Murdered in service of fatherland

THE PUNCH Newspaper-Tunde Odesola

The cleric in charge of St Peter’s Anglican Church, Oke-Apata, Gbongan, Venerable Oladayo Olaniran, could hardly face the congregation as he preached. Most of the time, he faced the wall and looked out through the window, with tears trickling down his face as he preached.

At the altar lay a golden casket containing the remains of the assistant organist of the church, Mr. Ayotunde Ebenezer Gbenjo, who was killed by a mob protesting against the results of the presidential election in Bauchi State, on April 18, 2011. Ayotunde had left his 71-year-old mother and 73-year-old father to serve his fatherland in the National Youth Service Corps scheme. The remains of the 30-year-old economics graduate from Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ago-Iwoye, were transported home after he was killed inside a police station in Tafawa Balewa Local Government Council of Bauchi State.

World acclaimed Bahamian motivational speaker, Myles Munroe, in his book, In Charge, says tragedy lays not in dying but in living without a purpose.

Ayotunde was not alone on the painful journey to unwarranted death; his townsman, Jeleel Kehinde Adeniji, was also killed by the rampaging youths. Jeleel, who made a 2-1 grade from the Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba Akoko, Ondo State, was only 26 years old when he was mauled to death by rioters at the Corpers’ Lodge in Azare.

In his sermon, Olaniran urged the Federal Government to bring the perpetrators of the killings to book even as he called for regionalisation of the scheme and arming NYSC members.

The cleric also described as reckless the statement credited to the Bauchi State Governor, Mallam Isa Yuguda, that it was the destiny of the corps members killed in the post-election violence in the North to experience such. The man of God could not even help invoking curses.

He warned against reckless statements by leaders, adding that Ayotunde would not have been killed if security agencies such as the police, State Security Service and Army were alive to their duties. He said, “Ayo was an asset to the church. He singularly built the choir’s platform. He was humble, versatile, hard working, kind, godly and serviceable. Government must compensate the family. For us in Gbongan, this is a most painful death. Even the Olufi of Gbongan wept because Ayo was too dear to the community.”

Speaking in the church, Osun State Deputy Governor, Mrs. Titi Laoye-Tomori, who wept profusely, noted that the state government was the first to evacuate her indigenes from Bauchi and Cote d’Ivoire when political violence broke out. She assured the parents of Ayo and Jeleel that the government would ensure adequate compensation for the two families. Like the cleric, Laoye-Tomori acknowledged the actions of President Jonathan, who personally called the bereaved families on phone and also sent text messages, at 4:45pm on Sunday. She described corps members that participated in the general elections as change agents, who were hounded and killed by anti-democratic forces in the land.

The deputy governor said the corps members became objects of attack when anti-democratic forces saw the sincerity of President Jonathan and the honest disposition of Chairman, Independent National Electoral Commission, Prof Attahiru Jega, in conducting the elections fairly.

Ayotunde and Jeleel never met in real life. While Ayotunde lived in Gbongan, Jeleel, who was born on July 4, 1985, lived in Lagos since he was eight when he lost his father. Jeleel’s elder brother, Mr. Adesina Adeniji, began to take care of him and their 72-year-old mother when their father died five years ago. Both Ayotunde and Jeleel are lastborns in their families of five children.

Adesina said, “I was hoping that when Jeleel finished, he would come and give a helping hand in taking care of our mother. He was very brilliant. He was the President, Banking and Finance Students’ Association, Adekunle Ajasin University. He was the Governor of his class since his first year all through his 3rd year until he emerged president of the association in his final year.”

The elder sister of Ayotunde, Mrs. Funmilade Adegoke (nee Gbenjo), said, “The FG must investigate Bauchi State Governor, Mallam Isa Yuguda, over his comments. The compensation we want is for the killers of my brother to be brought to book. Nigeria is not one, we are just pretending; Hausa people are living in Gbongan, nobody has touched them. Why are they killing the Yoruba in the North? Yuguda said his son was almost killed but was he killed? He said he was attacked in Ibadan in 1979 while serving as NYSC member, the question to ask is, what did he do to warrant an attack? Who attacked him?. Is he avenging his purported attack of 1979 now? It is unfortunate that Bauchi government has not condemned the attack or commiserated with us. May calamity befall those behind this killing.”

Ayotunde’s father is a retired driver of the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife just as his mother is a retiree of the university. Several sympathisers, who trooped to their residence, wept bitterly, cursing those behind the killing of the promising young man. His father declined to speak when our correspondent approached him for comment.

Ayotunde’s sister and Jeleel’s elder brother decried the attitude of officials of Bauchi NYSC, saying they were uncooperative, provocative and unsympathetic. Both of them alleged that Bauchi NYSC officials refused to disclose the whereabouts of their younger brothers to them when they knew both of them had been killed. Adesina said, “I had to curse one of them when he was telling me that I should quickly come and take the corpse of my brother. He was not sympathetic at all. He was too cold and callous – there was no word of consolation; he was behaving as though he was doing me a favour. Corroborating Adesina’s statement, Ayotunde’s elder sisters said, “They knew my brother had died since April 18, 2011 but they never got in touch with us until April 27, 2011. After they got in touch with us, they never called back.”

Ayotunde’s remains were lowered into a grave dug at a cemetery along Gbongan-Ibadan Road, Gbongan at 3pm. Jeleel was billed for burial in the same town on Tuesday, May 3, 2011.


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