INVESTIGATION: At Lagos Polytechnic, student’s death questions legality of armed campus guards

Wilson in handcuff with lifeless body of Okoro
Wilson in handcuff with lifeless body of Okoro

In the morning of February 20, 2018, Ahmed, 24, a sophomore at the Lagos State Polytechnic, Ikorodu (LASPOTECH) and the only son of his parents, was torn between helping his father, Rasaq Amoo, an electrician, to complete a job at a primary school in the Oworonshoki area of Lagos, about 24 kilometres away, and attending a lecture at school.

After a while, he settled for the latter and asked his father to excuse him from helping with the project. His father obliged. While his father left to do the job alone, Ahmed left for school. But while returning from school, he decided to check his friends at an apartment on Remilekun Street, Lasuwon community- a few metres to one the school’s gate.

Ahmed was just few metres to his destination when tragedy struck. He was shot by Ademola Ogunsanwo, the polytechnic security guard. Ahmed died from the injuries he sustained. Even after being shot, Ahmed would perhaps have survived if he was not left for dead by his assailant and the management of the polytechnic, his family said.

Mr. Amoo told PREMIUM TIMES that Ahmed was shot on his knee, adding that his killer and other polytechnic’s guards carried him to the school clinic, but they were referred to the general hospital at Ikorodu.

He said on arrival at the hospital, the gunshot wound was so bad that the medical practitioners there decided that the only way Ahmed could be saved was to have his leg amputated urgently.

But the hospital required the consent of the injured student’s relatives before carrying out the procedure.

The school’s chief security officer, Mike Ogunlade, a retired colonel, who was at the hospital, pledged to notify Ahmed’s family, but failed to do so. He left the hospital and did not return.

For almost six hours, Ahmed was left at the general hospital without treatment and he slowly bled to death.

“As at 8:45 p.m when the hospital eventually got through to me, my son could hardly talk anymore. I was told he could no longer be amputated that night, and so would need 10 pints of blood to sustain him till daybreak,” Mr. Amoo said.

Mr. Amoo
Mr. Amoo

Mr. Amoo said just before his son died, he told him how he was robbed of his phone and wallet by the school’s security guards inside the ambulance that took him to the hospital.

“He said he did not know his offence and challenged me to seek justice over his death. We both wept profusely, and minutes after, he died,” the father said.

An autopsy conducted on April 26, 2018 at the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital confirmed that Ahmed bled to death.

The report, signed by Hassan Elias, a pathologist and forensic medicine expert, noted that the gunshot disrupted Ahmed’s anterior tibia vessels leading to “complicated fractures of the upper end of the tibia and fibula.”

The quest for justice

After his son was confirmed dead, Mr. Amoo began the journey to unravel why he was shot dead.

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Accompanied by his relatives, Mr. Amoo visited the school but was confronted by the institution’s public relations officer, Olanrewaju Kuye, who declared Ahmed a member of a secret cult.

Mr. Amoo said a deputy rector, Olatunji Olateju, told him something different.

“The deputy rector told me Ahmed was only facing a panel on examination malpractice but that the report of the committee was not yet out. They were surprised when I narrated what Ahmed told me about the panel,” he said.

However, in spite of the deputy rector’s assurance of adequate probe into the incident, the college management on February 22 issued a statement, accusing Ahmed of being a cultist, and confirmed his killing by the guard.

Legal journey

Describing the case as extrajudicial killing, a non-governmental organisation (NGO), Human Rights Monitoring Agenda (HURMA), petitioned the school and copied former Governor Akinwunmi Ambode, the police, state’s House of Assembly, among others.

The group in its petition, signed by the project director, Isiak Buna, demanded the arrest and prosecution of Mr. Ogunsanwo.

Based on the petition, Mr. Ogunsanwo was arrested on March 20, 2018, almost a month after the incident. The case was later transferred to the state police criminal investigation department, Yaba, which charged him to Ebute Metta magistrate court on March 22. The court remanded Mr. Ogunsanwo in Ikoyi prison while awaiting the release of a report of the state’s director of public prosecution on the incident.

Mr. Amoo said Mr. Ogunsanwo was only tried on September 10, 2018, at the high court and was discharged and acquitted same day.

“At the magistrate court on October 25 when the matter was adjourned to, I waited till the magistrate rose. I was surprised that the matter was not called,” Mr. Amoo said.

Mr. Amoo approached one of the court registrars who told him that the matter had been transferred to the Lagos State High court, Lagos, for proper trial following the release of the DPP’s advice.

He said to his shock, the case was struck out by the judge on the first day of its hearing.

“I quickly dashed to the high court where I was told the matter had been heard on October 10. The source told me the matter was struck out on the same day it was called by Justice Akintoye,” he said.

PREMIUM TIMES found that Mr. Akintoye took the decision based on the DPP’s advice which indicated that Mr. Ogunsanwo killed Ahmed in self-defence.

Immediately the case was struck out, Mr. Ogunsanwo went underground and has not been seen since then.

LASPOTECH Mix

When asked about the circumstances leading to Ahmed’s death, the rector told our reporter that the late student was a cultist and had been rusticated by the school.

Rector, Samuel Sogunro
Rector, Samuel Sogunro

But the rector refused to answer further questions including whether Ahmed had been arrested and handed over to the police in the past and if anyone was notified that he had been rusticated.

“You see, my brother, I think it will be better you see the college spokesman. He has all the records,” he said.

Speaking on the development, the college spokesman, Mr. Kuye showed our reporter a letter indicating that Ahmed was rusticated. However, he could not tell why Ahmed’s name was not on the list of 36 students expelled from the institution between 2011 and 2018 published in The Nation Newspapers of May 28, 2018, three months after Ahmed’s murder.

Asked whether the school flouted the law prohibiting the arming of guards, Mr. Kuye said the school’s action followed due process. But when asked for the necessary approval gotten before setting the armed outfit, he said he would need to get approval from the rector before responding.

Many months after, Mr. Kuye was yet to respond to PREMIUM TIMES’ questions.

When contacted, the CSO also declined comment, saying every information required on the arms and ammunition purchase should be directed to the public relations unit of the institution.

“I cannot also talk on the death of the boy you are talking about, or any other allegation against the security unit,” Mr. Ogunlade said.

The Lagos State Government connection

PREMIUM TIMES’ efforts to get a reaction from the Lagos State Government, especially why its director of public prosecution said the killing was done in self-defence, were frustrated by the officials, who kept pushing our reporter from one agency to the other.

Officials declined comments. While a spokesperson for the justice ministry, Kayode Oyekanmi, said the details of the DPP’s advice could only be provided by the judiciary office, the spokesperson of the judiciary office, Lolade Onanuga, said the advice resides in the justice ministry.

But an insider, who asked not to be named, told this reporter that the state’s director of public prosecution had no justification for defending the accused, and would not want the case reopened.

Illegal arms?

The Private Guard Companies Act, which allows for the creation of private guard companies in Nigeria, specifically, prohibits personnel of private guard companies from bearing firearms.

Section 17 of the law, titled Prohibition of firearms, reads: “No person approved under the provisions of this Act shall bear or possess any firearm or ammunition in the course of his duties.”

The Lagos Police spokesperson, Bala Elkana, said he was unaware of private security guards of higher institutions in the state carrying arms.

He said under the Procurement and Licensing of Firearms Act, there are three categories of firearms which include prohibited firearms, personal firearms and muscle-loaded firearms.

“The prohibited firearms are those firearms used by the military and security forces. Only the president and commander-in-chief of the armed forces of the federal republic can approve the licensing of these arms,” he said. “But for guns like pump-action, which are personal arms that individuals can bear, the Inspector General of Police is empowered to issue the licence.

“Others like dane guns used by hunters are in the category of muscle-loaded firearms and the chairmen of local government are empowered to issue such licences. Either individuals or institutions, flouting the regulations comes with punishment.”
Despite the lengthy time allowed by this newspaper, the Lagos Polytechnic showed no evidence it received any of the listed approvals. But in 2016, the school procured magnum series of 15 pump action guns and ammunition from the black market.

Documents obtained by PREMIUM TIMES revealed how the school’s CSO, Mr. Ogunlade, secured the approval of the rector, Samuel Sogunro, to purchase the firearms.

In his memo titled “Re: Challenges in the Security Unit Requiring Urgent Attention,” approved by the rector, dated October 18, 2016, Mr. Ogunlade wrote about the need to purchase additional 15 pump-action guns to add to the existing 14 in the school’s armoury.

“In compliance with the executive management committee’s directive on the aforementioned subject dated 17th October, 2016, on a revised or updated request for arms and ammunition, the black market for these items has been quickly surveyed for updated financial implication for procurement of the items. The current astronomical cost of pump action gun and its ammunition has been ostensibly put on high rate of foreign exchange.

“In view of the increasing need for more of these weapons because of rising wave of criminality, it is being proposed that a total of 15 be purchased increasing our holding to 29. The remaining 10 to complete the required number of 39 employed task force men can wait for another budget year. Therefore, the cost implication of purchase of 15 pump action guns, its registration and ammunition are stated below.”

Mr. Ogunlade said both purchase and registration of each of the 15 guns would cost N430,000 amounting to N6,300,000. He added that 10 packets of firing cartridges would cost N150,000.

On November 23, 2016, a voucher of N6,450,000 was prepared by Adeniji Y.O to be paid into Mr. Ogunlade’s first city monument bank account 01730900215, was approved on November 24 by the rector.

A history of harassment

The death of Ahmed, this reporter learnt, is just an example of the long list of instances of extrajudicial violence, highhandedness and harassment by the school’s security outfit.

Residents of the neighbourhood said they avoided the general area of the polytechnic due to the overbearingness of guards of the school’s security outfit.

Last May, Cletus Wilson, a member of the security outfit killed and tried to dismember his colleague, John Okoro, for what is suspected to be ritual purpose.

Folake Sokoya, a journalist, told PREMIUM TIMES how she and her son, Boluwatife Olowu, were brutalised by the polytechnic’s security guards on July 11, 2018.

Laspotech armed guards
Laspotech armed guards

According to Ms. Sokoya, Mr. Olowu, an American returnee and a National Diploma student in the Hospitality Management Technology department of the school, was reportedly seized by the guards for wearing earrings on the school’s premises.

“Before my son could explain the circumstances surrounding the use, he was hurled into the security post and was beaten recklessly,” Ms. Sokoya said.

Mrs. Sokoya
Mrs. Sokoya

She explained that she asked the security men why her son was beaten up, but rather than respond, she claimed the security guards pounced on her. She said she was bruised and that she spent days in the hospital.

Two months later she said an activist group, NOPRIN Foundation, petitioned the Lagos State Police Commissioner on her behalf, seeking justice. The police did nothing about it.

NSCDC reacts

However, The Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps, a paramilitary agency of the federal government of Nigeria, which is saddled with the responsibility of overseeing the running and control of private security guards, said it is a violation of country’s law for academic institutions to arm their security guards.

The spokesperson for the corps, Emmanuel Okeh, told this newspaper that it was illegal for private security guards to carry arms, whether light or not.

“Since 2005, when the NSCDC took over the regulation, monitoring, registration, training and licensing of the guards companies, for you to operate a private guard company in Nigeria, you must have a registered company and be a member of an association of private guards operators with retired personnel either from the armed forces or paramilitary agency who will stand for the board of directors.

“Even if a school intends to operate a private guard company, the company must be registered with CAC and we would ensure that their articles of association and memorandum of understanding do not negate things that are outside the scope of operation. Even the Nigerian Army had to register a company to engage their retired officers as private security guards. The leather school in Zaria also came recently to do the same. So, the verdict is that any guard company carrying arms is illegal. They are not licensed to do so.”

If that is so, then other schools are in breach of the law. The Lagos State University (LASU), Ojo, is also guarded by armed private guards named “campus marshal.”

The university’s vice-chancellor, Olanrewaju Fagbohun, told PREMIUM TIMES its guards are retired soldiers, trained to carry arms. He said the tradition dated back years.

He said; “The university was at a point in the late ‘90s/early 2000 under serious threat and attacks by cultists, so much that members of staff and innocent students were faced with a threat to their lives. No day goes by without rival cultists engaging in a serious fight with the use of sophisticated weapons.

“The management of Professor Abisogun Leigh after making serious efforts to curb these activities without success resolved to engage retired members of the armed forces to take charge of the security unit to match the cultists and properly secure lives and properties. The university also secured license from the police for the use of guns before purchases were made, and this decision and other steps were some of the reasons our campuses are free from cult wars today.”

The NSCDC spoksperson, Mr Okeh, said his organisation had engaged the schools and various other institutions on this in the past, and vowed that those who flout the law would be made to face the law.

Security experts corroborate NSCDC

The duo of Yusuf Anas, a retired Air Commodore, and Davidson Akhimen- the National President of the Association of Licensed Private Security Practitioners of Nigeria (ALPSPN), the umbrella body of all registered and licensed private security companies in Nigeria, have linked the institutions’ actions to the proliferation of arms and ammunition in the country.

They said the purchase of arms and ammunition is a function of government, saying statutorily, either the military or paramilitary organisations such as police, civil defence, customs or immigration are allowed to bear arms.

“Private security organisations whether headed by retired army general or anyone, are not allowed to carry arms. There are even certain security items which are not necessarily arms that an institution may want to purchase, they need to apply through the office of the National security adviser for permission,” they said.

They added that licences obtained from police are simply for guns meant for gaming, and not for security operation.

Call for fresh prosecution

The Joint Action Front, a coalition of labour unions and civil societies, has demanded fresh probe into the matter, accusing the polytechnic management of instituting a violent reign of terror on the campus.

The group’s secretary, Abiodun Aremu, said the late Ahmed’s murder was avoidable and condemnable.

He said; “The murder of the innocent student, and others make the authoritarian rector of the polytechnic criminally culpable. Ahmed’s murder was a product of a vindictive LASPOTECH academic environment that is militarised with armed bands to repress perceived enemies of the rector and unleash unwarranted violence against hapless members (students and staff) of the academic community.

“Also, the deliberate failure by the police authority and the government to bring to a criminal prosecution the arrested suspect and the polytechnic authority as the accomplice to the murder is worrisome and despicable. Therefore, JAF will not relent in its demand for justice to be done on the murder case.”

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