There is currently confusion surrounding the custody of the four suspects linked with the murder of Olufunke Olakunrin, daughter of the 94-year-old leader of Afenifere, Reuben Fasoranti.
This is because the Nigerian Correctional Services has reportedly refused to admit them into custody based on the order of the court remanding them pending their trial.
The suspects were arrested by the police in April after several months of investigations by the security agency.
They are Lawal Mazaje from the Felele area of Kogi State, Adamu Adamu from Jada area of Adamawa State, Mohammed Usman from Illela area of Sokoto State, and Auwal Abubakar from Shinkafi area of Zamfara State.
Mrs Olakunrin was murdered in July last year in Ondo State by a gang of marauding gunmen.
Although they were said to be eight in number, only four of them were arrested and were on April 24, arraigned before the Chief Magistrate Court in Akure, the Ondo State capital.
They were promptly remanded in prison by the court at the Owo Correctional Centre, pending their trial but had to be tested for COVID-19.
The Ondo State Disease Control team carried out the test and one of them, Adamu Adamu, who tested positive for the virus.
He was isolated for treatment at the Infectious Disease Hospital in Akure where he was reported to have attempted an escape, but was prevented by the police.
Although he had been treated and along with his three accomplices, ready for a return to the correctional centre in Owo, prison officials have reportedly rejected them over COVID-19 fears.
The Ondo State Governor, Oluwarotimi Akeredolu, during his weekly COVID-19 briefing on Monday, expressed his fears on the refusal of the service to admit the suspects to remand after certifying they were free of the virus.
“Perhaps it is also important at this juncture to bring an update on the case of the four individuals who are suspects in the murder case of Mrs Funke Olakunri, the daughter of elder statesman, Pa Reuben Fasoranti,” he said.
“Upon the insistence by the Nigerian Correctional Services, the four suspects were presented for testing.
“Out of the four suspects, one immediately tested positive while three were held in quarantine pending the result of their tests. Eventually, the three tested negative to the two approved tests.
“The implication is that they were fit to be re-admitted into the correctional facility in furtherance of their trial.
“I have been briefed by the Hon Attorney General of the difficulty in having the authorities of the Nigerian Correctional Services take them into custody despite a court order to that effect.
“The implications of leaving murder suspects who are not under medical treatment at large can be better imagined.
“I hereby call on the authorities of the Nigeria Correctional Services to immediately receive the suspects into custody as directed by the law court.”
Despite the call by the governor, PREMIUM TIMES reliably gathered that the NCS is not in a hurry to admit the suspects immediately into the facility until clearance is received from the headquarters.
Sources close to the service indicates that an earlier order issued by the Ministry of Interior, cautioning against further taking into custody of inmates in the wake of the pandemic is the reason the Controller of the Ondo facility is hesitant.
It was also gathered that there are fears the bringing in of the suspects could expose the facility to the dreaded virus.
When PREMIUM TIMES reached out to the Controller of NCS is Ondo State, Suanu Kenane, on the phone, he refused to answer any question.
In a WhatsApp message to Mr Kenane, he was asked by the reporter to confirm the rejection of the suspects and give his reasons, but his response was a terse, “Is that so. Thanks and God bless.”
When further pressed to respond and told that the governor had already raised the issue, he said, “Is that so. Good night.”
Meanwhile, the police in Ondo State said they would keep the suspects until the NCS is prepared to remand them.
Tee Leo-Ikoro, the police public relations officer, told PREMIUM TIMES on Tuesday that it was the force’s responsibility to protect everyone and the suspects as well.
He said there was no major challenge in keeping them and they would be prepared to make them available when required.