On the 22nd of April, 1985, the National Security Organization (NSO) arrested a 35-year-old lady named Gloria Okon at the Aminu Kano International airport for smuggling substances suspected to be heroin and other kinds of hard drugs. She was about to leave Nigeria for England when she was caught with 56.70 grammes of the substances, 301 dollars, 60 pounds sterling, N20,000 and 19,000 Italian lira.
The news of Gloria Okon’s apprehension flooded both local and international media. Nigerians were eager to know her fate because then, Decree no. 20 of the Buhari military junta declared anyone caught with hard drugs punishable by death. But on April 28, 1985, six days after Gloria Okon was arrested, she died in a very mysterious and controversial manner while in custody. Medical report stated that the cause of her death was food poisoning. It was said that she didn’t show any sign of illness when arrested until a day after. A custom officer who kept Gloria Okon in custody said that that on the day she was arrested, she requested for rice and beans and she was given, and later she started complaining then died. Before her death, she was interrogated but refused to talk. She only left a very slim clue; she mentioned the name Bassey but without a second name which dragged the investigation to a dead end. Oldnaija.com gathered that none of Gloria Okon’s relatives showed up to claim her corpse and that further shed light on the dark part of the saga.
After Babangida removed Buhari from power, Gani Fawehinmi, a prolific lawyer, set to revive the investigation of Gloria Okon’s case but ended up crashing into the walls of Haliru Akilu and Kunle Togun, top security agents of Gen. Ibrahim Babangida.
In the absence of no conclusion on Gloria Okon’s case, several speculations began to spread like wildfire among Nigerians. Some believed that Gloria Okon was working for the first lady, Mariam Babangida, and Okon was killed so that she won’t reveal the secret. Some people also believed that Gloria Okon’s death was faked and the corpse sent to her family was not hers. It was also said that she was living her normal life over the seas while portrayed dead in Nigeria.
In June 2009, Professor Taiyemiwo Ogunade, in an interview with THE NATION said:
“Gloria Okon is actually Chinyere, that’s her real name. She married Charles “Jeff” Chandler, the fellow who killed Nzeogwu and was killed a day later. Chinyere, Maryam and Princess Atta were young friends who hung out together. They all married into the military, because the military was a proud and respectable profession then. Charles Chandler, who was Tiv, married Chinyere who I think is from Imo State. IBB married Maryam from Asaba and Mamman Vatsa married the princess. So Chinyere became a widow and resorted to trading between UK and Nigeria. And then she was caught with drugs; Mamman Vatsa was the person who put Chinyere on the next available flight from Kano to London – and then claimed that she was dead by parading a dead woman picked out of the mortuary. Dele Giwa later found out that she was in London having delivered a baby by another man. He sent a French photographer to the place and they saw Maryam Babangida at the event. Kayode Soyinka brought back the photographs.
Dele was sitting across the table from Kayode examining the photos taken of “Gloria Okon” (Chinyere, Richard Chandler’s wife) at the naming ceremony in London. Maryam Babangida was there. And then a letter parcel was delivered to him and he said excitedly that it must be from “Mr. President” referring to the discussions he had with IBB days earlier. The bomb exploded and severed his lower abdomen; he died a few hours later.”
[This is an excerpt, read the full interview here]
Till today, the mysterious case of Gloria Okon has not been solved and no one seem not to be interested in re-opening the closed case; permanently closed case? A question worth asking!
* REPUBLIC REPORT. “Dele Giwa’s Greed, IBB/Gloria Okon Saga, & 1980s Drug-Trafficking REVISITED”. REPUBLIC REPORT.
* NAIJ.com: Mysterious Story Of Gloria Okon
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Teslim Opemipo Omipidan is an award winning Nigerian journalist, poet, writer, historian and founder of OldNaija.com. He was listed among the 100 most influential Nigerian youths in 2018 alongside Falz, Davido, Simi and others.