By Chika Otuchikere
The family of the Desmond Nunugwo, Chief Protocol Officer to the Minister of State for Defence who died in the custody of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commissions (EFCC), in 2016, few hours after he was taken into custody, has accused the commission of killing their brother and breadwinner in cold blood.
The distraught family members organised a memorial service in the Saint Anthony Catholic Church, Jabi Abuja on 9th February, during which they spoke with the media, lamenting that the EFCC has refused to clear the name of their brother of any wrong doing as well as bring to book as many as played a role in the killing of their brother four year after.
According to Ihezie Amaechi, nephew of Desmond, EFCC operatives traced Desmond to the office of one of his lawyer friends, Chinedu, where they arrested him without following the due process of contacting the office of the Chief of Defence Staff where he worked. He said the operatives seized his two phones ensuring that he did not contact his office or family while in their custody. About few hours later the EFCC contacted him to come and bail his brother only to get there and told that his brother was in the mortuary.
The circumstances surrounding Nunugwo’s demise?
“I was in Lagos on that fateful day when I heard that my uncle had died in EFCC custody. When we got the news of what happened, I came to Abuja from Lagos and went to the EFCC office in Wuse II where I met with the officer-in-charge. When he called me, he asked me to come and take him on bail; there was no information about his demise. The officer said they picked him up around 5 pm following a petition by one Mrs Uloma Kanu alleging that she gave him N91 million for a business transaction. He said unfortunately, they checked his bank account and didn’t find the money. He said the petitioner submitted the petition in the morning and they arrested my uncle in the evening. He said my uncle died around 1 am; I got the call in Lagos around 5 pm, so I asked why it took over 14 hours to reach me, but the officer said they didn’t know who to call.
Was the deceased not with his phones when he was arrested?
“The EFCC official claimed that my uncle’s two phones were dead and when I asked why they didn’t charge them, he said their office didn’t have power and that their generator was bad. I said, ‘look, even if I was a six-year-old child, these statements didn’t make sense.’ The man in charge of the Wuse II EFCC office said these. I asked if anyone was with my uncle when the incident happened, he said no. I asked if there was any form of manhandling, he said no, they do not manhandle suspects. I also asked if they knew his identity before he was arrested. The official simply said they were only given his phone number by the petitioner. I said that cannot be true. My uncle always introduce himself as the Chief Protocol Officer to the Minister of Defence, so there is no way the petitioner would not know his identity or workplace. In any case, how can the petitioner claim to have done business worth N91m with my uncle without knowing his identity, workplace or home?
Was there any witness to Desmond’s arrest?
“He was picked up at the office of Chinedu, a lawyer, who was his friend and when I got in touch with him, he said the manner my uncle was picked up was rough and unprofessional. He explained that they were eating corn when he got a call from someone who he seemed acquainted with. He told the person on the phone that he was at his friend’s office, and went further to describe the location.
“According to Chinedu, the person even asked why Desmond was sounding strange and he said he was eating corn. When the person got to the premises, he called my uncle again and asked him to bring corn and he went with cob of corn to meet him. The next thing he knew was that people were barging into his office. He said two men and a lady came in and demanded my uncle’s car key. Chinedu stood up and asked what the issue was. My uncle said he didn’t know. He told the EFCC officials that the car key was in his pocket, then the lady and a man slapped him. It was then Chinedu realized that my uncle lied that his car key was in his office so that he could bring the people to the office so he could see what was going on. Had they whisked him away when he went to meet them, nobody would have known who picked him up and how he disappeared. Chinedu said he told them that they had no right to slap him.
“So they went downstairs, and one of the officers entered into my uncle’s BMW car but he couldn’t drive it because he didn’t understand that the transmission stalk was by the steering. They pulled my uncle down from their Toyota Hilux and asked him to explain to the official how to drive the car. Chinedu said he informed them that he would follow them to their office, but they told him they won’t attend to him because they would close for the day after breaking their fast. They asked him to come to their office at Aminu Kano, Wuse, the next day. Then they called me 16 hours later to come and take him on bail and when I arrived, they said he had died. I believed whoever called me knew he had died, so they lied that I should come and take him on bail.
How did they explain his death?
“The commission said my uncle complained about pain and slumped and was rushed to a hospital in Wuse before taking him to the National Hospital. But their story does not check out because he was brought in dead to the National Hospital. So, we asked what procedure do they follow if someone dies in their custody? They said an autopsy would be carried out. They promised to invite a pathologist, Prof. Obafunwa. The twist is that they wrote to Obafunwa who gave them a bill of about N4m and they said it was too high. I asked them, ‘Is it too much to pay N4m to clear your name?’ They came up with stories and promises and then stopped talking about inviting Obafunwa. They presented a pathologist from the National Hospital to carry out the autopsy. Now, I found out from the head of the histopathology department that he was going to hands off the matter because Ibrahim Magu (EFCC Chairman) had come to him. Whatever transpired during their meeting, I don’t know, but he said he was going to recues himself from the autopsy. So, the hospital presented a certain Dr Saheed. We used to hold meetings with the National Hospital and the EFCC and every time, there was a twist and the meeting would end, so nothing conclusive was arrived at. They did these things from 2016 to 2018 when it was decided that Saheed would perform the autopsy.
What did the postmortem reveal?
“The pathologist said he didn’t find anything wrong or suspicious. He came up with a story that the deceased had a heart attack. There was another twist; when they picked him up, EFCC released a documentary that they don’t maltreat people in their custody. A certain guy spoke to a member of the team of lawyers. He said his client was in the cell with my uncle and when they released him, he looked like he was manhandled, he looked disorganized, he was barefooted. The man explained that while they were in the cell, he wanted to talk to my uncle in the morning and found that he was cold. So, he banged on the door to alert whoever was in charge, but the EFCC claimed he was taken to a hospital where they tried to revive him but they couldn’t and then they took him to the National Hospital. He actually died in his cell.
Do you know the witness?
“We haven’t seen him; A lot of people are worried about the EFCC, nobody is coming out to say anything. The man said EFCC agreed with him to come up with a story that my uncle asked him for medication before his passage and that he said he cannot give him because he would be held responsible if something should happen.
Do you know whether your uncle had any pre-existing condition?
“No, I went through his medicine cabinet and the only drugs I saw was seven seas cod liver oil and anti-malaria drugs. I’m 38 and I have known him for 38 years; never have I heard him complain about high blood pressure and you can imagine the rigours of his job as the chief protocol officer. Again, the allegation wasn’t that he collected the money from anyone. The crux of the story wasn’t clear to us. We were expecting the investigators to show us the trail of the money, but they said nothing was in his account. My worries were the way the so-called investigation was carried out. They didn’t go to his office. Something is not right somewhere.
Did you attempt to meet with the petitioner after your uncle’s demise?
“Yes. We asked the commission to invite Uloma to find out about the veracity of her allegations, but they said they didn’t know where she is. We went to the Minister of Justice and presented our case, he said he would look into it. Later, they called us from the Force Criminal Intelligence and Investigation Department and I wrote a statement about what I knew. Since then, nothing had happened.
What did the Ministry of Defence say about the incident?
“They said they have had cases of staff members being invited by the EFCC and the normal procedure was for the commission to write to them to release that person. I don’t know why they broke the protocol in respect to my uncle. They didn’t go for him during working hours, instead, they traced him to his friend’s office where Uloma called him on the phone and he gave his location where he was arrested.
What does the family want?
“We as a family remember him every day and we just held a (Church) service in his honour. Every day is a struggle for us because anytime you google his name on the Internet, the first headline you see is ‘fraudster dies in EFCC custody.’ I have been following the case from the day he died, June 9, 2016. Till date, there has been no information regarding my uncle’s death from the government or the EFCC in particular. There is no news or information regarding the investigation said to have been carried out.
“I went to the Force CID to write my statement, the officer-in-charge of the case said he invited Uloma and she said in her statement that she didn’t ask EFCC to kill my uncle. It’s funny that Uloma won’t ask the EFCC about the so-called N91m over which she used the EFCC to quiz my uncle for whatever she claims he owed. Let the EFCC carry out an incisive investigation into the matter, we are not worried about the outcome of the investigation because we know as a family that my uncle was not a fraudster, he would never take a dime from anybody; he would rather go hungry. If it was true, we as a family would have rallied around him and pay the money.
“What we want is closure, justice and for EFCC to clear his name. Justice in the sense that whoever is responsible, whoever perpetrated this gruesome act of murder because I still stand that my uncle was murdered; the person should be held accountable and should face the wrath of the law. Someone said she had a picture of when he was manhandled in EFCC custody. We also gathered that EFCC officials who were on duty the day my uncle died were transferred. I believe that that was done to cover up the incident and bury the case. If Magu would not want to be held accountable, he should present the officers who perpetrated this crime for prosecution”.