By Comfort Oseghale

With only four months to go, 27-year-old Temitope Olumona anxiously awaited her wedding day. That, however, was not to be as her 31-year-old fiancé, Ayo Obeto, died at the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, Ikeja, where he received treatment after he was brutalised by policemen attached to Owutu police station, Ikorodu, Lagos.

His younger brother, who was at his bedside at the time of his death, claimed that Obeto, who was on life support, gave up the ghost while the hospital was trying to change its source of power.

Recalling the events that culminated in Obeto's death, Olumona said, “In the morning of January 18, I got a call from Ayo's (Obeto's) family to come down to Lagos. I rushed down from Ibadan where I am undergoing the National Youth Service Programme. I met the family at the Ikorodu General Hospital. I was so shocked when I saw Ayo. We talked for the three days I spent with him in the hospital.” Olumona said she was surprised to learn from the family that some policemen accused Obeto of robbery. “That cannot be true. He told me what happened. He said he was going back home with his friends when they ran into some policemen. They were asked to stop and they did. The next thing he knew, the policemen started shooting. Ayo ran and fell into the gutter. When the policemen got to him, he raised his hands and identified himself. He told me that was the last thing he could remember.”

In spite of her fiance's condition, Olumona said she kept hoping that Obeto would overcome his travails and take her to the altar in June as planned. That, however, turned out a hope that never materialised.

She said, “I had left for Ibadan on Monday, to ask for permission to be away from my primary assignment for a while. I needed to stay by him till he recuperated. In the evening of the same day, I got a call that I should come back to Lagos. I never thought he was going to die.”

Obeto, a graduate of Business Administration at the University of Ado-Ekiti, was until his untimely death on January 24, 2010, a financial consultant with Midas Gold Limited, a finance company based in Lagos. He was the second person to lose his life after some policemen attached to Owutu police station allegedly opened fire on three unarmed young men who were walking home after some time together at a bar in the neighbourhood in the night of January 17.

First to die was Abiodun Awe, a 34-year-old litigation officer at a Lagos-based law firm, Olumide Adejumo & Co. He was said to have bled to death after he was shot in the back, while his cousin, Babalola Awe, was lucky to escape the hail of bullets unhurt.

Babalola said, “We had all gone to a bar close to our house. We left around 11 pm. On our way home, Ayo (Obeto) remembered he had forgotten his keys at the bar. We all went back with him to get it.”

During their second attempt at trekking home, they ran into a patrol team. “We saw a light moving towards us. Ayo was afraid and said we should run. When I asked why, he said we didn't know who it was. So we stopped. The next thing we heard were gunshots,” Babalola said.

He said he only happened to survive the incident because he acted faster. “I pulled my shoes and ran for my life. I ran into an uncompleted building and hid there. I stayed there till morning before I went back home. Since Abiodun and I lived together, I was naturally apprehensive when I didn't find him at home. I called Ayo's family and asked after him and they confirmed he didn't come home that night.”

Scared, the young man asked some friends to go with him to Orikuta junction where the shooting took place. “The people that went with me had no idea what I was looking for. I just said I wanted to check something.”

When he got there, his worst fears were confirmed. “There was blood everywhere. That was when I realised that something terrible must have happened to my cousin and friend. I saw Ayo's hand towel in a gutter soaked with blood.”

Babalola's wailing and grief drew everyone's attention. “I contacted their families and about 15 people drawn from both families went to complain about Abiodun's and Ayo's disappearance,” he said.

It was at the station that they learnt that Abiodun was dead and Ayo was in the hospital. But rather than pacify the distraught families, Babalola was detained together with Olumide, the manager of the bar where he and his friends had been the night before.

“The bar manager's offence, we were told, was that he closed late,” Babalola said.

Seyi, the elder brother to the late Abiodun, said his brother and Nelson could have survived the attack if not for the callousness demonstrated by the police. “We were told by those who witnessed the incident from their homes that the police paraded my brother and Ayo around the area as criminals for about 45 minutes before taking them to the station.

“Meanwhile, Abiodun was pleading with them to take him to the hospital. Ayo was not shot, but the police brutalised his head with the butt of their guns. A piece of metal was discovered in his skull.”

Seyi said both victims were not taken to the hospital till the next morning. By then, Abiodun was already dead. Abiodun was received at the mortuary of Ikorodu General Hospital around 8.43 am. It was about the time that Ayo was also being received at the emergency unit of Ikorodu General Hospital.

According to Obeto's elder brother, Dennis, “Ayo was eventually transferred to Ikeja General Hospital after two days. That was where he died. His autopsy revealed that Ayo's head wounds were infected with tetanus. Instead of treating the wounds against infection at Ikorodu General Hospital, the wounds were simply stitched.”

Dennis, who said that Ayo's death was avoidable, has threatened to sue the General Hospital in Ikorodu for negligence.

But what has become of the errant police officer? Seyi alleged a cover up by the police. He said that Paul Ogbe, the officer that killed his brother was initially stripped of his uniform and locked up in a cell at Owutu police station. “By the time the case was transferred to Area H, the story had changed. The area commander told us to give him time to investigate. He said he was told by the DPO Owutu that it was a case of armed robbery.”

Seyi said the Area Commander told them that the case would be transferred to Panti the next day. “Surprisingly, an hour later, a patrol van came to take Babalola and Olumide (the bar manger) to Panti. It was at Panti that we discovered that Paul Ogbe's uniform had been restored to him and my brother and his friend were being framed for murder.”

When the Police Public Relations Officer Frank Mba was contacted, he said, “The issue of connivance does not arise, because I am very much aware of this matter. Whenever the issue of shooting arises, there must be detailed and thorough investigation to establish if the officers involved have been consistent with the rules of engagement. That matter was transferred from Area H to the homicide department of Panti police station on the orders of the Commissioner of Police, Mr Akpoyibo.

“I want to assure the relatives of the dead men that the Lagos State Police Command does not cover up policemen found guilty of committing any crime. It is only natural we give them fair hearing. If their guilt is established, they will face the wrath of the law.”