• Sunday, May 26, 2024
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BusinessDay

Tunmise

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Sallimichegani

It is the very epitome of anonymity one name,the first, no surname, and no clue whatsoever as to what it might have been. It could have been anybody. Or nobody. Incidentally, Tunmise was the last person to see Abayomi Ogundeji, journalist and social critic, alive, before his gruesome murder on the evening of August 17 2008 at Dopemu, Lagos. She had been expected to take a front row seat at the ongoing coroner’s inquest, convened at the instance of the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ), which had petitioned the Lagos State Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Mr. Olasupo Sasore. But that was not to be. Tunmise was allegedly killed by unknown gunmen, recently’. One week? Two weeks? A month, perhaps? At all events, in addition to the mystery of the unknown surname, we are saddled with the additional enigma of not knowing exactly when Tunmise was forcefully taken away from our midst, in the manner of the intrepid journalist whose final moments she had shared.
What we do know however is that circumstances surrounding Tunmise’s killing are sufficiently strange as to warrant the conclusion that it was not an accident, but a premeditated act executed in a most Manichean manner. According to evidence presented to the hearing by Mr. Bamidele Ogundele, counsel to the family of the late Ogundeji, sometime before her eventual murder, the late Tunmise was approached by police operatives who claimed to have come from Lagos (Tunmise lived with her parents in Shagamu, Ogun State) and had wanted to take her with them for special interrogation. Tunmise, with the backing of her parents, declined to go with the men. Two days later, she was dead. Her murderers have thrown her poor parents into deep mourning, and the case in which she had been listed as a star witness, into unanticipated turmoil.

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Who killed Tunmise? On whose behalf were the so-called police operatives, who approached her before her killing, acting? Were they really police operatives? If so, which command did they come from, and whose instructions were they following? While we may never find credible answers to these urgent questions, as it is not in our character as a people to get to the root of things, the quite unusual circumstances surrounding Tunmise’s killing only go to confirm the worst fears of many of us who knew intuitively (an intuition that would soon be validated as more information became available) that Abayomi Ogundeji had been assassinated by special interests. The murder of Tunmise has strengthened this suspicion further. Here was a woman whose evidence would have bent the back of the many staggering inconsistencies in the police account of the events of that fateful Dopemu evening. Tunmise would have supplied first hand information that could have made the coroner’s task more straightforward, and one is forced to draw at least two possible conclusions from her unfortunate murder.
One is that those who killed Tunmise knew that she possessed damaging (to the police, perhaps?) information that they would not want the general public to know, and the only way of making sure that that did not happen was to take out the possessor of that information. Tunmise’s killers clearly had something to hide. What could it have been? A second possible conclusion from Tunmise’s killing is that it was done with the purpose of instilling terror into other witnesses. Already, following what happened to Tunmise, Professor John Obafunwa, Chief Pathologist at the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH), and a prime forensic witness, has expressed fears about his own safety.
Tunmise’s killing, as callous and brazen as it is, raises once more critical questions about the safety of ordinary Nigerian citizens, the effectiveness of the police in combating crime, and the country’s creaking and profoundly distrusted system of justice. Most significantly however, it is an apt reminder of the miasma of brutality that enwraps every aspect of daily life in the Nigerian postcolony. I asked earlier whether the police operatives who had come to invite Tunmise to Lagos for questioning were genuine officers or out and out felons who had managed to procure police uniforms. The question is certainly not unwarranted, because the unnerving truth is that today, that distinction- between the man of law and the outlaw- is becoming increasingly passé. It is not just that, as has been reported so many times, police officers aid and abet crimes and criminal networks, it is that police officers themselves, trained and armed with public funds, frequently take to crime, oftentimes in a desperate attempt to meet legitimate material needs caused by state negligence, and almost always because we live in a society where anything goes.
Following the visit by the purported operatives from Lagos, Tunmise and her parents were said to have reported the matter at the Shagamu police station, an indication that, its ruined image notwithstanding, the police remain the final port of call for any citizen in distress. But the police failed Tunmise. They failed her parents too, and every Nigerian who still thinks that there is an iota of decency left in that perverted institution of a depraved state. For the police could not/would not protect her from her assailants, and did not, as security operatives usually do in a normal society (Botswana, say), give her police protection, pending the time that the obvious threat to her life and limb would have passed.
But then, this is the Nigerian police, and these, dear gentle reader, are dark times in Nigeria. Within the past decade, the police have unravelled not a single high profile assassination, and away from the front pages, thousands of deaths go unreported, uninvestigated, and unsolved. In the case of Abayomi Ogundeji, in which the police clearly have a case to answer, we had to know of the murder and associated events because Ogundeji was who he was. We know of Tunmise’s killing only because she was meant to be the star witness at the inquest into the killing of a well-known journalist. Otherwise her anonymity would have been complete- no name, first or last, and no date of death. Another unsung victim of a degenerate culture.