Confusion As Hit-and-run Driver Confesses To Killing Vanguard Journalist
Questions are now trailing the alleged confession of an Abuja commercial driver on how he killed a Vanguard reporter, Tordue Henry Salem, who went missing on October 13.
Clement Itodo was paraded yesterday by the police who said they found Salem’s body at the morgue of the Wuse General Hospital, Abuja, on Thursday with several personal documents confirming his identity.
Salem’s primary constituency –the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) said it did not believe the police story.
It demanded an independent inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the death of the journalist.
Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State, Salem’s home state, and Deputy Senate President, Ovie Omo-Agege, were similarly sceptical.
Omo-Agege said the police claims raised further questions on what happened to the late journalist while Ortom said the circumstances of Salem’s death looked suspicious.
Salem was until his disappearance the House of Representatives correspondent of the Vanguard.
Itodo had told reporters during his parade yesterday that he knocked down the victim with his 2004 Model Camry with number plate BWR 243 BK at about 10:00 pm on the fateful day around Mabushi area, Abuja.
The suspect said he did not stop after the incident for fear of being attacked by armed robbers who, according to him, always lurking around the spot.
He claimed that as he moved farther from the scene, he ran into a police checkpoint and reported to the officers on duty that he had hit someone.
He said the policemen then asked him to go to the Wuse Police Station to report himself, but he refused to do so and proceeded to Good Friends Garden where he normally parked his car, and then went home.
His words: “On the 13th of October, I was coming from Jabi, going to Wuse Market. I was driving at 100kmph.
“After the Mabushi Bridge towards Wuse Market, I saw people rushing to cross the road. The first person crossed while the second person ran into my vehicle and was knocked down. But I moved on.
“The reason why I did not stop there was because I was attacked there by robbers earlier in October.
“ I told the policemen at the nearest check point that I knocked someone down. Then, I went to park my damaged car. I had a serious injury in my hand.
“Truly. I didn’t follow the advice of the policemen I met to report the case to the Wuse Divisional Police Station. “Where I used to park my car, they know me as a taxi driver. The next morning, I called a panel beater to fix my car, and found out that there was a smashed phone stuck in the windshield wiper.
“I thought it was an armed robber who was chasing a victim that I knocked down so I left. On seeing the phone, I simply threw it away.”
Force Public Relations Officer, CP Frank Mba, told reporters at the parade that Itoro was arrested by Intelligence Response Team (IRT) detectives who were saddled with the responsibility of investigating Salem’s disappearance.
Their probe, Mba said, led them to trace Salem’s phone found at Good Friends Garden.
“When Clement hit Tordue, the victim’s phone, an iPhone fell on the car’s windscreen. The suspect however disposed of the phone at Good Friends Garden where he usually parked his car. But the phone was picked by some boys working in the garden and some parts of the phone were sold by the boys.”
He said the boys also tried using the SIM cards for calls, which made it easier for the police to trace the phone.
The Police spokesman said further investigations led to the arrest of Itoro, while Salem’s corpse was found at about 11:30am on Thursday, November 11, 2021 at the Wuse General Hospital Morgue, Abuja.
Found on Salem’s body were his Keystone Bank debit card, Union Bank debit card, and ID cards issued in his name by Vanguard Newspapers , the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) and the National Assembly Media Corps.
Reporters asked why the management of Wuse General Hospital did not report the incident to the Police almost a month after finding Salem’s documents.
Mba pledged that the Police would address the issue of alleged negligence on the part of the hospital management and even the policemen at the Wuse Checkpoint on the night of the accident after serious investigation.
He said: “When that case was reported to the Police, the IGP Usma Alkali-Baba, gave very clear instructions to our detectives in the Force Intelligence Bureau to take up this matter which was already being investigated in different departments at the National Assembly police station and the FCT CID.
“The Intelligence Bureau was mandated to take over and consolidate all the case files and conduct a very discreet investigation into that case.
“Acting on that directive, detectives from the IRT swung into action. Henry’s movement was trailed up to BJ Gardens located somewhere in Garki close to old CBN. A young lady that had an interaction with him on the night of disappearance was located and detectives spoke to her.
“A major breakthrough was however made following some digital and forensic leads. The phone and iPhone 6 that had already been smashed into pieces were traced and found in a garage somewhere in Mpape called ‘Good Friends’ garage.
“It was discovered that a call was made from his SIM card and following detailed and intensive digital and forensic analysis on both his CDR and IMEI and the scrap phone, a major arrest and breakthrough was made.
“That accident reportedly happened at about 10pm. The driver stated that after knocking down an unknown pedestrian, he did not stop and continued his journey, and immediately ended his activities that day. He drove his vehicle to ‘Good Friends’ garage where he normally parks his vehicle every night for a fee.
“At that point in time, his vehicle was already badly damaged. The windshield suffered major damage. The image of the damage was retrieved from his phone. He parked his car and left it there and went away.
“The next morning when he arrived at the garage, he found a phone broken and stuck in between the smashed windshield.
“The phone itself had already been smashed. He pulled it out and threw it away.
“But some other young persons playing in that garage eventually picked up that phone. Part of the components of this phone was allegedly sold off by the kids while they tried to make a call with the SIM card.
“On the strength of this, detectives moved to the General Hospital that covers that area. “Yesterday (Thursday), the 11th of November, 2021, after a lot of painstaking search, a body believed to be that of Henry Tordue Salem was found at about 11:20am at Wuse General Hospital morgue.
“In addition to that physical and positive identification, detectives also searched the body of the late journalist and these items were re covered: A Keystone Bank debit card bearing his name, a Union Bank debit card bearing his name, an ID card issued by Vanguard Newspapers identifying him as Henry Tordue Salem and a staff and a temporary ID card from the National Assembly identifying him as a member of the House of Reps, Press Corps.”
Mba said police detectives had already contacted the family members and that the body had been positively identified by them as that of the missing journalist.
NUJ dismisses Police story, demands independent inquiry, autopsy
However, Salem’s colleagues in the Abuja council of the NUJ said they were not buying the police story on Salem’s death.
They demanded an independent inquiry and autopsy on his death.
Chairman of the council, Emmanuel Ogbeche, asked President Muhammadu Buhari and the Attorney General of the Federation to set up an independent inquiry and to also conduct an independent autopsy to determine the time and cause of death.
He said the Nigerian government would do itself a favour on its press freedom index which is already bad by not adding Salem’s death to it.
He pleaded with the international community to weigh into the matter.
Ogbeche, spoke when the Chairperson of the House of Representatives Press Corps, Comrade Grace Ike, submitted a petition on Salem’s mysterious death at the NUJ Secretariat in Utako, Abuja.
He described journalists in the country as endangered species citing the manner in which Salem died.
He charged journalists to be security conscious and always stand together “to fight the common enemy out there waiting to devour us one at a time.”
He said: “We remember very clearly that the Force Public Relations Officer, Mr Frank Mba, told us that six persons were being interrogated as per Mr Tordue’s disappearance, that they had tracked his phone.
“So it is surprising that it took almost four weeks for the police to come up with the story that it was a hit-and-run driver that Mr Salem’s phone got stuck on the windscreen of the driver. And it was where he went to park in Mpape that some boys picked up the phone after he threw it away.”
He said the police story revealed a lot of loopholes and wondered why Vanguard was “the only media organisation that was privy to the discovery of Mr Tordue Salem.”
Ogbeche said: “Not until today did we get to know that it happened in Mabushi, that the vehicle was recovered in Mpape. There are so many disjointed or many missing links to the story that has been peddled. For us at the NUJ, we have studied this carefully, we are going to issue a statement and a petition, but before then, one of the resolutions we have reached is for an interdependent inquiry into the death of Mr Tordue Salem.
“We call on President Muhammadu Buhari and the Attorney General and Minister of Justice to set up an independent inquiry and to also conduct an independent autopsy to determine the time of death and the cause of death. Those are the only factors that can determine when he died and how he died.
“That autopsy is going to tell us the time and for those that have had the opportunity of viewing Mr Salem’s at the morgue, it does not indicate that he died about four weeks ago.
“So the Nigerian government would do itself a whole lot of favour on its press freedom index which is already bad by not adding Mr Salem’s death to it. Journalists have been killed for too long in this country without justice. It is in this regard that we call on the international community to weigh into this matter and if any official of the Nigeria government is found to have been involved in this despicable act, such a person should be denied visa opportunities, not just for himself but for his family and should be barred from countries that truly practice democracy and have respect for the rule of law and for human dignity.
“We would write a petition to the office of Inspector General of Police (IGP) and the Attorney General of the Federation, requesting for an independent investigation as well as an autopsy. In the meantime, we express our profound condolences to his family and to our colleagues and to all journalists in Nigeria. At this moment, we urge all of us to take our security seriously. If they succeed with Mr Tordue Salem today, it could just be any one of us tomorrow. So we must watch and stand for each other. We must bury our animosities. We must set aside our differences and know that there is a common enemy out there waiting to devour us one at a time. But we are confident that after Dele Giwa we have survived till now, we will survive those that have set out to oppress us.”
Earlier, the Chairperson of the House of Representatives Press Corps, Comrade Grace Ike, said going by accounts of those who were invited by the police Intelligence Response Team, the police had Salem in custody and was investigating him for sundry allegations.
“However, after the series of protests led by your humble self to the Force Headquarters, with no information as to whether he was dead, we are shocked to hear the Police saying that he was killed by a hit-and-run driver
“In the estimation of the Corps, our colleague may have been killed in police custody under suspicious and questionable circumstances, and for that we demand for justice.
“We therefore call on your good office to mobilize the media in solidarity for Tordue Salem, just as we demand that his death should not go unpunished and without justice. Enough is enough and an injury to one is an injury to all!”
Omo-Agege to police: provide missing puzzle on his death
Also reacting to the development yesterday, Deputy Senate President, Ovie Omo-Agege, said the parade of the commercial driver raised further questions on the circumstances leading to Salem’s demise.
Omo-Agege in a statement through his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Yomi Odunuga, called for conclusive investigations that would unmask all those involved in the journalist’s death.
He said: “The news of the killing of Mr. Tordue Henry Salem came to me as a rude shock, especially as it came barely 48-hours after the Senate and House of Representatives passed separate resolutions tasking security agencies to intensify efforts to find him and reunite him with his family.
“I am particularly worried that this is happening at the heart of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). Reports abound of kidnappings and other security breaches in the nation’s capital.
“While we await further briefing from the Police on who deposited Tordue’s corpse in the morgue and when it was deposited, the sad development has added to the list of unresolved killings of journalists like Dele Giwa, founding Editor-in-Chief of Newswatch magazine; Godwin Agbroko of ThisDay; Bagauda Kaltho of (The News); Bayo Ohu (The Guardian); Edo Sule Ugbagwu (The Nation) and Abayomi Ogundeji (ThisDay), who were all murdered in the course of discharging their constitutional duties.
“I extend my condolences to the family, friends and associates of the deceased, the government and people of Benue State, the Vanguard family, House of Representatives Press Corps, Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) and pray God to give them the fortitude to bear this irreparable loss.”