A Cross River State High Court on March 21, 2018, sentenced a retired staff member of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, Mr. Godwin Elewana, to death by hanging for killing 22-year-old Douglas Ojugbo, suspected to be the boyfriend of Elewana’s daughter. The deceased’s mother, Mrs. Maria Ojugbo, a director in the state Ministry of Agriculture, shares her pain with MUDIAGA AFFE
How did you hear that your son was killed?
On March 10, 2015, a new commissioner for agriculture in Cross River State just resumed for duty. The commissioner was going round the departments in the ministry and as a director of fisheries in the ministry, I was expected to be at my duty post. While that was ongoing, I got a call from my neighbour at home (name withheld), who told me that she saw my son in a pensive mood and that I should call him not to go out. She said my son complained that someone, who bought his mini-laptop from him, refused to pay him the balance and that he was upset.
Because she knew him, I prevailed on her to urge him not to go anywhere. At that point, I continued with my office schedule. By the time I got home, my son was not at home. I asked my neighbour what happened and she said that she could not calm him before he left the house. My neighbour said she called his mobile a few minutes later but my son did not pick the call. I also did, but there was no response. After some time, I had to call my daughter, who resides with her husband in Lagos, to call her brother but still, he didn’t pick up his calls. On that first day, my son did not come back home. We pondered over where he could have gone to but we were unable to discover it.
What happened the next day?
On the second day, his mobile was switched off and that made us to become worried. We had started to make some moves to search for him. While I was in the office, the same neighbour called me to inform me that I should come home immediately with my husband without any delay. She told me point blank that she just got information that a young man was killed around Cross River Basin Authority and that we should go and find out who the person was. She said that people around said the corpse of the slain young man had been taken to the Federal Housing Police Station. We immediately went to the police station where we waited to see the Divisional Police Officer. While there, my son’s killer (Godwin Elewana) drove in to see the DPO. Someone, who was at the scene when the incident happened, pointed at Elewana, saying he was the one who shot the boy in question. But because we had not seen the slain young man, we stood where we were to see the DPO to lodge a complaint. When we entered the DPO’s office, the killer also entered the office but later went out thereafter.
We told the DPO that we were in search of our son who left the house two days ago and that we learnt that a young man was killed. The DPO said he got a distress call that an armed robber was shot and that he sent his men to the scene to retrieve the corpse. When the corpse was brought, the DPO said a mere look at the body showed that the boy was dead. He said that because he did not have anywhere he could preserve the dead body, he had to call authorities of the Calabar Urban Development Authority to evacuate the corpse for burial. At that point, we told the DPO that wherever they had buried the young man, we would want to see him. We insisted that the police must exhume the corpse for us to confirm if it was our son. They took us to Goldie Cemetery and exhumed the corpse. Lo and behold, it was the corpse of Douglas (our son).
What did you do when you discovered that the deceased was your son?
Naturally, we were all depressed. Because we told the police that we only wanted to confirm if it was our son that was killed, they rush to rebury him after the confirmation. By the third day, news went round to our village and people came in large numbers. We went back to the police station to request that the body of our son be exhumed again and given to us for proper burial. The DPO granted the request and when we got the corpse released to us, we took it to the University of Calabar Teaching Hospital for autopsy to ascertain the cause of death and it was done. When the police discovered that we had gone to carry out an autopsy, they became apprehensive. At that point, they requested that we should report at the police station to give formal statement. My husband said it was the person who killed him that should first give his statement.
They (police) traced us to the teaching hospital but we insisted that the corpse should be kept in the mortuary. Eventually, some police officers followed us to our house and insisted that the DPO wanted to see us. My husband, at that point, told them that his lawyer would get in touch with them. My husband is a lawyer who works in Kanu Agabi’s chambers. His colleagues in the office wrote a petition to the Assistant Inspector-General of Police in charge of Zone 6, the governor of Cross River State and the state House of Assembly. Following the development, the Zone 6 Police Command immediately swung into action.
How did your husband react to the matter?
He was demoralised to the extent that he collapsed. When policemen from the Federal Housing Police Station came to the house on the fourth day, they saw him lying down on the floor in the parlour. My husband had once suffered partial stroke. We were worried that the whole episode should not lead to any further complications.
Did you try to see the killer to ask why he killed your son?
Going by the situation we found ourselves, the focus was more on the DPO who gave us permission to exhume the corpse and released it for burial. We never contemplated on how to reach the killer. However, when the Zone 6 command took over the matter, they compelled the DPO to produce the killer. I never knew him and I had no business with him.
It was alleged that your son had love affairs with Elewana’s daughter, called Mercy. Were you aware of the relationship?
I never knew about that relationship. But in the course of investigation, the Investigating Police Officer in the Zone 6 Command said he gathered from the people around Elewana’s house that they used to see my son in the compound with his daughter. He has a cluster of houses around his main building and the people around, who are his tenants, said my son’s face was not new in the area. I later found out that the girl in question, Mercy, attended the same university secondary school with my son and that they had been friends from their school days.
How old was Douglas?
He was 22 years old when he was killed.
Did you ever set eyes on the girl?
Yes, some parties were brought to the Zone 6 Command for investigation by the AIG and I later discovered that she was one of the girls I saw. She came with her two brothers to testify. When the floor was thrown open by the AIG for comments, one of the tenants of Elewana (name withheld), who was present, told the AIG that she was in her room when she heard Elewana shouting, “Hold him, hold him.”
She said she came out and saw a tall boy running towards Cross River Basin Authority and that she saw her landlord (Elewana) trying to climb through the fence. She added that she rushed out from her apartment to prevail on him not to pursue the boy, but he pushed her away. She said she later retreated and a few moments later, she heard gunshots. After then, the AIG sought to know who gave Elewana the gun, and his two sons, one an Immigration officer and the other, an Air Force officer, said they did. They said they gave it to him for hunting. The AIG later got know that the licence of the gun expired five years earlier. The AIG also questioned the DPO on the reason why he hurriedly buried the boy. It was at that point that the DPO was accused of being an accomplice in the matter. His statement was also taken. After the interrogation, the son, who was an immigration officer, expressed reservation over their father’s failing health in his detention cell. He said that their father was diabetic and hypertensive and had not taken his drugs for three weeks.
The AIG told him not to worry about their father, saying that it was normal for a son to be worried about his sick father because they had medical facilities to address his situation. He (AIG), however, told the son that he was worried about his father who is old and had trained them, but not worried about my husband and me whose son, with high life expectancy, had been killed. It was the first son, the Air Force officer, who said that they did not know why their father did what he did. He said something might have gone wrong.
Was there any time you warned your son over any of his choice of friends?
As a mother who is keen about the welfare of her children, I did, especially when I saw some of his friends with questionable character. I normally sought to find out who their parents were. Unfortunately, you cannot know all their friends, but for the ones I saw, I took steps to know them further.
What lessons did you learn from the entire matter?
I am surprised that someone, who is a father, will just take the life of other people’s child to protect his daughter. Does it mean that other parents do not have value for their children? The thing that confounded me was that in the presence of other people, he (Elewana) was so undaunted to kill someone’s child and go ahead to call the police to bury the corpse. It is shocking. The Bible says the heart of men is desperately wicked and no one can know it except God himself. I saw that attribute in Elewana’s way of life.
What was on your mind throughout the period of trial?
What I had in mind was that even though I would no longer see my son alive, especially with the wickedness displayed by the man when the case was ongoing, I prayed fervently that justice should be done so that at least, I will be happy that justice has been done. Our God is a God of justice.
Were there threats to your life or any member of your family when the case was on?
Apart from the period that three armed policemen came to the house to compel us to see the DPO, there was none. I had a high hopes from above. I had pleaded to God Almighty to secure us. Since I did not do any wrong, I was not afraid of anything. I proclaimed the Bible verse of Psalm 23 all through.
What is your wish now that Elewana has been sentenced to death by hanging?
My digital governor, Prof. Ben Ayade, as I know him, has human heart and I trust him to sign this death warrant so that the justice process will be completed. I do not think that Governor Ayade will be held back by sentiment not to sign this particular death warrant. Let Elewana die in line with the Biblical saying that he who kills by the sword must die by the sword. Elewana will die because he killed someone.