked up his wife, Atinuke, (who is now deceased) and his daughter in an adjoining room. With all the family members all confined, the assassins then burst into his room where a single shot was fired into his heart.
They left him writhing in pains on the floor in the throes of imminent death as they made their getaway from the scene. Not even a pin was taken from the house, a clear indication that they were not armed robbers.
Once the assassins left, the freed family members ran upstairs, to take him to a hospital, but he died on the way to the Oluyoro Catholic Hospital, Ibadan.
In a twist that was not clear at the time, the then deputy governor of Osun State, Iyiola Omisore was accused of complicity in the slaying of Ige. At the time, Osun State was embroiled in a political battle between the then governor, Chief Adebisi Akande, the immediate past chairman of the All Progressives Congress, APC, and Omisore. In the heat of the moment, Lagos lawyer, Festus Keyamo, threw up a certain Olugbenga Adebayo, known by the sobriquet, Fryo, who confessed that he was hired by Omisore to silence Ige for taking sides with the governor. Incensed by this revelation, the few supporters Omisore had in the House of Assembly changed sides and joined in impeaching him. Stripped of his immunity from prosecution, he was promptly arrested on the orders of the then Inspector General of Police, Tafa Balogun, and charged with others for the death of Ige.
For several months, Omisore was held in custody. Curiously, he contested and won election into the Senate in the 2003 General Elections on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, while still being held in detention. He defeated the candidate of the Alliance for Democracy, Senator Mojisoluwa Akinfenwa. More twists were to happen in the case as Omisore was granted bail on health grounds and allowed to attend the inauguration of the National Assembly, even though the other suspects charged along with him were not given bail.
Omisore’s bail was later quashed when the judge who initially presided over the case withdrew from the case in response to heightened criticism of his earlier decision to grant the allegedly questionable bail. The case was then assigned to a new judge, who decided to re-start the matter afresh and consequently revoked Omisore’s bail.
By this time, Omisore had been appointed as the chairman of a Senate committee. With his bail revoked, the police re-arrested and put him in Agodi prison in Ibadan as the new judge refused to renew his bail. He remained in Agodi prison till the case ended.
The case became more convoluted as the key witness, denied his earlier statement that he had been contracted by Omisore to kill Ige. Even more damaging to the prosecution’s case was the fact that one of the guards on duty at the home of Ige on the fateful day that he was killed, Andrew Olofu, equally denied that he identified Alani Omisore, Iyiola’s brother, as one of the people who killed Ige. Under cross-examination, he denied seeing Alani; he further said that the police obtained his earlier statement under duress. He claimed that while in prison he had become converted after allegedly meeting Jesus Christ and, therefore, could not be a party to an attempt to implicate an innocent man.
The denial of Olofu was like an earthquake that made the case of the prosecution to collapse, as a positive identification of Alani would have effectively demolished the alibi of Omisore.
Buffeted by the inconsistencies and denials, Justice Moshood Abbas of the Oyo State High Court who eventually sat on the case discharged and acquitted Omisore on the ground that the prosecution had failed to establish a prima facie case against him. With Omisore let off the hook, the PDP government, which won the election and took over the reins of power in Oyo State suddenly filed a nolle prosecui in court to discontinue the case against the other people who stood trial with Omisore. Not long after, Mr. Sunday Ehindero, who took over from Balogun as Inspector General of Police, told Nigerians that the case file on the murder of Ige had been closed because no fresh evidence was available to warrant a fresh prosecution.
The pain of members of the Ige family, and indeed, well meaning Nigerians who loved the slain Cicero of Esa Oke was not assuaged by the revelation by former president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, which he made on a radio programme, The President Explains, towards the end of his eight-year tenure that Ige was murdered on the orders of a drug baron who he did not name.
He was quoted by a national daily (not The Sun) to have said on the programme: “The police recently got a clue that a certain drug baron was linked to Bola Ige’s murder. The former Attorney General was prosecuting a case, which involved the said drug baron. Maybe that is why the suspect arranged it. That is the latest information on it and the police are still continuing their investigation.”
Expectedly, the revelation was a rude shock to members of Ige’s family who naturally wondered why Obasanjo chose to speak up as his tenure petered out. The daughter of the late Ige, Adegbola took up Obasanjo on the statement and lampooned him in a rebuttal that thrashed what he said.
Adegbola said: “Obasanjo wants to deceive the nation and the whole world because he was being haunted by the ghost of Ige. We remember that the murderers are here and in our midst and the nest of killers are attempting to foist a diversion.
“Were these facts available on May 29, 2003, when Mr President (Obasanjo) was sworn in with his party’s new senators? Pray thee, Mr. President, did you know this on April 10, 2003, when Justice Atinuke Ige, retired justice of the Appeal Court, died as a result of miscarriage of justice in her husband’s murder trial? As Obasanjo leaves Aso Rock for his Ota farm, it is obvious that one of the big stains on his eight-year tenure, the assassination of the sitting Attorney General, is not going to go away. The last has not been heard about this murder. We all shall know the truth and only then can we truly be free.”
True to Adegbola’s prediction, the clamour for the resumption of investigation into the murder of Ige has in the past few days become strident with voices mounting pressure on the Muhammadu Buhari administration to compel the police to re-open the files on the slaying of Ige and the murders of Chief Harry Marshall, National Vice-Chairman of the defunct All Nigeria Peoples Party and the Muhammadu Buhari’s presidential campaign coordinator in 2003 as well as the former National Vice-Chairman, South South of the People’s Democratic Party, Aminasoari Dikibo.
In a petition written to President Muhammadu Buhari on August 12, 2015, a group, South-South Renaissance Group, SSRG, with office located at 23 Abel Jumbo Street, Diobu, Port Harcourt, Rivers State, (with a scanned copy posted on the website on an online news platform), the group implored the president to “urgently look into political assassinations which were covered up by the perpetrators, who were top officials of the government and high ranking Peoples Democratic Party officials at the time.”
The group further lamented that some of the alleged culprits “are still boasting that nothing can ever happen.”
According to SSRG, a high ranking PDP apparatchik from the South South Zone clearly masterminded the murder of Dr Harry Marshall and Chief Aminasoari Dikibo.
“Our prayer, sir, is for your administration to launch a high powered investigation to unravel the truth and apprehend the murderers of these two great sons of Nigeria. “In doing this sir, God Almighty would have used you to save the lives of Nigerians who are living in fear. The spirit of the deceased would have rested in peace. We have confidence that only you will give justice to the families and followers of the dead leaders.”
Respected lawyer and author of a growing list of law books, Ajuzie Osondu, weighed in on the rising demand on the federal government for re-opening of the investigation into the high profile murders: “A criminal matter does no die. The government should re-open the case files and do diligent investigation. Even after 100 years, if compelling evidence comes to light, the government of course can re-open a case, unlike the case of a civil matter, which may lapse after some time. Justice should be done in the matter of these important personalities through proper investigation and prosecution of those who committed the crimes.”
In the same vein, Lagos-based legal practitioner and chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Anambra State, Chief Pat Anyadubalu, opined: “My own view is that when the prominent personalities were murdered, there was that general belief that the assassinations were politically motivated. Again, there was the general feeling that both the investigations and prosecutions were shoddy. In fact, no work was really done and neither was justice done in the matter concerning the assassinations of Bola Ige, Harry Marshall and Aminasori Dikibo. If the government should re-open the investigations, it would be a step in the right direction, because we always say that time does not run against the state in the case of criminal matters, in other words, there is no statute of limitations in criminal matters. I wholeheartedly endorse the clamour for the government to re-open the case files on the politically motivated assassinations or murders to ensure proper and adequate investigations.”
Case files on Ige, Dikibo murder cases never closed
Apparently responding to the growing din of the demand for reviving the stalled investigations, the Police Force Headquarters, Abuja, issued a statement that contrary to the rumours making rounds, the case files on the murder of Ige and Dikibo, were never closed. Dikibo was murdered on October 22, 2004 in Delta State after attending a meeting.
Almost one year after the petition was received at Aso Rock and at Louis Edet House, the headquarters of the Nigeria Police Force, it does not beat the imagination that the presidency may have directed the Acting Inspector-General (IG) of Police, Ibrahim Idris, to reopen investigation into the cases.
When the Force Public Relations Officer (FPRO), Don Awunah, a Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP), was contacted by a respected national daily if such directive was received and/or if the cases had been reopened, he was quoted as saying: “I have not seen the directive from the President to the effect, but the Police Force does not close murder cases for the sake of it, much less high-profile unresolved contentious ones such as these. So, we are at liberty to reopen them anytime.”
Though the FPRO declined further comments, it was learnt that Idris on one occasion expressed dissatisfaction with the manner the Ige case was handled during investigation and the subsequent prosecution of the suspects charged to court for the murder.
The Acting IGP had reportedly directed the Deputy Inspector-General of Police (DIG) in charge of Force Criminal Intelligence and Investigation Department (FCIID), H. Dagala, to re-examine the evidence available.
“These are some of the ways the new leadership has adopted to show to the President and Nigerians at large that he is not out to play politics but to be a professional policeman and return the Force to the path of acceptable standard. You know he promised to deal with any officer that acts contrary to professional ethics.
“These are some of the unresolved high-profile murder cases that made many Nigerians conclude that the Nigeria Police Force is compromised. But with this decision now, the culprits would be brought to deserved justice,” the source was quoted to have said.
Like Alfred Rewane, like Funsho Williams
In the heat of the opposition to the regime of General Sani Abacha, a frontline leader and financier of the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO), 79-year-old Alfred Rewane was murdered on Friday October 6, 1995 at his residence at 100, Oduduwa Crescent, G.R.A, Ikeja, Lagos.
The police arrested seven persons in connection with his murder, but five of the suspects died in detention, while the remaining two were freed based on weak evidence from the prosecution.
The murderers of Rewane had used a classic case of deception to gain entrance to his home by telling the security men that they wanted to deliver a message to him from his firm, Life Flour Mills Sapele. He was the chairman of the company. Not suspecting any criminal intention, after he was shown the package, the gatekeeper allowed them into the compound. Once inside, they easily entered the main building through the front door, which was not locked, and met some domestic staff, who sought to know their mission. Smoothly one of the assailants replied that they were there to serve him with court processes regarding a matter pending in Warri. From that point, the assailants got to the bedroom where one of them fired a single shot at him and escaped. Pa Rewane was rushed to hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
The family discovered that the assassins had taken away two briefcases belonging to the late Rewane.
Following the murder, the then Inspector-General of Police, Alhaji Ibrahim Coomassie directed the Force Criminal Investigations Department, Adeniji Adele to work with the Lagos State Police Command on the investigation of the assassination. Five suspects were arrested initially; and in Benin, the police also recovered a Peugeot 504 car, which they said the assailants used for the operation.
On January 3, 1996, the police charged eight people for the crime, but only seven were arraigned in court. Curiously the police offered no explanation for the whereabouts of the eighth suspect even though he was arrested and his statement taken while in custody. The case came up for hearing, but before that happened, four of the seven suspects had died in police custody while awaiting trial. More twists came when the then IGP, Ibrahim Coomaassie said that the remaining three suspects had jumped bail, but the suspects debunked the claim through their lawyers. As it turned out, the lawyer to one of the suspects arraigned was in court on the said day to seek bail for him. The case stalled and the tribunal could not conclude the case before General Abdulsalami Abubakar handed over government to Chief Olusegun Obasanjo. The case was started afresh (de novo) before Justice Adesanya. Family members questioned the charge of robbery preferred against the accused even though the police had initially included the charge of murder.
In 2000, the state counsel brought a letter to the trial judge purportedly written by the Attorney General of the state ordering the court to halt trial that new facts had emerged. The trial was then discontinued when Justice Adesanya proceeded on retirement on June 8, 2001. In response to pressure mounted by lawyers to the suspects, the case was re-assigned to Justice Oyebanji who at the time had not been allocated a court. Based on this, the then Chief Judge re-assigned the case to Justice A.O. Ogunmenkan, who for over four years concentrated on hearing only the trial within trial of alleged confessional statements. Several somersaults in the trial eventually caused the case to be transferred to Justice O.A. Williams. The suspects appeared before the new judge for the first time on October 28, 2008. The disposition of the new trial judge was said to have left the defence lawyers with the impression that Justice Willaims, would hear the matter speedily. As at the time the case was transferred to Justice Williams, the suspects had languished at the Kirikiri Maximum Security prison for 14 years, awaiting trial. Till date, the real killers of Pa rewane are yet to be exposed.
Now fast forward to the 12ft 6in-tall giant bronze statue of Funso Williams, weighing two tons, which stands on a six-feet high concrete base, just a stone throw from Costain bus stop on what used to be known as Western Avenue, close to the roundabout from where three other roads take off – one leading to the ascent ramp to Eko Bridge, the second heading towards Nigeria Breweries and the third to Moshood Abiola Way, Ebute Metta.
The height of the statue, erected on December 11, 2007, indicates the essence of Funso Williams, a man who in his lifetime towered above his political contemporaries. The statue was erected by the Williams Campaign Organisation (WILCO) to complement the decision of the Lagos State government, during the tenure of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, to immortalize Williams by renaming Western Avenue after him. Assassins murdered him 10 years ago on July 27, 2006, in his Dolphin Estate residence in Lagos.
In his earnest quest to govern Lagos State, Williams made a vow in an interview in which he declared the driving passion that propelled his ambition: “My strong will, to transform Lagos State is unshakeable. My strong will to ensure that the Centre of Excellence truly excels can’t be dampened by conspirators and my willpower to rescue Lagos State remains the key motivating factor. I went into politics with the focus of being governor. Every other thing is a distraction to me. So, being a minister or an ambassador isn’t what I want. I want to be governor and that is what I focus on.”
As it happened to Nigeria’s military Head of State, General Murtala Muhammad in 1976, who was cut down in the Bukar Dimka abortive coup and United States President John F. Kennedy, felled by an assassin in Dallas, Texas, USA, the political ascendancy of Williams was ended by assassins in the early hours of that fateful Thursday morning, in his bedroom.
A man noted for his great political network, he was strongly believed by many to be the only person in the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, that could give the ruling Alliance for Democracy and Bola Tinubu, a credible challenge in the battle for control of the Round House, seat of the Lagos State governor at Alausa, Ikeja.
Within days of the murder of the frontline politician and Lagos State PDP governorship aspirant, the police spread a dragnet and hauled in prominent politicians in Lagos, some of Williams’ personal staff as well as the four policemen assigned to guard his residence. Among the politicians arrested were the former Minister of Works, Chief Adeseye Ogunlewe and Senator Musiliu Obanikoro, who was granted bail in self-recognisance. However, it was not so for Ogunlewe as he was detained in a cell after being arrested about 8.30pm of the same Thursday.
Commenting on this at the time, a policeman who spoke with a national daily under condition of anonymity said: “He was booked and hauled into cell. He is deep down in the cell. He is being treated like a suspect.”
As if kicked in the rear by the force of the shocking murder that reverberated across the country, the then Inspector General of Police, Sunday Ehindero took personal charge of the investigation.
Consequently the then Deputy Inspector General in-charge of the Force Criminal Investigation Department (FCID), at police headquarters, Louis Edet House, Abuja, Ogbonnaya Onovo, visited Lagos, discussed with the then Assistant Inspector General of Police, in-charge of Zone II, Onikan, Simeon Adedayo Adeoye, to work out the transfer of the case to Force Headquarters and the movement of the suspects who had hitherto been held at the State Criminal Investigation Department, Panti, Yaba, under the Lagos Police Command.
The home of Williams was a twin duplex. He lived in one wing while the second wing was unoccupied. His residence had private guards complemented with four armed policemen, who worked in shifts with two men taking the morning shift while the other two stood guard at night. As the manhunt for suspects got deeper, it came to light that an unnamed guard who worked in the unoccupied duplex had bolted soon after news of the murder hit the town. That instantly put him at the top of the list of suspects and target of the police manhunt.
Notwithstanding that the Lagos State government had at the time offered a N10 million reward to anyone that could provide useful information that would enable the police to unmask the identities of the killers, nothing came of the case as it went into twists and turns, that included mishandling of forensic evidence. Early in the investigation, homicide detectives brought in from the London Metropolitan Police were said to have quit in frustration. The murder of Williams is yet another unresolved case.