The Olomo in Us All!


James Bolarinwa Olomo

This week, precisely Monday October 20, marks the first anniversary of the sad disappearance of James Bolarinwa Olomo, professor of Nuclear Physics and lecturer at the Obafemi Awolowo University, OAU, Ile-Ife. Since Saturday October 26, 2013, when the family delegation reported the matter at the police station in Eket, Akwa Ibom State, it has been a classical case of dashed hopes and frustrations. His siblings, other relations, colleagues and friends are too distraught and confused as every step taken appears to lead to nowhere in the untiring efforts to unravel the mystery that has put him behind the curtain this long.

So where is Professor Olomo? The police do not seem to know, one of them actually said that as much as they sympathise with us, “you know we are not witches, but we will do our best.” Unfortunately, their best has not given us a clue about what happened to Olomo. Aside from the police, the State Security Service, SSS, appears to have reached its wits’ end. Though the personnel have actually not said so, we are tempted to suspect that they may have reached a brick wall somewhere, after a revision of an earlier hope and a discomforting silence. Some of the time we even wonder whether the security men are not holding back some vital information from us, perhaps out of sympathy with the family.

The pity is that such sympathy has not healed our wounds, nor has it assuaged the feelings of scores of his colleagues and friends who have shown care and deep concern this tortuous 12 month-period. Rather, for me, the whole episode has given the impression that we all live in a jungle, where nobody is safe, where the Hobbesian rule brings home the truth that everybody else is a potential victim of one criminality or the other.

After his case, there have been some celebrated cases of people kidnapped and later released, may be on ransom. What a number of those persons have in common is that they are related to influential persons in the society. For those not connected to politically exposed persons, the refrain from the security is “we are trying our best.” Most times we believe them; yes of course because we want them to succeed, even if they have not cracked any case before. But they also give examples of cracked cases. In this case, the initial false hope that the security was set to crack the case within a short time still remains a cause of migraine. But as we crash into every dashed hope, we find ourselves revisiting plans of action in anguish, but sometimes in hushed tone.

In a way the agony is compounded by a family decision to keep the matter away from my mother, his eldest sister, with the hope that he would return, on his own, to talk about his brief predicament. The argument then was why give that kind of information to an old woman [a hypertensive patient at that], who had just been discharged from a long stay in the hospital. The fear was that, if we break the news then, we would probably lose her, and then cause sadness and guilt for the man when he returns.

Now, in spite of my pleas, nobody wants to revise the wicked lie we told about the man being away somewhere out of the country, on some phoney assignment, that has so pre-occupied him that he uncharacteristically hardly finds time to communicate with people at home!

Olomo, a product of University of Ibadan and Imperial College, London, I still recall, had declined some attractive offers abroad, all of them unsolicited, choosing to stay in Nigeria and train people who will team up with others of like mind to build a great nation. Not even the decision of members of his immediate family to relocate to the United Kingdom would make him change his mind. But I don’t know what will be going on in his mind now, if he reflects on that stubborn decision to help build a country that appears not to value him or notice his contributions. Honestly, these days, rather than chide those who say there is no virtue in dying for Nigeria, I look at them with amusement.

The unfortunate journey started on Thursday October 17, last year by air from Lagos to Calabar, from where he approached Eket by road, has not ended. He was there to attend a meeting with – according to an entry in his diary left back home – an ‘Oil and Gas company’. The riddle that the police and SSS have tried to solve in the past one year is what happened to Professor Olomo on October 20, 2013. This is made difficult by the fact that we do not know the exact company involved; neither do we know his contact person there. A naturally open individual, he communicated with the family, among others, on voice calls, until Saturday October 19, but he did not give these details to the family about people he was meeting in Eket [perhaps thinking that hardly is any family member trained yet in his field who could make input to his engagement there]. It was this openness that enabled the family to inform the police that he put up at Hotel Farlem, on 8, Archibong Road, while in Eket. When the police got to the hotel on October 26, one week after the last telephone conversation with him, the hotel staff had moved his belongings out of the room and let out the room to another client, without reporting to the police. Those things remain in the custody of the police, at the state command in Uyo.

Perhaps the police are satisfied that the testimonies of the hotel staff, who said he ‘walked out’ of their premises promising to return to take his belongings, would not lead them to a breakthrough in the case.

However, we are aware that as a nuclear scientist he handles safety matters, as a radiation safety adviser [which his diary indicated in this case] and trainer, for oil companies. All these were made available to the security. So we were hopeful that they could get the needed lead from his telephone conversations, before he made the trip, and while in Eket. That has been reiterated in letters of appeal to different authorities, at press conferences by the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU; Otan Ayegbaju Progressive Union, OAPU; interventions by Professor Bamitale Omole, his vice chancellor and the Yoruba community in Akwa Ibom. We still hope and pray that all these efforts will not be in vain!

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