Koro Kidnapping Case: That an 80 Year Old Does Not Suffer Unjustly (Part 2)

If the misery of the 'man' be caused not by the laws of nature, but by our institutions, great is our sin.
 Charles Darwin

In 2023, Nigeria ranked 21st among countries with the worst record for human rights and rule of law violations in the world. This was according to US-based online platform, theglobaleconomy.com, that offers up-to-date data on indicators including respect for citizens’ rights and prevailing laws of countries all over the world. The Amnesty International, also corroborated the claim, detailing cases of unlawful attacks, torture, killings and other ill treatments.

In the coming year, the case of a reputable elder and traditional chief from Igbara-Odo, in Ekiti State, Chief Oyebanji Olowofela, will add up to the list as another case of human rights abuse, torture, forceful arrest without resistance, and possibly, undue trial. This is so because of the way and manner at which we continue to handle sensitive cases of criminality. 

The travails of Olowofela and others is just one of the numerous disregard for human rights witnessed in the government cycle, made worse by the bureaucratic inertia in the corridors of power. As a matter of fact, it is disturbing that the government institutions that should serve as the bastion of justice are found to be perverting the course of justice. Whoever has followed the Olowofela story keenly from the beginning will understand the need to query some conducts in the handling of the saga.

Without mincing words, the efforts of the government and security operatives in stemming the tide of abductions and killings in our communities deserve commendation. The spate of abductions have become so worrisome that people could no longer sleep with both eyes closed, but for their intervention.

One horrendous instance in the South West was the killing of a traditional ruler, the Olukoro of Koro in the Ekiti Local Government Area of Kwara State, Oba Olusegun Aremu-Cole, (a retired senior military officer) and abduction of his wife and a young lady. Prior to that gruesome killing, kidnappers had killed two traditional rulers in neighbouring Ekiti State and abducted nine persons, including five students, from a school bus.

The incidents had caused an outrage in Ekiti and Kwara with citizens berating the ineptitude of security operatives to combat the scourge. As expected, security agencies felt the pressure and sprang into action, raiding spots, arresting suspects and engaging in show of force. Their efforts no doubt  enhanced security and restored normalcy. It is common practice in our clime that in times like this, security operatives tend to overplay their roles, going overboard most times, all in the quest to be adjudged as working. On several occasions, innocent citizens are among those apprehended. That itself isn't a problem because it's unavoidable. Where the problem lies is the subsequent inaction, the failure of investigators to conduct due diligence and ensure quick release of the innocent. Most times, the innocent suffer needlessly while some end up bagging years in gaol.

In this case of Chief Olowofela, his security guard who doubles as house help, Godwin Jacob, was said to have been apprehended in town by rampaging soldiers who were deployed to combat the spate of kidnapping in the area and round up those behind the dastardly act. The wandering boy - wearing a dreadlock - arose further suspicion as he was caught with a short knife in a charm-wrapped sheath on him. Obviously , that was a motive in the heat of that season. He was subsequently tortured to divulge useful information that could help crack the purported crime group, and it was in that unbearable moment that Godwin, began to spill it all, claiming to be a member of a kidnap syndicate and that his master was their sponsor.

As expected, the soldiers stormed Chief Olowofela's residence in gestapo style, breaking doors and destroying properties in the process. A frightened 80 year old man, - having had a glimpse of the forceful approach mistook them for gunmen and naturally went into hiding. He was however fished out and apprehended by the fierce-looking men in uniform. Instead of being taken to custody for interrogation, the soldiers were said to have pounced on him, beating and manhandling a man in his declining years. It's on record that he was brutalized right from his home in Igbara-Odo, Ekiti, to the Police headquarters in Ilorin, where he was handed over to the police. That was a typical example of jungle justice. To add salt to injury, his pictures were taken and bloggers seeking traffic published suggestive stories to subject a man that should be presumed innocent before the law, to media trial. Sadly, this has become our hallmark in Nigeria.

While the matter is now before a competent court, with no attempt to dabble into litigations or fall contempt of court, the crux of the matter here is to bring to the public domain, the unlawful and illogical practice by our men in uniform in the course of their duty, not ignoring the failure of the authorities to counsel these institutions to retrace their steps and address the anomaly. It is however essential for us as a people to point out these anomalies and stand up for the ideal. The people's silence in the face of perceived injustice - even when it didn't happen to us - is an attestation to the words of Paulo Coelho, who rightly observed that, "In the beginning, there was only a small amount of injustice abroad in the world, but everyone who came afterwards added their portion, always thinking it was very small and unimportant, and look where we have ended up today."

The first thing to note was that there was no basis for the show of force and manhandling of an armless man. This might have been different if he resisted arrest or engaged the military men in a brawl. 

Secondly, it was out of place and outrightly against the law to mistreat a man for an alleged offence, not to talk of one that has not been proven, or with no evidence suggesting that she/he indeed committed the offence. Section 5 CFRN 1999 (amended) states that, ‘Every person who is charged with a criminal offence shall be presumed to be innocent until he is proved guilty.’ Exposing him to the public because it glorifies the operatives of their prejudicial achievement and publicises same, was tantamount to Pre-trial media, which is unknown to our law and condemned by Justice Zainab Abubakar, when ruling in a suit marked FHC/ABJ/CS/01/2020 filed by Victor Ojionu against the Inspector-General of Police and Attorney-General of the Federation.

One tends to also wonder what the law enforcement operatives would have said, if something had gone wrong in the process of torture and the man in autumn of his life crosses the great divide?

While there had been cases of similar harassments in police custody in times past, it's on record that the Kwara State police command, was civil, humane and professional in their conduct towards the suspect. It is good to note that their professional conduct has not in anyway disrupted investigation or stood in the way of justice. It is high time the military borrowed a leaf from this.

That said, it is pertinent to further bring to scrutiny, the government disposition towards the shenanigans. As much as the organs of government may be failing, the buck stops on the desk of the government of the day. This is so because institutions of government are a reflection of its leadership. Incidentally, when the head is jaundiced, the rest of the body suffers.

It is disheartening that despite all the aforementioned, no one in the corridors of power has called the subjects to order. This trend of negligence had since affected the handling of the case. There's indeed little to what the Department of Public Prosecution, DPP, can do if the government, especially the leadership of the justice ministry, falters in its responsibility.

We seems to be at a crossroad where you wonder, what this case revealed so far, whether investigation been concluded, where it may be leading us, if there are suspects walking freely on the street or if there are motives to hold on to some of those arrested.

Judging by the unfolding events and unraveling evidences, it is not out of place to retrace our steps and not go astray. There are substantial reasons to believe that the security operatives were not spot on in their track. Already, there are also suggestions in certain quarters indicating political undertone. 

Without further ado, we should objectively seek response to certain posers. Who has identified Godwin Jacobs as a kidnapper? Has investigation so far being able to solidify this premise and link him with a past case? Was there any other incriminating item linked to him? Why are we not looking into his subsequent revelation in which he stated that he lied under duress?

For the man Olowofela, was any incriminating item found or linked to him? Is there any motive to believe the 80yr old has anything to do with this? What does his track record reveal? Who else has pointed an accusing finger at him? Are there solid basis to continue to hold on to him? All of these requires  sincere responses to establish a case.

It is pertinent to note, that apart from the written statement of Godwin Jacob which tends to exonerate Chief Oyebanji Olowofela, the police itself could not connect further dots to think otherwise. Rather, they saw substance in Godwin's (first defendant) confession. This explains why in the First Information Report, FIR, the police at first admitted that their narratives do not add up. They then charged Godwin, the Genesis of the seeming imbroglio for false information. According to the FIR, "During interrogation at the state CID, all of you were unable to give satisfactory account of your involvement, while you Godwin Jacob 'm' gave false information in order to mislead the security operatives." The FIR thus indicates that the man may be innocent after all. Same can be said of Godwin Jacob who has gotten himself entangled in a web of intricacies. 

It thus behooves on the Kwara State government led by Governor Abdulrahman AbdulRazaq to quickly add the missing links and do the needful so as to save us of any embarrassment. Again, as the Chief Security Officer in the state, he must prevail on this matter, take a religious look at all the loopholes along the line and direct relevant authorities to act accordingly. One office that needs to wake up from its slumber is that of the state Attorney General. The AG and Commissioner for Justice in Kwara needs to step up its game and save the government of any injustice. Enough of the dilly-dallying. It's important to beam our searchlight in the right direction and stop holding on to nothing just to be seeing as doing things right.  Charles de Montesquieu, forewarned in his book, 'The Spirit of the Laws' that, "There is no greater tyranny than that which is perpetrated under the shield of the law and in the name of justice." An institution that errs and quickly retraces its steps proves to be very much in charge, but one that goofs and continues in that lane to save face is headed for doom.

If our society must be sane, we must act sane. Man cannot be freed by the same injustice that enslaved it. We cannot continue to do things the same way and expect a different result. In situations where authorities err, they must be magnanimous enough to own up and make remedies where necessary. This is the only way to enhance justice and strengthen human rights. But if we keep silent about evil, or bury it so deep within us that no sign of it appears on the surface, we are implanting it, and it will rise up a thousand fold in the future. The time to right the wrong is now.