In this interview with ADELANI ADEPEGBA, Amaechi Ihezie, the nephew of the late Chief Protocol Officer of the Minister of State for Defence, Desmond Nunugwo, demands justice for his alleged murder in the custody of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission
Can you recall the circumstances surrounding Nunugwo’s demise?
I was in Lagos when I heard that my uncle had died in the custody of the EFCC. I travelled from Lagos to Abuja and went straight to the EFCC’s office in Wuse II where I met with the officer in charge of the office.
Earlier the officer had called to ask me to come and take my uncle away on bail, but he did not mention his demise. He said my uncle was arrested around 5pm following a petition written by one Mrs Uloma Kanu alleging that she gave him N91 million for a business transaction.
The EFCC officer added that my brother’s bank account was checked, but the money was not found. He said the petitioner had submitted the petition in the morning and they arrested my uncle in the evening.
He said my uncle died around 1am, but I was called on the phone around 5pm. So I asked why it took over 14 hours to reach me, but the officer said they didn’t know who to call.
Was the deceased not with his cell phones when he was arrested?
The EFCC official claimed that my uncle’s two phones were dead. When I asked why they didn’t charge them, he said there was no electricity at the office and that the generator, which served as an alternative source of power, was bad. I told him that it didn’t make sense to me.
I asked if anyone was with my uncle when the incident happened, he said no.
I asked if my uncle was manhandled, he said no. I also asked if they knew his identity before he was arrested. The man simply said the petitioner only gave them his phone number. I said that could not be true. My uncle always introduced himself as the Chief Protocol Officer to the Minister of Defence, so there was no way the petitioner would not know his identity or where he worked. In any case, how can the petitioner claim to have done business worth N91m with my uncle without knowing his identity, workplace or residence?
Did anyone witness Nunugwo’s arrest?
He was picked up from his friend, Chinedu’s office. Chinedu is a lawyer. When I got in touch with him, he said the manner my uncle was picked up was rough and unprofessional.
Chinedu explained that they were eating corn when my uncle got a phone call. He told the person on the phone that he was at his friend’s office, and went further to describe the location. According to Chinedu, the person even asked why my uncle’s voice sounded strange and he replied that he was eating corn.
When the person arrived in the premises of Chinedu’s office, he called my uncle again and jokingly requested some corn. My uncle went with a cob of corn to meet him outside. The next thing Chinedu knew was that some people stormed into his office. He said two men and a lady came in and demanded my uncle’s car key.
Chinedu stood up and asked what the issue was about. My uncle said he didn’t know. He told the EFCC officials that the car key was in his pocket. Then the lady and a man slapped him. It was then Chinedu realised that my uncle lied that his car key was in his office so that he could bring the people to the office so he could see what was going on. Had they whisked him away when he went to meet them, nobody would have known who picked him up and how he disappeared.
Chinedu said he told them that they had no right to slap him. So they went downstairs and one of the officers entered my uncle’s car, but he couldn’t drive it because he didn’t understand that the transmission stalk was by the steering. They pulled my uncle down from their Toyota Hilux and asked him to explain to the official how to drive the car.
Chinedu said he informed them that he would follow them to their office, but they told him they would not attend to him because they would close for the day after breaking their fast. They asked him to come to their office at Aminu Kano, Wuse, the next day. Then they called me 16 hours later to come and take him on bail and when I arrived, they said he had died. I believe that whoever phoned me knew he had died. So they lied that I should come and take him on bail.
What explanation did the EFCC give for his death?
The commission said my uncle complained about pain and slumped. They rushed him to a hospital in Wuse before taking him to the National Hospital. But their story does not make sense because he was brought in dead to the National Hospital.
I asked what they usually did when someone died in their custody. They said an autopsy would be carried out. They promised to invite a pathologist, Prof Obafunwa. The twist is that they wrote to Obafunwa who gave them a bill of about N4m and they complained that it was on the high side. I asked them, “Is it too much to pay N4m to clear your name?” They came up with excuses and promises and then stopped talking about inviting Obafunwa.
They eventually chose a pathologist from the National Hospital to carry out the autopsy. I found out from the Head of the Histopathology Department that he was going to hands off the matter because the EFCC Chairman, Ibrahim Magu, had come to him.
Whatever transpired during their meeting, I don’t know, but he said he was going to excuse himself from the autopsy. So, the hospital presented a certain Dr Saheed. We used to hold meetings with the National Hospital and the EFCC. Each time, a problem would come up and the meeting would end. So nothing conclusive was arrived at. They did these things from 2016 to 2018 when it was decided that Saheed would perform the autopsy.
What did the postmortem reveal?
The pathologist said he didn’t find anything wrong or suspicious. He came up with a story that the deceased had a heart attack.
Do you know the witness?
We haven’t seen him. A lot of people are worried about the EFCC. Nobody has come out to say anything.
Did your uncle complain to you about ill-health at any point?
No. I searched his medicine cabinet and the only drugs I found were Seven Seas cod liver oil and anti-malaria drugs.
I have never heard my uncle complain about high blood pressure. You can imagine the rigour he had to endure as chief protocol officer to the minister of state for defence.
Did you make any effort to meet the petitioner after your uncle’s demise?
Yes. We asked the EFCC to invite Uloma to ascertain the veracity of her allegation, but they said they didn’t know where she was. We went to the Minister of Justice and presented our case, he said he would look into it. Later, they called us from the Force Criminal Intelligence and Investigation Department and I wrote a statement about what I knew. Since then, nothing has happened.
What did Nunugwo’s employers, the Ministry of Defence, say about the incident?
Officials at the ministry said the normal procedure was for the EFCC to write to them to release any member of its staff invited by the commission for questioning. I don’t know why they broke the protocol in my uncle’s case. They didn’t go for him during working hours. Instead, they traced him to his friend’s office after Uloma had cleverly called him on the phone to know his whereabouts and arrested him.
What does your family want to do about your uncle’s case?
Every day is a struggle for us because anytime you google his name on the Internet, the first headline you see is the headline: ‘Fraudster dies in EFCC custody.’
I have been following the case from the day he died, which was June 9, 2016, till date. There is no information from the government or the EFCC, regarding my uncle’s death. There is no news or information, regarding the investigation the commission claimed it carried out.
When I went to the Force CID to write my statement, the officer-in-charge of the case said he invited Uloma and she said in her statement that she didn’t ask EFCC to kill my uncle. It is funny that Uloma didn’t ask the EFCC about the so-called N91m.
Let the EFCC carry out an incisive investigation into the matter, we are not worried about the outcome of the investigation because we know that my uncle was not a fraudster. What we want is justice. Justice in the sense that whoever is responsible for his murder should face the wrath of the law.
If Magu (the EFCC acting Chairman) does not want to be held accountable, he should present the officers who perpetrated this crime for prosecution.