Members of the family of Jeff Obasohan, the Benin tenant who was accused of setting his landlord, 83-year-old Pa Joseph Iyen, ablaze have vouched he is innocent.
The incident occurred in the early hours Wednesday, March 16, at the residence of the deceased, located at Uwa Street, between 2nd East Circular road and 3rd East Circular road, in Benin.
According to the Edo State Police Command who confirmed the arrest of the suspect in connection with the incident, the deceased landlord had a protracted quarrel with Obasohan who had earlier been given quit notice on two occasions over his unpaid rent before the incident.
Wife of the deceased, Mrs. Esther Iyen, had also alleged that the tenant had threatened her life and that of her late husband.
But in her reaction to the allegations, wife of the suspect, Mrs. Nekpen Obasohan, denied her husband’s involvement in the death of his landlord.
Mrs. Obasohan who spoke to journalists in company of other members of her family at the Secretariat of the Nigeria Union of Journalists in Benin, alleged that the landlord had earlier harassed her family and threatened to kill her husband for a rent he did not owe, and that there was no quarrel between the deceased and her husband before the tragedy.
“There was no quarrel. He (deceased) just came inside around 5:30am and started asking for my husband, that I should bring my husband out so that he can kill him.
“I asked him what happened and he said that he had told us to pack out. So, my husband went to lay a complaint at the Esigie police station. His statement was taken and he was told to go. We pay house rent up to date; we pay light bill up to date,” she said.
She claimed that her family, including her husband, were asleep when they were alerted by neighbours’ screams of a sudden fire outbreak that affected two doors leading to their apartment.
“I am blind. I was sleeping with my children in one room at about 4:00 a.m. The next thing I heard was people shouting in the backyard, ‘Fire! Fire is burning at One Love’s (Obasohan) side! Open the door!’
“So, we, including my husband, woke up. We ran to the kitchen but the heat from the fire was coming into our house. It was after some tenants at the backyard put off the fire on the back door that we were able to come out,” she alleged.
Mrs. Obasohan further explained that the cause of the fire was unknown to them, adding that they only saw the fire.
“As we came out, one boy passed us; he said he wanted to ease himself. When he got outside he saw that Edionwan (the deceased), was burning on the ground. People started shouting. So, we locked the gate so that nobody would go out.
“When the police came, they told us to open the door. They brought us out and took my husband to Esigie police station,” she further narrated.
In his narration, elder brother to the suspect, who identified himself as Tony, said that he alerted the police when he was informed of the fire incident, alleging that the deceased landlord had intended to set Jeff and his family ablaze.
“I was the one that called the police. The boy (Jeff) is my younger brother. I called Esigie (police). I called the control room. The police went there two times and said that there was nothing like that. But I told them that there was a dead man in that house. I told them to go again before they succeeded in bringing my brother out.
“The (deceased) man wanted to burn my brother and the family,” he said, adding that, his younger had been living in the building for about 13 years and did not burn his landlord to death.
“If a tenant is owing a landlord, you go to court. Can any tenant owing a landlord set fire on him? I am also a landlord. He (suspect) didn’t do it,” he said.
The suspect’s 90-year-old mother, Princess Obasuyi, said, “Last month, the landlord called to tell me that my son should leave his house. I begged for time to enable him search for a house but he refused.”
She called on the state government to intervene in the case in order to ensure fairness and justice.
Reacting to the Obasohan family’s claim yesterday, Edo State Police Command spokesman, DSP Abiodun Osifo, said he was not aware of an earlier complaint from the suspect and that the matter was still under investigation.
“We are not aware of that unless I find out. That matter is under investigation.
“If they have evidence, they should go to the state CID where the matter is. If there is record to that effect, they should draw the attention of those investigating,” Osifo said.