By Owei Lakemfa.
THERE is a sickening campaign by some unfeeling persons that those who claim there were killings at the Lekki Tollgate on October 20, 2020 or are searching for missing loved ones who went to the protests, should produce the corpses.
To this group, unless corpses are produced, there could not have been killings. This is like taunting the rest of the populace. These Trumpian propagandists are not even being fair to a government that says it wants to unravel the truth about what happened at the protest site. This campaign is shallow and unintelligent. Murders do not necessarily produce bodies nor do massacres have to produce corpses. It depends on the plan, the perpetrators and the execution. This is why in court, circumstantial evidence can be used to convict a murderer even if the corpse cannot be found.
Murders and massacres can follow the Italian or American Mafia system of division of labour: those who shoot are different from the group that disposes, while these are different from those who wipe the crime scene clean of any possible evidence.
One of the most powerful and certainly the most famous American labour leader was James (Jimmy) Riddle Hoffa. He was President of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters for 14 years from 1957. On July 30, 1975 he went to a restaurant in suburban Detroit to meet two Mafia figures: Anthony Provenzano and Anthony Giacalone. There are conflicting claims whether he arrived at the restaurant or not. But his remains have not been found until date. That does not mean he was not killed.
On October 2, 2018, Saudi journalist, Kamal Kashoggi went to his country’s Consulate in Turkey to collect his divorce papers. There was a 15-member killer squad waiting for him. Until today, his body has not been found. But that does not mean he has not been murdered nor does it exculpate the Saudi government. There were massacres carried out in Srebrenica, Bosnia and Herzegovinan in 1995, and to-date, over 1,000 corpses have not been found. That does not mean they were not killed.
The Greenwood area of Tusla, Oklahoma, United Sates was a thriving Black community so renowned for its prosperity that it was nicknamed the Black Wall Street. On May 31 and June 1, 1921, a White mob attacked Greenwood with all sorts of weapons, including using private aircraft. At least 300 people were killed and some 800 injured while the area itself was obliterated. The main issue of what is now accepted as the Tusla Race Massacre is neither the attack nor the destruction of a bubbling Black economy, but the carting away of the bodies. With no corpses or graves, the White establishment practically denied there was a massacre. The Black population was so intimidated that for decades, there were only whispers.
Finally, Oklahoma State set up a commission in the mid-1990s to verify if there truly was a massacre. Its 2001 Report confirmed the historical truth. As the centenary of the massacre approaches, the state on October 19, 2020 began excavating four possible secret burial sites. They were identified using ground-penetrating radar scans. So the absence of corpses does not mean the Tusla massacres, 99 years ago, did not take place.
My last example is the 1995 Patani Massacre which until today, the Nigerian government has refused to acknowledge. A team of anti-robbery policemen driving on the Patani Bridge which straddles Delta and Bayelsa states on the Forcados River, came across a youth, Akpos Ekiyor. They profiled him and concluded he must be a criminal. After roughening him up, the now frightened youth was ordered to take the policemen to the houses of his friends. When they descended the bridge into the Ekise part of the town, Mr. Ekiyor took them to the home of the patent medicine dealer, Mr. Keboh. There, they met and arrested his three sons: Ebimobowei Keboh, Doreyerin Keboh and Goddey Keboh. Then he took them to the home of my uncle, Chief Ogini Fakrogha in the Taware end of the town. There, they met my first cousin, Mr. Ezekiel Fakrogha in his room and arrested him. Along the Taware road lived a then 70-year-old Pa Flint Orugun, a security guard at the Public Hospital, Bulu Angiama. The team profiled him as an herbalist who must have been producing charms for criminals in the town; so they picked him as they did a road transport worker, Mr. Mathias Kemefasu Famous who worked at the Patani Bridge Garage.
A police officer, Mr. G.A. who was known in the town, was seen with the policemen. He confirmed the team was from the Ughelli Area Command. The Patani Community leaders and chiefs who had gathered decided that since it was getting dark, it was better to go to the Area Command next morning to secure the release of the seven men. When the Patani delegation got to the Ughelli Police Command next day, they were shocked when the police claimed no such arrests were made and that in fact, no patrol team from the station was in Patani the previous day. When the delegation insisted the men were brought there, the confident Area Commander told his men to take the delegation round the cells to see for themselves that no such persons were brought.
In going through the cells, the delegation called out the names of the men, and in the last cell, Mr. Famous responded. That punctured the lies of the police. He told the delegation that when they were brought to the Area Command the previous evening, he was separated from the rest perhaps due to overcrowding in the cell. He said later in the night, from his cell, he saw the other six men being led away. He assumed it was for interrogation and thought he would later be called out, but nobody came for him until the delegation arrived. The truth was out: the police had executed the six other men! To worsen matters, it refused to show the families of the victims where the men were buried.
After series of petitions which included the names of the police officers involved, on behalf of the families, I approached leading Human Rights lawyer, the late Chief Gani Fawehinmi to take up the case. He assigned Mr. Festus Keyamo(current Minister of State for Labour) to handle the case. Together, we went to the Bomadi High Court, Delta State to file the case and commence proceedings.
Until this day, a quarter of a century later, we cannot produce the corpses of the six victims of the Patani Massacre, but it will be unwise to argue that that this means there was no massacre or that the men summarily executed by the Nigeria Police Force, never existed.