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NGO BATTLES POLICE OVER ALLEGED COVER UP

By NBF NEWS
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For the relatives of Ibrahim Olojede, Rotimi Alabi, and Friday Uti-Ojah, who were allegedly murdered in Lagos by policemen on October 1, 2009, it is turning out to be a long wait for justice.

Saturday Punch gathered that the trio were reviewing a football match in their neighbourhood when some policemen from Adekunle Police Station, Yaba arrived around 9.30 pm and opened fire on them. While Olojede died instantly, Alabi died a few hours after he had been taken to the hospital and Friday was in critical condition for some days before he eventually gave up the ghost. The policemen had claimed that all three deceased were shot on suspicion of being armed robbers.

The unprovoked killing had generated widespread criticism, as their families, friends and concerned individuals trooped out to condemn the killings.

Eventually, the policeman that fired the gunshots that felled the three young men, who was later identified as Corporal Abu Bolaji, was arrested and detained by the Lagos State Police Command.

Following the killings, Access to Justice, a Lagos based non-governmental organisation, petitioned the Nigeria police authorities and demanded that an inquest be conducted into the tragic incident.

Dayo Adeosun, who was with the victims shortly before the tragic incident occurred, told the Yaba Magistrate Court, venue of the inquest that the four of them were outside their residence at Olonode Street in Alagomeji area of Yaba when he left them to spray insecticide in his room. Ten minutes after he left his friends, he heard a gunshot and a shout outside.

Adeosun said he waited for sometime and came out only to see bloodstains in front of the house.

Saturday Punch investigation revealed that after the shooting, the trigger-happy policemen carried their victims to the police station at Adekunle, where they described them as armed robbers who were trying to escape when they were shot.

The victims'relations eventually got to know that Ibrahim had died while Rotimi died the following day, precisely on October 2. After struggling with death for some days, Friday gave up the ghost on October 18, 2009.

At the inquest, witnesses after witnesses mounted the witness box to give testimonies. One of the witnesses, who identified himself as Atolagbe, disclosed that it was the tradition of the policemen to come to the area from time to time to arrest innocent souls and extort money from them, even when it meant forcing hapless individuals to use their ATM cards to withdraw money from ATM machines.

However, the police also told the court that the place was an abode of criminals. While the inquest continued, the remains of the trio were released to their families for burial.

However, four months after the killing, Access to Justice is alleging that the police are making frantic efforts to set Corporal Bolaji, who allegedly fired the gunshots free.

In a petition dated February 10, 2010, signed by Mrs Destina Dalumo and addressed to the Commissioner of Police in Lagos State, Mr Marvel Akpoyibo, and copied to the Inspector General of Police, Attorney General of Lagos State and two others, the human rights organisation noted that there was nothing to show that the police had deemed it necessary to investigate the matter or interrogate the families and other key witnesses.

Access to Justice stated, 'It is worrisome that four months after this unfortunate incident, there has not been any evidence of credible investigation of the heinous crime by the police, and we are worried that your office (referring to the Commissioner of Police) has not monitored the progress of the investigation avidly. We are baffled and dismayed that up till this time, no police officer has interrogated relatives of the deceased persons or eye witnesses of the event who have been in touch since the killing.'

The organisation said
that despite the fact
that the alleged killer,
Corporal Bolaji
was charged before an Ebutte-Metta magistrate Court on a holden charge and ordered to be remanded in jail, pending the outcome of the Director of Public Prosecutor's advice, several months after, the police was yet to send the case file to the office of the DPP in Lagos State for advice.

Access to Justice alleged that the police prosecutor in charge of the matter demanded the sum of N10,000 as bribe before the case file could be sent to the DPP's office.

Based on this development, the organisation stated emphatically that it doubted the integrity of the police to investigate the killings. It said, 'We see this as a subtle, deliberate and targeted effort to block the prosecution of those who have committed these killings and prevented justice from taking its course. The laws of our country have been so grievously broken with impunity and the police saddled with the responsibility of enforcing the laws is now, from all available evidence, inert and crippling the wheels of justice in the state.

'Relatives of the victims of these killings see this as a conspiracy to manipulate the system in a way to create an escape route for the perpetrators of the killings'.

The organisation vowed to do everything possible to stop the police from sweeping the matter under the carpet.

But the Police Public Relations Officer in Lagos State, Superintendent of Police Frank Mba, said there was no attempt to ignore the matter. 'In the Lagos State Police Command, we have established a reputation when it comes to handling the matter of any of our police officers alleged to have been involved in misdemeanors. On several occasions, we have arrested officers who did not conduct themselves properly, gave them orderly room trial, charged them to court and dismissed them. It is not in our character to shield erring policemen from prosecution,' he said.

Mba said he believed that justice must be done to both the accused and the deceased within the provisions of the law, adding that for the police in Lagos State, there was zero tolerance to all crimes and misdemeanor.

According to him, police investigation follows a scientific and professional pattern, which they would not want to jettison merely because they wanted to please the public. 'Caution is needed and homicide cases are often complicated. Investigation is ongoing and we will get to the end of the matter,' he assured.

But the Executive Director of Access to justice, Mr Joseph Otteh said several letters to the Nigeria Police Force on the lackadaisical attitude of its officers in respect of the matter had not produced any positive result. 'It is a typical police style so that at the end of the day, the matter would be struck out by the court for lack of diligent prosecution. But we are determined to ensure that justice is done. The boys must not die in vain,' he fumed.