The Lagos State Police Command has arrested the Baale (Village Chief), Isoko Community, Abijo, Ibeju-Lekki area of Lagos State, Chief Johnson Avah, for allegedly torturing a boat operator to death.
PUNCH Metro learnt that trouble started after the deceased, Samuel Benapumo, took a loan of N100, 000 from the Baale and could not pay back at the agreed time.
According to police authorities, Avah, 58, was a loan shark and had demanded 20 per cent interest on the N100,000 loan.
A police officer at Elemoro Division, who craved anonymity, said, “According to residents of the community, the Baale loans people money at high interest rates. He had loaned the deceased N100, 000 and he (Benapumo) was supposed to pay back N120, 000.
“However, after the time had lapsed, the deceased could not pay back, so the Baale continued to put pressure on him.”
It was learnt that the Baale reported the matter to the Elemoro Police Division and the deceased was arrested and detained for few days.
The police source said, “The Baale is highly respected in the area so he reported the matter at the station and policemen immediately arrested him (Benapumo). After few days in detention, we called both parties to reach an agreement because none was willing to go to court.
“Both of them made a verbal agreement and the deceased said he would pay back in instalment. We released him and that was the last time we saw him.”
PUNCH Metro learnt that after some weeks, the deceased was able to clear some of his debt but when he could not pay further, the Baale sent his thugs to arrest him. The Baale subsequently detained Benapumo in a room in his palace.
On April 16, 2013, after five days in detention, Benapumo was discovered hanging from a ceiling fan in the room.
Avah reported the matter at Eelemoro Police Division and said in his statement that the deceased committed suicide because he could not pay back the money. He added that Benapumo did not leave any suicide note.
The police arrested Avah for murder and transferred him to the State Criminal Investigation Department, Yaba.
Police investigations revealed that prior to his death, Benapumo had been tortured and had made frantic calls to friends telling them to bail him out.
A police source said, “While in detention at Baale’s palace, he was using his phone to call friends to help him raise money. He was able to raise N50, 000 which was paid into the bank account of the Baale’s daughter.
“He had complained to friends that he was being maltreated and that he could die in detention if he could not pay back.”
Avah, however, said only N30, 000 was repaid and not N50, 000. He said in his statement that the deceased had also agreed to be detained in the event that he could not pay back. He however said there was no written agreement to that effect.
It was learnt that the death had raised many unanswered questions and police sources said murder had not been ruled out.
A police source said, “We have interrogated some residents and they told us that Avah is a high-handed leader. It is because that village is not located in the metropolis that is why these things are unreported. Who gave him the right to detain someone illegally?
“We are waiting for the autopsy result but from our investigation, there is more to the hanging than meets the eye. The onus is now on Avah to prove his innocence.”
When contacted on the telephone, the spokesperson for the state police command, Ngozi Braide, said three suspects, including the Baale, had been arrested in connection with the case.
She said, “On April 12, 2013, the Baale came with the deceased and reported at the station that he loaned him (the deceased) N100,000, but the police told him to go and settle the matter since it was a civil case. On their way home, the Baale dragged him to his house and detained him in his house for five days.
“The Baale claimed that he discovered the corpse hanging from a ceiling fan but we are not satisfied with that explanation so we are waiting for an autopsy report. Meanwhile, two other people who were in the baale’s house when the deceased was detained have been arrested as well.”