The victim was allegedly killed.
Maria Hunkpoyanhua is 40, although the wrinkles around her eyes push her age two decades further. And when she talks about how she has been coping with her five children after the death of her husband, a subtle mask struggles to hold her face from dissolving into grief.
“All my children are no longer going to school because there is no money to send them to school,” Mrs. Hunkpoyanhua said.
In the morning of July 21, armed police officers attached to the Lagos State Task Force stormed Makoko, in the company of officials of the state’s Ministry of Waterfront Infrastructure Development, to begin the demolition of homes built on the lagoon.
Mrs. Hunkpoyanhua’s husband, Timothy, and five community members, raced, in a canoe, towards the site of the demolition to beg the officials to stop as there were children asleep in some of the shanties.
As they approached, one of the police officers opened fire on them; a bullet pierced Timothy’s lower abdomen and he bled to death.
An autopsy report on the cause of death released nine days later stated that the community leader “died of disruption of mesenteric vessels and gunshot injury to the abdomen.”
Living off Handouts
The Egun community established itself in Makoko back in the 18th century, primarily as a fishing village.
Prior to his death, Timothy, 50, whose corpse still lies at the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital’s mortuary, used the proceeds of his fishing activity to cater for his four wives and 26 children.
The third wife, Mrs. Hunkpoyanhua, said that the entire family had been living off handouts from other family members after her husband’s death.
“We have not done anything since my father died,” said 28 year old Isaac Hunkpoyanhua, son of the late community leader, who spoke through an interpreter.
Francis Agoyon, head of Egun chiefs in Yaba local council, said that their tradition requires that the wives and children remain at home until their head is laid to rest.
“The wives they will not go to market, the sons they will not go to fishing because our method in Egun land is if somebody dies and has never been buried; you don’t go anywhere,” Mr. Agoyon said.
The family is also expected to observe a one year period wherein they would not engage in any form of economic activity, according to Emmanuel Hagbe, the President of Fishermen and Fish sellers in Makoko.
“The wives and children will not anything for one year because he died a violent death,” said Mr. Hagbe.
“It is the community that has been supporting them. Government has not given a kobo,” Mr. Hagbe added.
Three weeks ago, the state government invited the community leaders to a meeting.
Mr. Hagbe said that when the meeting began, they were “surprised” at the agenda being discussed.
“Instead of telling us how to take care of the burial of the man they killed and his wives and children; they were saying that they want to demolish the whole structures on water.
“We are 100 metres away from power line now. Yet they are still calling us to say they’ll demolish,” Mr. Hagbe said.
Killer cop not prosecuted
Two days after their houses were destroyed and their chief murdered in cold blood; thousands of Makoko residents trooped to the state government’s secretariat to protest the “injustice.”
Last week, after a meeting at the Lagos State Police Headquarters, community leaders who were in attendance said that they were worried that the killer cop, identified as Corporal Boma Peddle, has not been prosecuted.
“At the (police) headquarters, they asked us to write another statement. I thought after we’d written the first one months ago, they’d charge him to court. Now I don’t know what will happen,” said Steven Aji, a community leader.
“The police don’t want us to know what is going on. Maybe they are waiting for us to forget so they’d free him,” Mr. Aji added.
PREMIUM TIMES learnt that the police just commenced an orderly room trial – an internal trial procedure to determine whether the officer violated any police procedure during the incident – days ago.
Felix Muoka, the community’s legal adviser, said that the delay would “hopefully” ensure a thorough police investigation.
“In fairness to the police, the investigation has been going on. They have been interrogating a lot of witnesses,” said Mr. Muoka, Executive Director, Social and Economic Rights Action Centre, SERAC.
“Yes, they’ve taken some time and we are concerned about the delay, but at the same time we are also hoping that the investigation is thorough so that should charges be preferred against this officer; we don’t run any risk of having any sort of difficulty in the prosecution,” he said.
Mr. Muoka said that SERAC is monitoring the police investigations “vigorously to make sure nothing is swept under the carpet.”
“We are also pressuring the police to accelerate this investigation so hopefully the family can get a closure on this issue,” he added.
After the death of Timothy last July, Umar Manko, the state’s Police Commissioner, paid the deceased family a condolence visit.
Mr. Hagbe, a son-in-law to the deceased, said the police boss promised to “give whatever he has” to the family whenever the burial of their breadwinner holds.
“I can tell you categorically that the Lagos State Government has been completely indifferent and nonchalant to the suffering of members of this family,” Mr. Muoka said.
“At least the Commissioner of Police offered a public apology, he visited the family and he apologized to them for the incident.
“The Lagos State government, on the other hand, that was the initiator and executor of the demolition that resulted in the death of this individual have not deemed it fit to even express any sort of sympathy,” said Mr. Muoka.
He alleged that Bayo Suleiman, the head of the Task Force, rather than be sorry for what his members did continued to threaten the community with demolition.
At their last meeting with the state government officials, the community representatives were told that that would be their last meeting with them before they begin another demolition of their homes.
Mrs. Hunkpoyanhua said that although some members of their family had relocated to Badagry, she’d rather live in Makoko.
“I used to go and visit them (at Badagry) but this is where I want to stay,” she said. “Now I’ve heard that they (government officials) are coming back (to demolish), I am afraid.”