Monday, May 1, 2016 was not just a sad day for the family of 40-year-old Haruna Odude. For his wife, Iyabo, and five children, it was the most devastating day.
In Owutu area of Ikorodu, an area of Lagos where the activities of militants make the daily duty of policemen a matter of life and death, Iyabo said she always said a silent word of prayer for Haruna whenever he left the house for work at the Owutu Police Division.
But her worst nightmare came true that Saturday when words filtered in that her husband, who had left for his overnight patrol ,had gone missing after his team was attacked by a group of militants.
It has been two months since Haruna went missing, but Iyabo, his wife of 13 years has never been invited by police authorities or given any official explanation about what might have happened to her husband.
Iyabo, a nurse, said her last two children – a set of twins – celebrated their first year birthday just a few days before their father went missing.
“When my husband went missing, anytime I went to his station to try and get any information, his superiors would hide from me. I was desperate, I just needed information, any information that could show they are making any kind of effort to find him, but it was like they have forgotten about him, Iyabo told Saturday PUNCH.
Our correspondent learnt that some days before Haruna went missing, his team members intercepted a vehicle loaded with stolen fuel from the creeks of Ikorodu and impounded the cargo, which they allegedly sold off later.
An unidentified woman who the cargo was seized from was said to have gone back to the militants she was working with in the creeks and reported what the policemen did.
A source who is to the case, told our correspondent that the militants stormed the Owutu Police Division after that and warned that if the police did not hand over the fuel or the money realised from its sale, they would deal with the policemen at the station.
Iyabo told our correspondent that on May 30, her husband was driving back from a family event in his hometown, Ijebu-Ibido, Ogun State in company with one of his nieces when one of his team members called him over the phone.
“After my husband went missing, the niece said while she was in the car, my husband received a call and he was arguing with one of his colleagues about some money from the sale of fuel,” Iyabo told our correspondent.
Haruna’s brother, Mr. Bashir Onakoya, also gave the same account. According to him, the young woman told them that she asked Haruna after dropping the call who he was arguing with.
“She told us that Haruna told her about some fuel they sold off and their Divisional Police Officer told them to return the money. He said the team members had already returned N100,000, which was proceeds from the fuel sale to their boss but that he insisted that it remained N40,000.
“Apparently, it was the remaining N40,000 the DPO was asking them for, which Haruna was arguing with his colleague about over the phone.”
Haruna’s wife told our correspondent that her husband never told her about any money or about any problem at work.
On Sunday 31, Haruna departed for office.
“When he got to work, I called him in the morning to check up on him, I also called him in the afternoon. By night, I called him again and we said good night to each other. I did not know I was saying good bye to my husband for the last time,” Iyabo said.
She said the following day, she had no idea what had happened but when three of her husband’s siblings called to find out where he was.
She said, “I had called his two lines that day but I did not think anything was amiss when they were switched off.
“But later in the day, one of his sisters called in the evening to console me. She said my husband was missing. I told her it was a lie.”
That was the beginning of an agonising journey of uncertainty for Haruna’s wife and children.
Saturday PUNCH heard from sources at the Owutu Police Division that on the night of Sunday, May 1, 2016, Haruna and other members of his team were on a routine patrol in the community, when they were ambushed by militants.
It was learnt that in the attack, three members of the team were able to escape in their patrol van while Haruna and another policeman were left behind.
That was the last time the policemen would be seen.
Iyabo went from pillar to post trying to get information about her husband’s fate.
She said the police offered no explanation and neither did Haruna’s immediate boss at the Owutu Police Division try to see her and condole with her.
She said, “I desperately needed to hear from the police authorities words that would at least put my mind at rest. But no such thing happened. All I want is my husband back, dead or alive?
“Nobody has told me if his body was found anywhere. I was told he must be dead by now, but did the police he worked for even try to look for his body?
“I just heard from his colleagues that three of his team members who were there when they were attacked were locked up at the Department of Criminal Investigations. But the people in his station hide from me anytime I go there.”
Iyabo said she had also visited the police headquarters in Ikeja, but nobody even cared to listen to her.
She cried when she told our correspondent, “I always told my husband to be careful during the beginning of the problems of the militants in Ikorodu.
“But he assured me that they had been warned to stay clear of the areas where the militants were. He told me not to worry because he was safe. He said he only went out if they send them out on routine patrol.”
Long list of missing policemen, DSS operatives
Since the activities of suspected Niger Delta militants in Ogun and Lagos state started, there has been a long list of security agents who have been killed or simply gone missing in communities like Arepo, Ikorodu and Igando.
The families of most of them were never offered any official explanation about the fate of their loved ones.
It was learnt that few days after the operation in which Haruna and his colleague went missing, the militants were said to have mounted another attack.
Our source said the militants simply drove past the Owutu Police Division one night and shot dead some policemen standing around the station.
Spokesperson for the Lagos State Police Command, Dolapo Badmos, promised to make inquiries about the case and about the policemen detained after Haruna went missing but has yet to do so as of press time.
It is not clear what policy the Nigeria Police has on policemen who go missing in action. When our correspondent contacted the Force Public Relations Officer, DCP Don Awunah, to clarify this, he said he was unaware that any policeman went missing in action, insisting that the Lagos State Police Command was only in the position to provide information on the issue.
“I will speak with the Lagos State Police Command and let you know later,” he said. But he has yet to do so as of press time.