Suspects linked to mob killing of 16-year-old released without trial

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Seven months after the gruesome mob killing of a teenager in Cross River State, PUNCH Investigations report how the state government inaction, police continued feigned ignorance of the incident and its alleged complicity appeared to have muffled a mother’s desperate cries for justice. TESSY IGOMU writes

On Friday, November 19, 2021, 16-year-old, Anthony Okpahefufe, was subjected to the most unimaginable inhumane treatment before being burnt to death in Alifokpe Yache, a community in the Yala Local Government Area of Cross River State, by irate youths that wrongly accused him of a crime.

The teenager, who was living with his grandmother, was not given the opportunity to prove his innocence and had an iron inserted into his anal part before being set ablaze.

More than seven months after the gruesome act, it seemed his distraught mother’s earlier fears that the case might go cold and into oblivion like many others in the country, is being confirmed.

This is because those saddled with the responsibilities to ensure that the alleged killers of the teenager are brought to book appeared to be indifferent.

It was reliably gathered that all the suspects arrested by police officers attached to the Area Command in Ogoja, were allegedly released without being charged to court.

PUNCH Investigations on Sunday, December 26, 2021, published how young Okpahefufe, a secondary school student, was beaten to a pulp and dragged to the market square almost naked and dehumanised.

His case was used to chronicle Nigeria’s barbaric culture of mob lynching, also known as ‘Jungle Justice.’

According to Okpahefufe’s mother, Pauline Eromosele, the deceased was accused of being friends to two teenagers that allegedly robbed a grocery store at the time he was at home helping his grandmother, Helen Ibu.

Pauline claimed that the mob was led by the grocery store owner (name withheld), who insisted on having him killed because the alleged thieves were Okpahefufe’s friends.

PUNCH Investigations reported that despite pleas from the teenager’s grandmother to spare his life, the mob wrapped Okpahefufe and the two unnamed young men in petrol-soaked tyres and set them ablaze.

It was also reported that the perpetrators never left the scene until the bodies were burnt beyond recognition.

The inhumane and illegal action of the mob was perpetrated without the intervention of the police, as findings showed that though Alifokpe Yache has a police post, it has no police presence. This was also the same for the eight surrounding communities.

The closest security presence, which is the Yala Police Division, was quite a distance from the scene of the incident.

The priest in charge of Mater Ecclesiee Catholic Church, Alifokpe Yache, Patrick Orem, who witnessed the incident, said Okpahefufe’s death was quite unfortunate.

He said, “I was shaving around 6 pm when a parishioner came to tell me that some thieves were caught in the market. I thought it was a minor case. Around 9 pm, someone came to tell me that two of the thieves had been killed and that the youth were about to kill the third. I quickly dressed up and went to intervene as a concerned cleric. I didn’t want any other life to be wasted.

“To my greatest shock, I saw the corpse of two young boys, and Anthony was one of them. When the remaining boy saw me, it was like hope rekindled. He held my garments with his bloodied hands and begged for his life to be spared. I pleaded and preached to the angry youths to leave him, but they refused.

“They told me to go to my house and that the place was not a church. The boy was clinging to me, and they were dragging him. I appealed to them to take the case to the elders, and they asked me if it was the elders that told the boys to steal.”

Grandma allegedly tricked to sign release document

While speaking with PUNCH Investigations, Pauline accused police officers from the Ogoja Area Command of compromising investigations into the case.

She revealed that her mother (Okpahefufe’s grandmother) was tricked into signing a strange document, despite knowing that she was uneducated. She noted that the arrested suspects were released after their visit to her mother.

She recounted, “They went to my village with the shop owner’s brother. They met with my mother and tricked her into signing a paper. My mother is not educated. She doesn’t know anything. She was told that they were police officers from Calabar that came to carry out investigations and that my mother should sign a paper to acknowledge that they came.

“My mother told them that she was not educated and can’t even hold a pen. They told her not to worry that her thumbprint would serve the same purpose. They put ink on one of her fingers and used it to thumbprint the document.”

Asked if there was no family member around that could have read and translated the content of the document, Pauline said the police officers rebuffed an attempt made by her uncle to stand in.

Pauline added, “The police officers sent my uncle away and said they wanted to have a conversation with only my mother. They lied to her that they came to investigate the case and left immediately after she signed the document.’’

Suspects released without trial

Pauline claimed that the three suspects arrested by the police in connection with her son’s murder were released without her knowledge.

Commissioner of Police, Cross River, Aminu Alhassan

She alleged that the store owner, who is the third of the trio, was released on Wednesday, January 19, 2022, three weeks after his arrest.

The distraught mother, who from all indications was still mourning the death of her firstborn, claimed that she was compelled by the police to pay N7, 000 for the feeding of her alleged son’s killers.

“They released them. They said they can’t keep them for more than two weeks. The men are no longer in the village,” she said tearfully.

Pauline said when the case was transferred to the State Police Command in Calabar, the Investigating Police Officer, Eteng Daniel, called to demand money to rent a van that would convey some policemen to her village to conduct investigations.

“The IPO called, telling me to mobilise them. I have no money. I have exhausted money and even every atom of strength left in me,” she said as tears streamed down her face.

However, when the IPO, Daniel, was contacted by PUNCH Investigations, he denied demanding money from Pauline.

He explained that he only told Pauline that she would have to come down to Cross River and take them to the village for proper investigations.

Daniel said, “That is not true. The only thing that I told her was that we were looking for a way to visit her village and that if she is able to assist, well and good, but if she can’t, she should direct us to somebody that we can meet.’’

The IPO, however, refused to give an update on the case, noting that he was no longer in charge.

“I am no longer on the case. It has not been transferred, it is still at the State Criminal Investigation and Intelligence Department in Ogoja,” he revealed.

Asked if the case had been assigned to another IPO, he claimed not to be aware.

Daniel admitted going to the village to obtain statements from Okpahefufe’s grandmother while working on the case.

“When I went to the scene of the crime with other officers, I saw where they buried the remains of the deceased. I also saw the aged mother and obtained her statement. Those that we saw said anytime they come across those involved, they will let us know,” Daniel said.

Okpahefufe’s grandmother now hypertensive

Since the killing of Okpahefufe, his grandmother, having witnessed the barbaric act, has not recovered from the shock.

Pauline revealed that due to the trauma, her mother developed a debilitating health condition – hypertension.

Recall that on the day of the incident, Helen (Okpahefufe’s grandmother) was beaten and stripped naked by the mob as they tried to take her grandson away.

Pauline said, “She was just discharged from the hospital. Since the incident took place, she has been in and out of the hospital because of high blood pressure.”

She noted that due to the illness, she was forced to relocate the elderly woman to Lagos for proper medical treatment.

Speaking with our correspondent, the frail-looking elderly woman confirmed that her health took a turn for the worse after her grandson’s death.  As Helen struggled to control her emotion, she lamented that the police were unable to get justice for Okpahefufe.

“They release them o. All of them don run away.  I come dey sick. I don get hypertension wey I no get before,” she blurted in smattering English.

State police command dismissive

When PUNCH Investigations contacted the spokesperson for the state police command, Irene Ugbo, she claimed not to be aware of it.

It is worthy that seven months back, she promised to call the Divisional Police Officer of the Yala LGA, to get comprehensive information and promised to get back to our correspondent. But she did not.

Reminded of her promise, she still feigned ignorance, adding that many people call her daily.

She added, “Last year? I am not aware. Many people call me every day. I wouldn’t know the call you are talking about.’’

Our correspondent further inquired from Irene if she would look into the case and give an update, she said dismissively, “I have a lot of things that I am doing. I am not aware. There is no way I can find out something I am not aware of.”

Govt’s alleged inaction

The Cross River State Government which described Okpahefufe’s killing as horrifying and detestable, and promised to ensure that justice was served, also refused to give an update on the incident.

Cross River Governor Ben Ayade

The Deputy Chief Press Secretary to Governor Ben Ayade, Linus Obogo, when contacted at the time, said the government was unaware of the incident.

He, however, promised to ensure that detailed investigation was carried out to ensure that those involved face the full wrath of the law.

He said, “Until you brought it to our attention, we didn’t know such a heinous act of jungle justice ever took place. That being said, the government will swing into action to find out what led to the commission of the dastardly act and ensure that those behind it are held to account. There is no way the government will allow people to take the law into their own hands to perpetrate criminality.

“It is quite sad, horrifying and detestable and we abhor such gruesome resort to barbarism and primitivism. We will stop at nothing to get to the root of the matter and deal with the situation to ensure such acts of hooliganism don’t recur in future. No one has the right to take the life of his fellow man, no matter the provocation.”

Contacted to find out steps taken by the state government on the matter, Obogo refused to comment and referred our correspondent to the Special Adviser to the Governor on Security, Alfred Mboto.

As of the time of filing this report, Mboto had yet to respond to calls and text messages sent to his mobile.

Like many other victims of mob violence in Nigeria, the family of Okpahefufe, with bated breath, await a justice that seemed to have been stalled by the police inaction and silence of the state government saddled with the responsibilities of investigating crime, and protecting lives and property. ,

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