On May 26, 2019, at about 7 pm, Samson Okoawo, 33, unknowingly was hours away from death.
The 33-year-old, a tanker driver and father of a four-year-old son, hailed from Ohe, Esan Central LGA, Edo State, but had been living in Sapele, Delta State, since he was a teenager.
That fateful evening, he left his wife and son in the house and strolled across the street to Stage Oil filling station along Sapele-Warri Road by Okpe Grammar School, Sapele, to buy some litres of petrol for domestic use. After his purchase, he stopped to chat with the manager of the new petrol station who happened to be a ‘friend.’
Their discussion was interrupted by an altercation between two young men. That moment set off a series of actions that put Okoawo in harm’s way. The long and short of it: he ended up mortally wounded. Over long hours, from that night until the wee hours of the morning, he hung onto life, drifting in and out of coma in a hospital bed. His brothers, who had quickly rallied to save his life, were still running around when he gave up the ghost in the morning of May 27, gone the way of all mortals, another innocent casualty in the latest episode of unending lethal clashes between underworld characters that were a mix of cultists and undertakers.
Thereafter, attention was focused on unravelling the circumstances of his death. Alas, all the efforts so far came to dead ends as traces of the warring boys vanished, and the bereaved family watched in utter despair as the murder of their loved one started going the way of a cold case.
Many weeks after, the culprits are still far from being prosecuted.
Arrests that have been so far made are shabby in the usual Nigeria style where only the highly connected get justice.
It still remains a puzzle the police are yet to find answers to questions as to why a young man in his prime was abruptly cut down and his murderers impossible to identify, let alone brought to book.
A most unusual death
Okoawo Senior, brother of the deceased, gave an account of the last hours of his brother. “His wife called me at 1:30 am, to say that somebody called from St James Hospital, that my brother is admitted there and in critical condition. At 4:30 am, me and my wife trekked there and I saw him in a very bad condition,” he recounted.
Before he breathed his last, Samson Okoawo had given his elder brother a detailed account of what happened.
“He told me he went across the street to buy fuel at the station and he saw the manager who was a friend and stopped to chat with him. While they were discussing, a boy came to the station to buy fuel. On his heels came a group of five boys who came there to use the ATM machine. On sighting the first boy, the group swooped on him, accusing him of double-crossing them. From their exchange, they were yahoo boys. A fight ensued as the group descended on the boy. The fight was broken up by the manager who took the first boy into his office and locked him there. The other group left. Unknown to attendants and people at the station, the departed boys had gone back to reinforce. With his discussion disrupted, Samson said he turned to go home. He was walking away when he heard footsteps behind him and as he turned he heard someone shouted cultist slogans and he felt sharp pains on his neck as they stabbed him. “
Stabbed repeatedly in the neck and shoulder, he fell to the ground bleeding and was rushed to the hospital by bystanders.
“He was stabbed on the head, in his neck and in two places on his shoulder,” Okoawo concluded his brother’s deathbed story.
At the end of his narration, the victim exhausted by the effort drifted into unconsciousness.
Running around in circles
From the hospital, Okoawo made his way to the filling station to speak with the manager, Francis Neoma, to gather information about the mysterious boy he kept in his office when he broke up the fight in the night.
That was when the second nightmare began.
“He told me that he doesn’t know the boy. He claimed that he handed over the boy to soldiers at the checking point at Amukpe and the soldiers had taken him to the police station.”
At the police station, officers on duty told him no such case was brought to the station.
“I called the manager who called the army base and it was confirmed that the boy had been released.”
He was still running around when his brother gave up the ghost in the hospital.
He went back to Sapele Police Station to report his brother’s dying-minute story, stressing that the deceased had emphasized that the manager knows the mysterious boy. The Divisional Police Officer of Sapele Police Station, Egong E. Egong, invited the Stage Oil station manager and three attendants who wrote their statements and were released.
Two days later, in a bid to unravel the circumstances around his brother’s death, he went back to the Army base at Okpe and met a Major who admitted he released the boy, “because there was no reason to detain him.”
“The major told me the boy in question had complained that the group that attacked him had taken his mobile phone. So he had set him free and advised him to go and report to the police. The Major insisted he never took the boy’s name and phone number.”
Exasperated, he went back to confront the manager.
“He maintained that he doesn’t know the boy, ” he said, “and I asked him, why did you harbour him then?”
To this question, the manager could not find a plausible answer.
The filling station started business barely three months ago and is fitted with CCTV.
The Okoawos demanded access to the recording of that night. That was when they got another shock.
“The manager said the CCTV is working but not recording, ”
The family, however, insisted that the manager had brought in someone to wipe the record after the incident.
The case was subsequently transferred to State CID, Asaba where all parties were summoned to give their statements. Stage Oil filling station manager who appeared there with his lawyer stuck to his statement–– that he doesn’t know the boy and that the CCTV did not record.
The CID promised to send an investigator to Sapele for further investigation. However, there was no follow-up. The Okoawo family took umbrage at the seemingly lackadaisical approach from the police.
“The IPO in Asaba is a woman. I had called her phone number several times but she did not respond to calls. The manager of the station is still walking free and no arrests have been made so far.”
Friday Okoawo, one of the elder Okoawos is one of those deeply affected by the death of Samson. “I came to live in Sapele 15 years ago and I brought him (the deceased) with me as a small boy. I trained him and obtained a driving license for him, ” he said. “I saw and spoke with him a week before his death. How could he die just like that?”
He is also worried about his late brother’s wife, who is now widowed at a young age. “After I visited her three days ago, I was bothered by her state of mind. She is greatly traumatised. I had to send my wife to go and stay with her, ” he affirmed.
Esan indigens in Sapele are greatly worried about their fate if one of their own could just be killed without any offence.
Akhere Ibhafidon, an Esan resident in Sapele says the Inspector General of Police should do some about the death of Samson.
“We appeal to President Buhari and the IG to do something and ensure the killers are brought to justice. We are law abiding and nobody should mistake that for cowardice. We have the capacity to revenge by as law abiding citizens; we want the government to bring the killers to book. We are not happy the way Delta Police have handled the matter,” he said.
Another Edo association, United Edo Vanguard, UEV, through a press release signed by its President, Ehimhen John, vows to ensure that justice is done on the case. He specifically requests the police to take firm steps in unmasking those responsible for the untimely demise of their brother.
“IG must call on Delta Police Commissioner not to sweep the matter under the carpet. Should IG fail to do something, we will consider other options because nobody has monopoly of violence” the group warns.