By Abdulsamad Jimoh
“Someone’s knocking on the door,” Mofe whispered, looking at the direction of the door that led outside their single-room apartment.
Wunmi started to approach it, but Mofe instructed her to stop.
“Let me attend to whoever is there,” he said, pushing the wooden table upon which his breakfast had been served aside and standing up from his plastic chair.
He reached the doorstep and asked, “Who’s there?” No reply. He glanced back at Wunmi, who was now sitting on the bed with their four-month-old baby boy.
This couple rarely had visitors since they got married. Their apartment was simple, with just a bed, plastic chair, wooden table, and wardrobe as the major properties. A kitchen and bathroom were part of the place too.
They had three neighbours in the compound—two spinsters and one bachelor. Any discussions with them were typically reserved for the veranda. Only few of Mofe’s friends knew his residence. He consistently welcomed his visitors and engaged in conversations with them at his phone repair shop.
Wunmi hadn’t lived in the area for an extended period, as she moved into the residence after their marriage. And since she had not yet begun practising her sewing craft, she often accompanied her husband to his shop.
The only time they would’ve received many visitors at the apartment was during the naming ceremony of their infant. However, this celebration took place in their hometown, and they had spent several weeks away before returning.
But that Thursday morning, when all their neighbours had gone to work, someone was banging the door unusually. “Who’s there?” Mofe asked again, but got no response.
He didn’t contemplate much further. With a quick motion, he turned the key and swung open the door.
The person outside was a young man in his twenties. His eyes fluttered like a nervous bird’s wings, blinking rapidly. Mofe’s surprise mingled with a sense of relief as he recognised the visitor.
“Leye,” he said, stepping out and partially closing the door. “I’ve been expecting you at my shop since last week. How did you find my house?”
Leye remained silent and stood unmoving, his gaze shifting towards the vacant floor before him.
“Who is it?” Wunmi’s voice sought an explanation from inside the apartment.
“No need to worry, it’s one of my regular customers,” Mofe reassured his wife through the slightly ajar entrance.
Suddenly, two men emerged from different sides of the building, converging on them. Another man opened the gate and entered the compound. One of them firmly gripped Leye from behind. Mofe was startled, but he gathered his courage and exclaimed in a resounding voice, “Who are you?”
Wunmi hurriedly swung the door open wide to see what was happening outside, having been drawn by the noise.
“Relax,” the second man, who was very tall, said with his hands making calming gestures in the air.
Mofe’s heart raced as he glanced at Leye who was roughly held nearby. A thought he wanted to discard quickly took hold—these men could be armed robbers or even assassins. However, he couldn’t see any weapon in view, and this offered a fragile sense of security for him and his family.
As the man who had entered through the gate approached, Mofe’s gaze quickly caught the glint of handcuffs hanging from his side pocket. The dark sunglasses the man wore sent a shiver down Mofe’s spine, intensifying his growing apprehension.
“Are you Mofe Owolabi?” asked the tall man who earlier told him to relax.
“Yes, I am,” Mofe replied with a trace of fear lacing his voice.
“Good! Officer, arrest him!” the tall man commanded, directing his words to the other who held the handcuffs.
“Arrest!” Wunmi exclaimed, her voice quivering.
Mofe wanted to start explaining himself, but the tall officer cautioned him to remain silent for his own good. The one wearing the dark glasses exuded authority; he firmly gripped Mofe’s arm, drawing him closer for restraint. The other officer guided Leye towards Mofe, and soon, they were both handcuffed together.
Wunmi’s pleas and questions filled the air as she desperately sought answers, her voice quivering with fear. “Please, sir, what has my husband done?”
“Madam, your husband is well aware,” the tall officer finally responded. He turned to Mofe and asked, “Where are those gadgets?”
“Gadgets?” Mofe reiterated as he seemed to have lost himself.
“Speak up!” the officer with the sunglasses thundered.
“Sh-o-p,” Mofe stuttered. “In my shop.”
“Good. Let’s move!”
With a push, Mofe and Leye were ushered towards the gate. Wunmi was totally confused as to what to do; her trepidation was obvious as she stood helplessly watching.
“Please, sir, may I follow…”
“Madam, you cannot follow us,” the tall officer interjected firmly. “We are from the Intelligence Department. You’ll see your husband later.”
Words like “Oh!”, “My God!”, and “Who do I call?” escaped Wunmi as she witnessed the officers escorting Mofe and Leye out of the compound.
Outside the gate, a waiting black van, housing two more plainclothes officers, stood nearby. Mofe and Leye were ushered into it. The engine roared to life, and soon, the van disappeared from view.
Meanwhile, the cries of the baby inside the house snapped Wunmi back to attention. She quickly shook off her confusion, and hurried to attend to her child.
The van arrived at Mofe’s shop.
Two officers – the one wearing dark glasses and the tall one – escorted Mofe and Leye to the entrance, which had an iron door. Many onlookers were shocked by Mofe’s distressing situation. The tall officer displayed his AK47, while the officer with dark glasses instructed Mofe to unlock the door after removing the handcuffs from his hand. He unlocked the door with his key and entered. The officers and Leye followed him. The shop was spacious, lined with wall shelves displaying various phone accessories such as chargers, earphones, batteries, and power banks. On one side, a long iron seat provided a spot for customers or guests to rest. At another end, adjacent to a large generator, two plastic chairs and tables were arranged. The shop’s interior was divided with plywood, designating an enclosed space where Mofe conducted the phone repairs. He retrieved a bag from this space.
“The items are here, sir,” he said.
“Bring them out,” the officer with dark glasses instructed.
Mofe reached into the bag and removed an HP laptop and an Infinix phone along with their chargers, and gently placed them on the tiled floor.
“Leye, confirm if these are the items,” the officer instructed.
After a brief examination of the items, Leye confirmed, “Yes sir, they are the ones.”
The items were packed, and they left the shop.
Two days later, Wunmi was extremely worried. She had visited the State CID where her husband was held, but the officers didn’t allow her to see him. Two of their neighbours, Bridget and Mr. Hassan, expressed concern and joined her in conversation that afternoon as she sat outside, dejected.
“Did the officers tell you the reason for his detention?” Bridget asked with much concern.
“They informed me that my husband was involved with a cult that recently killed two undergraduates,” Wunmi sadly revealed.
“Ahh… That’s serious oh!” Bridget exclaimed.
“It’s indeed a serious accusation,” Mr. Hassan added. “However, don’t let it consume you. Remember, it’s just an allegation, not a conviction.”
“Understood, sir,” Wunmi nodded gently, acknowledging his words.
“Have you informed his family?” Bridget questioned.
“Yes, I’ve reached out to his brothers and other relatives. He doesn’t have parents again.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” Bridget consoled. “What steps are they taking?”
“Two of them followed me to the State CID yesterday. The officers told us that my husband and others would soon be charged to court. I’m really scared about everything.”
“At this juncture, it’s crucial to engage a lawyer,” Mr Hassan advised.
“A lawyer? We don’t know anyone,” Wunmi nearly cried.
“Don’t worry, I’ll help you find one,” Mr Hassan assured.
Wunmi felt a bit relieved, and she thanked her neighbours sincerely. For someone like her, the thought of dealing with the court was quite scary, but her situation seemed to be leading her down that road.
Mr. Hassan fulfilled his promise and secured a lawyer for Wunmi. The lawyer was a gentleman whose face seemed to be permanently adorned with a warm smile. He calmly introduced himself as Barrister Ibrahim Sanusi. His friendship with Mr. Hassan had stood the test of time, beginning back in their secondary school days.
The officers granted Wunmi the chance to finally see Mofe on the day she went with Barrister Sanusi. Tears streamed down her face at the sight of her emaciated husband, a stark reflection of the time he had spent behind the bar.
Mofe was glad that Wunmi had successfully obtained legal representation for him, as he happened to be the sole accused person yet to receive assistance.
Barrister Sanusi urged Mofe to share the details surrounding his arrest and the accusations against him, and he obliged.
“I was in my shop that afternoon when Leye and Shoso came,” Mofe began. “I’m familiar with them because they often bring me phones to fix.”
“On that particular day, Leye approached me and said he had a market for me. I told him to bring it and let me see. He quickly rushed to meet Shoso, who was sitting very close to the entrance of my shop with a bag. Leye briefly talked to him and then carried the bag.
“When he got to me, he opened it and brought out an HP Laptop and an Infinix Hot 8 phone. He claimed the items had been sent by his brother, and he wanted to sell them. I checked the devices, and asked him how much. He proposed ninety thousand naira for the laptop and fifty thousand naira for the phone. I powered both the laptop and the phone to access them better. After that, I told him I’d give him thirty thousand naira for the phone and fifty thousand naira for the laptop. He fell silent for some time, and told me to wait. He went to talk to Shoso, who was still sitting at the same spot.
“When Leye returned, he told me to bring the money. I asked for receipts, but he said he didn’t have them at the moment. He promised to bring them later. I let him know I’d only give him thirty thousand and would pay the rest once he had the receipts. He agreed, and I handed over the money.”
“What happened next?” Barrister Sanusi pressed for more.
“I thought Leye would come, but he didn’t,” Mofe continued. “Then, two weeks later, I saw him at my house around 8:30 AM. I had no idea he brought detective officers with him, and that’s when they arrested me.”
Barrister Sanusi, who had been jotting down Mofe’s statement, looked up and said, “Do you know that Leye and Shoso are alleging that they entrusted you with those items until a buyer is found, so that you can all share the proceeds?”
Mofe gently beat his own face with his hands, drawing them down slowly while shaking his head, and responded, “Sir, that’s what those guys have been saying, but it’s a liar. They came to sell those items, and Leye told me the items were sent to him by his brother.”
“In their statements to the officers, they didn’t mention you giving them money,” Barrister Sanusi remarked.
“Sir, they’re just trying to implicate me,” Mofe said and shook his head again with a touch of sadness.
“Yes, but you can strengthen your case,” Barrister Sanusi explained. “You don’t need to withhold any information, as I’m here to defend you.”
“Yes, sir. I don’t know any other thing apart from what I’ve explained.”
“On the day they brought the devices, were there other people in the shop besides the three of you?”
“Yes, my apprentice and two other customers were present that day.”
“Your apprentice would have witnessed the interaction between you and Leye, then?”
“Yes, sir. In fact, I had him count the thirty thousand naira notes before I handed them to Leye.”
“Good. We are establishing a solid case. I’ll need to speak with him…”
Mofe instructed Wunmi to arrange a meeting between Barrister Sanusi and his apprentice. After their conversation, an officer came to escort Mofe back to his cell.
While Barrister Sanusi briefly met with higher-ranking officers in the department, Wunmi sat at the waiting area among other people, who had come for one reason or the other.
In the waiting area, she caught snippets of conversation among officers discussing the case—the particular one that involved her husband. They highlighted its noteworthiness, given the substantial interest it had generated among both the public and stakeholders in the state. The growing concern stemmed from the rising occurrences of cultism and student killings in the state, prompting a pressing need for decisive actions to address these challenges.
This information intensified Wunmi’s fears, and made it difficult for her to sleep at night. She was totally consumed by worry, but she believed her husband was innocent. She believed that the story he shared on the day they visited him was the truth. She realised that prayer was her strongest support at the moment, and so she prayed.
The courtroom buzzed with a crowd as Mofe and the other suspects stood before a state High Court for arraignment. Among the spectators was Wunmi, present to witness the unfolding proceedings.
The charges against six defendants were laid out in eleven-count information. These charges encompassed a range of offences, including conspiracy to commit crime, murder, armed robbery, illegal possession of firearms, belonging to an unlawful society, and receiving stolen properties.
The registrar of the Court read the charges aloud, making sure to translate them into Yoruba for some of the defendants who didn’t comprehend English.
Shoso, Leye, and one other person were accused of multiple charges, such as conspiracy, murder, armed robbery, illegal possession of firearms, and unlawful society affiliation. The remaining three, including Mofe, were charged either with receiving stolen properties or accessory after the fact.
According to the charge, three of the defendants were allegedly involved in a heinous attack and robbery that resulted in the tragic deaths of two victims—a university student and his elder brother. The victims were mercilessly murdered with firearms, and the culprits made off with valuables like Smartphone, Laptops, and smart watches.
Upon hearing the charges presented in the court and understanding their gravity, all the defendants pleaded not guilty. The case was adjourned to allow for thorough trial preparation, and in the meantime, all the defendants were remanded in a correctional facility.
As Mofe and the other defendants were marched out of the courtroom, Wunmi couldn’t help but feel a heavy sense of sadness. The weight of her husband being implicated in such serious crimes weighed heavily on her mind.
After exiting the courtroom with the intention of meeting Barrister Sanusi, she unexpectedly encountered Mr. Hassan on the premises among members of the press. The sight surprised her as she learned that he was a journalist covering the case.
“I’m surprised to discover you’re a journalist, sir,” she remarked.
Mr. Hassan, an investigative journalist from a reputable daily newspaper, had been diligently gathering information on the case, unaware it involved Mofe.
“Honestly, I only found out today that your husband is linked to this case,” he revealed.
“While there are other cases tied to cultism that are awaiting trial, my main attention has been dedicated to this particular one because of its intricate nature.”
Mr. Hassan had closely collaborated with the police and conducted thorough background checks in order to feed verifiable details to his newspaper.
Later that same day, Wunmi got a newspaper containing the reported story from Mr. Hassan, and she read through the details.
The victims were siblings. One of them, known as Fred, was a 400-level Civil Engineering student and an active member of the Student Union Government Senate Council within the university. He held a modest level of popularity on campus.
The rationale behind his tragic murder remained shrouded in uncertainty. On one hand, some speculated that it might be linked to his involvement in the Student Union Government, considering the fact that there was an ongoing conflict among the members of the union. On the other hand, there were assumptions that he could be associated with a secretive fraternity.
The report also revealed that the second victim was Fred’s elder brother, who recently returned from overseas. He had arrived at his brother’s residence just two days prior to the unfortunate incident.
On the fateful day, the police unit received a distress call, and they swiftly rushed to the scene. By the time they got there, they discovered the two victims, both shot in the head, lying in a pool of blood. The victims were transported to the hospital but were confirmed dead upon arrival, with their bodies reserved for autopsy. Following orders from the State Commissioner of Police, an intensive manhunt for the culprits commenced immediately.
In the course of investigation, it emerged that the victims’ Smartphones and Laptops had been stolen. The efforts by family and friends of the victims to reach out via the stolen devices were futile.
The phones were tracked, but it was only one of the devices that could be located. Nevertheless, the discovery led to the apprehension of one of the suspects, who was found in possession of the stolen smartphone and laptop, both belonging to the victims. He claimed to have bought the devices from two guys. When the police pressed him to produce the receipts of the devices, he couldn’t. He however, told the police that the guys assured him that they would provide the receipts for him later.
The police orchestrated a strategic move, using the initial suspect as a bait to capture Shoso and Leye. Afterwards, the other accomplices were fished out.
Upon the arrest of the three major suspects who were alleged to have carried out the heinous act, the policemen discovered identical tattoos featuring an enigmatic inscription on their bodies. This cryptic mark hinted at a possible affiliation with an unlawful society.
After Wunmi was done reading the news report, she had gained a comprehensive understanding of the matter. It was at this juncture that she began to weave together the complex connections between Mofe and the unfolding case.
At a subsequent trial session, a prosecution witness was called to the witness box. He was identified as a neighbour of the deceased. After being sworn in, the counsel to the prosecution guided the witness to recount his version of the event.
“That day, I got back from campus around 8:30 PM,” he began. “We normally lock our gate with a key because everyone in the house has their key to the gate.
“I was still awake around 11:30 PM when I heard a knock at the gate. Minutes later, I observed that someone from the compound approached the gate and opened it. I felt compelled to check, and I peeped through my window. I saw Fred letting in three guys. I couldn’t see their faces clearly, but I sensed that they were Fred’s friends.
“I went back to my bed. However, the silence of the night was interrupted a few minutes later when I heard music from Fred’s apartment. The volume wasn’t that loud so it didn’t disturb my sleep.
“Shortly afterwards, I fell asleep and didn’t know anything that transpired again, until around 2:30 AM, when I was floored back to consciousness by the jarring sound of gunshots. I was astonished. It was dark due to a power outage, but I heard running footsteps and our gate forcefully being opened and closed. I was so scared that I opted to quickly lie down on the floor for safety.
“I promptly contacted the police through my phone, informing them of the alarming situation.
“After a while, I reached out to other neighbours in the compound through phone, and those who answered my call confirmed that they also heard the noise. I carefully stepped out of my room, and I saw others coming out too. We found Fred’s apartment and our gate wide open. When we cautiously moved closer to his apartment, we saw him and his brother injured and lying in a pool of blood…”
Another witness called by the prosecution was a night watch. The man revealed that he encountered three guys escaping the compound with some bags. He said he tried to stop them, but one of them struck him on the head with a large stick, causing him to faint. Despite this, he was able to identify Shoso, Leye, and the third person among the defendants.
The legal representatives of the defendants all conducted their cross-examinations of the witnesses during the proceedings. On subsequent dates, when the case was slated for the defence, they presented their own witnesses to bolster their arguments.
The trial extended over a span of fifteen months. After the legal representatives of both sides presented their final addresses before the court, the judge announced a date for the judgement.
A gap of seven weeks separated the day of the announcement from the day of the judgement. A considerable number of people eagerly anticipated the day due to the significant attention the case had attracted both within and beyond the state. The family and friends of the deceased, along with the public, held firm in their anticipation for justice to be upheld. In contrast, the families of the defendants fervently sought solace through prayers and tearful pleas for mercy.
On the day of the judgement, the gallery of the courtroom was packed with spectators. When the case was summoned, the defendants were led to the dock as usual and they remained standing there waiting for their fate to be decided.
Mofe’s mind wasn’t at rest. For the past seven weeks, he had been thinking and waiting for this day. He had already mentally prepared to accept whatever outcome awaited him. As he glanced at Wunmi, who was sitting among the crowd with their baby in her back, regret weighed heavily on him as he realised the cost of his actions on their lives.
The judge commenced the delivery of the judgement, and everybody listened attentively. He extensively recounted the details of the case from the inception till the last stage, and scrupulously reviewed the evidence.
In the end, the judge found four out of the six defendants guilty of various offences, including conspiracy, murder, armed robbery, illegal possession of firearms and accessory after the fact to murder.
Having convicted the four defendants, the judge pronounced their punishments. He sentenced Shoso, Leye and another to death by hanging; he sentenced the fourth person, who was convicted for accessory after the fact to murder, to life imprisonment.
Mofe and the other defendant who were charged for receiving stolen properties were fortunate as the judge took into account the circumstances linking them to the case and declared them not guilty, leading to their discharge and acquittal.
The court was adjourned immediately after the judgement. With a dignified motion, the judge stood and exited the courtroom.
The premises soon grew congested with a throng of people. Security personnel maintained a vigilant presence throughout the area, while members of the press documented the unfolding events. The families of those condemned to death expressed their grief as the convicts were escorted to the awaiting prison van.
Mofe felt a wave of relief at his acquittal, and recognised his stroke of luck. He vowed to exercise extraordinary caution in his future endeavours.