IRT WIDOWS: LIFE WITHOUT OUR HUSBANDS

‘Painful to see my husband’s corpse, less than two hours we spoke’

 

 

Operatives of the Inspector-General of Police (IGP) Special Intelligence Response Team (IRT) are part of an elite squad of the Nigeria Police. Sadly, some of these gallant officers have been killed in the line of duty. Their widows share their challenges with JULIANA FRANCIS.

 

 

Mrs. Eniola Sanusi (38), a mother of five children, was braiding a customer’s hair when our reporter got to her residence. Since the demise of her husband, Eniola has taken to plaiting of hair to feed her children. She is a widow of late Inspector Lanre Sanusi, member of the elite IRT Unit. She lives in Muta, Ogun State, where her late husband built a bungalow. Lanre died, leaving two girls and three boys to his young widow.

 

The first child is a 15-year-old girl. Others are nine, seven, four and five respectively. It’s been over a year that Lanre died, but Eniola is yet to come to terms with the harsh reality of his death.

Her narration of her experience was characterised by bout of tears. She said: “The last time I saw him was on November 5, 2017. It’s been a year and three months now since he died. I vividly recollect sending him a text message on November 8, 2017.

 

He then called about 6:35am. He told me that some of the criminals, whom he and his colleagues went to pursue, had been arrested. He said that two were still at large. He said that immediately they arrest the fleeing two, he would return home.”

 

Eniola disclosed that since the death of Lanre, she had come to realise the importance of saving money. She explained that before, she used to work and save, but her husband was always fond of borrowing her savings. He usually promised to refund, but never did. At a point, Lanre asked her to stop working and concentrate on caring for their children. According to Eniola, several times, she and Lanre had discussed about his establishing a business for her, but they had often felt there was enough time to do that. But fate later decreed otherwise.

 

She said: “The children were growing and I needed to start doing something to support the family. Sometimes, Lanre would leave home, without leaving money; I would then have to start sourcing for what the children would eat. That was why I asked him to establish a business for me. He promised to do that when he returns from that fateful last operation.” Eniola began to suspect something had gone wrong, after she sent series of text messages to Lanre without receiving any response.

 

She said: “I called his phone, but it was switched off. Whenever he went for operation, he didn’t switch off his phone. I was confused; this was a man I used to call at 12 midnight and he would pick his calls. Most times, I used to call just to tell him to take care of himself, and to be careful. I also used to tell him not to take any reckless chances, and to remember that he has children. I told him that I did not have anyone except him.” Eniola said that right from beginning, she had always been scared of the type of job Lanre did. She had urged him to go back to school to further his studies, so that he could quit police job and get another job. Eniola said: “I don’t like the police job; I don’t like this entire operation thing. Now, can you see me with five children? Only me? I don’t know what to do. “On the day my husband died, our last child was just four-monthold. The child started crying incessantly at 12 midnight. I was restless, I called his phone to tell him that his baby was crying, but it was not reachable.

 

The following day, I called his father; I asked if his son called him, he said no. His father asked me to get any of his friend’s phone number. “I have the phone number of one of his friends, Babalawo. I sent it to my father-in-law. Babalawo’s number was also not reachable. On Friday, I tried Babalawo’s number again, and it went through. I asked about my husband, he said that my husband had an accident. I asked what sort of accident? Why couldn’t Lanre call to tell me that he had an accident?”

 

Eniola decided to go to her fatherin- law’s house. When she got there, she was shocked to see crowd of people. Among the crowd were police personnel. A policewoman sighted Eniola and ran to hold her hands in a comforting manner. It was there that she heard the shattering news: “I heard that my husband was dead. Till date, nobody told me how Lanre died. Nothing,” she said weeping. “You know that on issues that have to do with in-laws, you have to be careful. My father-in-law is old.

 

The money he has is what he uses for feeding himself. It was my husband that used to take care of him. In fact, most members of the family depended on Lanre. Whenever Lanre had money, he thought of his siblings and father first before any other person,” she said. After Lanre died, his children stopped going to school. Eniola could not continue with the payment of the children’s school fees. But Mr Abba Kyari, a Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP), Lanre’s boss and colleagues came to her rescue. He and other colleagues contributed money and gave it to her. “They assisted me in paying my

 

children’s school fees. They paid for first and second terms,” recalled Eniola. She said that when Lanre was alive, he bought her a car, which she uses to take the children to school. Lanre bought the car after he realised they were spending too much on school bus. After Lanre died, Eniola’s said in-laws took the car meant for school run and that of Lanre. She said: “I didn’t want trouble. I allowed things to be. In most cases, when a husband dies, the wife becomes the prime suspect, especially if she starts fighting to take possession of his property. I didn’t want that. I kept quiet.” According to Eniola, Lanre’s father sold the two cars and gave some of the proceeds to her and the children for their upkeep. With several mouths to feed and fees to pay, Eniola soon ran out of money. She recounted that sometimes, her father-in-law would send her and the children N1,000 for a month.

 

And sometimes, he would send N5,000 for three months. In an attempt to make ends meet, she changed the children’s school. “If not for Kyari and his men, I honestly don’t know what my children and I would have done. I have started plaiting of hair. Plaiting of hair was my hobby before Lanre asked me to stop. But now, I have no choice than to go back to it.” Lanre used a member of his family as his next of kin in his police pension scheme documents. Another widow our reporter was able to track down is Mary Agbasan (29).

 

She lives at the Alausa Police Barracks, Lagos State, with her three children. Mary and her children will soon be kicked out of the barracks according to the tradition of the Force. The law is what it is. Once a policeman dies, his family has to vacate the quarters for a serving policeman. A sad smile of reminisces flits across the face of Mary as she remembers how she met Felix. Mary, who is an Ordinary National Diploma Holder (OND), met Felix in her mum’s canteen. Mary’s mom was a food vendor close to the police headquarters. Felix was her customer. Mary, although then a student, helped out in the canteen. It was during one of her occasional visits to her mum’s canteen that she met Felix in 2012. This was how their love story started. That was where he saw her and a love story developed. The year was 2012. Mary said: “Felix was simply perfect. He was every woman’s dream of a husband.

 

His job always takes him away from home, but the times he spent with us were magical. They are memories we would treasure forever.” Mary remembered the last time she was with her husband and their last discussion. She said: “He was returning to Abuja, which was his base. I assisted him in packing his luggage. Sometimes, for two or three months, we wouldn’t see him. That last time, he had a case he was working on. He was called to come earlier to the office. I was pregnant then.”

 

“He was in a pensive mood. He said that he didn’t want to go. But we were hopeful that he would return to us within two months. Some weeks before he was supposed to return home, he called and asked how I was. He started fretting after I told him I wasn’t feeling well. “He asked if the baby was kicking, I said yes. Something was troubling me, but I couldn’t explain it. He told me that he wanted to tell me something. He asked who was with me, I said our first child. He said he didn’t want me to scream, that I should calm down. He asked me to call my younger sister, Mercy, who stays with us to be with me. I called my sister; when he was sure Mercy was with me, he told me that he had been shot.

 

“I screamed. I shouted that ‘this man has killed me’. I warned him not to go to that Abuja. I cried that night. He said that he was shot in the leg. I thanked God that it was only a leg wound. I told him that I would be coming to Abuja the following day. He said that I shouldn’t, that his colleagues were taking care of him. I couldn’t sleep that night. I kept asking God why he allowed such a thing to happen.” Surgery was carried out on the leg and Mary decided to go to Abuja to see Felix. She said: “I didn’t tell Felix I was coming. I just needed to see him. My family said I should not travel by road. I had to run from pillar to post   to raise money for the airfare. I was at the airport when he called me.

 

He asked me where I was, that the place was noisy; I said I was in church. “He said that I should pray for him, I told him not to worry, I was praying for him. When I got to Abuja, one of my brothers living in Abuja took me straight to the hospital. “I opened the door of the ward he was admitted and when he saw me, he said: ‘Darling, what are you doing here?’ I told him that I came to see him.

 

He was happy to see me. He said that he had wanted me to come, but didn’t want to stress me because of my condition. He asked about the children, I told him they were with my mum and my sister was also with them. I stayed with him for 10 days before the hospital started complaining. They said I couldn’t continue to stay there because of my condition.

 

Moreover, the children were already calling, complaining that daddy and mummy were not around. “We had to do a video call, where we both spoke with the children. Our first child was just four years old. He asked his dad what happened to his leg, he told him he was injured. The son told him to get well soon and return home. When I was about to leave for Lagos, he asked me to pray for him. I held his hands and started crying; he cried along with me.

 

“On November 30, at about 4am, my second son began to breathe too fast. He would turn, look at me and said, ‘mummy see, mummy see.’ He climbed on my chest; I told him to be careful because of my stomach. He couldn’t talk, he was just shouting, ‘mummy see, mummy see.’ I tried to pet him, and then he wanted to leave the room, he wanted to go to the sitting room. I called my sister to take him to the sitting room. I could no longer go to bed. I started fiddling with my phone. “I decided to check if my husband was online. He was online last around 12am. I thought he would call by 5am, but he didn’t. That was the hour he used to call.

 

I played games on my phone and waited. I decided to call his line; but it rang out. I called until 12noon. “I called the boy in the hospital that was taking care of him. He said my husband was sleeping. I asked what sort of sleep; that I had been calling his line for hours.

 

The boy said he was given injection because he was complaining of pains. When it was 6:30pm, I called again; they said he was still sleeping. I called by 7pm, his phone still rang out. I called the boy again; he said he was still sleeping. I wasn’t settled. I was shivering. I couldn’t understand why my hands were trembling. “I tried to call his brother, Bode; his phone rang out too, I went to see him. He said that I shouldn’t worry; he asked me if I was going to church, I told him that I wasn’t going to church. I wanted to speak with my husband before going to church. Bode gave me some money.

 

He said that the children and I should use it to buy something for the weekend. “I just collected the money and tried to call my husband again. Yet, his  phone rang out again. I went back to Bode; I told him that I was worried; I didn’t know what was going on. He said that he had called and that they told him Felix was sleeping.

 

Bode already knew my husband was dead, but he didn’t know how to break the news to me. “He just kept going up and down. He asked me to go home; I told him that I couldn’t. He asked if I had eaten, and I said I had not eaten. He said he was going out when I came in. “I was in his brother’s home when my sister came to call me. She said that another brother of Felix, Ade, was waiting for me. Ade came with his wife and two other people. I asked myself why Ade would come looking for me on such a day. I tried to get up, but I suddenly couldn’t walk; my legs were weak. Just as I was about to climb the stairs to our flat, I met Ade, he asked me the whereabouts of my husband, and I told him he was in Abuja. I asked him what happened; he said he only came to ask after me. “I was already crying. I kept asking him what happened. We went upstairs.

 

When I entered our apartment, I saw people. It was a day I’ll never forget. I just fell on the ground crying, I started asking everyone, ‘where is my husband?’ They tried to drag me up, telling me to mind my condition, that I would injure the baby. I asked what they were all doing in my house that morning. They said I should sit down, a woman held my hands. Ade said that what has happened has happened. I glanced out of the door net and saw Bode crying. I screamed; I got the news of my husband death in a very bad way. I couldn’t question God.”

 

Felix died on November 30, 2016. After his death, just like in the case of Eniola, members of the IRT Unit had to contribute money to assist Mary and the children. “I must confess that his boss Kyari, and his colleagues are Godsent. They really assisted the children and I. But I haven’t been sitting idle; I have been doing every petty business just to keep body and soul together. I sell drinks and distribute eggs. I’m still trying to gather all the necessary documents to get his pension scheme. I’m still looking for documents. I wish it’s just simple to wake him up and ask him darling where are those documents? But it’s not simple.” Collecting the pension is an herculean task.

 

Once the documents are not completed, the pension may be forfeited. In most cases, the documents are never completed. Asked how she had been coping with payment of school fees, Mary said: “It has been God all the way. The IRT men have been helpful and I thank them for it. They are really trying.” She added: “My husband got shot in the course of duty and died a hero. I must confess that since Felix died, it has not been easy.

 

No matter what people say, I know my husband died a hero. Till date, people stop me on the road to ask, ‘so you’re Felix’s wife, he was a good man.’ Nobody had ever spoken ill of him. That alone makes me proud of him. As people are remembering him for his good works and sacrifice to the nation, let them also remember that he has children that need help.” Mrs. Funmilayo Odubanjo is also a widow of an IRT operative.

 

Late Inspector Christopher Odubanjo died on July 22, 2018. When Christopher called Funmilayo on the phone that he needed to rush to office because he was needed there, she didn’t know that would be the last time she would be with him. Funmilayo, a mother of one, said: “He said that he was instructed to come down to the office. He was the team leader of his unit. He left that night, saying that he needed to go and see what was happening at the office. About 2am, we spoke. When it was at about 4am, his son woke up, asking for his daddy, I told him he had gone to work.

 

“I called and told him that his son was asking for him. He said that I should tell his son that he would be returning around 7am. At about 4:30am, I received a phone call from my husband’s line. The caller was not my husband. The caller asked if I knew the owner of the phone, I said ‘yes’, it was my husband’s phone. “The caller said that the owner of the phone just had an accident. He said they were taking him to general hospital.

 

Before I could ask further questions, the caller cut off the conversation. I called his elder sister and told her what the caller said. She said someone just called her too, and told her the same thing. en I got to the General hospi- tal, I called his phone number. It was switched off. I started asking for my husband at the hospital. They said he was alright. I didn’t know they were deceiving me. The hospital workers told me they were doing check-up on him. I begged them to just allow me to see him, just a glimpse to reassure myself, but they kept manoeuring me. “When I saw his elder sister and her husband, I asked them where my husband was, they said that he had been taken to the ward. The husband went outside. I didn’t know when I started shouting, ‘where is my husband, where is my husband.’ One of the doctors came to tell me that he was alright, that I should follow him to see Christopher. He took me to an ambulance. They dragged out a stretcher and Christopher was lying there; he was dead.” Funmilayo would later hear that Christopher had an accident at Awolowo area of Ikeja, but nobody told her how the accident occurred.

 

“It’s only God that knows how the accident happened. I still don’t understand what happened. I spoke with him just two hours before I was called that he had an accident,” said Funmilayo. She added: “I don’t know much about his death, but I know that it was too painful to see his corpse, less than two hours after speaking with him.” Funmilayo, who is also a policewoman, said that since Christopher’s death, only God had been helping her. And like Eniola and Mary, she disclosed that the IRT operatives had been caring and supportive. She added: “I can never forget his death; it was so shocking. In fact, up till now, it was like he travelled to Abuja for work and would soon return to us as usual.

 

I’m feeling like he would return, call and ask me to open the door for him. I miss him so much; he was a brother and father to me. He was my world.” The IRT Unit has prevented/ foiled hundreds of crimes across the nation and brought thousands of criminals to justice. Sadly, in the course of the numerous fights against deadly and notorious criminals across the country, the unit had lost 10 officers directly in the line of duty during gun battles with deadly armed robbers/kidnappers/terrorists. Just recently, three IRT operatives: Inspector Mark Edaile, Sergeant Usman Danzumi and Sergeant Dahiru Musa, were killed in Taraba State, after an army captain, ordered soldiers to open fire on them. Nigerians were outraged by the senseless killings.

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