SaharaReporters has learned that a military officer in Delta State executed a police informant named Benson Ogedegbe, a resident of Ethiope West Local Government Area (LGA) of Delta State, without trial or just cause. Our sources, including police officers in the area, said Mr. Ogedegbe was on Tuesday, June 23, 2015 shot at close range in broad daylight by Lance Corporal Obinna of the 19th Battalion, stationed at the Koko Military Base in in Delta State.
Our police sources said several people witnessed the extra-judicial murder Mr. Ogedegbe early on Tuesday morning.
According to a senior police source, “Lance Corporal Obinna carried out this murder on the orders of his Commanding Officer, Lieutenant-Colonel Umar.” Colonel Aminu Umar is also stationed at Koko Military Base. Also present during Mr. Ogedegbe’s extra-judicial execution was one Captain Femi and three other officers.
Several witnesses at the scene told SaharaReporters that Lance Corporal Obinna, Captain Femi, and three other military officials stalked Mr. Benson Ogedegbe on an expressway, stopped his car by shooting at it, pulled him out for severe beating before shooting him.
SaharaReporters obtained exclusive photos of Mr. Ogedegbe’s car with its windows shattered by gunfire. “We were there when the soldiers shot at the man’s car,” one witness said.
A source told SaharaReporters that the soldiers pulled Benson Ogedegbe out of his vehicle and beat him mercilessly in front of witnesses. Then he said that Lance Corporal Obinna spoke to somebody on a communications device before stepping forward and fatally shooting Mr. Ogedegbe.
A police source told SaharaReporters that Lance Corporal Obinna received the order to shoot from Lieutenant Colonel Umar.
As Mr. Benson lay in a mechanic’s shop dying, a crowd of angry people gathered—spurred at the scene of the heinous act. The five military officers responsible for the murder, including Lance Corporal Obinna and Captain Femi, reportedly fled for fear of retaliation by the community. They took Mr. Ogedegbe’s remains to the nearby Delta State University Teaching Hospital.
Two police sources told SaharaReporters that the murder of Mr. Ogedegbe was a deliberate, calculated, and desperate attempt by officers at Koko Military Base to protect the financial interests of gangs operating in the Ethiope West Local Government Area. According to the police, these criminal gangs pay off top officers at the 19th Battalion of the Nigerian Army, and enjoy protection from these military officers.
The primary mission of the 19th Battalion at Koko base is to protect the oil pipelines in the area from theft, sabotage, and damage. However, numerous sources, including residents and police officers, told SaharaReporters the soldiers at Koko Military Base had a history of terrorizing the community with impunity for several years.
Our sources said the local crime boss, identified as Onoriode “Onos” Okoribo, arrived about two years ago in the Ethiope West area and had been operating with the open protection and collaboration of the military. Our police sources said “Onos” was the mastermind of armed robbery, murder for hire, and kidnappings in the area.
“We [the local police] know that Onos and the military have been conspiring,” the police source told SaharaReporters. He added, “They [Onos and top army officers at Koko camp] have been responsible for most of the crimes in the Ethiope West area.”
Mr. Ogedegbe was described as a trusted police informant who reported on criminal activities in his community.
“He gave us information on the activities of Onos and his connection to members of the 19th Battalion,” one police officer said.
One community resident said the murdered Ogedegbe “knew a lot about the crimes in this area. He was always informing the police about this knowledge. He added, “Benson and the military were having issues. They warned him, but he continued to do his work as a good citizen. That’s why the military killed him.”
SaharaReporters learned that Mr. Ogedegbe had recently sought safe refuge in the local police station in Oghara area to protect himself from harassment by soldiers from the 19th Battalion.
A police officer said soldiers attempted to capture Mr. Ogedegbe from the police station in Oghara twice in the past week and a half. “We prevented Benson from being captured twice. We told them that if they had charges against Benson then provide us with evidence and we will investigate,” one police officer said, noting that the military has no jurisdiction on civil matters.
One family member told SaharaReporters that, when the military was unable to capture Mr. Ogedegbe, they raided his house and abducted his oldest son. This fact was also collaborated by a police source.
The abduction of his son, who was subsequently detained, was intended to force Mr. Ogedegbe out of the safety of the police station.
A police source told SaharaReporters that in 2013 Mr. Ogedegbe was arrested on the belief that he was working alongside criminal elements in Ethiope West area, but that the Criminal Investigation Division in Asaba, Delta State found him innocent.
SaharaReporters learned that Benson Ogedegbe left his home early on the morning of Tuesday June 23, 2015 and drove himself to Akume Primary School. In addition to his job as Chairman of the Vigilante Group in Oghara, he was also a football coach for primary school children.
Police sources said that they could not investigate Mr. Ogedegbe’s death, in part due to pressure they would face from the military at the 19th Battalion who killed him. “As of now, Obinna has been arrested by the military,” a police source said. However, he said the shooter’s detention was a face-saving measure brought on by the community’s reaction to Benson’s murder.
“For now this is a military affair but they should hand over evidence to the police for prosecution,” the officer said.
Several police officers and residents told SaharaReporters they believe the investigation into the criminal conduct—including murder, armed robbery, kidnapping, and theft—in their area of Delta State had been compromised by military figures. One source said, “there are powerful people [backing] the 19th Battalion with connections to Abuja [military command] and they are frustrating any police investigation.”
The police in the Ethiope West area confirmed that they are not investigating the events surrounding Benson Ogedegbe’s murder. SaharaReporters could also not reach anyone from the 19th Battalion for comment. Major General Chris Olukolade, Director of Information for the Nigeria Armed Forces, also did not return SaharaReporters’ call.
Residents in the Ethiope West Local Government Area told SaharaReporters that members of the 19th Battalion stationed at Koko Military Base have been supporting the criminal actions by local gangs, particularly local crime boss Onoriode “Onos” Okoribo.
Several community sources accused the army of running a “concentration camp” at the Koko Military Base, which is being used as a secret detention center to hold an unknown number of people. One source told SaharaReporters “if you have a reporter come to the concentration camp you may see at least 30 people wearing uniforms being held.” A police source confirmed the information that there was a concentration camp at Koko Military base but said “I have not seen it with my own eyes.”
Another community member said that the military holds detainees at the facility until “they pay bribes to the army before they are released.” He said the army demands at least N50,000.
A community activist told SaharaReporters that the murder of Benson Ogedegbe is “part of a larger picture in our community” where the 19th Battalion has continuously intimidated, terrorized, and robbed.
It is unclear if the military command in Abuja will intervene into the activities of the 19th Battalion, or subject Lieutenant Colonel Umar, Lance Corporal Obinna, Captain Femi, or the other members of the Koko Military Base to disciplinary action for their alleged involvement in violations of human rights.
The 19th Battalion is under the 4th Mechanical Brigade, which is based in Benin City, Edo State. The military command in Benin City did not respond to calls before this publication.