Wednesday, April 16, 2014

A widow’s quest for justice

Published:

The deceased was a bureau de change operator.

Adiza Orjieh entered the crowded, tiny, court room and managed to squeeze her lean frame between lawyers, seated on a wooden bench.

A lawyer sitting at the front row looks back, acknowledges her presence with a nod, and turns to face the judge.

“We have a motion ex parte for substituted service and subject to the ruling of the court, we are willing to move,” Robert Igbinedion, Mrs. Orjieh’s lawyer, told the judge on Monday.

Mohammed Idris, a Federal High Court judge, granted the prayer and ordered the lawyer to “ensure that everybody is served.”

Mr. Idris adjourned till February 19 for the matter to continue.

A fatal shooting

Since October 2009, when 36-year-old Friday Orjieh, her husband, was brutally shot by an army officer, Mrs. Orjieh’s quest for justice from the appropriate authorities had consistently met brick walls.

So when she decided to turn to the courts, she approached Mr. Igbinedion, of Dele Igbinedion Chambers in Lagos.

The mother of three said that she still remembers the gory details of October 27 vividly.

“That day, I woke up at about 4 a.m. to do my morning chores and prepare the children to school. My husband later woke up and instructed me to cook rice for the children,” Mrs. Orjieh, 32, said.

“Whilst I was cooking in the kitchen, my husband sat in the living room and played with Shedrack, our youngest child. When it was time for him to go to work, he lifted our son, cuddled him and said happily: ‘See how you are smiling at me. Don’t worry, I will come back in time from work today and play with you.’”

After taking his two older children to their school, Mr. Orjieh left for his office at Obafemi Awolowo Road, Ikeja, where he runs a Bureau De Change.

He never saw his family again.

Mrs. Orjieh said that her late husband’s friend and colleague, Raphael Aghedo, who witnessed the incident, narrated what happened that Thursday.

At about 4p.m., a lady, identified as Elizabeth Olubunmi, walked into Mr. Orjieh’s shop accompanied by two armed soldiers.

Eye witnesses after the incident stated that Ms. Olubunmi, who had earlier come to change some foreign currency at the area, claimed that she was short-changed – a notorious practice among some Bureau De Change operators.

To recover her full money, Ms. Olubunmi recruited the services of Private Aminu Audu and Corporal Yahaya Mohammed, both attached to Op (Operation) MESA, a joint military security patrol team in Lagos.

“Private Audu angrily asked the lady if my husband was the person who earlier short-changed her and she said no…

“My husband then invited the lady to look around the office and identify the person, but after looking at everyone present, she said the person was not there,” said Mrs. Orjieh.

“My husband explained that if she could not identify the person, then it would be extremely difficult for her problem to be addressed.

“So, after sometime, my husband turned to attend to some other customers. This angered Private Audu who instructed him not to move an inch,” she added.

According to Mrs. Orjieh, Private Audu instructed the deceased to pay the lady whatever she claimed she was owed and then obtain a refund from the unknown operator whenever he was identified.

“My husband declined to do this, as it would be impossible for him to get a refund of his money without knowing the identity of the operator and hearing his own side of the events.”

Mr. Orjieh’s refusal to obey the order of the soldier allegedly infuriated him.

“He (Private Audu) grabbed my husband by his trousers and began to shake him violently. In the process, my husband’s mobile telephone and some money fell from his pocket.”

As Mr. Orjieh bent down to recover his items, the angry soldier put his gun to his jaw and pulled the trigger.

Brain tissues and blood spattered on the floor as onlookers took to their heels.

Mrs. Orjieh said that another Bureau De Change operator, Bashir Ogidi, corroborated Mr. Aghedo’s account of events.

The deceased’s corpse was deposited at the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital afterwards.

A copy of the Medical Certificate of Cause of Death seen by PREMIUM TIMES placed the time of death at 4.15 p.m.; a death resulting from a severe craniocerebral injury – a medical term for a penetrative injury to the skull.

A mute police/army

After the incident, the police, through the State Criminal Investigation Department began investigations; the Nigerian Army Corps of Military Police, Special Investigation Bureau, Apapa, also instructed the army command to investigate the matter.

Ms. Olubunmi and Mr. Audu were arrested, according to Mrs. Orjieh.

And then they were released.

When Mrs. Orjieh’s lawyer wanted to serve court processes to the duo, who had been joined in the legal suit that is seeking N800 million in damages and burial expenses, they were nowhere to be found.

Mrs. Orjieh said that she enquired from Titus Ogbonna, the Investigating Police Officer, about the present address of Ms. Olubunmi.

The police officer refused to volunteer the information, Mrs. Orjieh said.

“I know that he (Mr. Ogbonna) knows the present address of the lady or her surety. So, if the processes in this case are delivered to him, they will deliver the said processes and she can respond in any manner she deems fit,” said Mrs. Orjieh.

Mrs. Orjieh alleged that Mr. Audu had been transferred to another location.

“I have made enquiries at the Nigerian Army Corps of Military Police but none of the officers there told me where I can find Mr. Audu,” she said.

When contacted, Mr. Ogbonna did not state if the police knew the whereabouts of Ms. Olubunmi.

“We have finished our investigation. We wrote to the army to provide the suspect and till now they have not responded,” Mr. Ogbonna, an Assistant Superintendent of Police, told PREMIUM TIMES.

“Go and find out from them (about the lady),” he added.

The army spokesperson, when reached, said that he was unaware of the matter.

“I’ve not been posted here when the incident happened,” said Kayode Ogunsanya, a Lieutenant-Colonel.

Mr. Ogunsanya promised to call back after checking their records. He never did.

Subsequent efforts to reach him were not successful.

The couple

Mrs. Orjieh got married to the deceased in June 2006, and their first child arrived five months later.

The last child, Shedrack, was barely three months old when the tragedy struck.

Attached as exhibits in the court documents are photographs of the family smiling into the camera, as well as a gory photo of the breadwinner lying in a pool of his own blood.

“I have been left to fend for our three children alone,” said Mrs. Orjieh.

“The children are still asking for their father. Originally, I told them that he travelled, but they always ask when he will return. I do not know what to tell them.”

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