For Prince Mathew Adekanmi Aderemi Bepo, 47, a Nigerian and staff of the Arab Contractors in Equatorial Guinea, May 23 started like any other day in Malabo, capital of the Central African country; quiet and peaceful.
The peace and quietude of the day was, however, short-lived for Bepo when by 3p.m (just two hours to the close of work), four Guinean policemen allegedly stormed his office, dragged him out and took him to the outskirts of the town. He was battered, especially on the head, and later dumped in front of a police station where Good Samaritans saw him and helped him to his company’s clinic.
Four days later, Bepo gave up the ghost, leaving behind a wife, six children and other dependants But what could have been his offence? Well, the late Bepo, who hails from the Bepo Ruling House of Ilesa in Osun State, was said to have refused to “do a deal” with a Guinean national who had come to siphon diesel from the company’s fuel stock beyond the 200 litres contained in the approval paper he brought to Bepo. The deceased, until his death, was the store officer of the company.
Arab Contractors, Bepo’s employers, were engaged in a road construction work for the Guinean government in Malabo. Some dubious activities happening in the company in Malabo compelled the company to transfer Bepo whose record of sincerity and integrity was said to be a common knowledge to his Egyptian bosses in the company.
With his papers perfected and work permit from the authorities in Malabo issued, Bepo left his office in Lagos and headed for Equatorial Guinea to assume office as Stores Officer. Part of his schedule was to take charge of the company’s property in the stores and release items to staff and sub-contractors of the company only on the approval of his bosses. Since his arrival in Malabo, the deceased had adhered strictly to the rules guiding his job until last month when this strict adherence cost him his life in the hands of those who felt his continued stay in that office was becoming injurious to their selfish interests.
Reporters exclusively gathered that around 3 p.m of the fateful day, one Mahmud, a Ghanaian subordinate of the late Bepo, had asked for the deceased’s signature permitting him to release 200 litres of diesel to one of the company’s sub-contractors. The authority letter was genuine and so Bepo wasted no time in appending his signature.
Some 20 minutes later, however, Mahmud again returned with Don Rahman Fernando Nguii, the Guinean sub-contractor, telling Bepo that the sub-contractor was asking for additional 100 litres, but that he (Mahmud) told the Guinean that only a higher authority could grant such a request.
Bepo was said to have told the man that he was not in a position to grant his request. At that point, the Guinean allegedly became furious and put a call to somebody whom he told in Spanish that Bepo was proving stubborn. “Leave him. I will let him know I am a Guinean,” he was quoted to have said furiously before storming out of Bepo’s office.
Some 15 minutes later, the Guinean reportedly came back with four policemen who, without any introduction, went straight for Bepo. In a commando-like manner, the policemen was said to have dragged him away from his chair and pushed him into their car and sped off.
By the time Bepo resurfaced at the company’s clinic in Malabo, his was a case beyond the capacity of the clinic. He was then transferred to another hospital where he spent a night before he was again transferred to Centro Medico, Lapas, said to be the best hospital in Equatorial Guinea. Here, Bepo was reportedly placed under the intensive care unit. He, however, could not make it, as he died four days after the attack.
Reporters, however, gathered from sources close to the family of the late Bepo that the policemen were of the Bonas Esperance station in Malabo. By the time Bepo’s relations arrived Malabo after hearing the news of his death, the matter was yet to be reported officially to the Nigerian embassy. However, the Yoruba community in Malabo reported the matter to embassy officials. The company eventually communicated the news of Bepo’s death to the Nigerian embassy via a letter dated 31st May, 2012.
According to Mallam Bashir, a member of the Yoruba community, killing Nigerian nationals in Equatorial Guinea was a regular occurrence, especially the illegal immigrants. The Nigerian Head of Chancery, Alhaji Umar A Abdullahi, the Chiroman Lapai in Niger State, in a telephone interview with our correspondent said he would not respond to any of the questions put to him, saying: “I am a civil servant.”
When reminded of the gravity of the issue at stake, Abdullahi, who was more interested in knowing how our correspondent got his telephone number than in talking about the matter that has capacity to cause diplomatic row between Nigeria and Equatorial Guinea, said he had said everything there was to be said to the relations of the deceased.
“If you cannot get them to brief you, then go to the ministry in Abuja. I don’t know you and I cannot talk to you,” Abdullahi said with a tone of finality. Ezekiel Ajayi, a colleague of Bepo, confirmed to reporter in a telephone interview that the president of Equatorial Guinea, Ngueso Nguema, had personally taken interest in the matter and has since ordered the immediate arrest and prosecution of all those involved.
James Agum, another colleague of Prince Bepo, also in a telephone interview told newsmen that about five people, including Nguii, the sub-contractor and the head of the Bonas Esperance police station whose men picked the deceased, were already in detention waiting to be charged to court. The Head of the company in Malabo, Mallam Ahmed Abubakar, could not be reached on his mobile number, but unconfirmed sources revealed that the management of Arab Contractors is divided between insisting on justice being done on Bepo’s case and the need to maintain the existing cordial business relationship with the Guinean authorities that would not create embarrassment for the government in Malabo or be found to be responsible for diplomatic row between Abuja and Malabo.
Funmi, wife of the deceased, Babajide, Seyi, Adeola, Mary, Tade and Bunmi, his children are presently mourning the loss of a husband and father who left Nigeria for Equatorial Guinea in a legitimate search of a means of livelihood, only to return home dead.
Bepo was not an illegal immigrant in Malabo, and the company’s letter to the Nigerian Embassy confirmed this. In the letter intimating the embassy of Bepo’s death and signed by the company’s General Manager, Engineer Ibrahim Mabrouk, the company stated that Bepo “came to Equatorial Guinea by the company’s request and was working with us. He died on the 27th May, 2012 by an internal bleeding. It’s such a painful situation and we are sorry not being able to communicate it before.
“Our lawyers are taking care of the case before the Equatorial Guinea justice department and that was why we were unable to pass on the information earlier.”