■ Inside story of how the Federal University of Agriculture, Makurdi (FUAM), Benue State, lost two of its dedicated staff, in gruesome circumstances, within one month
From Rose Ejembi, Makurdi
Benue State Governor, Samuel Ortom, has appealed to traditional rulers and members of the public to always give information that could lead to the arrest of criminal elements in their domain.
The Governor who made the appeal last Tuesday when he visited the residence of Prof. Gabriel Okayi, of the Federal University of Agriculture, Makurdi (FUAM), who was murdered by unidentified gunmen last Monday posited that security should be seen as everybody’s business.
Describing the late Professor of Aquatic Pollution as a friend and secondary school classmate, Governor Ortom noted that he decided to come as soon as he was informed about his gruesome murder.
“I was told of the sad incident,” he said. “In all things we should give thanks. Death seems to be the oldest institution. Okayi was my classmate in secondary school. I saw him last when I was campaigning and he came and prayed with me. It’s really unfortunate. I have not seen him of recent. I am really touched by his death.”
While noting that his administration had been battling with the issue of security, the Governor recalled that his senior Special Assistant on Special Security, Denen Igbana, was also killed in that same manner in his home some months ago.
Ortom who insisted that he will never surrender the state to criminals maintained that the security agencies in the state had already assured him that the perpetrators of the dastardly act would be arrested and brought to book.
Response to Governor Ortom’s commiseration
The Governor who commiserated with the family of the deceased academic at their Asase North Bank residence, promised to be involved in the burial programme. Responding to Ortom’s condolence visit and speech, elder brother of the deceased, Bishop Dan Okayi said he woke up on Monday morning to the news of the murder of his brother in his residence.
“It is not an easy thing to bear but we cannot question God because the Bible says in everything, give thanks for this is the will of God concerning you,” he said. “We believe that Prof. Gab has concluded his assignment. It doesn’t matter how he left. We believe that he started in 1962 and in 2017 he concluded his assignment.”
While noting that his brother had no doubts made so much impact on the lives of people both in the church and academic environment, Bishop Okayi thanked everyone who had come to sympathize with the family and prayed God to grant the his brother’s soul eternal rest.
Strange death of Agbulu and Prof. Okayi
Talking about crime and insecurity in the state and Governor Ortom’s vow not to give in to them, this is certainly not the best of times for the Federal University of Agriculture, Makurdi as messengers of death seemed to have been let loose on the specialized institution.
First, it was the abduction and eventual discovery of the decomposing body of one of its own, Ms Christie Agbulu, a lecturer with the Department of Biological Sciences in a shallow grave somewhere in Kogi State.
Agbulu had traveled on a personal visit to Lokoja, Kogi State when she was abducted by some supposed kidnappers who demanded for N150, 000 ransom which was paid. Yet she was nowhere to be found until about a month later when her decomposing body was found in a shallow grave.
While the University was still trying to assimilate the bitter peel served it by the news of the gruesome murder of the dedicated staff, some other messengers of death struck again, this time taking away an erudite professor of Aquatic Pollution in the University’s Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture, Prof. Gabriel Okayi.
Eyewitness accounts of how Okayi was murdered
According to the only daughter of the deceased professor, Sharon, who was in the house when death came knocking, her father had woken up at about 1:30am last Monday to the persistent barking of his dogs. But while he stood up to go and release the dogs he was held down by two strange men in his compound.
Sharon who spoke with The Sun Education at their Asase North Bank residence a day after her father was murdered in cold blood by yet-to-be identified gunmen said she was awoken by the heavy barking of their dogs and the voice of her father asking why the dogs were not released at about 2am that fateful day.
“Around past 2am that day, I heard the footsteps of people in our compound and I also heard my Dad’s voice outside shouting, ‘Jesus, Jesus, no, no,’ and I was surprised. I quickly woke up my younger brother because it was just the two of us that were sleeping in the other flat.
“When we got to the parlour, I was shouting the name of the other people sleeping in the next flat but nobody answered me. After about 10 to 15 minutes, the whole place became quiet and I was wondering whether they have kidnapped my Dad or something. Then, I heard one of my brothers shouting, “Daddy, Daddy, No, No” and by the time we came out, I saw my Dad on the ground bleeding.”
Sharon who believed her father died immediately he was shot recalled that he must have had premonition of his death as he was said to have at a point on Sunday evening, complained to some visitors who visited him that he was seeing some cobwebs around his eyes and had asked them if they felt the same way too.
“Before my dad left (died) he was always emphasizing to us that if he dies tomorrow and we don’t become great in life, his spirit will not be happy with us. He was always singing a song, ‘vanity upon vanity, all is vanity.’ I never knew that my Dad was seeing that death was really very close.”
Also corroborating Sharon’s story, her brother, Caleb, who was the last member of the family to see his father that day said he left him to go and sleep at about 1:30am and was sleeping in the other flat when he suddenly heard the dogs barking and his father calling to ask them why the dogs were not released.
“I heard a gunshot and I came out only to see my Dad lying in the pool of his blood. I then asked my brother who slept in the same room with me what happened and he said he had been shot. My brother said daddy called and asked if the dogs were released and he was going to answer him when he suddenly noticed two strange men in the compound holding Daddy down and he was struggling with them.”
Staff and students react to the sad news
Reacting to the sad news of his death, the acting Vice Chancellor, Prof. Richard Kembe, described the deaths as one too many for the university to bear and called on security agencies to ensure that the perpetrators of the dastardly acts are brought to book.
Also speaking, the Dean, College of Forestry and Fisheries, Prof. (Mrs) Victoria Ayuba who disclosed that she had known Okayi since 1986 described him as a loving person who couldn’t hurt a fly.
“We were course mates in the university and we both joined FUAM about the same time. He was open to everybody. I therefore wonder why somebody would come and hurt such a person. He was loved by all. His students call him daddy. When I heard that he was shot, my phone just dropped. He will be greatly missed. I am just wondering the fate of his students who are about graduating.”
Vanessa Ikebi, a 300 level student of the Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture described Prof. Okayi as a very nice man and a good lecturer. “He was a very caring man who ensured that our problems were his. He took all of us were like his children,” she said.
Blessing Ogbaji, a 500 level student of the department described him as a father figure who would be missed by all. “He was a father to me. I remembered in my 200 level when I had problem and he promised to attend to it and he did. He was my project supervisor. He will be greatly missed.”
Prof. Charles Chidozie Iheukwumere, the Head of the Department of Biological Sciences under whom the late Agbulu worked said she was a very committed academic, who was diligent, very dependable and had an amiable disposition.
“We have already started missing her in the department because she was one of the best academics in the Micro-biology Unit of this department. She was employed in this university after her first degree as graduate assistant in 2006. She rose from that to become Lecturer 1 in 2015 because of her hardworking disposition,” he said.
“She was preparing to go outside the country for her PhD when this incident of her abduction and eventual death happened. We miss her. The department feels so sad about this sad incident, and I think the government should do something about this dastardly act. If one considers the amount of resources that has gone into training this crop of people only for them to be wasted just like that, I think it is very unfortunate.”
With a heavy sigh he said: “It is difficult for me to be doing this. I supervised her undergraduate project. She was somebody who knew what to do with minimal supervision. I feel so bad that she didn’t have the opportunity to come back and give her best to the university. Very sad.”
“She was a good colleague of mine,” Mr. Vinking Emmanuel, a fellow lecturer in the department said. “She was an easygoing person. The last time I saw her before this incidence, she gave me a ride from my area. I was preparing for my wedding then and she encouraged me.”
“She was a very nice person,” Mr. Ubogu Monday, another colleague recalled. “Very straight forward. I recalled when I joined the department in 2012, she was one of those I took the first course with. And because I was a new comer at that time, and since she had been around, she was very helpful in putting me through. The advice she gave me then were very useful to me. She was my friend on Facebook. Her death was a rude shock to him. I still find it very difficult to comprehend what actually happened. Will miss her greatly.
“Being from the same tribe with me, we share ideas and communicate with each other well,” Okpe Oche added. “She was a down-to-earth personality. Humble, peace loving she promoted unity within the department. She was dedicated to her duty. I always went to her to seek advice especially when I was applying for TETFund scholarship. She put me through and encouraged me to follow up. Her death is a rude shock to the university community. It is so painful that up till now, some of us cannot believe that she has gone.”
Dr. Mrs. Grace Gberekon, Agbulu’s office mate is said to have been down since the news of her death had been broken. Busayo Oyebamiji, 400 level level student of Microbiology remembers her as “amiable and friendly. She shared an office with my supervisor and I was always seeing her whenever I visited my supervisor. She had something to do with the research topic I am working on now. She has been very helpful to me in my research work. I will greatly miss her.”