•Community, family petition COAS, police, seek justice
From Judex Okoro, Calabar
The Idum Mbube community and Ekikienkpong family in Ogoja Local Government Area of Cross River State, northern senatorial district., have petitioned the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. General Faruk Yahaya, and the Cross River State Police Command over the alleged killing of their son, Joseph Peter Okpe, in Ogoja by troops drafted from the Ogoja Battalion of the Nigerian Army.
Okpe, 37, from Idum Mbube, Ogoja, in Cross River North, went home to continue his building project and exercise his civic responsibility on March 18, 2023, unaware that it was the beginning of his journey to the great beyond.
Okpe, who resided in Ikom main town in Ikom LGA, had left in company with some friends, full of hopes and dreams for a better tomorrow and got to his Mbube community by 6pm on Friday, March 17.
On arrival, and as usual of him, he sent a message to his parents that he had arrived safely and was staying in one of the popular hotels in the area, since his building project was still on and his parents had no comfortable accommodation.
Checks by Daily Sun revealed that while Okpe, the third child in the family, and a number of his friends, as well some artisans, were sitting outside and having fun, soldiers stormed the place, took him away and shot him to death in the late hours of March 17 for reasons yet to be ascertained. The soldiers were said to have arrested six of his friends, ransacked his car and took the body away.
The killing of Okpe has thrown the entire community into mourning and the are wondering what offence he committed, resulting in the outcry by family members and the community who are demanding justice over the murder of one of their illustrious sons.
In separate petitions to Yahaya and the state police command, they called for a thorough investigation into the killing of Okpe. The family of the deceased alleged that the troops were engaged by some kinsmen to kill their son.
In a strongly-worded petition dated April, 15, 2023, by the family counsel, E.E. Osim, made available to our correspondent, the family want the prime suspect and his cohorts to be brought to book to serve as deterrent to trigger-happy soldiers poised to dent the image of the Nigerian Army.
According to the counsel, “The late Joseph Okpe had arrived Ogoja from Ikom in company with some friends and artisans engaged for construction work at his personal building site in Ogoja to continue work despite the governorship and house of assembly elections billed for the following day.
“Unknown to the late Okpe, he was on the radar of some business associates heavily indebted to him over some inconclusive financial transactions who had been spotted by some locals hobnobbing with some soldiers, including the alleged suspect at major relaxation centres around Ogoja before the cold-blooded murder
“After checking in at the hotel, our brother left to visit his aged parents and some family members, leaving the team he travelled with to settle. Immediately he left, soldiers arrived the hotel demanding for Joe amid heavy shooting, which sent everyone scampering for safety.
“Since he was not around, all his friends were arrested and taken to an unknown destination with their phones impounded while detailing a mole for surveillance. Immediately he drove in, Major Olayinka and his men arrived. He was shot in the hip when he alighted from his car. After he collapsed on the ground, they advanced closer and opened fire at close range and he died instantly.
“Findings indicate that the body was evacuated and taken to the military checkpoint and later handed over to the police under the guise of a political thug killed during exchange of gunfire with the military.”
Osim said labelling the late Okpe as a political thug killed during a gun melee is a well “orchestrated cover-up meant to shield the culprit from justice,” adding: “We want the Chief of Army Staff to know that soldiers drafted for election duty performed creditable while adhering strictly to global best practices.
“This heinous crime was committed hours before commencement of elections. This is not the case of unknown soldiers, we know the killers even though they have been hurriedly transferred from Ogoja army formation. Major Olayinka and Co. should be handed over to the military police for preliminary interrogation for onward handing over the the Nigeria Police for the law to take its course, this is our earnest prayer.”
The family, in a separate petition to the police command in Calabar, called for a thorough investigation into the killing of Okpe, demanding justice.
Lamenting the killing of his son, Peter Odo Okpe, 66, disclosed that Joe would have been 39 years by May 2 and was supposed to come and celebrate his birthday in the village before the ugly incident. He said his son was never involved in any form of electoral malpractice as alleged by the soldiers who killed him, saying: “Governorship election was on Saturday and they killed him on Friday night while he was relaxing with his fiends.
“When my son arrived home, he sent a message to us that he was around and that the mother should prepare breakfast for them the following morning. But, unfortunately, the following morning, when I returned from my farm, somebody just called me and told me that they had killed Joe and I shouted, who, and the caller said soldiers.
“On getting the information, I ran out from the house towards the road and neighbours held me back and said, ‘Please hold yourself back, the soldiers are in two Hilux vans and about 30 of them so that they won’t harm you in the process’. But I refused and ran out but as I was running out, I saw the soldiers and the two Hilux vans and one carrying him and covered him with leaves with the other one following behind with so many soldiers.
“I don’t know who to suspect, but my son always told me how he supplied power bikes and some people were indebted to him and the person owing him is not a soldier. So, I cant really place the two. I guess the soldiers who killed him should know because I learn that when they came they were asking where is that huge man that is wearing that white shirt. In other words, they were sent and they should produce who sent them to kill my son.
“I feel very devastated and saddened because he is the only umbrella to the family now. He has only one child, a girl. I plead with the police to assist me and find out who gunned down my son in his prime. I want justice to be done because you cannot just come into a small community like that and kill somebody and carry his body to Ogoja and deposit him there and leave. The next moment, they came and took away his vehicle and all the documents inside the car.”
Expressing shock over the murder, the mother, Mrs. Grace Peter Okpe, 60, said: “I have been crying since I heard about the death of my son that I carried in the womb for nine months and nurtured. I feel lost and was in coma for some days. I never believed I would still be alive till today. It is only the God that I serve that is keeping me alive following his death.”
In an emotion-laden voice, she said: “I want the police and government to show me who killed my son and what he did to his killers. I saw him last in February after spending three days with us. He promised to come back in one week’s time and also bring something for me. So, when he came in March, he called and told me that he was around and I should prepare breakfast the following day. But he couldn’t come to eat the food. Rather, I got a call that morning, Saturday, March 18, that he had been killed.”
Speaking on behalf of the community, a community leader, Chief Emmanuel Odey, said: “We are not resting until we find the killers of Joe. You cannot just come into a small community like that and kill somebody and carry his body to Ogoja and deposit him there. The next moment, they came and took away his vehicle and all the documents inside the car.
“No. We won’t accept that and we call on the government to bring our son’s killers to book. We, the elders, would fight for justice and would seek all legal and judicial means to achieve our fight for justice.”
Reacting, the Cross River State commissioner of police, Sule Balarabe, said: “We have received a petition from the family of the late Mr. Peter Okpe. All I can say is that it is a murder case and should not be associated with the governorship and House of Assembly election violence.
“There was nothing like the deceased trying to snatch ballot box or exchange fire with the military, as we read in the media, because the incident happened on the eve of the election.
“Even in our report to the police headquarters regarding the conduct and outcome of the election, we did not include the murder of the victim because the incident didn’t happen on election day. So, we are treating it as a purely murder case and it is under investigation by our command. We would try as much as we can to be professional in our investigation”
Calls put across to the public relations office of the 13 Brigade headquarters of the Nigerian Army were not be answered at the time of this report, but an authouritative source at the office of the brigade commander said: “We are are seriously looking into the petition and you would hear from us soon.”