How EndSARS protest turned us to widows
For the spouses of policemen who were murdered by the hoodlums who hijacked the peaceful protest targeted at ending police brutality, it is a case of who feels it knows it. Life for them will never be the same again with the loss of their heartthrobs in very gruesome circumstances. And now armed with #TIMETOSOROSOKETOO and #TIMETOSPEAKUPTOO, officers of Nigeria Police Force are resolute about speaking up for their rights rather than die in squalor, frustration, fears and tears. TAIWO ALIMI writes on a system that is making monsters of otherwise friendly individuals.
Wives of policemen murdered by hoodlums relive ugly experiences
…as Force members clamour for reforms, say we’re tired of living in squalor, frustration, fears and tears
Mrs. Feranmi Oladele could not place her feeling on the morning of October 20, 2020. It was all shrouded in apprehension, premonition and fear. Nevertheless, she warned her police husband not to report to station.
“That morning when he told me he was ready for work, I told him not to go. I was having a bad feeling due to the reports of unrest and commotion in the country,” she said.
She begged CPL (Corporal) Rotimi Oladele to stay at home with them but her husband of four years reminded her that most of the time, her fears hardly ever translate into reality. Reluctantly, she prayed for him and bid him farewell.
It later turned out that it was the last time she and their two children would see the breadwinner. CPL Oladele was gruesomely murdered by hoodlums who stormed the Iwo Road Ibadan Police Station, torched it and killed two desk officers, including CPL Oladele.
“I was told that they razed the station, and when my husband and his colleagues fled the station on motorcycle, they were stopped and dragged off. He was beaten to near death and set on fire,” she said.
Dregs of shadowy ashes and skeletal residue were the only proof Mrs Oladele had to show his children that their father would not be coming home again.
She was overtaken with grief when The Nation got to their Sango-Ibadan residence. She had been crying for many days. Her eyes were red and swollen. She was inconsolable as she held her baby tightly to her bosom. Ephraim, CPL Oladele’s look-alike three-year-old son, raced round the living room-occasionally coming around to pat her mother to stop crying, the only way a child knows. But much as she tried, the tears would not stop rolling down her cheeks. She soon gave up the idea to recall the incident that turned her life into broken pieces.
She said: “I started feeling that something was wrong when he did not call me. He usually calls at 11 am. My fears heightened when I did not hear from him by evening, so I started calling family members to check on him.
“My siblings came to my house later that day to take me out and then delivered the news to me. At first, they said his two legs were broken and later said he had been murdered.
“I insisted that I wanted to see his corpse and they took me to a spot where I saw ashes and remains. They said, ‘That is your husband.’”
The grieving young widow with two children-a toddler (three-year-old) and a baby (16-day-old) painted a picture of a loving husband and father; a kind hearted man who loved his job and was willing to sacrifice for his youthful family.
To better understand the fallen hero, the reporter looked around the modest living room. It was neat and clean. The furniture looked new and well lay out on a tiled floor.
Ephraim looked well fed and happy. It would take time for him to understand that his police father who kept food on their table day and night and showered him with gifts would no longer be there for them.
Mrs Oladele cried of shattered dream and hope. “He was my world. I am an orphan. He was my mother and father and to my children too. He promised to pay for a shop for me next year, but that is all gone. My husband died a horrific death.”
In Alakia-Ibadan, I met with father of the late Sergeant Ademola Adegoke, who was also killed by hoodlums who came in a blaze of fire to maim, kill and loot.
The first son of the five children, Pa Adegoke was in mourning and could not speak much. He uttered few words, shaking his head intermittently in the struggle to say something. “I can’t allow you come in because of Ademola’s mother. She has not taken it well and we are trying to shield her from people. It will remind her of her late son.
“Ademola is my first son. It is a tragedy and we are in sorrow.”
He described his son as a devoted family man and a good police officer. “He wanted the best for all and I don’t know that anybody could wish him such gruesome death. No amount of interview or talk will bring my son back,” said Pa Adegoke to usher the reporter out of his home.
Inspector Peter Abegunde was murdered some kilometres away on the outskirts of Ibadan- Ojoo on October 21, 2020. He was caught in another mob attack on a police station. The place was set on fire and while he was trying to escape from the inferno, he ran into the irate mob in search of blood.
The widow of inspector Abegunde, Sergeant Silifat, narrated the incident that claimed the life of the father of her children.
She said: “I went to the scene the following day and saw somebody’s burnt remains but I could not recognise the person. They said he was burnt. I could not imagine that those bits and pieces was my husband. It was later that the DPO confirmed that hoodlums killed him and burnt his body.”
Inspector Abegunde left behind four children, among them a set of twin teenage girls who said they were yet to come to terms with the death of their loving father.
“My father was a kind and easy going person,” said Taiwo. “He said he wanted to get to the top of his profession.”
The twins and their siblings are distraught. They are calling for justice to bring them closure and rest the ghost of their father. “We need justice,” added Kehinde.
The Anambra State Police Command suffered similar bereavement as the height of horror was meted out to one of the murdered officers, Inspector John Oche. The father of three was beheaded in cold blood and his head paraded on a stake.
A top officer of the Command, who spoke on condition of anonymity, confirmed the story, saying: “I want to say that every police officer is touched by this action. For a colleague, a father and husband to be beheaded on duty is the height of callousness.”
The State Commissioner of Police, Mr John Abang, said four of its officers were killed, eleven police stations and over 20 vehicles including patrol and exhibit vehicles and an Armoured Personnel Carrier (APC), were set ablaze.
According to the CP, police officers who lost their lives during the attacks included the Divisional Police Officer (DPO), Osumenyi Division, CSP Akpan Joseph; ASP Agu Michael; the station officer, PC Udegbunam Sunday Celestine and Inspector Oche, who, he corroborated, was beheaded.
In nearby Abia State, three policemen were reportedly murdered. On Monday, October 19, a policeman was killed, while the following day, Inspectors Oliver Igbani and Frank Okoye were executed in Aba.
Sadly, like in other states, all the bodies were burnt beyond recognition, sparking widespread outrage among their wives and family members.
‘It would have been better if they left corpse for us,’ said widow of the late Igbani. She explained that her husband was on duty at a bank in Aba when hoodlums attacked the bank.
“He was beaten to death. His head and legs were cut off and his body was burnt. Only a part of his body was recovered. If after killing my husband they left the body for us, it would have been better.” Okoye left behind five children: two boys and three girls.
Okoye’s aged mother has been in shock. Her chances hang in the balance and she has been given a 50-50 odds of survival.
In Lagos State, facts have also emerged of how late Inspector Ade Aderibigbe, attached to Meiran Police Division, was killed.
Another Police officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Aderibigbe was on a mission to rescue a colleague, who was said to have been shot, when he was caught in crossfire with some hoodlums. “Inspector Ade was on his way to rescue a colleague who works with the Patrol and Guide Department when he was shot. It is sad because his wife is also a police officer. Both husband and wife were serving the country diligently. Unfortunately, see how the man ended.”
“His death was tragic. He was burnt beyond recognition after he was shot. It was a gory sight,” added the officer.
His bitter and terror stricken family collected his remains and packaged it into a coffin that was buried a few days later. “He was a good man and his family could not bear not to give him a proper burial. He was good to all.”
In Ogun State, the carnage has left behind a sour Chidebere, the 22-year-old son of slain policeman Augustine Egholenwa. He was murdered by hoodlums in Atan, Sango-Ota area of the state.
Chidebere narrated the incident and the implication for the children he left behind: “Due to his work schedule, he used to come home on weekends. We lost our mother some years ago, making him the only one taking care of us. He used to send money to us. He was everything to me. His death was very painful.” Chidebere is filled with rage. He had lost his mother years back and his father had been the sole bread winner of the family until now.
The reality is that these fallen heroes were not only police officers; they were husbands, fathers, brothers and bread winners. Their deaths have thrown their families into confusion and some children into the streets, seething with rage and revenge.
The deliberate and reckless hits have been condemned in many quarters and some governors have pledged to take up the up-keep and educational responsibilities of their widows and children and overall reform of the Nigeria Police Force (NPF).
Beyond the massacre, however, an investigation carried out by The Nation revealed a system that is riddled with disgruntled police personnel living in fear, frustration and tears. Many police officers the reporter spoke with lamented a poor system frustrating and making a monster of them.
“If people know what we go through daily, they will know that we are no better than them. We are angry and frustrated too. From the ranks and file to the top cadre of the Police Force, we are suffering in silence and badly want a reform of the system. We are not your enemy,” a senior police officer, Delami, said, preferring anonymity.
One of the consequences of the #EndSARS protest hijacked by hoodlums and leading to killing, maiming and looting, is the willingness of many policemen to speak up about the corrupt system and the long awaited reform of the force.
We are also hungry and angry
ACP Delami has been in the organisation for more than 20 years. He has served in five states of Nigeria spanning the western and eastern regions. He said he was distraught with the system, adding that under the facade of obedience and patriotism is a mind running riot.
Delami said: “Don’t be deceived, there is no sense of fulfilment. I am alienated from the job, and that is the feeling of the average policeman.
“We lost a senior police officer and others in my command, and their death sent more jitters down my spine.
“You know when your neighbour’s house is on fire, you must learn how to put water on your own.
“In fact, I became tired of the job and lost hope in the leadership of the country.”
Some of the officers interviewed by The Nation grumbled about their earnings. “Police salary is not a living wage. We work without allowances. We have been pauperised by the system,” ACP Delami added.
Investigation carried out by The Nation indicated that members of the Nigeria Police Force are among the most poorly paid policemen in Africa. The hardest hits are the rank and file otherwise known as non-commissioned officers. They are moderately educated and are not as refined as the officers as all they need to be recruited into the Force is a school leaving certificate. The basic training they get is a six-month course at the four police colleges around the country.
Few of them go for refresher courses, like the commissioned officers who are mostly graduates or experienced recruits who have attended courses at home and abroad. They are more refined and dress smarter.
The non-commissioned ones better known as rank and file policemen are mostly found on the road, and they grow in lines on the job, which sometimes depends on favouritism and nepotism. The highest rank he or she can attain is Sergeant Major.
Police officers interviewed claimed that the much publicised 2018 Federal Government approved new salary package was not in use yet. Consequently, their salary is based on the 2011 Consolidated Police Salary Structure.
In accordance with the 2011 article, a police recruit earns a consolidated annual salary of N108,233.00 and a monthly consolidated salary of N9, 019.42. Out of this, N676.46 is deducted as pension annually, leaving a recruit with N8,342.96 monthly. He is the lowest paid.
This is way lower than the Nigeria minimum wage of N30,000, according to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS). Meanwhile, his counterpart in the Nigerian Army tagged ‘private’ earns N49,000, according to financialwatchngr.com.
A Police Constable on Grade Level 03 earns N43,293.80 monthly and annual salary of N519, 525.60 before pension deduction.
A Sergeant Major on Grade Level 10 takes home N62,204.88 monthly while a Sergeant Major on Grade Level 06 (step 1) receives N55.144.81 per month. These figures are cut down when pension is removed.
In the commissioned officers cadre, a Cadet Inspector on Grade Level 07 (step10) receives about N87, 135.10 per month while a Cadet Inspector on Grade Level 07 (step1) is paid N73, 231.51 monthly. It is the smallest pay for officers.
The highest ranking officer in NPF is the Inspector-General of Police (IGP). He is appointed by the President and can also be dismissed by him. He earns N711, 450 every month and N8.5 million annually.
“If you look at what the other security agencies earn, you will agree with methat we are not appreciated as the only force engaging the people every day. We do more work but get the least pay,” ACP Delami noted.