Suleiman Afegbua: One death, too many

Thursday, March 16, 2017 was indeed a dark morning for me and members of the larger Afegbua family. It was a day that Fulani gunmen planted sorrow and anguish in our hearts, left us speechless and askance as we were confronted with the grim reality that we have lost an illustrious son in Prince Suleiman Afegbua; the immediate past Executive Chairman of Etsako-East Local Government.

Even as I write, I am yet to overcome my grief but just to keep faith with my promise to meet up my deadline, I decided to summon courage to put this on paper. As I write also, two of my uncles are still guests of this notorious gunmen in the forest, who kidnapped them having shot dead Suleiman as he tried to escape the torrents of gunshots.

After the incident on that fateful morning of Thursday, five people who were known to me and others whose identity we could not readily ascertain, were kidnapped into the oil palm plantation along Benin-Auchi road.

It was an experience that remains despicable and condemnable. It is a gory reality that stares us in the face like one holocaust bearing no solution. Fulani gunmen seem to have taken over our highways and the Nigeria Police Force appear helpless in this renewed criminality. The Thursday incident happened almost close to the earshot of a Police checkpoint.

The members of the Police Force who were on duty couldn’t have feigned ignorance of the rains of gunshots that rented the air to hack down their wouldbe victims. Before Thursday, the date of this unfortunate incident, there had been series of attacks on Saturday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday; in that order, before they plucked my brother in his prime in such gruesome manner.

Despite the public information of the incessant attacks at the same spot on that ever-busy Benin-Auchi highway, the Edo State Police Command did not take any proactive step to arrest the ugly incident. If they did any intelligence at all, it was neither effective nor productive, as there was no sign of police action around the area, each time the gunmen came calling.

We have since discovered that the police vehicle that was packed near the spot of the incident had only two policemen who were idling away their precious time while the Fulani gunmen held sway.

By the time they were informed of what happened, they looked helpless as if to ask; “what do you want us to do? After all our vehicle has no fuel.” It is obvious the Edo Police Command leadership appears rudderless at present.

Rather than deploy men to the troubled spots along the full stretch of that everbusy Benin-Auchi road, what you find are pockets of police presence in villages along the road, leaving the thick, uninhabited forest portions of the road untended. And when they are told by road users of any incident along the road, they will agonise over lack of this and lack of that.

But they rejoice in the collection of tokens from motorists to fulfil the pressure of stomach infrastructure. In fact, the earlier denial by the Edo State Force Public Relations Officer that no one was kidnapped when indeed five of our relations were abducted, was most worrisome. Why the denial? Why the lies? What a country The Federal Government must take more than a passing interest in road rehabilitation.

The sorry state of the Okene- Benin highway offends one’s sensibility. The number of potholes and bad spots on that highway is alarming. And often times, these dare-devils use those bad spots to strike and attack their potential victims. It is normal for vehicles to slow down when they approach bad spots, and that makes it easier for the gunmen to get their target without much ado.

Minister of Works, Power and Housing, Mr. Raji Fashola, inspected the road sometimes a year ago with a promise to fix those bad portions, but up till now, nothing has been done. Once rainy season sets in, the situation would be compounded. Some of the potholes that have been covered temporarily with sands would be washed away by agents of denudation and erosion.

The potholes would further open up and create additional problems on the highway. The Edo State Police Command needs to wake up to its responsibility. The number of killings going on in Benin City and its environment is disturbing. It needs to retool the Operation Thunderstorm to assume its proactive role of combating crimes and criminalities once again. For now, the slogan; “Safer Highways” remains a mere slogan, grossly handicapped by poor funding and allowances. The Edo police command must wake up. It must show commitment and determination to do the job.

The ease at which gunmen operate without confrontation is frightening and utterly benumbing. We must move away from tokenism to real action in our clear resolve to building a solid security architecture to checkmate this growing insecurity across the country. For Suleiman, it is one death too many. We haven’t stopped wailing. We haven’t stopped mourning. We surely will mourn for a long time.

He’s not just a promising young politician who has cut his political teeth, he was a great mobilizer, a resourceful peace-maker and a reconciliator- in-chief, who abhorred violence in all its ramifications. He was full of zest and ideas. He was respectful to all; young and old. He was ever ready to champion the cause of the people in the local government.

He was result-driven. In his first term as Executive Chairman of Etsako- East Local Government, he succeeded in building huge infrastructure at the domestic and grassroots level; health centres, schools, markets, boreholes, and rural road construction. He was loved by the youth and celebrated by the elderly.

A graduate of History from the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Suleiman, in search of further knowledge later read Law in the same university and was, as at the time of his death, doing his Law School Programme at the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. He was both analytical in his discourse and punchy in his viewpoints. He was blunt, bold and highly opinionated.

He loves arguments because according to him, it brings out the best in any discourse. He loves to engage. He loves politics with a passion. Those who killed him thought they have killed his dream. Alas! We will keep the dream alive. Suleiman’s dream was for a better society.

A society with flourishing opportunities for all. His ideals of politics without bitterness and inclusiveness would be sustained to keep the political momentum afloat in Okpella in particular and Edo State in general. In his brief 44 years on earth, he went full circle, attained political recognition across the state, won laurels and awards across the country. Twice he won the best Local Government Chairman across the country by Good Governance Organisation.

He was always on the move, coordinating men and women for political empowerment. Fondly called; “the Chair” by his admirers especially the youth, Suleiman’s death has left a gaping hole in our hearts which will take a long time to fill. What will be the ultimate elixir to all of us is for the police to find his killers, the notorious Fulani gunmen that have taken over our highways. Until then, we will keep mourning

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