Today, Wednesday, January 9, 2019, marks 358 day since ace broadcaster, Inalegwu Ode, walked out of his Makurdi residence early in the morning, ostensibly for a jogging exercise, but disappeared without a trace. For members of his family, his early morning jogging exercises were part of his life. But this day, January 9, 2018, was different: he did not return to the house as he usually did by 9am after every jogging exercise. It is still unclear if any member of his family saw him when he left home that fateful day. After waiting for three days for him to return to the house, his wife, Mrs. Omabonu Ode, raised the alarm. After waiting for another two days without seeing him, his elder brother, Okpachu Ode, reported the matter to the police in Makurdi and returned home to wait for the outcome of police investigations.
For many of his friends and relations, the episode seemed like a joke. One couldn’t imagine how Inalegwu Ode would just disappear without a trace. Just as people were agonizing over what could have become his fate, there were two false claims by people who said they saw him in parts of Makurdi. The two men claimed that they saw him picking papers from the ground, one at the North Bank area, and the other at Wadata. Those claims turned out to be false because he would have since been found if he was in any part of Makurdi.
After all, he is not a strange face, especially within the television community in Nigeria. He was a constant face on television as a producer of political programmes, especially during the Second Republic. Verdict ’83, which he anchored with other resourceful journalists at Nigerian Television Authority, NTA, headquarters made him a household name in Nigeria. One incident that further illuminated his career was his chance encounter with Brigadier-General John Atom Kpera, erstwhile military governor of Benue State. When he asked about the condition of the treasury and the military governor’s curt reply was: “I left it as I met it”.
Incidentally, it was the military intervention in the political terrain that changed Inalegwu Ode’s focus. Group Captain Jonah Jang, as he then was, who was appointed military governor of Benue State after Brigadier-General John Atom Kpera, head-hunted him from the newsroom and appointed him as his Chief Press Secretary. He was a powerful Chief Press Secretary in whose office Commissioners and other political office holders had to wait for clearance before seeing their principal. He certainly made the office of the Chief Press Secretary very attractive because of the way he conducted himself.
At the end of that assignment, he returned to the NTA briefly, before stepping out into the world of business. He established a company, Midbelt Communications Limited in Makurdi with special interest in television production, editing and publishing magazines and books. He ventured into historical documentation with the publication of his slim volume on the election and installation of Dr. Edwin Ogbu, a former Ambassador as Och’Idoma III. He was also an active participant in the various campaigns for the creation of Apa State.
The first question was whether he was kidnapped. If he was picked up by kidnappers, they would have contacted the family, as is the practice, to ask for ransom. There was no such request for ransom. Or did he deliberately run away from home? He had no reason to do that because he was a responsible family man and community leader who has continued to be relevant in the political calculations in Benue State. Moreover, he is a mentally-stable person who takes delight in mentoring younger ones, especially those who choose to embrace the world of journalism. Or did he commit suicide? If he did, his corpse would have been found, at least by now. Indeed, there is no indication that he committed suicide. Or was he accidentally killed by somebody close to him: friends, relations? Even then, where is his corpse?
In one of my write-ups on the matter last year, I called on the security agencies to “swing into action immediately to ensure that this icon of journalism does not come to any harm. Procrastination on the part of the police in investigations relating to missing or kidnapped persons always leaves us with dire consequences”. Unfortunately, the security agencies have shown very little interest in the matter, or so it seems, because there has been no official comment on the police investigations. It is either that the file is ‘closed’ or has been ‘kept in view’.
Security agencies in the country should step up their acts to stem the rising tide of missing persons in Nigeria. By August last year, the International Committee of the Red Cross, ICRC, said it received reports of more than 17,000 missing persons that may never be found, alive or dead. That figure does not include the missing Chibok girls or the Christian girl, Leah Sharibu, who was stolen by Boko Haram agents. The figure is disturbing because given the Nigerian experience, no effort would ever be made by the appropriate agencies to trace their whereabouts. Would the Nigeria Police in Makurdi allow Inalegwu Ode to become a permanent part of the statistics of missing persons in the country? He must be found, dead or alive.