As in a circus where magic shows are performed, the latest revelation concerning the death in police custody of the principal suspect in the Offa bank robbery appears to be moving from the sublime to the ridiculous, Shola Oyeyipo reports
From all indications, the official investigator of the Offa bank robbery, the Nigeria Police Force, may be a subject of investigation themselves as members of the House of Representatives, last Thursday, agreed to begin an investigation into circumstances surrounding the death of the principal suspect, 30-year-old Michael Adikwu.
There had been allegations and counter-allegation regarding the Kwara State Government and Senate President Bukola Saraki’s involvement fatal heist.
Describing the disclosure by the police of Adikwu’s death as shocking, House of Representatives’ resolution followed a motion under matters of urgent public importance by Zakari Mohammed (Kwara, PDP), who represents Baruten/Kaiama federal constituency of Kwara State at the plenary presided over by the Speaker, Hon. Yakubu Dogara.
Whereas Saraki had previously raised the alarm that Adikwu, a dismissed police constable, who was said to have confessed to being the mastermind of the bloody robbery that left scores of people dead, had been murdered in police custody, the police initially refuted the allegation, saying he was alive and helping with further investigation at a different level.
Then, when the police eventually came out recently to announce that he was dead, they first said he died while resisting arrest and the latest, according to police was that the late constable slumped and died. From the contradiction, it was clear the police are inadvertently complicating an already complex robbery case.
Nobody can say for sure what circumstance led to Adikwu’s death, but there had been suspicion on whether he was deliberately killed? If yes why? If not, did he die a natural death or did the suspect lose his life under torture? Was he sick or was there a ploy to cover up something by the police? At this point, these issues must be unravelled to preserve the sanctity of the police, whose roles had been suspect in the manner they had handled the matter especially what appeared like a desperate move to implicate the Senate president, Kwara State governor and others whose names had come up in the matter.
Concerned that the police initially confirmed to the Attorney General of Kwara State through the Police Public Relations Officer, Moshood Jimoh, that the principal suspect was alive in their custody and helping with investigations of the robbery and yet took them so long to make the disclosure about the death of the principal suspect after denying its veracity as was reported in the media and that there had been inconsistencies in the various statements by the police as well as the possible cover-up of what is being termed extra-judicial killing with the aim of tarnishing the image of some innocent individuals for political purposes, the lawmakers were set to look deeper into the matter.
Though the lawmakers were not oblivious of the fact that it was the fundamental duty of the police to protect lives and property of all citizens irrespective of political affiliation, they equally underscored the fact that it was their constitutional duty to “take action wherever such level of irresponsibility and recklessness of an important law enforcement agency such as the police have arisen in the course of investigations into a vicious crime.”
Thus, when Speaker Dogara put the motion to a voice vote, the lawmakers unanimously adopted it and agreed to verify the truth in the matter.
As a result, the House Committees on Police Affairs, Human Rights and Justice was mandated to carry out an investigative hearing into the facts surrounding the time and circumstances of the death of the suspect and the committees were charged to unravel when the suspect died, how he died, why the police denied the facts of his death, at what point did the police leadership discover the death of the suspect and why the police are covering up the facts.
Not a few Nigerian will forget Friday, April 5, 2018 in a hurry. It was a sad day for residents of Offa in Kwara State and Nigerians, who are already inundated with endless tales of mindless killings of innocent people, when a gang of daredevil robbers, numbering about 30 struck in the sleepy town, murdered policemen, residents and bank customers. In all, 33 innocent persons died.
Not only did people die, the robbers carted away millions of naira and arms and ammunitions belonging to the Nigerian Police after the operation that lasted about an hour at the Guaranty Trust Bank, Zenith Bank, First Bank, Union Bank and Ecobank.
Outraged by the killings, many Nigerians had hoped that the police would bring the perpetrators to book. It was also consoling when the investigation team deployed in Kwara State by the Inspector-General of Police, started arresting the suspects, to at least bring them to justice and make it serve as deterrent to others.
But strangely, the Kwara State Governor, Mr. Ahmed Abdulfatah and Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki and some of their aides were named as allies of the robbers, albeit as political thugs. The police said five leaders of the gang of robbers confessed that they were political thugs of Saraki and Ahmed.
The suspects arrested in connection with the robbery are Ayoade Akinnibosun (37), Ibikunle Ogunleye (36), Adeola Abraham (35), Salawudeen Azeez (49), Niyi Ogundiran (37), the late Adikwu (30), identified as the gang leader, who single-handedly killed 22 persons, Kabiru Afolabi (26), Omoseni Kassim (28), Kayode Opadokun (35), Kazeem Abdulrasheed (36), Azeez Abdullahi (27), Adewale Popoola (22) and Adetoyese Muftau (23).
Others are Alexander Reuben (39), Richard Buba Terry (23), Peter Jasper Kuunfa (23), Ikechukwu Ebuka Nnaji (29), Moses Godwin (28), Adeola Omiyale (38), Femi Idowu (34); Personal Assistant on Political Affairs to Governor of Kwara State, Alabi Olalekan (49); and the Chief of Staff to Governor of Kwara State, Yusuf Abdulwahab (58).
The allegation was that the robbery gang leaders confessed that Ahmed and Saraki sponsored the purchase of arms used for the Offa banks. This obviously introduced a new twist to the development. Would Saraki deploy gang of robbers to attack Offa and kill innocent people? What would he stand to gain from such? Would it be right to conclude that as Senate President, Saraki indulges armed robbers? All these questions were still begging for answers. But since their names were dragged into the matter, Saraki had maintained that it was a ploy to call a dog a bad name so as to hang it.
In the wake of the development, the spokesman for Saraki, Mr. Yusuph Olaniyonu, described the allegation as a baseless and a ploy by the police to implicate Saraki by all means possible. Similarly, Ahmed dismissed the allegations and contended that the state could not be held responsible for the behaviour of youths, who preferred to deploy their empowerment wrongly.
“Let it be known that there is no way I could have been associated with armed robbery against my people. When the Offa robbery incident happened, I was the first top public official to pay a visit to the place and right there in the palace of the traditional ruler, I put a call through to this same Mr. Ibrahim Idris, the IGP, requesting him to make certain specific security arrangements as demanded by the people.
“Members of the public will remember that on May 16, 2018, I alerted the Senate about the information passed on to me by my state governor, Dr. Abdulfatah Ahmed, over a plot by the Inspector General of Police, Mr. Ibrahim Idris, to frame me up by getting some suspected cultists arrested in Ilorin to implicate me. It is believed that the timely leakage of the plot in that case aborted the use of the suspected cultists to implicate me. Now, it is the Offa bank robbery suspects that are about to be used,” Saraki explained and this opened the window of benefit of the doubt to him among discerning members of the public, who felt the need for detailed investigation.
Already, Saraki has said the disclosure by the police has vindicated his earlier claim that the suspect had been murdered in police custody and that the investigation was politically motivated to implicate him, Governor Ahmed and some others.
Nigeria’s number three citizen is therefore optimistic that an inquiry into the matter would help interrogate and reveal how the investigation into the robbery incident was conducted by the police and whether the investigation followed due process and complied with global best practices.
According to Saraki, the police should explain why it took them sometime to make the disclosure about the death of the principal suspect after they categorically denied it at the time he (Saraki) made it public.
“It should be recalled that when we mentioned it that the principal suspect had been murdered and that investigation into the Offa robbery attack was politically motivated and targeted at implicating me and other individuals, the Police Public Relations Officer, Moshood Jimoh, said: ‘Michael Adikwu is in police custody. You know that he is the one that led the killing of 22 people. The firearms that were carted away, he is helping the police in the investigation to recover them. There is a state in the South-west where they kept him. I can’t mention the state. It is in one of the South-west states’,” Saraki was quoted Moshood as saying.
Continuing, he said, “It is obvious that the police have orchestrated the information they give to the public on the Offa robbery only to tarnish the image of the Kwara State Governor and myself. We are calling for a public inquiry to probe the issues of extra-judicial killing, the cover-up of this killing with the aim of framing up some individuals for political purpose and politicising of criminal investigations. The facts need to be laid bare.
“The inquiry may help to further document and define the terms of handling of suspects in police custody and how to prevent extra-judicial killing of suspects, for whatever purpose. There is a need for transparency in investigations into all cases and our methods should comply with global standards. We should discourage situations where police politicise investigations and deliberately set out to frame some individuals.”
The police too had fired back at Saraki, saying the death of Adikwu could not vindicate him. Moshood said the evidence from the five suspects now in court is enough to prosecute the Senate president.
“The Death of Michael Adikwu – a dismissed policeman and an ex-convict – a sectional gang leader, who confessed to have killed 22 persons including pregnant women and nine police personnel during the Offa bank robbery, cannot vindicate the Senate President, Senator Bukola Saraki. It is also important for the public to know that the deceased was not among the five gang leaders that indicted and implicated the Senate President, Senator Bukola Saraki. Therefore, his death cannot in anyway vindicate Senator Bukola Saraki,” the police spokesman stated.
At this level, Nigerians want to know when exactly the suspect died. How did he die? Why was the police denying the facts of his death when they knew he had died? At what point did the police leadership know of his death and why are the police covering up the facts?
“We believe the answer to these questions will help the country to address the issue of human rights abuse, extra-judicial killing, manipulation of criminal investigation to achieve political end, deliberate attempt to cover up some facts and how skewed investigation of crime can impact on successful prosecution of suspects,” Saraki said.