Oyerinde's murder: Time to start appreciating the police?
One of news that dominated the media early last year was the alleged shoddy investigation by the police of the murder of Comrade Olaitan Oyerinde, who was until his cruel assassination on May 4 2012 the Principal Private Secretary to the Edo State Governor, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole. The highly vocal governor, who believed that Oyerinde's murder was politically motivated, swore that he would see to it that his murderers were fished out. So much was the bad blood generated by Oyerinde's murder that Oshiomhole and the Minister of Justice Muhammad Bello Adoke reportedly nearly got into a physical fight on March 12 2013 – just before the National Executive Council meeting that day – over the alleged procedural flaws in police investigations of the murder.
One of the contentious issues in the investigation was that both the police and the Department of State Security (DSS) had different suspects who allegedly confessed to the crime. And since it is almost impossible for two sets of suspects to have killed the deceased same day, there was justified cynicism that the public was not being told the whole truth. And given the police's poor rating in the public perception index, accusing fingers were widely pointed in their direction for a possible cover up.
In November 2012, the Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) in Edo State, possibly miffed by the arrest and detention of one of their own as a suspect, Reverend David Ugolor, a bosom friend of the deceased and also the Executive Director of African Network for Environment and Economic Justice (ANEEJ), petitioned the House of Representatives' Public Petitions Committee. They queried why the Police kept Rev Ugolor in detention despite the fact that, in their opinion, there was no credible evidence implicating him in the murder of Olaitan. They also wondered why the Police was reluctant to accept the investigations carried out by the Department of State Service. They further claimed that while the DSS were able to find the items stolen in the robbery and the guns used by the killer of Oyerinde, the police presented a gun which the DPP (Edo State) had identified as the one used by one Garba Usman Maisanari and his gang on different occasions, which took place in April while Oyerinde was murdered in May.
I followed the controversy in the media on the investigation of the murder of Oyerinde with interest. In an article in my column on 14 March 2013, I argued that given the comparative public perception of the police and the DSS, the Police had almost zero chance of winning the media war between it on the one hand and the Edo State Government, the DSS and civil society organizations on the other hand. I also noted that “given the image of the Police, I was rather surprised at the systematic way in which they structured their written presentation [to the Committee] – with virtually no grammatical error or typos, over several pages, structured almost like a mini dissertation and with some intellectual sophistication to it.”
“They started by defining the allegation, then the highlights of the allegation, mode of presentation, their methodologies of investigations and how they arrived at their conclusions.” I further noted that the Police even had an additional six-page report entitled 'Additional comments arising from the brief submitted by Conference of Non-Governmental Organizations on 13 February 2013' in which they did a point-by-point rebuttal of the arguments of both the Civil Society Organization, which was accusing them of shoddy investigation and of the DSS, which believed that its set of suspects represented the true killers of Comrade Oyerinde. The DSS had structured its written brief differently, with emphasis on the profiling of the suspects rather than on the methods of its investigations. My suspicion at that time was that the DSS relied on the negative public perception of the police in making a case for its investigation, derisively accusing the police of using analogue methods in its investigations. Despite what I considered to be a very professional presentation by the police to the Committee, few in the media, it appeared, were ready to give them the benefits of the doubt.
It is instructive that Governor Oshiomhole had called for the dismissal of some key officers who carried out the investigation of the murder of Olaitan – allegedly for shoddy investigation.
As it turned out however, the police version of events appears to have been vindicated by the findings of the House of Representatives' Committee on Public Petitions, which submitted its report to the House in June 2013. The Committee concluded that the investigating agencies – the Police and the DSS were “methodological, painstaking and professional using available investigative techniques within their capacities, including forensic analysis to arrive at their respective positions”. It devoted several pages in praising the professional manner in which the police conducted the investigation.
In one instance the Committee wrote: “There were other findings by the Police, which though not subject of this report, reinforced the uncompromising posture, seriousness, transparency and diligence upon which the police conducted its investigation. Arising from the above findings and observations, it is evidently clear that the alleged complicity and shoddiness of the police report could not be substantiated”.
On the arrest and detention of David Ugolor by the police, the Committee maintained that “there is nothing unprofessional on the police action. The law allows the police to interrogate anybody it suspects in the course of investigation. Thus the police was not just out for an escape goat but did it in the course of its investigation”.
On the issue of DSS and the Police having two sets of suspects who had confessed for the same murder, at the prompting of the Committee, DSS eventually handed its case file to the police which re-investigated the suspects and concluded that they had nothing to do with Olaitain's murder. The Committee however blamed the officers of Esigie Police Station Benin for “palpable inconsistencies in dates and entry of crimes in the station”. The inconsistency in the recordings by Esigie Police Station helped to undermine the police investigation of the murder in the eyes of the public and consequently served as ammunition to the critics of the police in the controversy that ensued over the investigation of the murder of Comrade Olaitan.
Though the House approved most of the Committee's findings a few weeks ago, I was rather surprised that this did not receive sufficient media attention, given the furore the investigation had generated and its subsequent politicisation.
What the Public Petitions Committee's investigation of the matter seemed to have done however is to remind us that we may be under-appreciating our police. True, our police is a reflection of our society, with plentiful of bad eggs, the suspicion is that the brickbats we throw at our police, even when they do their best – as appears to be the case in the investigation of the murder of Comrade Oyerinde – will sure be very demoralizing to the officers in the force who are genuinely committed to professionalism in their work and who are putting in their optimum. In essence the sordid image that the police have today is our collective fault, including the police themselves. Until we recognize that talking down our police or not appreciating them when they have done something really remarkable makes it difficult for them to put in their best or even secure the cooperation of the public to do so, our police will remain what they are today – a whipping boy of virtually everyone, including rag tag vigilante groups.
Some of the findings of the Committee have implications for the current debate on the desirability or otherwise of State Police. In one instance the Committee noted:
“As a result of this state of belligerence between the Governor and the Police, the natural reaction of other institutions, be they governmental or non-governmental which share common ideology or political leaning with the chief Executive, is to cue (sic) behind. The assumption in a scenario like this is that the police are doing somebody's bidding instead of working for the interest of the government and people of Edo State. Otherwise the issue of the Police alleged complicity would not have arisen as there is no iota of evidence in that direction”.
Given Oshiomhole's strongly held belief that the murder of Olaitan was politically motivated (and of course all the agencies of the Edo State government and others who share the same political leaning with him adopting the same stance), it will be tempting to speculate on what would have happened if Edo State Government had its own police and were asked by the Governor to investigate the murder of Olaitain. I have been a long-time supporter of State Police but the Committee's findings highlight an important danger of state police. For a Governor who had already concluded that the murder of Oyerinde was politically motivated, such State Police will most likely rubber stamp the Governor's belief.