The name, Reverend David Ugolor, might be a household one in the human rights and labour community, but not definitely in Nigeria as a whole, before now. I, for one, had never encountered it before it was suddenly catapulted to the national attention where it is now, since after the gruesome murder of Comrade Olaitan Oyerinde, the principal aide to Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, the activist governor of Edo State.
In fact, a google search on ‘David Ugolor’ did not yield much information of the now-famous name beyond his connection with the allegation of the Police that he was implicated in Comrade Oyerinde’s murder, in May last year. For the interest of other Nigerians for whom the name still does not ring a loud bell, I wish to bring them up on the issue under discourse.
On May 4, last year, the nation rose up to the sad news that the principal secretary to Governor Oshiomhole of Edo State, Comrade Olaitan Oyerinde, was murdered by criminals, who had invaded his home at the depth of the night. The murder caused a lot of stir nationwide, especially as it occurred at the time the gubernatorial campaigns in the state were at the fever-pitch and as a lot of tension was being created by accusations and counter-accusations of attempts by different partisan interests to undermine their opponents, even through violence.
The feeling of foreboding in the state was razor-sharp and it was so, when I was opportune to be in the team of the special adviser to the president on inter-party matters, Senator Ben Ndi Obi, who organised an all-party parley in the state to help diffuse the tense atmosphere. That one-day workshop took place on June 18, 2012, few weeks after the gruesome murder of the governor’s aide and as investigations were already at advanced stages.
The security situation in the state was such that two important security agencies – the Police and SSS – jumped into the investigation. While it is clearly the unambiguous duty and responsibility of the Police to investigate murder cases and arraign suspects, many observers, including this writer, felt that the involvement by the SSS must been occasioned by the general suspicion that the murder might have political nexus and could, therefore, have implications, which went deeper than ordinary criminality.
In fact, many assumed that Oyerinde’s murder had a political ring around it. It happened that the SSS concluded their investigations before the Police and paraded some suspects to the public and thereafter handed them over to the Police for prosecution. However, the Police came up with a different set of suspects, which it said had killed Oyerinde. According to it, because the SSS allegedly did not hand its own suspects with any case files, the Police was compelled to re-investigate them and said their diligent investigation showed that the suspects from the SSS were indeed armed robbers but neither killed Oyerinde nor had ever operated in the deceased’s residence.
The Police then went ahead to arraign the SSS suspects for other robberies at a Benin court, aside from the suspects, which the Police had got from its own investigation, which it arraigned too, and separately. The twist in the story came when the Police arrested Reverend David Ugolor and charged him alongside the suspected robbers it got from its own investigations by a crack team from Abuja, headed by one of its acknowledged best detectives, DCP Chris Okey Ezike. It is a well known fact that Ugolor was one of Oyerinde’s best friends on earth and non-denied facts state that Ugolor was last seen in public with the slain Oyerinde on the night he was slain in company with two lady friends whom they had gone to entertain at a hotel, till late.
It was also said after they departed, Oyerinde went to his house where he met his unfortunate end. The Police claimed that they had interrogated Ugolor at the onset and had let him off in the normal course of investigation, being the last person that was seen with the deceased. The investigators further claimed that when in the course of their investigations, one of the suspects, who had confessed to being one of those who killed Oyerinde, claimed that they were hired and promised N20 million to commit the crime by one ‘David’ and according to the Police, gave a description that fitted David Ugolor. The Police further claimed that Ugolor was later positively identified in an identification parade before his lawyer by the suspect that had made the allegation.
Thereafter, the Police arrested Ugolor, roped him in, detained and included him among the suspects whom it arraigned for the murder of Oshiomhole’s aide. That was when and how Ugolor gained his larger-than-life popularity. For once, it seemed that the death of Oyerinde was demoted to a second place, yielding place to a no-hold-barred battle and campaigns to save Ugolor’s neck.
That battle was spearheaded by the Comrade Governor Oshiomhole and his government and is actively supported by civil society groups that go by the names of Coalition of Civil Society Organisations in Edo State and the Conference of Non Governmental Organisations (CONGOS), Edo State. It is safe to assume that the activities of both bodies actively support and further the efforts of the Edo State Government to save David Ugolor from the clutches of the law and particularly from the charges of complicity in murder being levelled against him. This war to save Ugolor’s neck has been prosecuted principally in the media at obvious great costs as well as at other fora where the campaign would gain a lot of attention.
For instance, the climax of that campaign was the petition, which the civil society group took to the Committee on Public Petitions of the House of Representatives and which was tabled two weeks ago at the National Assembly. Like the campaigns, which the governor has been carrying on for sometime, the complaints had been launched against the integrity of the police investigations, to the extent that on when Oshiomhole was invited as the keynote address speaker on the presentation of its code of conduct by the police, the governor took the Police to the cleaners. Rather than be a ‘good guest’ of the Police, Oshiomhole turned the table on the Force and before its top brass and other national and international dignitaries, the Edo Governor trampled the Police integrity underfoot as he alleged that the Police knew who killed his aide but was involved in a cover up of a very obtuse dimension.
Even the usually calm Inspector General of Police, Abubakar, was visibly angry, shaken and was barely able to control himself. Oshiomhole had on two other previous occasions poured invectives on the Police over its alleged shoddy investigations of the Oyerinde murder. The other occasions were during his speech at his inauguration for the second term in Benin City as well as at the ceremony, marking the beginning of the Legal Year in Edo State. He had also on other occasion said the Police had fumbled.
The Police is yet to officially give its side of the case and might get its chance this Wednesday when the Public Petitions Committee, which opened hearing on the issue a fortnight ago would allow the public to hear the Police, for the first time since the launch of the vitriolic attacks on its integrity from Edo State. Many had also found it strange that the Police had not spoken as often in response to the regular damaging accusations from Benin, even though the IGP had addressed his senior officers soon after the Oshiomhole diatribe, assuring them that there was no substance in the allegations that were being levelled against the Police.
Many had interpreted the apparent silence from the Police as a mature way of showing that an institution like the Police need not allow itself to canvass a case that is pending in the court of law in public and in the media. But many expect that it needs to unzip its lips at the National Assembly this week in face of such an internecine attack on its integrity. My take in all this is that it is to be expected that the Edo State Governor is human and should, therefore, be expected to express grief over the big loss he suffered in his deceased aide. Ditto for to the civil society groups in Edo State.
However, they should have been more concerned about getting justice for their slain colleague and friend rather than prejudging the case in a manner that seems to call for raised eyebrows from innocent bystanders like us. Most impartial observers are surprised that there seems to be more efforts being made to shield David Ugolor from prosecution than ensuring that the courts in the land adjudicate on the case, which the Police have brought to it in order to bring the culprits to book. Many people see these frantic efforts at discrediting the Police for including Ugolor among the suspects as clearly misguided.
One would have thought that if the Civil Society groups so trust Ugolor as a man who is incapable of doing such things that he is being accused of by the Police and for which he has been arraigned, the tactics currently being adopted are clearly dysfunctional. Or is the impression being given is that Ugolor is infallible and is above the law? Or does he have an immunity against arrest and prosection? Ugolor’s friends, having worked this hard to obtain a bail for him, should have been more interested in ensuring a speedy trial in the courts where their man would establish his innocence or lack of it than the current hysterics.
They should have been more interested in ensuring that David Ugolor has his days in court and prove his innocence for good. Running from pillar to post is incapable of saving Ugolor from his day in court, unless the Attorney General files a nolle-prosequi, which is most improbable, given the level of politicisation of what should have been a normal criminal case. From a clear layman’s point of view, I don’t really understand why the friends of David Ugolor should opt for their current line of action, apart from their concern for the possibility of their friend being subjected to a miscarriage of justice.
But they should have also put themselves in the shoes of the Police, which insist that Ugolor was positively identified at a parade. They should have appreciated that even if one were not a policeman, it would be hard to discountenance a piece of evidence, no matter how circumstantial or flimsy, linking a man, who had admitted being the last man to be seen with a victim a few hours before his murder. The Police are made up of human beings too – and very suspicious ones at that too.
For the interest of justice and in consideration of the friendship, which they shared, should Reverend Ugolor not have opted to freely present himself to the courts to clear his name and to reassure the family that Oyerinde left behind that he remained a friend to the end? Is it more important for him to embark on this noisy campaign against the integrity of police investigation than ensuring that the right things are done? In any case, institutions are institutions and no matter who is involved, institutions must continue to function in accordance with the statutes that set them up.
No matter the amount of campaign, the Police remain the institution that investigates crimes and arraigns suspects in courts of law. Even if the Police were as rotten as Oshiomhole and others are alleging, it has done what it considers its duty before the law and there is nothing anyone can do about it. Not even the president can question its right to do so. It remains for the judiciary to adjudicate on the case against Ugolor and others, which the Police have brought to it, hear all the parties, draw conclusions and make pronouncements on the basis of the facts and its findings.
Any other attempts, no matter how highly placed or how frantic, hardly matter now. Let Ugolor have his day in court and prove his innocence, which a lot of people believe in. Doing otherwise might suggest that some people might have something to hide. I wish Reverend David Ugolor luck and Godspeed in his efforts to clear the good name, which his good and important friends believe he has. It must be very refreshing to have friends, who trust you to this extreme extent.