By LOUIS ODION
In African folklore, countless myths are surely evoked at the mention of an old witch. The wailing of this dark creature is, for instance, taken as portentous, a signpost to evil. So, at its shriek cry in the middle of the night, no true mother waits to be reminded to hold her suckling closer, lest the baby is found dead at dawn.
Taking stock of the harvest of tragedies in Edo State in the past three weeks, it is quite tempting, if not compelling, to draw a parallel with the foregoing parable of old witch’s cry. Long before the chain of sordid things began to unravel in the acclaimed ‘heartbeat of the nation’, a security report was already circulating in government circles, detailing high-level designs by the brigade of political desperadoes we all know too well to either kill or abduct key officials of the Oshiomhole administration with a view to creating an atmosphere of fear which, in turn, will afford them a convenient cover for the purloining of the ballot on July 14.
In retrospect, the blood of innocents so far shed could, therefore, be said to be partly on the hands of those saddled with the responsibility of defending the vulnerable who failed to rise to the occasion. With chilling accuracy, some of the plots earlier listed have come to pass.
First, Governor Adams Oshiomhole narrowly escaped death when a mystery truck rammed into his convoy near Auchi on April 28. Three journalists, witness to this very unfolding history, were not so lucky; they died in the accident. Several others were mortally injured. Barely twelve hours later, my private residence in Benin was in turn attacked by a gang of four gunmen. Providence made me stayed away that night. The ink with which that blood-curdling report was written had not dried when four assassins (presumably the same group that had violated my residence) also barged into Comrade Olaitan Oyerinde’s residence and butchered him before his wife and four little kids.
The nagging question then: how many more souls would be taken before these vampires are brought to justice?
While awaiting justice, we are only left with the fond memories of four innocent young men felled in their prime. As for Olaitan, a lot has been said and written about his ideological fidelity, great capacity for work and prodigious energy to organise. Having worked closely with him, I attest the validity of those statements. Perhaps the only area yet understated is his terrific sense of humour. He had this uncanny way of cracking rib-cracking jokes and yet kept a straight face while others would laugh to stupor.
Not being Edo indigene (he hailed from Osun), I would normally call him ‘Mr. Expatriate’. To that, he would joke that, ‘But you people are not paying me expatriate wage unlike my contemporaries from overseas’. If you got angry with him, he would disarm you with jokes. Once, someone barged into his office and hollered at him for not picking his calls after several dials. To that, Olaitan retorted calmly: ‘Why should I be in a hurry to pick your calls, am I your girlfriend?’
Every afternoon, the Comrade Governor has the habit of sharing his lunch with his Commissioners and close aides. Olaitan was addressed as the ‘Dean of the Lunch Faculty’ and would normally tell the uninitiated to ‘Come and register with me before you’re qualified to partake of our feasting’. And it is easy to tell once menu, menu starts. Silence suddenly descends on the Conference Room of the Governor Office. So, it is common for many to target this culinary hour to visit the Governor. If you walked in then, Olaitan would tease ‘I can see that you now monitor us to see when we want to start eating before you start coming.’
He was such a bundle of humour. He handled the Governor’s official correspondence and brought order to things. Faithful to his vocation as thinker/writer, he kept an impressible library of seminal books. Till his last day, he kept pestering me for a copy of the biography written by Mike Awoyinfa and Dimgba Igwe on Aremo Segun Osoba entitled ‘The Newspaper Years’. (The book was presented in Lagos two months ago.) I had promised to look around bookshops in Lagos and get him a copy.
I recall that we were together till late that evening before his murder by 1.30AM. He was in charge of putting together a petition the Governor was sending to INEC chairman, Professor Attahiru Jega. Very adept as juggling many things at a time, he was also saddled with putting together the Governor’s nomination form expected to be submitted in Abuja the following day. A day before, he oversaw the packaging of a petition the Governor sent to the police authorities based on security reports that key officials of the administration had been pencilled down to be assassinated or kidnapped by the opposition with a view to scaring the Edo public. Little did Olaitan know that he was the next target.
Ironically, following the attack on residence on April 29, Olaitan characteristically threw a banter: ‘Bros, sorry O. I learnt these people paid you a visit. I thank God for your life O’. Little did we know that Olaitan was the next target. Few days before the assassination, I heard that a relation of Olaitan had what looked a premonition in form of a bad dream and promptly told Olaitan to be careful. But Olaitan was a fearless guy who would not take any precaution, in the conviction that his cause was too just for him to become a target.
Just like Olaitan, some of us never took any precaution by way of keeping heavy personal security. When I had to report the attack on my residence to the Police Commissioner on April 30, he expressed shock that I never kept a police orderly or police protection at my residence despite the sensitivity of the office I keep. But it was deliberate. It is a function of the value we keep in the Oshiomhole administration. We believe we are working for the people and so believe that the greatest security is the love people openly demonstrate to us whenever we are on the streets with the Comrade Governor. But with the benefit of hindsight today, it is clear we had under-estimated the capacity of the forces opposed to the positive change in Edo.
During our last encounter, I remember Olaitan hugging his little daughter who came around after school hours. He kept waving a white envelope at her, saying ‘This is your money’, apparently in response to her demand to meet an obligation in school. Till today, I’m still haunted by the memory of our last encounter. It is hard to believe that such a decent, gentle young man would be murdered so brutally for no just cause.
Looking back today, I would say it was the Good Lord that made me not to return home on April 29 after a meeting with the Governor which lasted till 1.30AM (Sunday morning). It was God’s divine intervention.
I cannot talk for others. I can at least talk for myself. In the petition I sent to the police after the attack by the four gunmen, by way of offering useful tips, I alluded to an open threat Chief Tony Anenih had made on my life precisely on February 17, 2012 at the palace of Oba of Benin during the wedding reception for the monarch’s daughter. There are many living witnesses to that show of shame including the Governor of Delta State.
Snarling a finger at my face, Chief Anenih said more than four times: ‘Louis!, You! You!! You’ll soon see what will happen to you!!!’ Without shame, he said that more than four times. Coming from an old man I would normally call ‘Daddy’ (his son and I are friends), nothing could be more abominable. On-lookers were left with this grotesque spectacle of a grandpa more or less rolling his sleeves and flexing muscles against a minor.
Again, coming from a man widely acclaimed as ‘Mr. Fix It’ or ‘the godfather’, I could not think of anything more cowardly. Indeed, Oshiomhole was somewhere within the palace hall that day if indeed the almighty godfather was looking for a target to vent his anger. My puzzle is why the Big Man chose a small me and not his match (Oshiomhole) to so openly intimidate or threaten. Of course, with Oshiomhole’s security details practically dominating the environment that day, snarling a finger at him would be suicidal.
In all of this, it is, however, not hard to place Anenih’s psychology. Our paths had crossed way back in 2000. As a journalist privileged to have practised at national level, it is inevitable that one met all manners of characters in the course of duty. Having been serially implicated in the nation’s political trajectory in the last two decades, Anenih could, therefore, not have evaded my radar. Our first meeting in Benin was quite dramatic, the details of which I save for another day.
Everything considered, let it, however, be said that familiarity is one thing; loyalty to the cause of the Edo people is another. Being the chief spokesman of a government that liberated Edo people from a feudal bondage, it is only natural the godfather won’t like the sound of my voice. But rather than the ball, the old man prefers to kick the leg. Truth hurts, especially for those who live in denial. Chief Anenih surely won’t want to be reminded that his own brand of ‘Tuketuke’ (Edo word for rickety automobile) politics is no longer fit for Edo of the twenty-first century. ‘Tuketute’ politics had meant that the people wallowed in penury while only the godfather prospered.
Looking the old man straight in the eyes at the Oba’s palace on February 17, what I saw wasn’t a confident gladiator, but a pitiable bully at his wits’ end: subdued yet unwilling to accept his fate. How are the mighty fallen and the primitive weapons of rigging vanquished. For ages, the old fox from Uromi had retailed deceit, having perfected his illicit trade of fixing elections, thereby subverting people’s will. The godfather with long teeth had become addicted to spoils from stolen electoral mandate. But now, all his ancient talismans have failed, judging by the outcomes of elections conducted in Edo in the last two years. Edo people now see through all his old tricks.
Indeed, barely twenty-four hours after being threatened at the Oba’s palace, I started receiving threat calls and also observed that a particular black SUV was trailing me around Benin City.
I had raised alarm then and put the public on notice that if anything happened to me, Chief Anenih should be held responsible. I issued a statement which was widely publicised. When his reaction was sought to the weighty allegation I made, I recall that Chief Anenih’s feeble response (as published in LEADERSHIP of February 27) was ‘I’ve no comment’. Up till now, I doubt if the police have considered it necessary to invite Chief Anenih for questioning. Had the evil-doer succeeded in their dastardly intention on April 29, I am sure members of the public were already in a position to know the chief suspect. In the statement I made to the police after the attack on my residence on April 29, I had said clearly that I had every cause to suspect Chief Anenih. I still stand by those words.
*Odion, formerly Managing Director/Editor-in-Chief of National Life, is Edo Commissioner for Information and Orientation