News of the gruesome murder of Ogbe Onapkite, a young politician, a political activist and the candidate of the Citizens Peoples Party (CPP) in the Delta State 2007 and 2011 gubernatorial elections came to many as a rude shock. In fact, to many keen watchers of political events in Delta State particularly since the advent of democracy in 1999, this latest killing, albeit one too many, did not come as a surprise. It followed a pattern of sustained and ruthless persecution of the states’ leading political figures like Chief Great Ogboru especially shortly after major elections by the state, the PDP and some faceless security agents.
The fact is that political killings and senseless framing of perceived political enemies of the political establishment in the state, for bogus criminal offences, have long become a disturbing permanent feature of the state’s politics. But Onopkite’s murder was more painful in view of the fact of the deceased’s relative youthfulness and his determined contribution to the fierce struggle to liberate the state from the clutches of the desperate oligarchy and its insensitive foot-soldiers.
In the context of inexplicably despicable persecution of political opponents in Delta State by the PDP and its leadership, Chief Ogboru had emerged luckier than many like Ogbe Onopkite. Ogboru had managed, thus far, to escape evil plots of the PDP to either get him arrested and imprisoned over frivolous charges or murdered by unknown gunmen.
This explains why Ogboru has always cautiously moved around the state especially after elections. These tactical retreats to ensure his personal safety and sustained leadership of the political struggle in the state have often earned him the tag of an absentee politician by his opponents. The idea here is to ridiculously brand him an uncommitted political leader that is always leaving his supporters in the lurch once elections are concluded.
Since the 2003 governorship election which Ogboru arguably won but was denied victory, the PDP have always gone to town to project Ogboru as dangerous, violent and desperate. Immediately the initial announcement of his victory was made on the radio leading to wild jubilation across the state, Ogboru was declared wanted by the police reportedly at the prompting of the then governor, the now disgraced James Ibori and Uduaghan’s master. At a stage, the police even gave a shoot-at-sight order against Ogboru.
After the 2007 governorship election, a murder change was also temporarily hung on Ogboru’s neck. In fact, many members of his family were hounded into detention at various prisons for this bogus murder charge for up to an excruciatingly painful period of about eight months. The few lucky ones had to flee the country. The idea was to distract him from pursuing justice legitimately in the courts. Fortunately, the court eventually ruled only last year and cancelled the so called election. This was after Uduaghan had illegally spent three and a half years in office as governor.
2011 elections, that is, both the court ordered re-run and the April 26 governorship elections, witnessed the same mess. There were plans to get Ogboru arrested for imaginary electoral offences and perceived secrete plots to disturb the peace. This hit a climax when, shortly after INEC awarded Uduaghan an underserved victory, the signals came that either Ogboru or Tony Nyiam, his friend and supporter, was going to be arrested dead or alive.
Ogboru was then holed up in his village, Abraka, contemplating the next move after INEC had robbed him of victory yet again. A day earlier, he had visited the commissioner of police and the state director of SSS to rub minds with them on the best way forward. The next day, which was a Saturday, he had held meetings with party members to appeal for peace and brief them on his legal plans to regain his mandate. While advising party members to be calm, patient and to keep the peace, he had assured them of his victory at the courts.
But the atmosphere in Abraka changed dramatically the next day which was a Sunday. On that fateful day, the town was as serene as ever. The night before, there were no signs of any impending confusion and a desperate state of panic that engulfed Ogboru’s household. Warning calls had come very early in the morning from various reliable quarters warning him of his imminent arrest later that day. The plan was for the security agents to allegedly seize him dead or alive.
Ogboru immediately summoned his advisers to discuss the threat of arrest and to seek a way out. Calls were then made to relevant authorities within and outside the state to determine the authenticity of these claims. The calls confirmed that an order for the arrest had been made as there were bogus intelligent reports suggesting that Ogboru, together with his supporters, was conniving with some militants to set the state on fire. Of course, this was not true and it was immediately seen as part of the usual classical plot by the PDP to call the dog a bad name in order to hang it. The rest today is history.
Onopkite embodied the undying spirit of today’s progressive Deltans most of whom are the energetic youths clamouring for progressive change in the state. He was, arguably, in the vanguard of the state-wide effort to liberate the state and to set it on the true democratic path of socio, economic and political progress.
In the thinking of a young Deltan who, in a media report, was responding to the news of Onapkite’s murder, the police’s handling of the murder of Ogbe was suspect. The police had uncharacteristically addressed a special press conference to announce Ogbe’s death while simultaneously deploying armoured vehicles to forestall possible disturbance of the peace in Warri.
“Police often kill criminals in Warri and environs without special press conferences and I wonder why this case (Onopkite) required a special briefing by the CP (Commissioner of Police). Also interesting is the speed, not only of the shooting and bleeding to death of the “suspect”, but also the uncharacteristic quick response of armoured cars patrolling Warri/Effurun streets, perhaps, even before Mr. Ogbe allegedly gave up the ghost. It is this unnatural “pre-emptive efficiency” of the law enforcements that is mind boggling……everything so synchronized and perfect…..even up to the stories by the main press…….just too perfect for comfort!”
While calling on human rights agencies the world over to show interest in the brutal killing of Onopkite, an online group, Liberate Delta People’s Movement, argued that the killing was politically motivated especially if considered against the backdrop of the fact that the state was preparing for local elections. The group wondered why Onapkite was murdered shortly after regaining his freedom from prison.
“We do not want to see the return of these kinds of killings to our state. This is somebody who was in prison and freed only recently. If what is reported is true, that he was arrested, then we do not expect the police to take the law into their own hands. There must be full transparency in examining this incidence and the Delta State police can no longer be in charge of the investigations. It is true that Uduaghan’s administration has been issuing threats against the opposition in the state and against citizens like me who are calling for accountability and the restoration of the people’s mandate. This is completely unacceptable,” declared Cadre Drake, the group’s spokesperson.
Dr Otive Igbuzor, a member of the Police Service Commission, (PSC), has also condemned what is now generally regarded as the cold blooded murder of Ogbe Onapkite saying it was totally unacceptable. He explained that the gruesome murder was not in line with the federal government’s concept of modern policing which frowns at extra judicial killing. He then gave assurances no guilty police officer would escape due punishment.
Speaking at a recent event in Ughelli, as reported by the media, Dr Igbuzor had declared that ‘’In any modern society there are ways of dealing with any person who is alleged to be a criminal, extra judicial killing has no place in modern society and killing of anybody outside the law is condemnable and unacceptable.”
Stressing the need for Deltans to keep the peace but also to organise to effect political change, he added: ‘’Generally, I will advise Deltans that there is too much agonizing in the land, everywhere in the world people are struggling for change. Deltans should organize for radical change. They should not wait till 2015 and begin to run around. The time to start organizing for radical change in Delta is now. Deltans have suffered enough”.
Continuing, he said “Delta has degenerated from being on the top to being at the bottom, for some of us who have seen Delta at the top it is unacceptable, for every two patriotic Deltan, degeneration in the past 12 years is unacceptable. We must mobilize and organize for radical change in Delta.”
What gave room to the pervasive suspicion of state complicity in the murder of Ogbe Onopkite was his well documented running battle with the state and particularly the key elements in the ruling party in the state. An eye witness account even talked of a constant call to an Excellency for instructions by the killers while they carried out their dastardly act. There were also well publicised previous attempts to lock-up or rather intimidate Ogbe Onapkite during the April polls with a view to drastically reducing his perceived influence in Uvwie. He was eventually detained.
What informed this suspicion of state complicity in this gruesome murder? Or rather, what made Ogbe the enfant terrible In Delta politics? Political observers in the state believed that Ogbe played significant role in ensuring the victory of the main opposition candidate in Uvwie. In the political language in Nigeria, Ogbe Onokpite, delivered his Uvwie Local government, hitherto a predominantly PDP enclave to great Ogboru’s DPP. Ogbe may not be entirely responsible for DPP’s electoral success in Uvwie given Ogboru’s tremendous popularity, but he worked with the youths and his own supporters to frustrate the PDP’s rigging plans.
DPP’s candidate, Oforbruku, defeated the PDP’s candidate, Ighrakpata, to emerge a member of the Delta State House of Assembly. Ovwie also voted massively for Ogboru in the governorship election by giving him over 38,000 votes as against Uduaghan’s 6,000 votes. In fact, Onapkite, who was decked in a resplendent white robe, was very visible when Ogboru visited the palace in Uvwie during the campaign for the April election. He also mounted the rostrum in Jesse and other places to openly declare his support for Ogboru.
During the campaigns leading to the April 26 governorship election, Ogbe seized every opportunity to announce his disdain for Uduaghan. He campaigned vigorously for his removal explaining to whoever cared to know why Uduaghan should not return as governor. He never for once displayed any doubts about Deltans particularly the youths’ ability to stall Uduaghan’s plans to return to office as governor.
Onopkite’s deft but audacious political moves earned him the rebuke and palpable hatred of the PDP leadership and its goons in the state. This in a way, culminated in his arrest and detention in April at Okere Maximum prison, Warri allegedly on the orders of Uduaghan for over two months.
The question now is how many people would have to die before justice prevails in Delta? When will Delta be free? Will Onopkite’s killers be brought to justice or rather will Onopkite’s family get justice and see that his killers are punished? Time will tell. But what is clear is that Onopkite will go down in history as one of the brave young Deltans who sacrificed their lives for the benefit of the hapless people of the state. A warning though to his killers: today’s good judgement might turn out to be tomorrow’s regrettable error.