There used to be a popular car sticker with the inscription, “Insured by the mafia. You hit me, we hit you!”, which seems to have vanished from our streets. The message therein is simple: It is based on a notion of equating vengeance with justice and the absence of proportion between offence and punishment. Unfortunately, that is the situation in our country today as more and more Nigerians boycott the court in favour of judicial black market where “justice” is swift and without mercy. It is then little wonder that almost every day comes with stories of killings, most of them based on revenge for real or perceived injury.
If we will also be honest, our justice administration system has reached a point where it is almost impossible to secure conviction even for crime suspects caught in the act and for that reason, many Nigerians would rather take the laws into their own hands. Today, there are too numerous homicide cases that remain unresolved, and given our collective amnesia as a nation, the criminals in our midst also know this so they continue to ply their trade, almost certain they would get away with it.
Following the recent campus killings in Port Harcourt and Mubi, there has been a public outrage by several Nigerians. But very soon we will move on, as we always do, and the cases will be forgotten while the suspects will be freed either as a result of pressure from some big men or for want of diligent prosecution. There are too many cases I can cite to highlight that unfortunate scenario but I recall how I felt on July 10, 1999 when the news broke that some cultists entered Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife campus and brutally hacked to death some promising students. Who remembers them again?
A new book, titled “Water Must Flow Uphill (Adventures in University Administration)” by Prof. Roger Makanjuola, has captured the incident we all seem to have forgotten in a way that will draw tears to many eyes. Appointed V.C. in the wake of the tragedy to replace Prof Wale Omole (current Chairman of the Guardian Editorial Board), Makanjuola’s book is highly revealing of what happens on our campuses, and the things most Professors do (including the use of juju), in their bid to become vice chancellor! The bit that is, however, of interest to this discourse is the narrative of what led to the July 10, 1999 tragedy at Ife and what followed afterwards. From the excerpts, we can draw our own conclusions as to why Nigeria is fast becoming a killing field:
On Saturday, 7 March 1999, a group of Black Axe members held a meeting in Ife town. After the meeting, they drove back to the campus. On the main road, Road 1, leading into the campus, they were overtaken by some students in another car. For whatever reason, they were enraged and gave chase to the students. The students, seeing them in pursuit, raced hastily to the car park outside Angola Hall and ran into the adjacent Awolowo Hall for safety. The Students’ Union, which had also received information that secret cult members were gathering in a house in the senior staff quarters, mobilised in response to the incident. Led by George Iwilade, the Secretary-General, a group of them drove to the house, officially occupied by Mr. F.M. Mekoma, and forced their way into the boys’ quarters. They found nine individuals inside, eight of them students of the University, with a submachine gun, a locally manufactured gun, an axe, a bayonet and the black clothing and regalia of the Black Axe cult. The University authorities were informed, and the members of the secret cult were handed over to the Police. They were held in police custody and taken to the Chief Magistrate’s Court where two weeks later they were granted bail.
The case was heard on 31 March, and to the utmost amazement of everyone, the Chief Magistrate discharged and acquitted the arrested individuals. The students who had apprehended the cult members were not called as witnesses. The investigating police officer, Corporal Femi Adewoye, claimed that the witnesses could not be located and actually stated in Court, “I tried to contact the complainants in this case, all to no avail. To date, there is no complainant in the case. Since all the accused persons denied the allegations against them and there is no complainant, there is no way the allegations can be proved.” This was the submission of the prosecuting police officer! Usually, in such cases, witness’ summons were served through the University Administration but this did not happen. The trial was concluded in two court appearances in eight days.
The Chief Magistrate also ordered that the submachine gun be sent to the police armourer and the other exhibits be destroyed, thus eliminating all the evidence, and making it impossible to re-open the case. The Judicial Enquiry recommended that the Magistrate be reported to the Judicial Commission for appropriate disciplinary action. Nothing came of this, as nothing came of all the other recommendations of that Panel.
After the arrests of the cult members, the University, under pressure from the students, issued a release suspending them without serving them with letters of suspension. Shortly afterwards, the University was closed as a result of a student crisis. When it re-opened three months later, the cult members returned to the campus and were seen attending lectures. The students raised an alarm once more. In response to this, the University issued a release on 2 July re-affirming the suspensions of the cult members. The letters of suspension were dated 8 July and it is doubtful whether those affected actually received them before the tragic events two days later. Even then, one of the students, Bruno Arinze, was left out. I eventually suspended him on 23 July.
The cult involved in the episode of 7 March was the Black Axe. Four major reasons have been advanced as to the genesis leading to the mayhem on 10 July. One, to which I subscribe, was that the Black Axe was avenging the humiliating treatment of its members by the Student Union leaders in March 1999.
On the night of 9 July 1999, the Kegites, members of the Palm Wine Drinkers’ Club, held a “gyration” (party) in the cafeteria of Awolowo Hall. The party was in full swing, when, at around 3.30am (now 10 July), a group of masked individuals, wearing black clothing, drove through the main gate and proceeded to the car park next to the Tennis Courts in the Sports Centre. They disembarked there and went on foot along a bush path to Awolowo Hall, where they violently interrupted the gyration, firing guns and also wielding axes and cutlasses. The group was probably all young men, although there is a persistent story of at least one woman among them. Some of the partygoers were shot, though none of them was killed. The partygoers ran for their lives, a few actually throwing themselves through glass doors.
A group of the gunmen chased the partygoers as far as Mozambique Hall. Other groups proceeded to the rooms. They first entered Room 184, where they shot and killed Efe Ekede, a Part II Psychology student. In Room 230, they shot Charles Ita, a Part II Law student. A group of the attackers then shot Yemi Ajiteru, a Part II Religious Studies student, through the head in the corridor outside the Kegites’ headquarters. In Room 273, they found George Iwilade (Afrika), the Secretary-General of the Students’ Union and a Law student, and shot him through the head, along with another occupant, Tunde Oke, a Part 1 student of Philosophy, who was shot in the abdomen. When the attackers got to Room 271, the room allocated to the suspended Students’ Union President, Lanre Adeleke (Legacy), they found that he had escaped. Legacy was in his room when he heard the first gun shots. He hurriedly went to his door, looked out, and saw two of the attackers on the next floor, firing shots. He ran back into his room and broke through the partition of the kitchenette into the next room’s kitchenette. He heard them shouting, “Legacy, come out!” and escaped into the next room. During the course of the incident, the attackers also shouted the names of “Afrika”, George Iwilade, and “Dexter”, the Chief of the Kegites, demanding that they come out.
The band of thugs proceeded to Fajuyi Hall on foot, where they shot and killed one more student. That individual, Eviano Ekelemo, a medical student, was certainly not a student activist, but they shot him anyway. The murderers left Fajuyi Hall on foot and went through the bush path behind the Hall back to their vehicles. They drove to the Students’ Union building, which they ransacked. They returned to their vehicles and drove out of the University through the main gate. The security staff, having heard gunfire, fled for their lives. Thus the exit of the marauding thugs was unchallenged.
The students with gunshot wounds were taken to the Health Centre and from there to the Teaching Hospital. Tunde Oke was still alive but died on the operating table. Four others, George Iwilade, Yemi Ajiteru, Efe Ekede and Eviano Ekelemu, were brought in dead. Eviano Ekelemu bled to death from gunshot wounds to the groin and thigh. The other three died from gunshot wounds to the head. In each case, the weapons used were shotguns, fired at close range. Charles Ita and five others who were shot in the Awolowo Hall cafeteria, survived. Twenty-five others received minor injuries, which were sustained during the stampede out of the Awolowo Hall cafeteria and later on during the attack.
In the aftermath of the attack, the whole university was enveloped in fear and there was chaos in the halls of residence. However, within a short time, the President of the Students’ Union, Lanre Adeleke, was able to restore order and mobilise his colleagues. The students went to the town searching for the perpetrators in locations where cult members were thought to be living. They “arrested” three individuals and brought them back to Awolowo Hall. These were Aisekhaghe Aikhile, a Part I student of Agricultural Economics, Emeka Ojuagu, and Frank Idahosa (Efosa). Efosa and Ojuagu were arrested in a public transport vehicle that was about to leave Ife.
The students exhibited black clothing, two berets and two T-shirts, that had been found in Ojuagu’s bag, which was claimed to be the Black Axe uniform. Efosa was a known member of the Black Axe. He had been expelled from the University of Benin and was later admitted for a diploma programme in Local Government Studies in Ife. The three of them were savagely beaten and tortured in the Awolowo Hall “Coffee Room”, the traditional venue for such events. The inverted commas have been employed because coffee had not been known to be served there for many years. Efosa and Oguagu are said to have confessed to participating in the attacks during their “interrogation”, and Efosa is said to have gone further to state that the attack was organised to avenge the humiliating treatment of the Black Axe members who had been arrested in Mr. Mekoma’s house on 7 March.
In the course of the interrogation, Aisekhaghe Aikhile died, and his body was taken to the hospital mortuary. The interrogations also yielded the information that 22 Black Axe members were involved, six from the University, four from the University of Lagos, four from the University of Ibadan, and eight from the University of Calabar. There was also a separate claim that more students from the University of Benin were also involved.
The VC, Professor Wale Omole, had been out of the country on 10 July 1999, the day of the attack and in his absence, the Deputy VC (Academic), Professor A.E. Akingbohungbe, was in charge. Soon after his arrival, the VC was summoned to Abuja to give a report of the incident the day after he returned to campus. On 14 July, his suspension was announced by the Government. It was against this background that I was tracked to the UK and summoned to return immediately and assume duty as the acting VC of the University.
When I arrived on the campus on 18 July, I promised the students and the rest of the university community, that the university would do everything in its power to bring the perpetrators to justice. I took this undertaking extremely seriously.
The first step was to visit the Commissioner of Police, Mr. J.C. Nwoye, in Osogbo. I raised the issue of the nine individuals who had been arrested in March and discharged by the Chief Magistrate. He promised that a vigorous and thorough investigation was in progress on the matter. He then expressed concern that the University authorities had not officially reported the murders to the Police despite repeated requests. On my return to the University, I wrote the required letter, once more indicating our strong fears concerning a connection between the March episode and the murders, and requesting that the nine individuals involved be re-arrested.
A total of 12 individuals were arrested and charged to court over the three weeks following the murders, including Efosa and Ojuagu. Only one of those involved in the March episode was among those arrested. The other eight could not be located. Two of them had obtained their transcripts and resumed their studies in France. The students brought information on the whereabouts of a major suspect, Babatunde Kazeem (Kato), and we provided a vehicle so that the Police could go with the students to the address in Lagos and arrest him. Kato was a former student who had been “advised to withdraw” from the University as a result of academic failure. He had been apprehended by the Students’ Union in August 1997 when he admitted to being a secret cult member. He was subsequently handed over to the Security Department, but there is no record of what happened after that. We also provided the Police with information on three other individuals, “Innocent”, “Yuletide” and “Ogbume.” Sadly, nothing came of this, even though we provided Ogbume’s address in Victoria Garden City, Lagos. The arrested persons were charged to the Ile-Ife Magistrate’s court for the murders.
The Judicial Commission of Enquiry was eventually inaugurated in Abuja on 18 October, but did not start work until 24 November, and eventually arrived in the University on Sunday, 28 November. The Chairman was Justice Okoi Itam. There were six other members, including Professor Jadesola Akande, an experienced and highly respected academic and university administrator, and Ray Ekpu, the journalist. Ms. Turi Akerele was later deployed as legal counsel to the Commission. A flamboyant but highly capable alumnus, Adeyinka Olumide-Fusika, led a team representing the students.
The Commission’s report was submitted in February 2000 and was released, along with the Government’s white paper, later that year. The Commission expressed its strong belief that seven named individuals had participated in the killings—Frank Idahosa (Efosa), Didi Yuletide, Kazeem Bello (Kato), and four individuals who were identified only by their nicknames or Christian names—Innocent, Athanasius, “Ochuko”, and “Chunk.” The last was identified as the then head of the Black Axe secret cult. The Commission also recommended the investigation of 16 other individuals, including Emeka Oguaju and the nine involved in the 7 March episode. The Panel criticised the police investigation of the case and recommended that the Inspector-General of Police should set up a special task force to take it over. I have already mentioned the recommendations concerning the Chief Magistrate who hastily tried and acquitted the 7 March culprits, as well as Efosa’s lawyer.
It took me several months, and a number of visits to Abuja, to obtain the Commission’s report and the White Paper. Dissatisfied with the progress of the court cases, and armed with the report, I visited the Attorney-General of the Federation, Chief Bola Ige. After I had expressed my concerns over the case and highlighted the Commission’s recommendations concerning its investigation, he assured me that, although the case was being prosecuted by the Osun State Attorney-General’s office, his Ministry would work with that office. He sent for the Inspector-General of Police, Mr. Musiliu Smith, who agreed that he would immediately establish the recommended special task force. This he did, and a senior police officer, ACP Tonye Ibitibituwa, soon arrived in Osogbo with a team. However, in spite of the efforts of this task force, no further arrests were made. We also liaised with the Osun State Attorney-General, who assured us that his office was seriously following up the case. I must say that he did personally prosecute the case.
As I have stated, the cases against those charged in the Chief Magistrate’s Court for belonging to an illegal organisation eventually came to nothing. However, we were very hopeful of a successful prosecution of the murder cases against Efosa and company. The case in the Osogbo High Court, which commenced on 9 April 2001, wound on. Evidence for the prosecution was taken from a number of students and some other witnesses. There was adjournment after adjournment. In mid-2002, the Judge hearing the case was transferred to Iwo, and the case along with it. There was a further delay while the exhibits were also subsequently taken to Iwo. To the amazement of everyone, the Judge upheld a “No Case” submission by the defence on 5 November 2002. The three accused persons were released and they subsequently disappeared…
NOTE: What the foregoing, which is just an abridged version of Prof. Makanjuola’s very detailed account of the tragedy, reveals very clearly is that it is indeed very easy for people to get away with murder in our country. And that has contributed to the culture of impunity that we witness today. For readers who may be interested in the book, they can contact Mosuro Publishers in Ibadan through email@example.com while the website is www.mosurobooks.com. The contact numbers are 08033229113 and 027517474.
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