By Samuel Ogundipe
A picture is gradually emerging of the victims of murder suspects transferred to Abuja on Wednesday by the police.
At least two of the victims whom the police described as “innocent persons” in a statement on Wednesday were individuals the Kwara State police command had described as political thugs and cultists following their murder.
The police force headquarters said the suspects were recently arrested and had been transferred to Abuja for further interrogation, in a jarring operation that rattled Senate President Bukola Saraki.
Police spokesperson Jimoh Moshood described the transfer as a routine exercise in criminal investigation, but Mr Saraki appears to be having sleepless nights over the move which he saw as an attempt to frame him up.
“Investigation” into the roles of the suspects “has been completed” and they “were about to be under prosecution under the state law on the advice of DPP (Department of Public Prosecution) and the (state) ministry of justice,” Mr Saraki said at the plenary Wednesday. “All of a sudden”, he added, the suspects were “ordered to be transferred to Abuja” Wednesday morning.
The senate president quickly linked the alleged plot to the ongoing face-off between the Senate and Mr Idris. The police chief had been summoned three times by senators but failed to appear.
Mr Idris said the summon was primarily because of the ongoing prosecution of Dino Melaye, a senator from Kogi State. He said appearing before the Senate to discuss the matter could put him in legal troubles.
Mr Saraki’s comments stirred nationwide controversy on Wednesday, prompting the police to render their side of the matter.
In a Wednesday evening statement, Mr Moshood listed the names of the six suspects who were transferred to Abuja alongside 11 victims they allegedly murdered. The police spokesperson described the deceased as “innocent persons” in his statement.
But a closer look at the statement shows that at least two of the victims whom Mr Moshood described as ‘innocent’ were notorious for their alleged cultism activities in Kwara State.
Bukola Ajikobi and Bayo Ajia were amongst the three deceased that the police identified by their first and last names, the rest were only identified by their first names, making it difficult to track their background.
Messrs Ajikobi and Ajia were described as ‘innocent’ victims by Mr Moshood in his Wednesday’s statement. But media reports from the time they were killed said the police in Ilorin described them as members of cult groups terrorising the state.
The two were reportedly killed on January 18, 2016 in separate hits by rival gangs in downtown Ilorin, although Mr Moshood, in his statement, said Mr Ajia was killed this year. He declined responding to PREMIUM TIMES further enquiries and so could not clarify if the murder date he mentioned was an error.
Sam Okaula, the Kwara police commissioner at the time, said 11 suspects were arrested in connection to the killings and paraded them before the press in Ilorin.
The commissioner said the killings were linked to rival cult clashes and vowed to stymie the violence before it was too late, Daily Trust reported.
‘Innocent until proven guilty’
Mr Moshood did not respond to repeated requests for comments about why he left out the victims’ background in his statement Wednesday. But Kwara police spokesperson, Okasanmi Ajayi, said there was no problem in describing Messrs Ajikobi and Ajia innocent despite their notorious backgrounds and the fact that at least one of them had been convicted of murder.
“They were not tried and found guilty before they were killed,” Mr Ajayi conveniently told PREMIUM TIMES by telephone Thursday evening. “So, it is appropriate to describe them as ‘innocent’ after their death.”
The police spokesperson was, however, mum when asked why the former commissioner described the suspects that were arrested in connection to their deaths as cultists before being charged to court.
He also could not immediately disclose the status of the investigation into the 11 suspects that were initially arrested in connection to the murder of Messrs Ajikobi and Ajia.
None of the six persons that the police moved to Abuja on Wednesday were amongst those arrested in January 2016 following the murder.
But Mr Ajayi, a deputy superintendent of police, said the killings are numerous and more suspects would be arrested as investigation throws up new leads.
While little is known about Mr Ajikobi, the exploits of Mr Ajia were well featured in the media shortly after his death.
This might be due to the level of his infamy around Ilorin. He had been convicted in the early 2000s for murder. The conviction was reportedly upheld by the Supreme Court.
But in 2010, Mr Saraki, then Kwara State governor, commuted Mr Ajia’s death to absolute pardon. This was months before Mr Saraki was due to complete his two-term as governor. He moved to the Senate in 2011 from the governor’s lodge.
A source close to Mr Saraki told PREMIUM TIMES Thursday night the Senate President was apprehensive that his pardoning of Mr Ajia might be used against him by the police.
“The Senate President is afraid that since the matter is related to cultism and he had pardoned a man widely known in Ilorin as a cultist in the past, then the police could easily rope him in,” the source said.
Although the police did not say whether any of the suspects had implicated Mr Saraki, but they failed to clarify when PREMIUM TIMES asked repeatedly whether or not the Senate President is under investigation in connection to the alleged crimes of the suspects.
Even if Mr Saraki was not a factor in the murder investigation, the manoeuvre by the police was unnecessary and suspicious, said legal analyst Jiti Ogunye.
By failing to render full disclosure that the killings stemmed from rival cult clashes, the police “motive becomes suspicious, thereby portraying them as waging political war,” Mr Ogunye said.
Out of the 11 persons said to have been killed, only three were named. Of the three, Messrs Ajikobi and Ajia are highly suspected of being into cultism before being killed, and the manner of their murder largely mirrored cultists’ tactics, according to media reports.
It was not immediately clear whether some of the remaining eight victims whom the police only gave their first names were also linked to cultism while alive.
Mr Ogunye warned that the police could blindside their own investigation if they continue to handle cases without considerable diligence.
“In order climes, court papers make it to the media only after they have been unsealed,” the analyst said. “The allegations by the Senate President were very specific, and his office puts him in a position to know what is going on.”
“This is why we never get to the bottom of serious murder cases in this country,” he said.
He also appeared to see a political undertone in the overall handling of the case by the police.
“We’re moving towards an election and the political alliances of everyone is well known,” he said. “We may then be inundated with prosecution or persecution of persons.”
But if Mr Saraki had no hands whatsoever in the activities of the suspected cultists, it would be difficult to successfully frame him, he said.
“It will be difficult to pin a criminal case on someone, especially when the person is innocent,” Mr Ogunye said.