For Daniel Uwaezuoke, working under John Lynn – the man who led the team that arrested the late nationalist Chief Obafemi Awolowo – turned out to be one of the high points of his career as police officer
John Lynn heads the C. I. D. Headquarters
The Nigeria Police Headquarters created five departments, which enabled it to assign various police duties, as it would make for efficiency in the performance of these tasks. These departments were named, according after the first five letters of the alphabet – A, B, C, D, E.
To A Department was assigned the duty of correspondence and administration of the Force. B Department was given the duty of maintaining law and order – if and wherever necessary by force. C Department became the Treasury of the Force, accounting for all monies coming in and going out of the Force, including staff salaries. D Department was assigned the duty of protection of life and property, prevention ad detection of crime. And E Department was made the custodian of the nation’s internal and external safety. In short, it was Nigeria’s secret police.
When Mr John Lynn was drafted to head D Department, those who knew him well immediately enthused that a round peg had now been put in a round hole. Personally, I had heard people talk about “Richard the Lion Heart” but did not know what it would be like to possess a lion heart until Mr John Lynn took charge of D Department.
Here was a man, who was so committed to duty that he fearlessly led an investigation team that arrested one of Nigeria’s leading politicians alongside his party’s leading figures and charged them with treasonable felony. Chief Obafemi Awolowo was indeed loved and admired by many Nigerians. But Mr Lynn disregarded this fact and saw to it that he paid the penalty for his mistake together with the crème de la crème of his party faithful.
Mr Lynn, to ensure that he would not perjure himself when giving his leading prosecution evidence, co-opted me into the court proceedings. This was by making me pretend to be a special reporter. My duty was to record, if and when possible, verbatim evidence he gave in the witness box in a way he checked with officially-recorded proceedings of the court.
Mr Lynn remembered that the leading defence counsel was a Queens Counsel from England – Mr Shawcross. He also remembered that the Chief Magistrate himself was one of Nigeria’s best brains.
So to give evidence in a treasonable felony case against this man and his other brilliant co-accused which lasted for three weeks with objections and counter-objections, without perjuring himself, was the sum total of why this man John Lynn ought to be respected as a man with lion heart indeed.
At the time O. O. Griffiths was reorganising the Central Criminal Registry, John Lynn was already the officer in charge, D Department, which was part of the registry. As I was involved in all aspects of O. O. Griffiths’s reorganisation, Mr Lynn easily derive a sense of satisfaction from the fact that he was using the right person. Again, this coincided with the period I passed the London University’s G. C. E. (O’ Level in 1960 and A’ Level in 1962). That was therefore why Mr Lynn thought I was good for everything.
Think of why he once made me O/C Stolen Cars. This was at a time I was in charge Single Fingerprint. How did that happen?
Insurance executives, concerned that the spate of stolen vehicles had started depleting their hoards of insurance premiums, had approached Mr Lynn for help. Mr Lynn immediately thought he had a capable sub-inspector recently promoted to handle the job, which required constant situation reports.
Thus, all reports of car theft – even of the theft of anything powered by a motor, no matter how small it was – had to be reported to me at whatever time. This included the night time.
Because all reports were sent to me by telephone, I was given priority over the use of a line in one of the blocks in Falomo Barracks, where I lived at that time. During office hours, Olumese who was O/C Central Criminal Registry was instructed to allow free access to his phone. A team of eight non-commissioned officers (N. C. O.s) and men were formed to be my assistants.
Policemen, who were trained to be disciplined, feared blames capable of leading to disciplinary actions. Hence, they always shifted the responsibility for their actions, whenever they could. Little wonder then, when I used to be the O/C Stolen Cars, I knew no sleep. In the middle of the nights, reports for the O/C Stolen Cars would wake up the sergeant, in whose parlour the phone was installed. Consequently, that would also mean waking up my wife and I.
This assignment lasted for three months, during which only two stolen cars – a Peugeot 404 and a Solo X Semi-cycle – were recovered. But Mr Lynn considered that a very huge success, especially after comparing notes with the experience in London. He warned the Insurance executives to expect an increase not only in car thefts but also in all things being insured. This was as long as Nigeria had begun its march towards nationhood.
My assignment as O/C Stolen Cars was not my principal assignment as I was now in charge Single Fingerprint. I had a team of five men, which included a sergeant and motor vehicle driver, who drove our scene of crime Austin Mini car.
Meanwhile, I continued to go to court to give evidence in cases needing proofs of previous conviction. I also prepared a chart of identity between a finger mark found at a scene of crime and fingerprint taken from a culprit.
Nobody, more so Mr Lynn, expected this special assignment as O/C Stolen Cars to keep me off from my scheduled duties, especially the ones recommended by Mr O. O. Griffiths. So, during my stint as the O/C Stolen Car, I conducted another Experts’ course and examination for all the searchers, who did not pass O. O. Griffiths’s examination. That was what the latter had strongly recommended to ensure that only qualified experts would be regarded as experts.
My course and examination lasted less than a week and all searchers were in attendance. Mr Isaac Shasheyi, who was now an A. S. P. in Ibadan, volunteered to attend the course and take the examination. He was one of the most humble, Christian-minded, detribalised persons I ever encountered in this part of the world. Anybody who has read my autobiography Destined to Triumph would recall that it was Mr Shasheyi, who nominated me for my first course in England when he was in charge of the Fingerprint Section. This alone was enough reason for me to count him out of my course and examination. Had I allowed him to attend the course, I would have been as ridiculous as the proverbial man who once boasted to his father that he had begotten a first son before him. I simply declared Shasheyi an expert, which he truly was.
Meanwhile, Mr Lynn’s greatest headache – even worse than the one Chief Awolowo’s case gave him – was the case of one habitual criminal named George Ossai. Ossai’s modus operandi was to operate at that time of the night when the elites and top executives would be snoring away the fatigue of the day’s thinking and labour. He found the G. R. A. s (Government Reserved Areas) of Ikoyi, Apapa and Ebute-Metta the most suitable areas for his operation.
Ossai specialised in gaining entrance into bedrooms and the living rooms of the rich men’s quarters. He knew how best to remove both glass and wooden window panes and louvres. But in the process, he unknowingly left behind not less than 13 left and right thumb impressions as well as finger marks at the scenes of crime. I identified them as soon as they were brought to me in the Single Fingerprint.
Mr Lynn was so troubled by this case that he gave out a sum of 50 pounds (a large sum at that time) as reward for anyone, who could give information leading to the arrest of George Ossai. A mugshot of Ossai, taken when he was in prison, was circulated and displayed.
Meanwhile, Mr Lynn had spent a large chunk of his information money on informants, who turned out to be fake. But George Ossai’s thumbprints from the scenes of crime led to his turning his attention to workers in the several building sites – like carpenters, masons, plumbers and electricians, among others – in Ikoyi.
He had a hunch that Ossai could be hiding among any category of these workers and therefore ordered me to report at a strategic point along Bank Road in Ikoyi, where three expatriate superior police officers joined me.
All vehicles leaving Ikoyi that day – as also directed by Mr Lynn – had to leave the neighbourhood by that route alone. A very long queue was consequently formed and workers trooped one by one in a most orderly fashion I ever noticed. This was most obviously because white officers were conducting the exercise.
I examined the thumb impressions of not less than 650 workers from shortly after 4 p. m., when I started, to about 6: 30 p. m., when I concluded. Of course, George Ossai’s finger impressions were not found among the ones I checked.
But the elusive George Ossai would soon be found. This was less than a month after I identified his thumb impression on a glass window louvre as usual. Three night watchmen had found him loitering. This was in a deserted street at Apapa G. R. A. They couldn’t fathom what on earth he was doing there. So, they had to apprehend him and drag him to the Apapa Police Station, where they handed him over to the desk sergeant on duty.
All this while, neither the watchmen nor the desk sergeant guessed that they were in the custody of a man on whose head lay a 50-pound reward and who had graduated in his notoriety to become one of the nation’s ten most wanted persons.
The desk sergeant meanwhile had kept Ossai behind the counter and was considering the charge he would slam on him as he recorded his arrest in his crime or station diary.
At about 5: 30 a.m., life began to stir once more at the police station, as the morning duty men trooped in. That was when Ossai began to contrive a trick that could possibly lead to his escape from custody.
He asked to be led to the urinal and the desk sergeant, who had just taken over duty from the previous one, instructed his available constable to escort the detainee to the urinal, which was quite a distance inside the Apapa Police Barracks.
Midway to the urinal, the pair was spotted by Sub-Inspector Obike, who was brushing his teeth at the verandah of his home. Obike promptly recognised Ossai, who once escaped from him on their way to Kirikiri Maximum Security Prison.
The inspector jumped out from his verandah and grabbed Ossai by the waist belt of his shorts. With the available constable, he dragged the felon back to the station’s main building. There, a total pandemonium ensued when Obike informed everyone present that the man, who passed the night behind the counter, was none other than the nation’s Criminal of the Season.
Shortly afterwards, telephones began to shrill and vibrate in frenzy, as though possessed, on their receiver stands at the homes of various senior police officers. It all started from the O/C Apapa Police Station’s desk. It was he, who rang Mr John Lynn. Then, Lynn of course remembered that the Inspector-General G. S. K. Bovell had to be informed before anyone else and he did so.
Mr Lynn’s first instruction to Apapa Police after he was informed about George Ossai’s arrest was to take a full set of his fingerprints and send them over immediately. This instruction, they promptly complied with.
Before I left my Falomo Police Barracks home at 7: 30 a.m. for the office at Alagbon Close, I received more than six “O/C wants you IMMEDIATELY” orders from the men, who had just closed from night duty at our office.
At the office, Mr Lynn was awaiting my arrival. The anxiety, written all over his face, suggested that I couldn’t have arrived too soon. He had the look of one who was waiting for an overdue arrival of a passenger aircraft.
He promptly handed me a set of fingerprints taken from Ossai just as he had instructed. I notice, as I took the set of fingerprints from him, that he was by then looking like one who was expecting a favourable result from a lottery game.
A glance at the fingerprints told me they were George Ossai’s alright. And I informed Mr Lynn.
Thus, ended the eight-month long hunt for George Ossai. Now, let me digress here a bit and say a little more about the man, John Lynn. Recall that I once described him as having a lion heart. But, I would like to add another thing I discovered about this man: he had the memory of an elephant. So, to me, I saw both a lion and an elephant in him.
He was also not the kind of man who would entrust you with a bag of salt to take home for him and mischievously ask a rain-maker to make the rain that would drench you and the salt.
Rather, Mr Lynn – a Northern Irish native – would do anything to make it easy and satisfying for you.
I won’t dwell too much on this issue but will only provide one of the most glaring examples of what I have just disclosed.
On August 31, 1962, I was still a police sergeant of less than a year’s experience. On November 16, 1964, I became an assistant superintendent of police who took over the Central Criminal Registry in just under three months.
-Sir Daniel, 92, lives in Enugu