Some days ago, I came across a clip on the internet that left a big impression on me. It bothered me so much I felt compelled to change the initial subject of insecurity, which I had previously intended to discuss this week, in order to write about the topic I saw in the footage. The video was posted on YouTube by Mr. Moses Olafenwa from Ogun State, Nigeria and it was a cry for help regarding the ordeal of a Mr. Gabriel Olafenwa and his family.

The video was a four and a half minute clip which told the story of the alleged breach of the human rights of Mr. Gabriel Olafenwa and his family. At the end of the clip was an appeal for intervention by Mr. Olafenwa, where he claimed that his and his family’s life was in danger, and there were also details on how to contact him for further information.

Ordinarily, I would not respond to such appeals online, after all, hardly a day goes by without some sort of scam being sent to one’s inbox or social network pages in the form of a cry for help. But there was something affecting about this particular clip. There was something about it that struck me as being earnest and grave. I picked up the phone and called the number that was left at the end of the clip and asked if I could please speak to Mr. Gabriel Olafenwa. When he said that he was the one speaking, I went ahead and introduced myself and explained how I came across his story and was interested in knowing his version of what transpired and what his situation presently is.

My first impression of him, over the phone, was that he was a man who was very sound and articulate but was so franticly desperate to be heard. In his anxiety to give me his full story possibly in the best way he could, I could barely put together a clear picture of what exactly happened. But after failing to comprehend exactly what he was communicating to me, I resolved that knowing the full story from beginning to end at that stage was not of most importance. What was most critical was to ascertain the answer to one basic question and the response to that question would determine whether I wholeheartedly would be engaged in his full story. So I went ahead and asked him to be frank with me and answer me truthfully; I asked whether he honestly believed that his and his family’s life was in danger. It took a few seconds before the reply came but when it came, the tone was very stern and serious. “Yes,” he said, “Yes, I believe that my life and the life of my family is in danger!”

That was all that I really needed to hear at that point. With that, I bid him farewell and told him that I would be in touch with him soon. I dropped the phone and immediately went on my social media pages and posted his video clip and an appeal of my own for intervention in his case to numerous government personalities, human rights activists, prominent personalities who were Nigerian and active on social media. I also made a few calls to some of the people in government that I know and asked them to watch the clip, make the necessary inquiries and if there was a need, to intervene if his was a genuine cry for help. To my surprise and disappointment, there was hardly any response from those that had I reached out to.

I then decided to get back in touch with Mr. Gabriel Olafenwa, gather all the information on his case and dedicate my article this week to telling his story. I wanted to use this medium in order to bring awareness to his case and prompt a response from the relevant authorities. If Mr. Gabriel Olafenwa’s life is truly in danger, then there is a need for an investigation into his allegations.

From the information that I gathered from Mr. Gabriel Olafenwa, he is currently homeless, at the mercy of friends and is terrified for his and his family’s lives. He broke down his version of the events that pushed him to make and post the clip that I saw on YouTube. 

The narrative concerning events that led to the attack on Mr. Gabriel Olafenwa, his family and property from his perspective are as follows:

On the 30th of April, 2014, officials in Yewa South Local Government, Ogun State, allegedly led a mob of arsonists to attack and burn down the house of Mr. Gabriel Olafenwa on claims that the latter’s house was used for ritual activities. During the raid, Mr. Gabriel and his family narrowly escaped being lynched. From his account, the genesis of this event, which led to the eventual destruction of his house, began in 2008.

Mr. Gabriel Olafenwa explained that in 2008, a group of landlords living in his vicinity had purportedly agreed to frequently collect illicit fees from the community on the pretext of purchasing electric poles, wires and repairing existing functioning PCHN power installations. On one occasion when these fees were demanded from him, Mr. Gabriel Olafenwa refused to succumb to paying what he believed to be illegal fees.

According to him, in response, his electricity was disconnected, so he reported the case to the Ilaro police station. Subsequently, those identified to have facilitated the disconnection were duly arrested. They were later released on bail with a stern warning of disassociating themselves with electricity disconnection due to the fact that they were not PHCN officials. Mr. Gabriel Olafenwa recounts that in the aftermath of that incident, some of those that he had reported; who were later apprehended for the crime began waging a retributive war on his household by allegedly throwing stones, broken bottles and human excrement into his compound.

Ultimately, the apparent persecution of Mr. Gabriel Olafenwa culminated in an incursion on his property in which a team of officials, a cameraman and a mob descended and rummaged through his house in what they explained to be a search. Mr. Gabriel Olafenwa asserts that the people who searched his house did so under the pretext of searching his compound on the allegation that it was being used as a ritual den.

Throughout the attack on his family, Mr. Gabriel Olafenwa says that the police were not part of the team So, Mr. Gabriel Olafenwa stood his ground and told the group of people who came to search his house that the police had to be involved and a search warrant had to be produced before he would agree to any further search. He recounts that the police were later called and they ensured him that a search warrant had been issued before the search had been conducted. Although Mr. Gabriel Olafenwa never saw a search warrant, since the police had confirmed that they had issued a warrant, he eventually allowed for the search to continue. After the search, nothing incriminating was found in any part of the compound and the group of people left dispersed.

However, after that particular search, Mr. Gabriel Olafenwa says that another group later made their way forcefully into his compound and began to wreak havoc. They allegedly looted and destroyed everything in sight. The few policemen that had approached the property during the second onslaught merely looked on and did nothing to stop the attack.

From Mr. Gabriel’s account, that particular mob attempted to lynch him and his family. However, at that stage, a few of the policemen at the scene intervened and rescued the Olafenwa family and took them away from the area. It was not until some hours after that Mr. Gabriel Olafenwa learnt that his compound, containing his home, the registered office of his storage construction company, Olafetech Nigeria Limited, and its workshop, equipped with industrial machines and tools had been burnt down by arsonists in the attack.

Subsequently, some of the people involved in the destruction of Mr. Gabriel Olafenwa’s property were arrested and charged to the Isabo Magistrate Court in Abeokuta on May 7, 2014. Shockingly though, the case was withdrawn from court the very day it was charged by the police. On enquiring further, Mr. Gabriel Olafenwa said that he discovered that the case was withdrawn on the request of some government officials within that locality. Apparently, they had pleaded for an out of court settlement with Mr. Gabriel Olafenwa on the promise to pay for all that was lost to him and his family in the attack. He was offered the sum of N200, 000 and a rented apartment. Mr. Gabriel Olafenwa rejected this offer.

As a result of rejecting the offer, Mr. Gabriel Olafenwa says that he has continued to be persecuted and harassed and there has been no action in regards to his case by the authorities in Eleweran, Abeokuta, Ogun state.

Most worrying to me as I heard the account is Mr. Gabriel Olafenwa’s allegation that there was a plot to assassinate him in order to cover up the case. In his words, “June 30, marks exactly two months that the arson took place. The fact that all the perpetrators of the injustice, including the Vice Chairman are walking about scot free and all they could offer is a plan to put me in a rented apartment so that they could easily have access to me and assassinate me, hence, I cry out to seek justice.”

If the account that Mr. Gabriel Olafenwa’ told me is authentic, it indeed is a very pathetic story and deserves to be looked into thoroughly by the appropriate authorities. This is the 21st century and no one, irrespective of position or class should be above the law. If what Mr. Gabriel communicated to me is correct, exactly what was his crime? If he refused to be extorted by thugs, does that make it alright for him to be persecuted in the manner that he allegedly was and to lose his home, his livelihood, his business and for his family’s life to be in danger?

With the current security situation plaguing our nation, and on the backdrop of the violence and mayhem inflicted upon innocent Nigerians, such an atrocious act against the Olufenwa family, if established as legitimate, shouldn’t be allowed to happen. Our society shouldn’t be allowed to degenerate to a spate of lawlessness more than it already has.

When I first came across this story, it really moved me. At the time I responded to Mr. Gabriel Olufenwa’s call, I knew that I was concerned but I was actually perplexed as to why this one story of a family in Abeokuta tugged at me so much. After all, with all the recent killings, mayhem, kidnappings and bombings so widespread in Nigeria, Mr. Gabriel Olufenwa’s story should probably have been on the lower scale of urgency. But for some reason, this story really bothered me. It was not until I started writing this piece that the “A-ha” moment struck me. As I am telling the story that Mr. Gabriel Olufenwa relayed to me, it dawns on me why it is vital to help him spread his cry for help.

In so many of the tragic tales that we have come to know in Nigeria, there has often been indication and warning of a calamity, which we so frequently ignore. In the case of our Chibok girls, a letter was sent by WAEC warning of the danger of leaving the girls in that particular school for that exam; that warning was ignored until a disaster happened. In the case of the ALUU 5, when our poor boys were being lynched, people came and saw, the police were alerted, but nobody stopped it until a disaster happened. In the case of beautiful Cynthia Osukogu when she was being lured into that hotel room, some of the hotel staff were suspicious, the pharmacist selling the drugs, the person buying her phone were wary but nobody did anything until a disaster happened. In a number of the bombing and sectarian incidents we have recently seen, security reports have indicated the potential risks but hardly anything was done, until the disasters have struck. In every one of these cases, it has always been in the aftermath of a disaster that Nigerians sit and ponder as to why it was allowed to happen. It seems to be always after a disaster that we go on talk shows, begin demonstrations, set up committees in order to begin the ‘blame-game.’ At what point do we take some of these warnings in order to avert a disaster before and not after it happens?

I don’t know whether all that Mr. Gabriel Olafenwa told me is completely true but I am prepared to give him the benefit of doubt up and until there is an official inquiry that invalidates his claim. Mr. Gabriel Olufenwa’s story may not grab international news headlines the way our Chibok girls have, his account may not sound as intense as the circumstance surrounding our ALUU 5 boys, his ordeal may not even seem as important as the mass deaths brought about by the bombings, but surely his life and the life of his family is just as valid as the life of any Nigerian anywhere.

When I think of our Chibok girls, I think ‘what if’ the authorities had heeded that warning and taken our girls out before the insurgents came? When I think of the ALUU 5, I think ‘what if’ someone in authority had instructed the mob to stop their jungle justice and taken our boys to court instead. When I think of Mr. Gabriel Olafenwa and his family, I think ‘what if?’ What if his allegations are correct? What if their lives are truely in danger and it could be saved just by an article written to create awareness? What if…?

Whether Mr. Gabriel Olafenwa’s account is accurate or not, I don’t know! Whether he and his family are truly in the grave danger that he told me of, I cannot say for sure! But what I do know and what I can say is that I am not prepared to stand by and ignore yet another prospective warning, to watch more lives possibly be endangered without responding. I am not prepared to just sit idly by until another disaster occurs.

Mr. Gabriel Olafenwa has made his desperate cry for help; “My life is in danger…,’ he says. Now, what we each need to ask ourselves is whether we are all willing to yet again ignore a plea at the risk that our disregard could potentially mean the we have condemned a man and his family to, at best, great harm and, at worst, to death?

This story is just one example out of thousands of potential incidences that are widespread across the country. It is indeed just one example where the authorities and human rights bodies have an absolute responsibility to launch an inquiry and ascertain the true situation of the case and investigate the allegations Mr. Gabriel Olafenwa has made on the danger to his and his family’s life. At this stage, intervention in the case need not mean anything more than an inquiry to determine the legitimacy of his very serious claims.

I urge the government, human rights commission, legislature, every appropriate authority and the Nigerian people to watch the video Mr. Gabriel Olafenwa posted online through Moses Olafenwa’s YouTube page on https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pNcV7kN8JB0 in order to see the full story and pictures from the scene. I appeal to the authorities to further investigate the claims of Mr. Gabriel Olafenwa and his family and I call on all these bodies’ to critically look into this case without prejudice or favoritism to Mr. Gabriel or to those he accuses and ensure that lives are protected and justice is served to all parties concerned.

Written By Hannatu Musawa
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