There is always a loophole in every crime committed by perpetrator(s). Despite careful planning, criminals still leave behind tell-tale evidence at the scene of every crime. That is the loophole; the give-away clue, that detectives need to run a fruitful and rewarding investigation. It blows away the cover of the culprits and expose them for what they are and also ensure conviction in a court of law.
So it was with those who killed an Islamic cleric, Alfa Birisiyu Apalara, on January 3, 1953 at Oko Baba in Ebute-Metta area, of Lagos.
Alfa Apalara, was a popular and highly respected Islamic preacher. His preaching trembled listeners, with the fear of God and resolve to turn-up a new leaf. He was a moral crusader whose sermons made the wicked panic on the dire fate that awaited them after death. The telling impact of his sermons and image loomed large in the consciousness of Mushin and Ebute-Meta residents in Lagos. The derision of cult members and their activities in demeaning and obnoxious language could not, but infuriated most cult members, who hated him with passion.
Apalara, to the masqueraders, Oro cult, Awo-Opa and Agemo cult members, was a thorn in their flesh in the neighbourhood. He became a potential threat to the cultists’ existence but good image in the public. As Alfa Apalara was rising in popularity in his itinerary preaching against evil and evil doers, he promised to expose the emptiness of what the cultists stood for. To add salt to the cultists’ injury, he had twice daringly stopped the procession of masqueraders on their way to their coven to perform rites and rituals to appease the objects of their belief. It was the degree of suppressed irritation in the face of demeaning provocation by Alfa Apalara that made them vowed to ruthlessly deal with him.
Bisiriyu Apalara, was born at Itoko in Abeokuta, Ogun State. Early in his life, he was sent to Madrasat, an Islamic school to learn Quranic verses. He also went to a primary school for Western education. He crowned the schooling with learning carpentry. With these tripod learning in his knap-sack, he was ready for a life in Lagos. He rented a room at Mushin to ply his carpentry trade, but unexpectedly, he was sucked into street life of crime and he paid dearly for it. He was arrested for stealing, charged to court and jailed in 1945. His imprisonment, however, turned out to be a positive turning point in his life.
After leaving the jail, that is today called a Correctional Centre, Apalara became a reformed man. He dusted his Quran and Haddith, hit the road and started delivering sermons at open-space crusade. He became a preacher, who’s determined to fight crimes and other iniquities in the community. He criticized cultists’ wicked ways, pouring scorn and imprecations on them. The sweeping effect of his sermons quickly endeared him to the people, , especially women who used to throng his open-space preaching site in large numbers.
That was why members of different cults in Mushin and Ebute-Meta became uncomfortable as Apalara usually tongue-lashed, ridiculed them, condemning in strong terms the totality of cult members’ ways of life. On an occasion, that salt was poured on their injury, a large crowd of listeners at Apalara’s open-space sermon aborted a procession of masqueraders on the insistence of Apalara. His large crowd of listeners blocked the way. Regarded a confrontation, the cult members felt enough was enough that Apalara should be stopped from messing them in the public. They sent many threat letters to him; warning him to stop. According to them, the nonsense he was doing, would lead to dire consequence Apalara ignored them. He was becoming more popular by the day. Different mosques in the community honoured him with Islamic titles. Some of his followers called him the commander of the faithful, while others hailed him as the leader of the faithful. That, perhaps was why Apalara felt confident that nothing untowards could happen to him.
The cult groups, on their part, were not leaving anything to chance. They resolved to exterminate Apalara and put an end to the rubbish he had constituted.
On January 3, 1953, members of Awo Opa, carried out their threat. They killed Alfa Apalara on Tapa Street at Oko Oba, Ebute-Meta, Lagos. It was a devastating blow to the Muslim community, who ironically appeared at that point in time to be winning a war against paganism and its adherents, while cult members rejoiced that an end had come for a foreign religion champion.
The murder of Alfa Apalara was well planned and carried out with intention to leave no traces of the dastardly act. The Alfa had that day held an open-space preaching in the evening and the sermon went far into the night. Siege was laid to the four paths that led to his residence to ensure that he would not escape the attack. As Alfa Apalara approached the spot where the cultists were waiting on his way home they blocked his path. They were armed with cutlasses and completely naked. Attacking their victim in total nudity was deliberate. They knew that if they wore clothes, the clothes would undoubtedly become blood stained during the attack. The clothes could be fished out if their houses were searched later during investigation. Such clothes would give them away on what they did. They matcheted Alfa Apalara and he went down dead.
They quickly packed the remains into a sack and took it to the shoreline, not far away from Tapa Street where they killed him. Canoe men, whom they had earlier hired, were already waiting for them. The canoe was to ferry the corpse far into the lagoon for the corpse that had also been cut into small pieces to be thrown into the water. The canoe men alleged that the corpse was brought late, saying that the cult members would have to pay for lateness. They haggled the fare, which necessitated the dropping of the sack near the foreshore. By the time it was finally picked and dropped into the canoe, the freshly chopped corpse had released a good quantity of blood which later dried up at the spot.
The cult members threw Alfa Apalara’ chopped remains into the lagoon for double purposes and reasons. First, to comply with an Oro cult’s injunction that bars leaving reminants or remains of members’ activities whether food or any other things for the uninitiated to see. Second, it was to obviate the use of Corpus delicti against them in court. Presentation of corpse in a murder case is a crucial evidence to ensure conviction.
It was, therefore, not a surprise that the police were on the horns of a dilemma even on how to investigate the crime. A sergeant in the criminal investigative department (CID), John Aboderin, who was assigned to investigate the case found it difficult to proceed on it. Fortunately, one night a person he would never know came to knock on his window. He announced the pass word of Awo Opa cult, which aroused the curiousity of Sergeant Aboderin. He was also a member. The person forbade him to open the window to protect his identity. The visitor , however, told him everything he needed to know about the crime. The information the night visitor gave the detective, though circumstantial, led to the conviction of 11 men out of those charged with the murder of Alfa Apalara.
Sergeant Aboderin visited Tapa Street, where the cleric was killed and butchered. He also visited the foreshore where the sack that contained the remains of the Alfa Apalara was dropped. He saw the dried blood patch left on the ground. Many suspects including Joseph Ogundipe and two Otega brothers were arrested. They were charged with murder in the Lagos High Court before Justice De Comamond and a jury. After the prosecution and the defence counsel had made their submissions, the judge found 11 men guilty of murder and sentenced them to death.
They were not satisfied with the court’s verdict and appealed to the West Africa Appeal Court (WACA). To their chargrin, the appeal court upheld the verdict of the High Court.
– Tajudeen Adigun