When Gani and I publicly disagreed

Bartholomew Owoh, Lawal Akanni Ojulope, and Bernard Ogedegbe, executed

By Richard Akinnola

I have always been against capital punishment, at least for murder and armed robbery, even when l have been a victim of robbery.  I know this is a highly emotive topic. My abhorrence for capital punishment was further reinforced when l witnessed the public execution of these three gentlemen in 1985 for drug trafficking. 

I covered their trial, saw them at close range and to watch them being executed was too much for me, particularly since the law under which they were tried was retroactive. By the time they committed the offence, the Miscellaneous offences Decree 20 of 1984 had not been passed.

So, when they were being executed in early 1985, l similarly covered it at a vantage position, standing directly behind the executioners from 9th Mechanised Brigade.

Bartholomew Owoh, 26,  Lawal Akanni Ojulope, 30 and Bernard Ogedegbe, 29.

That early morning, the black Maria had moved them from the Kirikiri prison to the shooting range, barely 50 meters from the prison gate. After they had been tied and prayed for by priests, Ogedegbe was getting impatient, as he blurted out -“Get on with this business men”. Owoh, the youngest, who was at the middle, was obviously too scared as he closed his eyes, his lips murmuring what l perceived was prayer. He had expressed his regret of not leaving the country when he was granted police bail, having been arrested before Buhari came to power.

Shortly thereafter, the marksmen emerged from nowhere, took positions and we heard “F-I-R-E” and immediately the staccato sounds of ta-ta-ta-ta-ta rented the air. However, due to the velocity of the bullets, as they hit the body of Owoh, his left hand would shake. So, the commander thought he was not dead. He then asked that they continued pumping bullets into him until his stomach was ripped open and l saw his intestines almost falling on the floor. A military doctor was then asked to certify them dead. In ten minutes, it was all over. 

I was quivering where l stood behind the marksmen. 

The next day, Chief Gani Fawehinmi, who was a supporter of the Buhari junta, issued a statement, supporting the execution. He premised his position on the evil of drugs in our society. In my next weekly law column then in Vanguard, l criticised Gani, wondering why he could support an execution based on a trial that used a retroactive Decree.

Few days later, Gani and l met and he said he read my column and how l yabbed him. I told him if he took such a public position again, l would still publicly yab him. He took it all in his strides. He didn’t feel bad that l criticised him.

Due to the public criticisms of the execution, no other drug convict was executed again. Even those condemned to death by the tribunal like a woman, Gladys Iyama, her death sentence was commuted to years of imprisonment.