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Relatives Agonise Over Delayed Justice For Policeman Killed On Duty

Abiona Hezekiah, once honoured by the government for returning five million naira that had fallen off a bullion van, was stabbed to death while on duty in Lagos, Nigeria.

Abiona Hezekiah, 53, an assistant superintendent of police, was on official duty when he was stabbed to death at Satellite Town in Lagos, Nigeria on Dec. 3, 2022. 

The naval officials who killed him – Onyekachi Egwin and Nnamani Anointing – were riding a motorcycle against traffic laws when Abiona and his colleagues flagged them down. 

Lagos State Government prohibits driving against traffic (one-way). The offence is punishable by imprisonment and forfeiture of vehicle.

The two naval ratings ignored the directive of the police and began to engage in an argument with Hezekiah and his colleagues. It eventually degenerated into a fight. 

Hezekiah was stabbed in the process by the naval officers who reportedly brought out jackknives to fight. Then, in their bid to escape, they stabbed three other civilians but were apprehended by other policemen at the scene before they could flee. 

Hezekiah was later confirmed dead at Lagos Island General Hospital in Marina. 

Family grieves 

The morning after, the police reached out to the slain officer’s first child, Benjamin, to inform him that his father was admitted in the hospital.  

“I received a call from his division as early as 5:30 a.m. that my dad was involved in an accident. On getting to his station, we were asked to go to the hospital. But to my surprise, I was told that he was brought in dead. I tried to put myself together but seeing him in the pool of blood, with a sharp cut on his chest made me cry,” Benjamin told HumAngle. The autopsy report revealed that his father was stabbed. 

About three weeks later, Lagos State Police Command paraded the two naval ratings involved in Hezekiah’s killing and promised to work with the state ministry of justice to ensure that justice prevails in the case.

The slain policeman’s body was later buried at his uncompleted residence on Jan. 12, 2023. 

A banner showing the burial programme of the slain police officer. Photo: Benjamin Abiona.

“We continue to live with the trauma created in our family. My mother has always been a full housewife and does not even know where to start because our breadwinner is gone.”

No respect for humanity 

In Jan. 2023, the Nigerian Navy asked the State Criminal Investigation Department of Police in Panti, Yaba, to release the suspects to them for onward prosecution. The deceased’s relatives accused navy authorities of neglect after that. 

“No representative of the Nigerian Navy paid us condolence throughout the period of grief. They pretended as if they did not know about our plight. No one cares about how the children left behind would survive despite serving Nigeria relentlessly,” Benjamin said. 

“My investigations into the death of my dad appeared to be handled with levity. My siblings and I have had our academic lives disrupted and it looks like no efforts are made to do justice. My dad was killed with the dream he had for us.” 

Speaking with HumAngle on the gross violation of Hezekiah’s right to life, Inibehe Effiong, a lawyer and human rights activist urged the Nigerian Navy to respect the rule of law. 

“Six months after the Nigerian Navy demanded that the officers should be released to them for internal investigation and dismissal from service before they can be prosecuted in the civil court, they have been playing hide and seek with the case and have refused to take appropriate actions against their personnel. They have also not released them to the police.

“This is very tragic and unfortunate. I disagree with the posture of the Naval authorities on this case. Military personnel are subject to both service law and the civil courts. Any action taken by a member of the Armed Forces that is capable of bringing disrepute to the Service is an offence under the Armed Forces Act. I call on the new Chief of Naval Staff to urgently look into this case and ensure that justice is done. This injustice is unacceptable.”

Nigerian Navy

Reacting to the allegation of neglect, the Nigerian Navy spokesperson, Adedotun Ayo-Vaughan, in a statement claimed to have been obtained from the legal department of the force accused the Nigeria Police Force of not providing an autopsy report and the case files of the matter despite repeated requests.

“The delay in initiating disciplinary proceedings against the ratings was purely by the civil police as they failed to furnish the Nigerian Navy with the case file and autopsy report despite repeated demands.

“It took the Nigeria Police over four months to forward their report to the Nigerian Navy. On the status of the case, a general court-martial has been convened by the command, to try the ratings for the offences of murder, fighting, quarrelling, disorderly behaviour and disobedience to standing orders.” 

The statement added that no compensation would be given to the family of the victim because the naval officials did not commit the alleged offence in the course of discharging their official duty. 

The Nigerian Navy explained further that it cannot be held vicariously liable for the conduct of the ratings who were on a frolic of their own, the Punch reports

Meanwhile, Benjamin Hundeyin, Lagos State Police Command spokesperson is yet to respond to enquiries seeking clarification on the allegations against the police force. 

Speaking on the support from the police, the deceased’s son said: “The police made payment for some of the expenses incurred for my dad’s burial. We’ve also submitted the necessary documents for pension and gratuity to the police. So, we hope to hear from them soon.”

‘Patriotic policeman’

“My father spent his life working tirelessly for the police force. He never received a bribe on the road or anywhere,” Benjamin continued.

Hezekiah was one of the two officers who returned ₦5 million cash belonging to the then Skye Bank now Polaris Bank in 2016 after the money fell off a bullion van around Alausa, Ikeja.

“When he saw the money, he called my mum about his discovery and his decision to return it. My mum supported him and urged him to do so as quickly as possible. He was fine and satisfied with the little he earned monthly.”

Following their patriotic act, Lagos’ ex-governor, Akinwunmi Ambode, compensated Hezekiah and his colleague Ogunbiyi Agbabu with commendation letters and N250,000 cash each.

Ex-commissioner of police in Lagos State represents ex-governor Akinwunmi Ambode as he honours Hezekiah Abiona. Photo: Benjamin Abiona. 

“This heroic act and professional conduct is in line with the ‘Change Mantra’ of the present administration which will ensure a renewed confidence in the Nigerian Police Force by the populace,” the governor had said. 

The duo also bagged promotions which skyrocketed Hezekiah from the rank of inspector of police to assistant superintendent of police. 

Hezekiah also bagged the award of Trustworthy, Honest and Integrity Police Officer in 2017 from the Crime Reporters Association of Nigeria (CRAN).

Commendation letter issued to Hezekiah Abiona by ex-governor Akinwunmi Ambode. Photo: Benjamin Abiona.

Since the demise of his father, the responsibility of taking care of the family now rests with Benjamin, forcing the 25-year-old final-year student of Tai Solarin University of Education to apply for leave-of-absence. 

“My dad had five children. My mother is a full housewife. I deferred my 400 levels because I have to work to put food on the table for my siblings and keep them in school. This wouldn’t be happening if my father were alive. He took full responsibility for us.”

Late Hezekiah had spent 34 years in service before he was killed. He was due for retirement in Nov. 2023.

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Adejumo Kabir

Kabir works at HumAngle as the Editor of Southern Operations. He is interested in community development reporting, human rights, social justice, and press freedom. He was a finalist in the student category of the African Fact-checking Award in 2018, a 2019 recipient of the Diamond Awards for Media Excellence, and a 2020 recipient of the Thomson Foundation Young Journalist Award. He was also nominated in the journalism category of The Future Awards Africa in 2020. He has been selected for various fellowships, including the 2020 Civic Media Lab Criminal Justice Reporting Fellowship and 2022 International Centre for Journalists (ICFJ) 'In The Name of Religion' Fellowship.

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