When Al Mustain Alade Abaniwonda, a Ministerial nominee and Lagos East PDP Senatorial candidate in the last elections drowned in the lagoon in Lagos a few days ago, tongues wagged and different theories were propounded as people adduced different reasons to the incident. Some said he was apparently frustrated and he decided to end his life, some said it might have been a case of “spiritual remote control” as he was comfortable and apparently had no reason to commit suicide.
But in this chat with Street Journal’s WOLE ADEJUMO, Raqeebat, the deceased’s first child opened up and shed light on some things that were hitherto unknown to most Nigerians. In an emotion laden voice, she disclosed that her father did not commit suicide and he had no cause to. She also alleged incompetence on the path of the Marine Police, as she said her dad could probably have been saved but for some factors. For instance, as at when the late politician was waist deep in the water, the police claimed there was no fuel in their boat and by the time the boat was fuelled, the Marine Police said there was no diver that could go into the water.
Raqeebat picked a lot of holes in the different accounts people had given about the incident that eventually led to her father’s death. Excerpts:
You seem to have a different account of the incident from what the newspapers carried and even the police account.
I think when they (the police) realised the calibre of the person involved; they quickly manipulated the story to make it appear as if he did not want to be rescued. I went there in company of my uncles and aunts to see what happened.
My father was diabetic, it was diagnosed in 1990. He was diabetic for 21 years and he had managed it, most people didn’t even know he was diabetic. He had a stroke in 2004 or 2005 I wasn’t around then, I was in the university so he had a few issues with his legs but he always kept it from us because we always made fun of him that we his daughters are his wives. We were always watching over him, we watched what he ate and stuffs like that.
We noticed that whenever he wanted to enter his car, he would use his hands to lift his legs into the car, though he never admitted. Being diabetic, the medication and the condition itself made him urinate often, especially when he eats. He wasn’t much of an eater though and because of his condition, he had to monitor his diet. So when he doesn’t eat well, his blood sugar drops but when he eats, it rises and then comes the need to pee almost immediately. And unlike the average individual, when the urge to pee comes, he has to pee on the spot. He has to find somewhere to pee.
We used to make fun of him; we teased him with a particular story because there was a time he peed on himself. So wherever he was, if he felt the urge to pee, he would stop and look for where to pee.
That day, he had a meeting. I am mostly in the U.S but when I am around, I work for him, even when I am not around, I work for him. He had discussed with me on the eve of my mum’s birthday and there was a manual that we were working on that I was to review. He discussed some of the things he had to do on Monday with me. He left the house for his office, from the office; he said had an appointment which he went for in Apapa and Alhamdulilahi everything he went for was successful.
He left Apapa and was on his way home. In fact, he had loosened his tie. My dad was more like a typical European. He would not wear his jacket before leaving the house because he believed it would get rumpled in the car. He would rather wear it on arrival at his destination and when he wants to enter the car, he would remove it again and hang it in the car.
Typical of him, that day, his jacket was hung in the car; his tie was loosened, meaning he was on his way home. He still had his shoes on when his body was found.
As soon as he left Apapa, he bought biscuits and diet coke. He had not even finished the small packet of biscuit when he felt the urge to pee. They were just at Marina then and his office was at Odunlami and CSS Bookshop, Broad Street. He could not hold it. He just told the driver to park right beside the police station. It was beside the Marine Police Station right next to the park for Danfo drivers and BRT.
He just went and asked for a public toilet. We verified from the woman who sells food there. He got there and you know those public toilets are usually locked with padlocks. They said when he got there, the attendant was praying so they started looking for the keys and it was taking long. So my dad told them he just wanted to pee, not that he wanted to defecate. So he said he might not even need the key that he would urinate inside the water.
My dad was deathly afraid of water. Whenever he heard we wanted to go to the beach, he would beg us not to go; he would even give us money. He scolded us whenever he got to know that we sneaked to the beach and we used to make fun of him calling him an Epe man that cannot swim. None of his siblings knows how to swim. So I don’t think he realised how close to the water he was. It may also be because he was pressed because his zipper was down by the time the body was recovered yesterday. That confirms that he had already finished urinating.
The belt people claimed he had removed was still on. In fact his shirt was still tucked in. We, his children are the ones that choose his shirts for him. He would call us in the morning and bring out like three shirts, so we would choose the one he would wear. He usually dresses up in our presence. My dad tucks his shirt into his boxers; he then puts on his trousers. His shirt was still tucked into his boxers when they found him. His shoes were on his feet; his cufflinks were still on his shirt.
But most people were led to believe that he removed his wristwatch and clothes, after which he walked into the water?
To be quite frank with you, I don’t understand. Anybody that knows my dad will tell you that he does not wear his jacket in the car; he hangs it in the car. That jacket was hung by him. He doesn’t even wear it at home. He only puts it on when he reaches where he is going. Even when he is going to the office, he would hold his jacket and hang it on entering the office. He only wore jackets in the office when he had meetings. We used to make fun of him that he took the personality my mum should have had because he was obsessed with those little things.
His jacket was in the car, the car is still in the police station now. The only thing he removed was his wristwatch and I will tell you why. During his electioneering campaign, my younger brother was around. The wristwatch he was wearing was stolen and it was my dad’s wrist-watch. It was the policemen around that helped him recover the watch.
So since then, if he wanted to enter certain neighbourhoods or places where he felt could be rough, he would remove his wrist-watch immediately. That was the only thing he took off and he took it off in the car.
What was the condition of the body when it was recovered?
He was fully dressed from head to toe. His shoes were removed only when they wanted to wrap the body. His shoes and socks were still on his feet.
But the account that they tried to rescue him, they threw floats at him but he didn’t want to be rescued, where do you think that came from?
I think it is a combination of not understanding his condition and covering up. People sensationalize things they feel do not concern them. I just told you, my dad could not swim. Somebody said he swam under a pillar to hide from a boat, my father could not swim. My father could not even tread water not to talk of swimming. So if they were throwing anything to him, he would not have been able to swim towards it to grab anything.
We were there yesterday, the place is swampy and the rains that fell have shifted all the sand filling. So where he was a swamp, the more he struggled, the more he sank. He was shouting for help. His driver is traumatized; the guy cannot sleep because he heard him shouting for help. He wanted somebody to help him and the driver was trying to call people around that my dad could not swim.
The float he was asked to catch, my dad could not reach it. This is a man that never ate much, a man who lost so much weight due to the stress of the campaign for the elections. This is a man who had no muscle mass to begin with. He wasn’t strong. People were just saying all sorts of nonsense that maybe he was frustrated. My father frustrated?
There were insinuations that he might have spent so much money during the elections and that could have frustrated him.
I will tell you frankly, my father was just beginning to reap the fruit of his labour. Yes he spent so much in the course of campaigning for the elections but to be honest with you, he didn’t borrow a dime from anybody to fund his campaign. He paid for everything out of his pocket.
My sister got married on the 19th of June and anybody that came for the wedding will tell you that he spent money and even for the wedding, he didn’t borrow a dime. He financed everything from his purse. My father wasn’t frustrated. We knew what the situation was like ten years ago. Thank God he wasn’t a political appointee; they would have said maybe he stole money somewhere. He worked hard for his money and he was just beginning to reap the fruit of all that hard work.
You said something about covering up. Do you think there was something to cover up?
When the driver was notified that his oga was in the water, he wanted to jump into the water but they stopped him from jumping in. The guy jumped over the boat, jumped into the Marine Police compound and was shouting my oga is in the water; my oga is in the water. Instead of them to follow him, he was first given a slap. They put him behind the counter for not entering through appropriate means meanwhile, my dad was in danger.
At that point, the water was waist deep. He couldn’t come out. The driver then put a call through to my brother in-law who thank goodness was on his way to Kingsway Road. So he just turned around and came there.
By the time they released the driver and finally went outside with him, I believe they said the water was right at his shoulders. Okay, go and help him, they said they did not have any diver. Okay can we pay for a diver so that we can at least get a private diver around. He (my brother in-law) said please get your boat into the water, they said he should pay before they could do anything. They said there was no fuel in their boat.
But the story making the rounds is that they threw floats at him but he did not want to be rescued.
That story was made up to cover their incompetence. It was when they started seeing PDP members there that they knew the kind of person involved. One of the officers is our family member. He was weeping when he saw us. He said he didn’t know that it was my dad that was there. He too agreed that it all happened like that because of incompetence.
So where did the story come from?
I don’t know how they made it up. The Mirror reported that they spoke to my brother. It was my brother in-law that was at the scene and he did not grant any interview because he was destabilised already. All the things he said that ah, we just had Mummy’s birthday yesterday, he is diabetic and so on were picked from the scene. So let me just correct that impression that he granted any interview. I would have said you should talk to him but he had to switch his phone off. He is traumatized.
Some people are saying maybe there was a spiritual undertone to the incident. Do you follow that line of thinking?
(Sighs) ah, I am a Muslim and I cannot. I choose not to. Really he was afraid of water so it is curious that he would want to pee by the water. But at the same time, in understanding his condition, only God knows what went through his mind. He might not have realised how close he was to the water. O ye Olorun (only God knows). At least none of us was there but God sees everything. I refuse to believe that because the more I dwell on that, the harder to believe and accept what has happened.
From your own findings, how do you think it actually happened?
Nobody actually saw him. The last person who saw him said he was going back and forth, you know, almost like dancing. You know how it feels when you are pressed and you need to pee. That was the last thing they saw. Whether something else happened that had to do with diabetes, honestly, I don’t know. He wasn’t pushed and he didn’t jump. Those two things I know.
But our suspicion is his shoe because when the shoes were removed yesterday, They were fairly new, we looked at the sole. But then it rained on Sunday. The entire place was covered with mud. Imagine what its condition would have been on that Monday; wet, slippery, so our suspicion is that he slipped.
How would you describe him as a father?
(Sighs) every adjective that is good describes my father. He lived for us. He lived to make us happy. I never heard the word no from him in his lifetime. There was nothing I ever asked that he said no. the worst my father would say is “give me time, I will see what I can do”.
His friends used to tease him that he would say “awon iyawo mi wan le, awon omo mi wan le”. We were his wives, his joy, his pride. If we were not happy, he was not happy. He tried his best to ensure that we were well taken care of.
My father doesn’t dance, he was a very quiet person but at my sister’s wedding, he danced. My father got up and danced. I always say a prayer every morning that God, the husband you will give me, let him love me like my father, let him appreciate me like my father, let him cherish me like my father. I don’t think anyone else can tell you more about what type of man, not even a father he was.
My father did favours for people and we didn’t hear anything. People were just coming to tell me that he did this, he did that and I was confused because he won’t tell you anything. How many people did he send to school that I his first child did not know about?
What are those things you will miss most about him?
Most girls are close to their mums, they tell their mums everything. My mum is a wonderful mum but my dad was as wonderful a mother, then an even better father. He was my best friend, I could tell my dad anything. I told him everything, every single thing. He was my confidant. (sighs) I don’t want to cry.
Does the incident tell you anything about the Nigerian system?
Yes it does. It says a lot about the system. It is a system my father believed so much in and it failed him. A system in which the Marine Police, an equivalent of the United States Coast Guard will not have fuel in their boats, a system where the police will tell the victim to buy fuel in their boat before being rescued. It really says a lot. A system where Marine Police will not have divers.
The most painful aspect of it is that even in our tragedy, the police were still trying to cover up their incompetence and clear their name because they knew they messed up. You can imagine, he was found around Bonny Camp and my brother in-law was there in another boat. The policemen insisted that he should follow them in their boat; they were following him with guns. He tried to make them see reason. He had to jump off at Bonny Camp; he got to the land there and shouted for help. Fortunately the soldiers there told him not to worry since he was in their territory. Can you imagine the policemen saying they wanted to tie my dad’s body to their boat and draw him to their station like a fish? They said they had to take pictures, they said the body was evidence.
The soldiers eventually intervened and the matter was later resolved.
And how is your mum taking the whole thing?
Well, she has accepted it as an act of God. It’s not easy but she has to. She has accepted it, she was even bothered before about the body but thank God we found him and the body was not touched by fishes, nothing happened to it. The only visible difference was that the skin had changed colour slightly but we thank God, no damage was done to the body.