Tricycle operator’s death: Police, Relations trade blame

On Thursday, September 6, Abbey Adekunle, a Police Corporal attached to Meiran Police Station in Lagos State, shot and killed a commercial tricycle operator, Dele Oroja, who was the chairman of Three-Wheelers Association, Meiran Unit, in a circumstance still being investigated by police authorities. But Dele’s 76-year-old father remains inconsolable, reports SAMUEL AWOYINFA

The old but modest bungalow situated at 3, Old Oroja Crescent, Meiran, Lagos, wore a picture of grief on Tuesday, as sympathisers gathered in its frontage.

It is the family house of Dele Oroja, the slain chairman of the Three-Wheelers Association, Meiran Unit, in Agbado-Oke Odo Local Council Development Area. Dele was killed on Thursday, September 6, by a policeman attached to Meiran Police Station, Abbey Adekunle, a Corporal, under a circumstance which is still being investigated by the men of the State Criminal Investigation Department, Panti, Yaba, Lagos.

Dele’s distraught father, Chief Johnson Oroja, could not understand why an unarmed person was gunned to death by a policeman. With a friend who came to console him sitting by his side, the septuagenarian lamented the loss of the family bread winner.

He said, “My son was not a troublesome person; he was an easy going fellow, a virtue everyone around could attest to. It surprised me that a policeman could just shoot and kill him just like that. So, our bread winner is gone. It is quite sad.”

Oroja said Dele did not go out until evening of that fateful day. He was busy working on the site of his father’s building project, which is just about 100 metres away from the family house.

“That very day, he did not go out for his normal business. He went to the site of the building project, which I started long ago, and he worked there till evening. He promised to help me complete the building and also buy me a car in December. But all that are no longer possible,” he lamented.

Oroja, an Awori indigene, said he heard the sound of his son’s tricycle when he was headed to the expressway at Meiran in the evening to buy feed for his ram. It was while he was on his way back that he was murdered.

There have been different versions of how Dele was killed, however. His family said he was gunned down at an illegal checkpoint mounted by Adekunle, in violation of the order of the Inspector-General of Police, Mr. Mohammed Abubakar, who had outlawed police checkpoints all over the country.

Dele’s younger brother, Segun, who said he was with his late brother in the tricycle, recounted what happened: “Dele drove the tricycle, and at a point close to Lagos State Model College, Meiran, we ran into a checkpoint mounted by Abbey Adekunle.

“He was with a commercial motorcycle rider, in the process of which he unwittingly caused traffic jam. Since our tricycle was next to the motorcyclist, Dele told Adekunle to tell his victim to move aside so that other road users could pass. On hearing this, the policeman became infuriated, and he descended on both of us.

“Before, we knew what hit us, Adekunle had torn my shirt to shreds. He first attempted to shoot me, but the gun refused to fire. Then he shot one of our tricycle’s tyres, and it burst. It was at this point that my brother alighted and introduced himself as the chairman of the three-wheeler’ association in the area. But Adekunle responded with a gunshot, fired at close range. And my brother fell down.”

Segun added that Adekunle, on realising his mistake, fired another shot into air to scare away the people who had gathered. Afterwards, he escaped to the police station.

When contacted, the Divisional Police Officer of Meiran, Chioma Ajunwa, was said to be on maternity leave. However, the Police Public Relations Officer, Lagos State Command, Mrs. Ngozi Braide, a Deputy Superintendent of Police, had a different account.

She said, according to the brief he got from the Divisional Crime Officer in Meiran, there was a traffic build-up caused by an accident on Command-Meiran road, which is directly in front of the police station. The DCO then detailed Adekunle to clear the traffic.

“When he got out, he discovered that the gridlock was caused by a minor accident. A tricycle had hit a jeep, and the owner of the jeep had insisted that the tricycle man would repair the damage.

“The DCO then ordered both the jeep and the tricycle to be taken to the station. But the tricycle man drove towards the Lagos State Model College, instead of driving to the station. It was while he was trying to arrest the man that the deceased (Dele) arrived the scene. The policeman later claimed that the tricycle men had tried to disarm him. That was when he fired.”

Some residents and tricycle operators who claimed to have witnessed the incident described her narration as a tissue of lies.

One of the task force members of the Three-Wheelers Association, Meiran Unit, Mr. Kolawole Thomas, said, “When we got there, our chairman was lying on the ground, he could no longer talk, as his teeth were clenched. We rushed him to Araba Medical Centre on Ekoro-Abule Egba road, where he died.”

The vice-chairman of the association, Mr. Sunday Ozorji, said Dele had led the association for over four years before his alleged murder.

Ozorji said, “His death is painful. This was a man who would go the whole hog to ensure that peace reigned wherever there was rancour. He was such a good leader to all of us.”

Dele was buried on Thursday at Meiran, and there was heavy presence of armed policemen at the Ile Iwe junction. One Armoured Personnel Carrier was also deployed to the area. Residents, relations and friends of the deceased wailed as his remains were buried around 11:00am.

Those present at the burial decried what they called “the excesses of policemen in Meiran police station.”

The Secretary of Community Development Association, Mr. Tunde Onasanya, urged the Police authorities to check the excesses of the policemen in Meiran, which, he said, included extortion and harassment of innocent members of the public.

Onasanya said, “Because of the attitude of these policemen, once it is getting to 7:00pm, no commercial motorcycle or tricycle operator wants to come to Ile-Iwe area. Consequently, we trek a long distance to our homes every day. Hoodlums seize the opportunity to attack people, robbing them of their valuables.

“If we want to bring a tipper load of sand here, if it costs N20,000, we are made to pay N24,000 because of this extortion thing.”

Another resident who craved anonymity said there was a day armed robbers visited the community and some residents called the Meiran police station for help, but they were told they had no ammunition. “But they had ammunition to kill an unarmed resident,” she lamented.

Braide said though checkpoints were not allowed, what the police now do are “motorised patrols” and “visibility policing.”

“Though the police can stop any person or a vehicle they suspect, this is different from check points,” she said.

As a result of the mob action that followed Dele’s death, a drinking joint near the police station, where residents say some policemen used to unwind, had been pulled down.

Dele’s younger sister, Mrs. Sola Sosanya said, “Our parents had only five of us: three boys and two girls. Dele was the third child; I’m next to him. He and the last child who stays in Ajah are the ones helping the family.”

Dele’s heavily pregnant wife, Deborah, has since been in a quandary. The 18-year-old native of Kabba, Kogi State, who works as hair dresser, was sombre.

It was as if Deborah had an inkling of what happened that day. She said, “Though I did not have any bad dream, on that fateful day, I kept calling him on the phone at intervals to know where he was. He told me that he was at home, and that gave me some peace. I didn’t know he later went out in the evening.”

Oroja regretted that Dele was killed with some of his dreams. “He was planning to formalise his union with his wife, and he had looked forward to having his first child in December.”

As for the suspect, Braide said, “He is still being detained at Panti, where investigation still continues.”

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