I wish to inform you that death comes in the morning
I worked briefly as a law journalist exactly seven years ago for a newspaper in Lagos, Nigeria. One of the highlights of my sojourn into the world of legal reporting was the coverage of the sensational murder case of the former Attorney-General of the Federation Bola Ige. The former deputy governor of Osun State Senator Iyiola Omisore was the principal accused person, his cousin and personal assistant Alani Omisore, Olugbenga ‘Damola Adebayo alias ‘Fryo’ and the former security details of the slain politician. All the eleven men were the face of the political and court room drama that the Ige trial became notorious for.
Those were the days when journalists had to try to get to the comatose Nigerian telecommunications behemoth NITEL or to the Governor’s Press Secretary’s Office at Agodi secretariat before they could use fax machines. Not many journalists were adept at filing stories via e-mail, indeed perhaps only one or two could afford to buy laptops neither were digital cameras readily available. As a matter of fact, there were no digital recorders that could record up to five hours at a stretch like you now have. We had to make do with the old analogue tape recorders. This all meant that real time reporting was lost. Only if you were covering what was considered to be a hot story would the news editor be literally on your neck, tracking you down with the newly acquired mobile phone technology. All these things we take for granted now, but just a decade ago we were literally in the Stone Age.
After having attended court proceedings during the week in Ibadan, my strategy would be to leave for Lagos by Friday evening and stay in the news room all weekend collating the stories for the law pages, editing, proof-reading with the sub-editors, ensuring the type-setters keyed the final articles into the servers for printing. In the late night news room atmosphere, many friendships were forged including that with Messer’s. Ikechukwu and Umoh. Many cerebral analyses on the state of the nation were held at a particular pepper-soup/beer parlour a few minutes walk from the ever-busy Nigerian Railway Quarters-Costain-NBL Iganmu-National Theatre axis. As we armed our stomachs for the long night of work that lay ahead, we also sharpened our intellect with the debates we held. These were the skeletal framework of the political commentaries we wrote about. Umoh was the Labour correspondent, Ikechukwu was the Features editor and we never lacked issues to analyse. It varied from the Adams Oshiomole led labour strikes over the increase in petroleum pump prices, how Nigeria was importing refined petroleum products from countries it had exported crude oil to due to the fact that our refineries have all been ran aground to Ikechukwu’s narrow escape from being arrested as a spy by the Cameroonian authorities and gendarmes on his investigative reportage trip to the disputed territory of Bakassi Peninsular shortly after The Hague Ruling in favour of Cameroon.
And of course, I obliged them the insider story of the twist and turns of the Ige case like when the Oyo State Police Commissioner, Felix Ogbaudu revealed in court that US Federal Bureau of Intelligence FBI had helped conduct a lie-detector test on Omisore with regards to his complicity in Ige’s murder. But he claimed that he could not produce the polygraph test in court as the case file was not in his custody to buttress the evidence he gave that Omisore passed the said test. The prosecution team claimed that they had severally asked for a copy of the test to no avail. Neither was it included in the prosecution file passed to them from the police.
Another instance was when the then Attorney General of Oyo State ‘Lekan Latinwo closed the case for the prosecution without the consent of the learned SAN the late ‘Debo Akande who arrived in court minutes after the judge arose. The drama that played out in the court’s car park is a locus classicus for on the spot gaffe reporting. I will attempt to paraphrase this ex tempore as best as I can. This happened seven years ago and my notes are not with me as I write this.
Akande arriving in the court car park asked the AG: ‘Se e ti se tan ni?’ (Has the court risen?)
AG: Beni Sir, a ti setan. (Yes Sir, we have finished) I have closed the case.
Akande: What? Who told you to close my case? You do not have my consent to close my case. Keyamo has told me what happened.
AG: Ha, Baba! E ma binu, mo ro pe eti se tan ni? Oh! I am so sorry Sir, I thought you had finished.
This drama was played out right before the horde of journalists scribbling away every word uttered and the rolling television cameras. The young AG was almost prostrating for the older SAN before the whole world. A conflict between indigenous Yoruba culture and political authority ensued. Of course the AG can close the case as a matter of law. As a matter of fact, the AG can discontinue the whole proceeding as only he wields the power of the nolle prosequi which literally means ‘to be unwilling to pursue’. But the charged mood of the nation and the sensitivity of the case were such that every twitch of the finger or a twist of the eyebrow could be misinterpreted.
Omisore was elected to the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria when he had questions to answer with regards to Ige’s murder. He was subsequently elected as the Chairman of one of the Senate Committees as a result of the controversial bail that he was granted. Fryo had retracted the statement given through his erstwhile lawyer Festus Keyamo implicating Senator Iyiola Omisore as the sponsor of the assassination plot. Ige’s wife, the late Justice Atinuke Ige was so traumatised in court that she went into shock. Such was the extent that she passed away in hospital a few hours later. Not to mention that one Mr. Justice Moshood Abass of the Oyo State High Court withdrew from the case citing ‘pressure from high quarters’.
I left active journalism for another career in the Niger-Delta and from time to time we caught up via phones and online. He had asked me twice to come and write for the new paper where he was the assistant editor. The second offer was just a few weeks ago and he wanted me to have a back-page column. I agreed and I was awaiting feedback on a few other issues that needed clarification from the editorial board chairman. And then came the news that Umoh passed away. More poignant is his last facebook status update on Wednesday 14th July 2010 ‘Thank u Jesus….dear friends, twice in two weeks God has spared my life in miraculous ways…iam a living testimony’ (sic)
I know the Holy Book says that joy comes in the morning. But I wish to inform you that death comes in the morning, in the afternoon and in the evening as well. It came for a friend just as he was reaching the pinnacle of his career. In the space of the seven years that I knew him, he had lost his dad, then got married a little over two years ago and then lost his mum a few months back. He had gone to his home town to prepare for her burial when he passed away too.
My condolences to his wife, Helen. From now on as a tribute to Ubong Umoh I will live the rest of my life in a most unabashed manner. When the bell tolls for me, you won’t catch me napping ‘O ye eternal leveller of men and fate’. I would have achieved what I wanted, when I want and how I want it. And that which I can’t lay my hands on, I would take a good look at; and wave goodbye. I will move on to enjoy and savour the next objective. I shall try very hard not to live regretfully again. I will live this one life in my possession to its fullest according to the grace and health that my creator gives me.
Rest in peace my dear friend; to me you were a good fella.