Captain Hadiza Lantana Oboh, The Story of Nigeria Airways’ First Female Pilot
This is the very tragic story of Hadiza, a girl who had the dream of conquering the skies. She did before she was cut down in her prime by the very people she fed, clothed and trusted with her own life. The late Captain Hadiza Lantana Oboh was the first and only female pilot of the defunct Nigeria Airways
FULL NAMES (alternate names):
Captain Hadiza Lantana Oboh
LOVE, FAMILY AND MARRIAGE
Hadiza was single and lived alone in her residence where she enjoyed every available luxury and was hardly visited by friends, relations or associates. She seemed to have been very much focused primarily on her career and might have been very introverted.
A hardworking and focused lady, Captain Hadiza Oboh was reputed to have checked out as a Flight Officer (F/O) aboard a Boeing 737 of the Nigeria Airways in 1984. By 1989, she was already a well-established pilot and remained an aviation superstar all through the 1990s. She was always a point of reference and source of pride for all women associations in Nigeria and Africa.
THE PLOT AND THE MURDER
The cold-blooded murder of Captain Oboh still sounds like a scene right out of a movie, even 17 years after her unfortunate exit from the world. On that fateful day, around 8.00 pm on the 8th of February 1998, Captain Oboh drove straight from the airport to her 40A Bourdillion Road home in Ikoyi, a high-brow part of Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial center. A very lively lady, she was full of sparkle and was probably famished after a hectic day (pilots are some of the most worked and stressed-out professionals), she made for her kitchen to prepare a quick meal to line her stomach.
Inside the kitchen, she set a pot of soup on the electric cooker. She was never to taste of the meal she was cooking. Unknown to one of Africa’s few female captains, her domestic servants were already putting finishing touches on her to send her to the Great Beyond. As stated earlier, Captain Oboh was single and lived alone. The only people staying with her at her Ikoyi residence were her domestic servants and were males. They worked as the gateman (Abdullahi was the maiguard or security watch), gardener in addition to handling some other household tasks.
As she approached the entrance of her posh residence, Abdullahi flung open the big gates to her residence and she drove in, parked her Santana car and strode in. As Hadiza entered her well-furnished duplex, she did not suspect a thing. She headed for her bedroom while one of the domestic workers helped her with the flight bag. Hadiza had one habit which is quite common in many Nigerian homes with domestic ‘househelps’: her workers had access to her bedroom. However, this was to have very devastating consequences for her.
On the various occasions when the domestic servants assisted her with her bag into the lavish bedroom, they saw foreign currencies scattered all over the place. That was the beginning of the nightmare. Her workers were attracted by the money which she sweated for. On that fateful day, which would be her last on earth, as the servant dropped her flight bag in her room, they noticed more foreign currencies littering the beautifully-arranged bedroom. In addition to the money, Hadiza’s room was also full of designer wears, jewel-studded bracelets, gold chains and many others. She was a woman of class and fashion, a very classy pilot with an eye for the very best. Her wardrobe contained the best money could buy. Her residence was also equipped with the latest and most sophisticated electronic appliances and gadgets of that era. It was these glittering items that made the neurons in the brains of her workers to misfire and they conspired. They conspired to kill Hadiza.
After she relaxed for a while in her room, she stepped into the kitchen to prepare a meal. While she was in the kitchen savouring the aroma of the dish, Abdullahi sneaked out and opened the gate for the three other conspirators who entered the expansive compound. One of the brains behind the plot was Peter Iduwu Eche from Benue State. Trained as an auto-electrician, in 1993, Captain Oboh employed him as a gardener and gateman. He was hired because Oboh had fired Abdullahi for gross misconduct. While Peter was working for her, he was residing in the boys’ quarter inside the compound.
However, when Peter travelled to his village in Makurdi, Oboh decided to re-employ Abdullah pending the return of Peter. That mistake would prove most deadly. When Peter returned, Abdullahi moved swiftly and worked on his brain. He hinted Peter of his sinister agenda to kill Hadiza and co-opted Peter into the bloody mission. Abdullahi was reported to have said Oboh should be killed because:
‘…she get plenty money and property.’
Without thinking of the consequences, Peter agreed to the plot. In fact, he went a step further by organizing for and arranging the four assassins who would take part in the operation. The meeting point for the killers was the spot outside the house where Abdullahi was selling his petty items. When Oboh arrived her residence that day, the plan was for the killers to melt into the environment and lurk around and wait for signals. Once they saw that madam was comfortably inside, Abdullahi sneaked out of his post and flung the massive gates open and the other agents of death entered. Their plan was thorough and detailed. The assassins gained access to the house via the rear kitchen door. As they entered, Hadiza was inside the kitchen, cooking.
Like a crazed cat, Abdullahi took a leap and bounced on her. In his hand was a rope which went straight to the neck of Nigeria’s only female captain. Hadiza shouted, pleaded and struggled but was overpowered. As the pilot gave her last kicks in a desperate attempt for survival, the very person she hired to protect her, Abdullahi, increased the grip and tightened the rope around her neck cutting off blood supply to her brain and probably severing her brain stem in the process while other assailants attacked and restrained her. The bitter struggle went on for a few minutes, and after the macabre drama, all was left was the lifeless body of one of Africa’s most illustrious daughters. In this manner of murder, Captain Hadiza would have died very quickly. The assailants did not stop there. They took her corpse and did a most unthinkable thing. They carried out an act that would shock many for centuries to come. They headed for the septic tank (locally referred to as the ‘soak away’),where they dumped her body. They then made for the bags of cement and fully cemented the tank. Inside the kitchen was still the rope they used in killing her.
With Hadiza’s body vaulted away inside the septic tank, they moved to the next stage of their orchestrations: they embarked on a proper looting of her house. They carted every valuable thing in her residence, from her gold jewels to her expensive wears to the hard currencies she laboured for, they cleared everything. Even her car was not spared as they turned it into an unpainted taxi. Peter then abandoned the boys’ quarter and started living in the main building formerly occupied by the deceased pilot. So each time a visitor or friend came to check on Hadiza, Peter and the rest would answer saying:
‘Madam don travel and we no know when she go return.’
Disappointed, the guests would turn back. However, as far as Peter and the rest were very sure they had already sent Oboh a journey she would never return from and they had inherited all her property. They were the new big boys, the new bosses. But they were soon to run out of luck. In the house next to Oboh’s was a policeman on duty who noticed very strange movements in and out the premises of the late captain. The policeman approached the residence, asked of Captain Oboh and as usual, they played the same track: Madam no dey house.
THE SUSPICION AND INVESTIGATIONS
But the police did not buy the story. Most likely acting on a tip-off, the residence was suddenly swarmed by police officers and security agents. Peter and others were arrested and bundled to the Ikoyi Police Station. Abdullahi had vanished so it was only Peter and others who were in police custody. Interestingly enough, when the police arrested them, no one knew Oboh was dead and buried in a pit of waste. They were arrested for stealing and unlawful removal of property which formed the basis of their investigation. Peter told the police that Captain Hadiza had travelled overseas and they believed him. Remember, there was no GSM in 1998 on the scale it is now and it was not an easy matter of just calling Oboh on phone or calling her relatives on phone. In May 1998, about three months after she was killed, the Nigerian Police was still appealing to the public to assist with information to locate the prime suspects connected to Hadiza’s murder. When the police arrived at her home, the pot of soup she was making was still on the cooker, all dried up. The airconditioners were dead and on the floor of her kitchen were still visible the stains of her blood. The rope used in strangulating her was found between the kitchen and her sitting room which was now empty, with every valuable item looted. The only thing that was left in her sitting room at that time was her enlarged photograph, and it was covered by dust and cobwebs. The septic tank was still open, with its gaping hole and the half-used bag of cement was still there. The police gave an explanation that they did not move or touch any of the items at the scene because they still needed them for their investigations and for the prosecution of the suspects. You know, it was almost three months after. All the compound premises, right to the gate were already taken over by weeds and gone were the days of her well-manicured lawns. At that time, Mr. Paddy Ogon, an ASP, said:
‘…the public still needs to do more because Abdullahi lives in their midst. The image of the police is at stake. This is one of the celebrated cases the Nigeria Police is handling in recent times. Let me assure you that all hands are on deck to track down the remaining suspects, most especially Abdullahi…the police must follow the case to the end and make sure the killers of Oboh are brought to book.’
When he was asked on what the police was doing to nab Abdullahi, he said:
‘We cannot disclose that, but let me assure the public that the police would soon get Abdullahi. I can assure you, it is a matter of days and months. ’
Abdullahi was named as the person suspected to have masterminded and orchestrated the whole thing. He was later nabbed after an intensive manhunt.
As the case dragged on, it assumed a bigger dimension as no one knew of Hadiza’s precise whereabouts or heard from her. More questions were asked by her relatives and colleagues and pressure piled on the police as the case had already gained public attention and Nigerians were curious to know exactly what happened. Angered by the snail speed of the investigation, Alhaji Abubakar Tsav, who was the Commissioner of Police, called for the case file, studied it and forwarded it to the State Criminal Investigation Department (SCID), Panti, Yaba. An exasperated Tsav told journalists at a media briefing that the case had gone beyond theft and it was incumbent on the police to establish the whereabouts of Captain Oboh.
The Grisly Discovery
Once the SCID took over the case, the pace changed. On various occasions, the crack team of detectives led Samuel Okaula, an Assistant Superintendent of Police (later promoted to the rank of Assistant Commissioner of Police as at December 2012) visited her residence. On one of their visits, Okaula was eagle-eyed enough to notice that the septic tank had a fresh coat of cement. He called the attention of others to the fresh layer of cement and the half-used bag of cement that was lying in the vicinity. Okaula’s instincts went on an overdrive: he became very suspicious. Okaula and his men returned to Panti with speed to further interrogate Peter.
The following day, the SCID team was back at Oboh’s house. Okaula ordered his operatives to open the septic tank. What they saw shocked them beyond disbelief and left an entire nation speechless. Immediately they opened up a section of the septic tank, what confronted them was the body of Captain Oboh – decomposed. The next sad phase was the recovery of her corpse.
Back at the base in Panti, the SCID team were very sure they had Peter, Abdullahi, Itoro Akpan (he was Oboh’s driver) and one Denise Osama (received the stolen goods and property of the late pilot) were all in their custody. Peter finally confessed and in his confessional statement, he said:
When I hear madam dey shout and plead with dem not to kill her, I cry but I no follow kill her.‘’
Nigeria’s Inefficient Courts
On the 1st of June, 1998, all the four suspects were arraigned at the Chief Magistrate’s Court in Lagos for the following:
- Armed robbery
As the police team was waiting for further advice and direction from the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), they got the most shocking news of their lives: the High Court had ordered the release of two of the accused on bail with two sureties. But that was not to be. The suspects gave names and addresses that never existed to the courts. That was how the two suspects vanished and disappeared into the thin air. Apparently embarrassed, the Ministry of Justice ordered that the suspects be re-arrested and charged again for conspiracy, armed robbery and murder but till today, that never happened. The suspects simply melted and bolted away. To the utter consternation of the court, the sureties who processed the bail also used fake names and addresses. Till today, nothing has been done. And that was how Hadiza Lantana Oboh, a small girl who rose to the pinnacle of aviation career in Nigeria was killed by her domestic servants and her nation’s legal system could not get her justice, even in death, almost 20 years after. This piece is dedicated to her determination, her dedication to duty, her patriotism (she could have gone to work for a foreign airline), her struggles and her memory. Her case must be re-opened and she must get justice (alongside many others awaiting justice after decades) and her family adequately compensated, a befitting place of honour must also be set aside for her any time Nigeria gets a national carrier in future and in the annals of the history of our nation, she was a trailblazer, an amazon and an inspiration to many. Failure to do that means her story will forever remain a stain of blood on the tattered dress of a giant with feet of clay. Sleep on, the beautiful girl who conquered the skies. She was 39.