Nunugwo was picked up by officers of the Intelligence and Special Operation Section (ISOS) of the EFCC following a complaint that he had allegedly defrauded one Nnana Kalu to the tune of N63,600, 00.00. He was arrested at Jabi, Abuja, at about 5:30pm and brought to the Wuse office of the Unit for interrogation, which lasted for less than two hours.
After interrogation, he was immediately granted bail. But, when he did not produce anyone to take him on bail, he was transferred to the headquarters of the Commission, where the holding facility is located. Unfortunately, barely five hours after he was detained, Nunugwo became restless and collapsed. Fellow inmates raised alarm which attracted the attention of the Cell Guard. He was immediately evacuated in an emergency ambulance to a hospital in Wuse2, where EFCC doctors joined other physicians in the hospital in the battle to save his life. Unfortunately, he was confirmed dead shortly after.
The EFCC in the early hours of June 10, 2016 released an official statement through its spokesperson, Wilson Uwujaren, announcing the tragic incident, while also informing that the matter had been formally reported to the Nigeria Police which is the relevant agency to investigate matters such as the unfortunate death of Citizen Nunugwo.
While the nation awaits the outcome of the Police investigation which should include the autopsy report, the family of the deceased suspects appears to have lost their patience with the Police investigation and is preempting its outcome with all manner of insinuations.
It is pertinent to note that in the last few weeks the family and the lawyer to the deceased had addressed a section of the media and visited the office of the Attorney General and Minister, Abubakar Malami, where they made series of allegations.
Among the allegations is the claim that the deceased was tortured, and then murdered by the EFCC; that the suspect was innocent of the offence for which he was arrested; that his family and lawyer were not allowed access to him during and after his arrest and that the EFCC was colluding with the police to compromise the investigation into the cause of death of the suspect.
Media reports quoted Malami as promising to demand explanations from the EFCC, adding that as Chief Law Officer of the Federation, he would not tolerate any violation of the rights of citizens by organs of government.
It is not clear whether the AGF has gotten the explanation from the EFCC. But independent enquiry by this medium indicated that the EFCC could have been a victim of circumstance in this matter.
Arrest of Nunugwo
The narrative of the chain of events in the few hours that men of the EFCC had contact with the deceased appears routine and perfectly in sync with best practice in law enforcement.
Competent sources at the agency disclosed that at the point of arrest, Nunugwo who was alleged to be planning to flee from the country had pleaded to be allowed to see his lawyer. He was obliged, as the lawyer’s office was not far from the place of arrest. The lawyer advised him to go with the EFCC officers, promising to come to the office of the EFCC that evening to secure his release on bail. He however failed to keep his promise.
From available records, the suspect was brought into the office of the ISOS in Wuse11, Abuja at about 5:30pm. His interrogation commenced immediately. He wrote a statement where he stated all he knew concerning the allegations leveled against him. This was done in a civil atmosphere, devoid of harassment or threats. He completed his statement at exactly 6:45pm.
After his interrogation, there was no one to take him on bail as his lawyer who has promised to do so, failed to show up. Consequently, Nunugwo was transferred to the EFCC head office also in Wuse2, Abuja, where the detention centre is located. This transfer was also conducted with decorum and without incident.
EFCC source disclosed that at the point of arrest, interrogation and detention, the deceased betrayed no sign of ill health; neither did he inform operatives of the Commission of any health condition, life threatening or otherwise. A witness to the transfer of the deceased who was also a suspect under investigation, one Odeh Onoja Jnr., provided an account of what transpired at ISOS, in a statement to the EFCC:
“I reported to the EFCC office on the 9th of June, 2016 in response to the invitation sent to my office to have a chat with me. I was still in the office when the man was brought in. The officers obtained his statement after which both of us were conveyed together to their head office for detention. We were checked in about 9:30 and the ’president’ (of the cell) welcomed us after which he gave us our respective places to sleep”.
Torture and Death
The Nunugwo family has made the case that the deceased who from account of witnesses spent roughly four hours in the EFCC cell, was tortured and murdered by the agency. The allegation is strange. But it raises important questions: What will be the motive of torturing and murdering a suspect accused of N63m fraud by an agency that is daily investigating persons accused of stealing tens of billions of naira with none of them coming out with even the merest of bruises? What could have led to the death of the deceased in a facility that suspects charged to court regularly beg judges to be remanded in? This is the puzzle which makes the allegation seem curious.
EFCC sources say the agency’s standard operating procedures forbid the use of force to extract confession from suspects and that torture is strange to its operations.
Those who saw Nunugwo at the point of his detention and spent the few hours he was in the EFCC cell together, shared their views in separate statements to the EFCC.
Omelu Charles, one of the inmates at the time of Nunugwo’s incarceration narrated his encounter with the deceased in his statement to the EFCC:
“Desmond Nunugwo came into the EFCC cell around 7 and 8pm at night. He introduced himself as the rule of the cell is so that everybody will know you. They showed him round the cell and gave him a word of hope that all is well. Mr. Desmond was called for prayers as we all were about to say our night prayer for which he was asked to raise a worship song which he did.”
However, Omelu said he observed that Nunugwo was restless and anxious to see his wife and he tried to calm him down.
“I told him to wait till tomorrow, that all will be fine. I went to sleep, and he told me good night. While I was sleeping, somebody held my hand and I woke up and it was Desmond who was asking me to help him, that he was innocent, that all I did was to connect two people for business. So I stood up and held him, both of us walked towards the ‘president’ of the cell and his breathing was not okay as the president tried telling him to cool down that all is well. Mr. Desmond fell but I was able to hold him before we now we now him outside.”
Another inmate who witnessed the incident, Dayo Jimoh corroborated the testimony by Omelu, but added that he observed that the deceased could not sleep and at a point begged him for some of his blood pressure and diabetes pills.
“After the prayer, I came out to collect my BP and diabetes drugs, he came to me and asked if I could give him out of the drugs. I told him I cannot because I am not a doctor and that the EFCC has a hospital here; he could go to the guard and request for them to take him to the hospital. He then told me that he has his own drugs at home, if he could call his wife to bring it, but unfortunately, his investigative officer went away with his phone and that he could not use anybody phone to call, that is the rule with the cell guard.
“I felt bad because there (was) no way I could help him because I was also very sick that day. I then advised him to go and take his shower and rest, may be he will be okay, but I saw him moving from his bed space to the bathroom more necessary because I was awake too, I was in pain with my chest. Around 1am he called one Mr. Charles, a suspect too, and others that he is not feeling fine at all. I couldn’t get up because I cannot help at that time. He collapsed, others rushed him and called cell guard, I knew he could not make it because his tongue was coming out”
The ‘Innocence’ of Nunugwo
The Nunugwo family has also alleged that the deceased was wrongly accused and that the EFCC did not inform the Ministry of Defence where the late suspect worked as Chief Protocol Officer.
It is important to clarify that the deceased’s position as a civil servant had no bearing on the facts of the case. He was not accused of defrauding the Nigerian Government. Rather, what brought Nunugwo to the EFCC was the allegation that he tricked an acquaintance of his, Ole Nnana Kalu to pay N94,000,000 into nominated account of some purported business associates based in Dubai, ostensibly to help Kalu import stockfish. However, once the payment was effected, Kalu said Nunugwo became evasive.
The deceased did not deny his involvement in the transaction as his statement to the EFCC indicated.
In the statement, Late Nunugwo stated that a “Dr Fatimah Tagwa Aji forwarded a Diamond Bank account to Mr. Igwe C. Ikeh who is currently in Dubai to forward the account to me forward to Mr. Ole Kalu who had told one or two persons who needed to procure some items worth N91,00,000.00. (The money) was transferred to the Diamond account by Mr. Oleh Kanu from UBA Account in Aba in Abia state on 20th April, 2016.
“Mr. Igwe C. Ikeh is a friend of mine (who) lives in Dubai and (was) always coming home, told me that Dr.Fatimah Tagwa Aji is his business partner in Dubai (who) has the capacity to buy properties in Nigeria being real estate developers, indicate interest in buying property from Nicon Insurance”.(sic)
This narration has no bearing to the protocol job of the suspect at the Ministry of Defence, which makes the attempt to portray the deceased as a civil servant, a disservice to the investigation by the EFCC.
The claim by the Nunugwo family that the EFCC cleared the cell of all detainees that could provide evidence on the death of Desmond Nunugwo is ludicrous.
At the material time, all who were detained at the EFCC holding facility got there separately for different offences and it would therefore be inconceivable to expect them to leave the same day, or that the Commission would continue to hold or release them because of a deceased suspect.
It is fair to say that the EFCC has come clean on this matter as it did not need to be compelled by some extraneous force to release information about the incident. The suggestion about collusion between the EFCC and the Nigeria Police is also difficult to comprehend as the incentive for such action does not exist.