Sunday, February 28, 2010
Nineteen months after journalist, Abayomi Ogundeji, was allegedly murdered by police officers in Lagos, his wife, Jennifer, is still battling the trauma of explaining his absence to their two boys, aged four and two.
“The younger one is unaware of what happened, but the older is struggling to understand why his daddy is no longer around,” said Mrs. Ogundeji.
Late Mr. Ogundeji was a member of the editorial board of This Day Newspaper. The police allege that he was murdered by armed robbers near a police check point at the Dopemu area of Lagos, but it is widely speculated that he may have been shot by the police following an altercation with them. The last text message sent from his mobile phone to a friend reportedly said that he was in a situation with the police and would call him as soon as he was through with them.
Where is daddy?
Four-year-old Kuwam Balogun lost his mother three years ago, and then lost his father, Ramoni, to a trigger-happy police officer early this month. Till date he is bewildered that his father no longer picks him up after school.
The late Mr. Balogun was a commercial motorcyclist. He was on his way out of Ikorodu when he was shot, allegedly by stray bullets of police officers, who were on the trail of an armed robber escaping in a car.
More children are finding themselves in similar situations as incidents of extra judicial killings by the police have largely remained unabated. In the first two months of this year, there have been four reported cases of extra judicial killings by the police in Lagos state. Most of the victims left behind young children.
Getting some help
Seven-year-olds Qudus Olojede and Samuel Urja-Uti have one thing in common; their fathers, Ibrahim Olojede and Friday Uti were both shot to death, along with a third man, Rotimi Philips, as they sat in a car by a police officer near their Yaba homes on October 2009.
Before their murder, both men worked as mechanics in a local workshop. Mr. Olojede’s widow, Seun, works as a hair stylist in Mushin while Mr. Uti’s widow, Temitope, is a victim of the state government’s crusade of eradicating street trading. She is currently unemployed because she cannot afford to rent a shop.
The boys’ education was therefore threatened by the deaths of their fathers, until Change-A-Life Foundation, a nongovernmental organization founded by popular TV personality, Funmi Iyanda, stepped in by including the duo in its recent scholarship awards to over 60 children who are either orphaned or have single parents.
“After Ms. Iyanda read about their story in NEXT, she was so touched that we decided to help out with their education,” said Bridget Oyefeso-Odusami, the executive director of the foundation. “The two widows have not been finding it easy since the death of their husbands; Seun (Mrs. Olojede) lives with her mum and sister in a room and parlour while Temitope (Mrs. Uti) lives in a room, both are face me-I face you type of accommodation.”
The widows are grateful for the assistance, but are yet to get over the shock of the murders, while still battling with the trauma of explaining the absence of their fathers to the kids. When contacted by NEXT, both refused to relive the experience by agreeing to an interview.
“I think the earliest days were worse for them, they are trying to move on with their lives but of course have those sombre moments where the past is played back in their memories,” said Mrs. Oyefeso-Odusami.
Stopping the killings
In December last year, Amnesty International published a report calling for a more proactive effort in curbing the police extra judicial killings in Nigeria.
“Hundreds of people are unlawfully killed by the police in Nigeria every year,” stated the report published in the organisation’s website, www.amnesty.org. “Some people die because they fail to pay police officers a bribe. Others are killed because the police use excessive force during arrest or are killed by police officers in extrajudicial executions.”
Aster van Kregten, a member of the Nigerian research team of Amnesty International, confirms that the organisation is stepping up campaigns to pressure the government into adopting a more proactive stance against police extra judicial killings and laments the lack of redress for family of victims.
“There is no redress for family members; in most cases, relatives don’t even find out what happened,” she said in an email response to NEXT. “As most victims of extrajudicial executions are young men, and they are often the breadwinners in the families. When they are killed, their families lose their primary source of income.
If a court orders compensation, the police often refuse to pay. In rare cases where the police is paying compensation, it is the individual police officer who pays instead of the government. In the case of the death of Innocent Onovo for example (Lagos, May 2006), the court ordered the NPF to pay his widow compensation. Money she could use to pay for the school fees for the children. But nothing has been paid yet.”
Most of them, like Mrs. Ogundeji, pick up the slack and doggedly move on with their lives.
“For now, with the grace of God and his (Mr. Ogundeji) work place, the children’s education has been going on fine,” she said. “It has not been easy supporting the children emotionally and also balancing my nine-five job, but my family and my husband’s family have been supportive.”