In 2000, when Ebenezer Oniyinde was drafted into the Nigeria Police Force, his father, 76-year-old Pa Oludotun Oniyinde thought thought he could heave a sigh of relief that his only son had fully become the breadwinner of the family. Unfortunately, that expectation was cut short barely three years into the force, when the younger Oniyinde died in the line of duty while protecting the property of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) at Kabba Junction in Lokoja, the capital city of Kogi State.

Oniyinde left behind a wife and his then two-year-old son, Victor Oniyinde, who has now grown into a teenager with no idea of who his father was.

According to the Nigerian Police Force, Oniyinde “was a level headed, intelligent and committed Police officer loved by all and sundry”. Sadly, these superlatives remain mere words to the deceased's then two-year-old son as he sees his grandfather struggle to get justice for his father, while the NNPC continues to demonise him.

The Genesis

Narrating how his only son died, the Pa Oniyinde told SaharaReporters that the younger Oniyinde and three others were detailed by the then Kogi State Commissioner of Police, on November 23, 2003, to secure the Igbonla Agbaja Spot Pipeline right of way, following attacks from vandals who had bombarded the pump station with jerry cans to scoop away as many products as possible.

Oniyinde and his colleagues warded off these touts and stood guard overnight to secure the vandalized pump station, until PPMC’s maintenance repaired the vandalized pipelines. However, this became a death trap as the four policemen were not provided with any safety kit to protect them from the poisonous emission from the product.

“Ebenezer was a very good boy,” Pa Oniyinde said, recalling how his son died of hydrocarbon poisoning while guarding NNPC pump station.

“He was 31 years old when he joined the Police Force. We just got the letter of condolence from the Police stating he had died. We then sent his brother, Abiodun Oniyinde, to Kogi State Police Command at Lokoja. The Nigerian Police gave him a befitting burial.

“Through the report of his death, we realised it was not just Ebenezer; there were four of them who inhaled the hydro-carbon from NNPC station. It was written on Ebenezer’s death certificate that he died as a result of inhaling the chemical.”

The Denial

In July 2004, after a year of trying to get the NNPC to rightfully compensate the Oniyinde family, a letter signed by Princess D.E. Oyekan, PPMC’s Secretary and Legal Adviser, said the policemen inhaled the poisonous substance because they were trying to steal the product.

In the letter, dated July 6, 2004, the PPMC stated that on the night of the attack, “the policemen brought jerry cans and started to fetch petrol (PMS) from the vandalized point. In the course of inhaling the vapour, a poisonous odour of the product gushing out of the vandalized point, three of the policemen slumped, the fourth however fled the scene of the incident.

“PPMC maintenance crew and the security men, on reaching the site the following day, managed to revive one of the three policemen. Four jerry cans used to fetch products were also recovered from the scene. It appears that the policemen were unaware of the dangers of inhaling the vapour and odour from the PMS gushing out under pressure which they came in contact with.

“From the foregoing, it is established that the unfortunate death of the officers was caused by their dangerous misadventure and not PPMC’s failure to provide adequate safety precautions for the policemen guarding the site.”

However, the family members of the deceased and Civil Liberties Organization (CLO) disagreed, insisting instead that Oniyinde and his colleagues died because of the failure of the NNPC and its sister organisation, PPMC, to provide safety kits for the men.

The Oniyindes argued that if they indeed tried to steal the product, it would have been impossible for the Nigeria Police Force to give the officers a befitting burial, such as was done for Ebenezer Oniyinde.

“I know my son is not a thief and it was the Police who sent him to guard the station, where he met his untimely death,” Pa Oniyinde explained.

“I am also not very educated but I know that the Police would not have given him a befitting burial and sent a condolence letter to the family.”

Indeed, in a letter of condolence dated December 4, 2003, obtained by SaharaReporters, the Police acknowledged Oniyinde as a man who served with honour who died “when he was at the point of his duty”.

15 Years On, Police Turn Blind Eye

It has been 15 years since Oniyinde died at the point of duty, but the Police have continuously turned a blind eye to the plight of his family members who are too poor to take on a huge company like NNPC in a legal battle.

According to a high-ranking Police officer who spoke to SaharaReporters, the Nigeria Police Force is required to investigate the allegation of NNPC to establish the true situation.

“Since the man is not on an illegal duty, it means he was requested and deployed to the station, which means he died in the line of duty," said the officer, who asked not to be named.

“Apart from the befitting burial and the gratuity that the Police is required to pay his next of kin, the company also has a duty to compensate the family members, because he died due to their negligence. Although it is not a written law, that is the practice.

“Also, in the case that the company refuses to pay, the Police is required to investigate reasons they have refused to pay and if a case of negligence on the part of the company is established, the Police should sue them or find alternative ways to settle the dispute and get the company to compensate the family of the deceased.”

Pa Oniyinde revealed to SaharaReporters that the Police never took any step to ensure that his family got compensated.

“They gave Ebenezer a befitting burial in my village, but that was everything they did for us. No gratuity and no compensation from the company," he said.

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