“Aunty, I’m not coming to school tomorrow. The police killed my father.”
– Emmanuel Jumbo-Ochigbo
When six-year-old Emmanuel Jumbo-Ochigbo got into the blue-coloured Golf hatchback to school in the morning of Wednesday, March 20, it was like any other day – bright and sunny.
Emmanuel jumped into the back seat where his mum, Ada, was carrying his younger brother, Daniel, and the family set out on what was supposed to be a routine morning hustle, with Emmanuel’s father, Ogar, driving.
During the drive from new Nyanya, an Abuja suburb to Emmanuel’s school, Gloryland International School, Karu Site, if Emmanuel was thinking about anything other than school work, it was perhaps his younger brother, Daniel’s birthday.
Daniel was going to be three on Saturday, and the family had made plans to celebrate it.
“My husband had been quite busy lately,” Mrs. Jumbo-Ochigbo told me in tears at their home on Tuesday, “but he promised that we would be marking Daniel’s third birthday in a special way. We were preparing for it. Now he’s gone. They have killed him.”
Why? That’s the question that the Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, has to answer – and quickly.
That Wednesday morning, Jumbo-Ochigbo, 42, a two-star officer with the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps, had made a wrong U-turn in a hurry to get his wife and children to school – a 30-minute commute from his home in new Nyanya, which depending on traffic in the notorious Nyanya axis, could take up to one-and-a-half hours.
A traffic warden at the junction, simply described as Idoko, flagged down Jumbo-Ochigbo. He stopped the car but left the engine running while he tried to explain to the warden that he meant no disrespect but really could not afford any further delay.
As the conversation became heated, and other cars and a racket of okada zapped past the scene in the morning rush, Jumbo-Ochigbo who was dressed in his official pants and vest, turned off his car engine. That appeared to have annoyed Idoko, who saw Jumbo-Ochigbo’s action as proof of defiance. Idoko moved over to the driver’s side, fuming and charging with this baton.
A few metres away, another traffic warden was watching as a motley crowd of passersby gathered and what initially looked like a minor traffic obstruction was becoming a cauldron of chaos. The second traffic warden charged onto the scene, cursing the day the civil defence corps was created and railing against “the bunch of nuisance” who were now repaying all that the Nigeria Police had done for them by taking over their jobs.
Inter-service rivalry is not unusual. In the last three decades, for example, no fewer than 20 officers from the different services have lost their lives in deadly inter-service clashes, one of the worst being in Benin in February 2010, which claimed the lives of two soldiers and three mobile policemen and left dozens wounded.
If there had been any attempt over the years to close ranks, smoothen camaraderie and give the services a human face, such attempts (often stifled by ego and perceived unjustified differentiation in conditions of service) do not appear to have taken root. Eyewitness reports indicated that the traffic wardens’ comments against Jumbo-Ochigbo at the scene of the incident in Nyanya on Wednesday carried such deep-seated bile, it seemed both personal and institutional.
As the two traffic wardens dragged Jumbo-Ochigbo from his car beating him, they reminded him, amidst the relentless baton blows, that it is the police that trained members of the corps and police benevolence was being rewarded with stolen jobs and disrespect.
“I started to beg them,” his wife told me. “Me and my son, Emmanuel. We were begging them not to kill my husband. But they kept on beating him and saying they will drag him to the police station.”
I’ve met a few excellent policemen in my life and I still have a few as close friends. But last week was not one week I would have proudly said a policeman is my friend.
As the two wardens in Nyanya were beating Jumbo-Ochigba with batons and dragging him through the crowded, dusty street to the police station, another bizarre incident involving the police would play out two days later in Osun State.
A man had gone with few of his staff from Lagos to deliver small chops at a burial ceremony in a major town in Osun. On their way back, their vehicle broke down and they thought it was a good omen that it happened in front of a police station, where their safety was assured.
But they were wrong. Minutes after the breakdown, some policemen showed up and gave them an ultimatum to remove their vehicle. Appeals for a little more time to fix the vehicle fell on deaf ears and pronto, the policemen descended on them.
The distressed travellers got the beating of their lives and though the poor man leading them back to Lagos from the trip was lucky not to have lost his eyes, he might spend any profit he made from the business trip nursing himself.
That was on Friday in Osun State. Who knows where else this is happening now?
Back to Nyanya, Abuja. Jumbo-Ochigba’s wife and her six-year-old son pleaded in tears with the traffic wardens for mercy, but they were rebuffed as they followed the wardens forlornly all the way to the Nyanya Police station. At the station, DPO Igbekele Ogungbemi mocked the woman.
“The DPO said my husband was playing games,” Mrs. Jumbo-Ochigbo told me. “He said if they prick him with needle, he’ll wake up. But I could see that life was going out of him; that my husband was dying as they left him lying on the floor in the police station. The DPO was not interested.”
By the time DPO Ogunbemi relented and found a vehicle that had petrol to take Jumbo-Ochigba to the General Hospital Nyanya from where they referred him to the Asokoro General Hospital, it was too late. The man died.
The birthday planned for his three-year-old son, Daniel, on Saturday, was cancelled. The day after the tragic event Emmanuel told one of the teachers who came from Gloryland where his mother had been teaching for 15 years: “Aunty, I’m not coming to school tomorrow; the police killed my father.”
And it happened right before Emmanuel’s eyes: his father’s execution began on the street by policemen using batons and was finished off in the police station where no one cared to call the executioners to order. All in daylight.
On Wednesday when I saw Emmanuel playing a computer game as grief-stricken visitors huddled in their house in Nyanya, I wondered what the boy was thinking. How would he remember that Wednesday? What would he think of the police, and of Nigeria, many years from now?
And how could taking a wrong turn become a capital offence? In the FRSC regulation, the penalty for route violation is N5,000 and the worst penalty for any other category of traffic offence would not exceed N50,000 and/or two years’ imprisonment. How could a traffic warden beat a driver to death for a wrong turn and the DPO on whose watch it happened is walking free?
Former Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mohammed Adoke, reportedly said about seven years ago that the police alone had killed 7,108 persons extrajudicially in four years. Jumbo-Ochigba is not just another statistic. He was a husband and the father of two lovely boys – one six and the other three. He was devoted to his children and family.
He was the fifth surviving child in a family of eight, and it was only two years ago when he lost his father. His mother is alive and was immensely proud of his ABU-graduate son who recently took a Masters’ Degree before his promotion to two stars. Her misery is beyond words.
Jumbo-Ochigba’s neighbours also spoke of his sense of duty, his sacrifice and love of community. “Before you say anything about what we should do to improve this Zone 4, new Nyanya, Jumbo will be the first to answer the call,” one woman said in tears.
Will Ada, Jumbo-Ochigba’s wife of eight years and her two children get justice? Or will the IGP sweep it under the carpet and move on? Will this be the watershed moment when the services get a human face, and those who wield power – in and out of uniform – finally get it: that life, all life, matters?