© 2019 - International Centre for Investigative Reporting
Finding Alex killers: Police deny murder of journalist, but there is a gap in their explanation
ON a normal day, Berger Roundabout in Abuja is a beehive of activities, but it was unusually quiet on Tuesday 14, January.
A lifeless body lay on the hot asphalt—another journalist has been killed. Alexandra Ogbu, lay unmoving on the floor in the pool of his own blood with a gorge at the back of his head.
Minutes before his untimely demise, Alex, 50, was among the commuters waiting to make a dash for the next taxi leaving for Bwari- one of the satellite towns surrounding the city centre of the Federal Capital.
But the traffick was slow that day because of the gridlock caused by the procession of over 200 Shiite angry protesters, all dressed in black. They have taken up the major part of the road, therefore making traffick to drag.
Like many of their previous procession, the Shiites were again demanding the release of their spiritual leader Sheik Ibrahim El Zakzaky.
Ogbu, a journalist with an Abuja publication, RegentAfrica Times journalist, was returning from official engagements at the National Automobile Technician Association (NATA) and was heading home to meet his wife and two-year-old daughter.
He never made it home for he was caught in the melee of the day, and before he could make it to safety, Ogbu was allegedly gunned down by security operatives.
A widow’s pain
“Do you know Alexandra Ogbu? He is dead, come to the police station.” In these exact words, the police broke the sad news of Alex passing to his wife over the phone. A police officer had just requested her presence at the Utako Police station.
She would later find out that her husband’s corpse was dumped at the Abuja National Hospital morgue.
In her fragile state, Francesca embarked on the one hour journey down to the police station with her daughter strapped to her back.
“I needed to confirm for myself that I was now a widow. I knew he was supposed to make a detour to the bank on his way home,” she said struggling to recollect the last scene between and her and her late husband.
Francisca told The ICIR how the police were spinning lies to exonerate themselves as perpetrators of the act.
The police first said he was an accident victim because he felled and cracked his head open on the roadside pavement. At another time, they insinuated he was a Shitte apologist.
“The police killed my husband and they are trying to make it seem okay with this story of a fall.”
She re-enacted the shock that overwhelmed her when she eventually saw the man who said goodbye to her hours earlier, now lay dead. “The corpse I saw yesterday had a wound on the forehead and a sharp exit on the back of his skull with brain matters already spilling out,” she said.
“That is not the kind of wound you get from a fall. The story of the police that he struck his head on exposed screws from a streetlight is hogwash.”
The secondary school teacher insisted that it was the impact of a bullet that brought her husband down. “I think that was when he got the second bruise few inches above his neck,” she said.
The police deposited Alex at the morgue as a victim of motor accident, but the autopsy eventually showed that the claim is false.
“Why would they lie like that?” said the grieving woman.
With varying stories trailing the death of her husband, she asked for an autopsy to be conducted.
“I am doing this not just for my own closure but for my daughter’s too. This is for another helpless mother out there. It is me today but it could be anyone tomorrow.
“My husband fought for the truth and I doing everything by the books so the truth would be revealed,” Francisca said while her baby, oblivious to what was going on around her, made funny faces at her mother while she played with a yellow toy.
The ICIR investigates
On Tuesday, The ICIR reporter visited the scene of the incident. Crippled with anxiety and fear of possible government or police reprisals, many that witnessed the 21 January incident would rather keep mum than risk police brutality or punishment from authorities for speaking out.
But Raphael Aturu, a roadside bookseller at Berger who witnessed the incident was willing to speak to THE ICIR.
Aturu was angry that the police authorities denied the actual cause of Alex death when it was obvious that he was fell by the bullets of their men.
“I don’t know why they are denying it, but we saw it,” an agitated Aturu narrated. A bullet hit him where he was standing over there. “We saw him go down by the sidewalk,” he insisted.
The bookseller told the reporter although his eyes were hurting from the canisters of teargas release by the security officials, they had seen what happened from a distance.
Aturu’s description of Alex’s injuries, while he lay on the pavement, matched Francisca’s.
B.R. Ihesiaba, one of the policemen who dispersed the protesters on the day Alex was killed
During the short interview between Aturu and the ICIR reporter, an officer in camouflage uniform walked down to the stall.
“Do you have a Penal code?” the policeman asked the bookseller.
“What about the Constitution,” he asked without waiting for an answer.
After a few minutes of scanning through the arrays of books on display, the officer who The ICIR identified as B.R Ihesiaba from the name tag on his uniform, bargained for a brown Bible which he had selected from the stack of books on the makeshift table.
According to eyewitness accounts, the police officer was part of the response team that violently dispelled the protesters at Berger Roundabout the previous week that led to the death of the late journalist.
The ICIR gathered that the Shiites carried out their protest at the popular junction every Tuesday and that was the reason why the police were back a week later.
An unfortunate incident
The death of Alex in Berger junction meant it was within the jurisdiction of Utako Police Division to investigate before properly depose of Alex’s body.
The ICIR reporter attempts to speak to Anthony Osaigbovo, the Investigation Police Officer (IPO), Utako Police Division who was in charge of the investigation, removal, and dispatch of the deceased corpse from the scene, but the officer declined to comment.
Instead, he directed the reporter to the office of the Commands Public Relations Officer.
When contacted Anjuguri Manzah, FCT Police PRO on 28 January only provided a press release which he said was made public by the police about the death of the journalist.
The 122 words press statement titled “Police Restores Calm at Berger Round-About After Violent Protesters By Proscribed IMN Members”, described the death of the journalist as “an unfortunate incident” but did not say the cause of death.
During the brief phone conversation with Manzah, he also declined to comment on the cause of death as revealed by the autopsy report.
“Please Ma I cannot talk to you about that matter. The police commissioner has already directed that an investigation be carried out, that is all, for now, please,” he retorted.
The ICIR visited the male unit at the National Trauma Centre in Abuja where Mohammed, an officer of the Vehicle Inspection Service, (VIS), was also admitted.
Mohammed was shot in the leg during the protest but little was reported about him because the police press statement omitted him.
On arrival, Mohammed, as he was identified by a nurse at the Male Unit of the centre, had left the hospital a day before with the metal rod inserted in his legs after surgery.
But Shola Akingboye, Publisher, RegentAfrica Times Magazine, where the late Alex was an editor provided more information about the second victim.
The publisher was the only journalist who was allowed access by the hospital PRO to speak to the injured man, unfortunately, the pressman couldn’t even get close enough to him to get a name or his accounts of the incident.
The officer fiercely shielded by family members—especially his father made sure the mission was futile.
The father insisted that as a government employee he has nothing to say to avoid jeopardising his chances of receiving medical care.
Meanwhile, Akingboye’s narrated to the reporter that the aged father of Mohammed in a fit of anger revealed that his son like the dead journalist could have been resting in the morgue save for his son’s insistence that he was an officer with the government vehicle inspection service.
The publisher said the father claimed a police officer pointed a gun at his son to kill his son even after he was shot on the leg. Fortunately, the injured VIO pleas that he was a government official saved him his life.
Birth of Shiites protests
The Islamic Movement of Nigeria was founded about four decades ago, inspired by the Iranian Revolution, the group consists majorly of Shitte Muslims.
The group has protested over 500 times both in the North and in the Federal Capital Territory persistently clamouring for the release of their spiritual leader Sheik Ibrahim El Zakzaky after a clash between members of the group and the Nigeria Army in Kaduna that led to the of death of over 300 Shitte members,
Five years after his arrest, El Zakzaky has remained in the custody of the State Security Services.
Despite a court order by Justice Gabriel Kolawole on 2 December 2016, instructing the federal government to release El-Zakzaky and his wife within 45 days from the judgment day, the Federal Government has refused to let him go.
In 2019, after series of warnings and bans prohibiting the group from protesting, President Mohammadu Buhari proscribed the group as a terrorist group after the deaths of another journalist Precious Owolabi, of Channels TV who was also shot while covering one of the protests in Abuja.
But the group has not stopped the street protest.
“The fact that the government has proscribed us does not mean that we will stop protesting. Our leader has remained locked behind bars and thousands of our brothers missing while many languish in detention centres,” said Ibrahim Musa, Spokesperson of the IMN in an interview with The ICIR.
Musa insisted that the death of the journalist was not their burden to bear.
“Who had the guns, who was shooting? It is the police that killed him,” said Musa referring to late Alex. “We don’t carry arms during protests or engage in any form of vandalism,” he insisted.
Musa told THE ICIR that every member of the group was willing to pay whatever sacrifice necessary if that was the only means to securing the release of El Zakzaky who had already lost his sons to the struggle.
“If you are in a struggle, you know the consequences. You die getting what you want which is justice.”
Evidence and truth: No middle ground
Francisca could only obtain the death certificate of her husband on 7th February, after a two-week wait. It was the same day her late husband was buried.
“I have the birth certificate and the cause of death, which according to the findings of the autopsy, is gunshot wound(GSW). I am going to bury my husband today. That is all I want to do for today,” Francisca said.
Although the medical evidence proves that the late journalist was killed by a gunshot, the road to getting justice for the deceased might not be a clean-cut one despite evidence at hand.
According to a lawyer who spoke to The ICIR, anonymously, if Francsica decides to launch a prosecution action against the police, it would fall on the litigant to prove that the bullet retrieved from the dead was actually fired by the police.
He said the Nigerian police system does not operate stringent documentation of ammunition and projectiles, therefore to determine who fired the gun would be hard if not impossible.
“Unfortunately, because Nigeria operates an acquisitional system of law instead of an inquisitorial this means that if the defendant can make a better case or if there is any cause to doubt the case of the plaintiff, the case might not be ruled in favour of the complainant.”
Nonetheless, he noted that the case could also favour the complainant if circumstances surrounding the incident was investigated and it is ascertained that security operatives were acting within the line of duty and their presence at the scene was legal “then the right thing would be for the government to take responsibility for the action”.
Abdul Mahmud, also a lawyer argued that based on eyewitness testimonies that placed the police on the scene and the only party in possessions of guns, the complainant has a case to make.
“Even without bullets registered, the Nigerian police have types that are their’s and it can be identified that it belongs to them,” he said.