A DELICIOUS DINNER WITHOUT THE MAIN COURSE (II)

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Daniel Uwaezuoke, 92, continues the narratives of his experiences during the 20 years he worked in the then CID headquarters in Lagos, which was a turning-point period before he became the Central Criminal Registrar…

MEMOIR

Creation of special branch
Satan struck sometime in early 1949. That was when a section of the C. I. D. was carved out of the original C. I. D. Headquarters and made autonomous. This section was what came to be known as the Special Branch and was charged with the duty of reporting the increasing activities of the Nigerian nationalists. Prominent among these “irksome” nationalists to be monitored were Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe and members of the Zikist Movement.

Accelerated promotions – offered every six months – were dangled enticingly like juicy carrots before the Special Branch team. The obvious reason was to make them mortgage their love-of-own-country conscience. And this was way up the Tempter’s alley. He deftly thrummed at the strings of my ambition and urged me to apply to be transferred to Special Branch. This was by assuring me that my transfer was a done deal since I was now everybody’s favourite.

I promptly heeded his advice and applied. And the consequences were appropriately speedy and unsavoury. First, the confidence and trust Mr S. P. George had in me came crumbling like a pack of cards. This was a man, who already had great plans for me! Then, all the great expectations trailing the Police Adviser’s visit went up in smoke. I needed no one to inform me that my inordinate ambition had smothered my hopes of accelerated promotions.

Consequently, I remained a searcher – poring over several hundreds of thousands of fingerprints filed in a large wooden cabinet, partitioned into several pigeonholes for that purpose. Thus, I found myself in the company of senior searchers as they worked to prove previous convictions in courts by police prosecutors.

I was also co-opted into the Scenes of Crime teams to search for finger marks. This time, it was to ascertain whether the finger marks found at a scene of crime could be identified in a single fingerprint collection. This, of course, excluded the finger marks of those persons who had legitimate access to objects found at the scene.
I soon found my comfort zone in this absorbing, albeit humdrum of a job. Proving previous convictions in courts seemed to have become my exclusive preserve. Thus, I earned myself a reputation even when I simply followed the template left behind by my predecessors or superiors.

Yet, the news of my presence in courts would send shivers down many a spine. Felons, who denied ever being convicted, indeed had every reason to be worried. In all the years of my court evidence or proof of previous conviction, two very outstanding cases remain very fresh in my blurring memory.

The first of these cases involved the then mayor of Enugu, the Fulani-born Malam Umoru Altine. Before he joined the pre-independence politics of that period, he was convicted by a court in the old Northern Nigeria for stealing a sheep (not a ship) and was sentenced to six months I. H. L. (in hard labour). When he became involved in the politics of Eastern Nigeria and was considered the right person to be the mayor – at least, to prove the true national outlook of his party, the N. C. N. C. (National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons) – those who knew his antecedents began to protest. The police, which had no locus standi – albeit while maintaining a watching interest – stepped in to prove whether the allegations were true or not. Of course, Malam Altine denied ever being a convict even as his adversaries led by C. O. C. Chiedozie (who decades later became the principal of Nike Grammar School, Enugu) insisted he was.

Invited from the C. I. D. Headquarters to wade into the matter, I had arrived at the court premises that morning of the court sitting. But whose path would fate cross my path with that morning but that of Barrister Alfred Obi Okoye, who I found sniffing around?

Barrister Okoye was a former schoolmate at Ogidi Central School in the 1930s, who had graduated from one of the Inns of Court in England. We knew ourselves as friends even during our school days. Seeing me at such a time and place at the court premises must have activated an alarm system in him. Something was definitely going on here, he rightly sensed.

So, he asked me sotto voce: “Detective, what brought you here this early morning from Lagos?”
As soon as I disclosed my mission, he quietly retreated into the courtroom to await the commencement of the hearing. But this was not before informing me that he was Malam Altine’s lawyer and as a result of our meeting was going to pre-empt my evidence, at least to save his client the most pathetic disgrace of his political life and his party, N. C. N. C., the ugliest reputation it ever had.

The sagacity of Malam Umaru Altine’s lawyer, Alfred Obi Okoye – who later became simply known as Obi Okoye, in which name he was appointed a High Court judge years later – sent me back to Lagos, as I was on a subpoena by court permission.

The second case of similar nature, but of different detail, happened in Warri and Sapele in the mid-50s. This was one of the worst display of pitiable ignorance I would ever encounter in my life. For how indeed can one qualify the ignorance of this police constable? Even after about 15 years of service, he still did not know that, in matters bordering on identity or identification, fingerprint was second to none.

Hence, this ignoramus used his right and left thumb impressions to sign off and claim many exhibits assigned to him for safe-keeping. This was until the cases involving these exhibits had been discharged by the courts. The constable kept doing this with impunity until a certain discerning man refused to budge. When the man reported the matter to a superior police officer in Warri, the latter took it up for investigation.

A set of the complainant’s fingerprints and another from the exhibit keeper were afterwards taken and sent to the C. I. D. Headquarters alongside the Exhibits Record Register. It was my duty to examine them to establish the true facts.

On closer examination of the fingerprints, I discovered without difficulty that it was the exhibit constable, who used both his right and left thumb impressions to sign off and claim 17 exhibits, which the courts had ordered to be returned to their owners. My findings were sent to Warri Police, who charged the exhibit constable with stealing.
Once more, duty called. I had to go to Warri to give evidence. But the court to which this constable was charged was at Sapele.

Meanwhile, the constable, still wallowing in his pitiable ignorance, had briefed the then most brilliant lawyer in the region… Barrister Ayo Irikefe. Barrister Irikefe, whose successful appearances in court was almost legendary, was an English Inns of Court product who later became the Chief Justice of Nigeria. While this brilliant lawyer was settling down to the true facts of the case, he simultaneously awaited my arrival from Lagos.

It was at the pre-court sitting at the Chief Magistrate’s Court in Sapele that I obliged Barrister Irikefe’s polite request to be given the true facts of the case. He thanked me as soon as he discovered that my mission was to prove the police case with fingerprints. Adding that he would advise his client accordingly, he said he would make a plea to the court.

I had to return to Lagos once more without giving my evidence.

-Sir Daniel lives in Enugu