The news was everywhere: A married female gospel singer, Yvonne Omoarebokhae, died in a hotel room in Benin, Edo State on April 8, 2016. The room was occupied by Apostle Psalm Okpe, General Overseer of Fresh Oil Ministries, Lagos.
There were many angles to the story. Some alleged that she was poisoned. Others insinuated that she was drugged. Yet others claimed she died after sleeping with the pastor.
The Benue State-born televangelist was arrested and detained for about two months. He regained freedom on June 2, 2016, even as the case file has been sent by the police to the DPP for advice.
How they met
Apostle Okpe explained in an exclusive chat with Daily Sun: “It so happened that of rumours were flying about and people have not taken time to ask for my own side of the story. So, I want to use this opportunity to address the issue. On March 18, 2016 at about 7am, I got a message inbox in my facebook because of the previous posts I made regarding the crusades I wanted to take to all the universities. So, a lot of musicians across the country were sending inboxes; they wanted to join me to minister at the conferences. Of course, those who follow me on facebook know that I give a lot of young people platform to excel; I have exposed a lot of musicians around the world. And in this country, I have taken a lot of pastors around the world.
“So, on March 18, this year, this lady, Yvonne, sent me a message, saying she wanted to join the conference. I asked her if we had met before and she no, but that she was one of my fans on facebook. I asked her where she was based and she said Benin. I told her I was in Benin few weeks earlier and she said that anytime I come to Benin I should let her know so she can join the conference. I told her I was coming to Sapele for a conference and when I eventually came, she offered to pick me from the airport. So, she came with a taxi driver and she was even the person who took me to the hotel where I paid. We moved straight away to Sapele. Sapele conference was in the morning. Having come back from the Sapele conference, everybody parted ways.”
The story continues
“The following morning, on April 8, she came at about 7am to pick me to buy some things and pick up my luggage. We came back to the hotel with the heavy bags and some people helped to carry the bags into my room. Then a friend of called me and said that he wanted to see me because he had just finished his church cathedral. He wanted me to witness what God had done and in excitement, I told her that I wanted to introduce her to my friend so that she could minister in his church the following Sunday. But she said that she wanted to go home and, perhaps, bring food for me in the evening. I rejected her offer, telling her that I would eat in the hotel in the afternoon. She said that she wanted to charge her phone for a few minutes because her battery was going down. Finally, I left and I told her to drop the key at the reception when leaving.”
The man of God said that he got the shock of his life when he returned from the outing. Hear him: “I came back after five hours and asked the receptionist for my key. The receptionist looked for the key but couldn’t find it. They asked if I left anybody in the room and I told them that the person I left there should have gone. I went up and knocked on the door but there was no response. I came back to the reception and a waiter went up with me. We opened the door and saw lady neatly dressed and lying down on the bed. I never slept on that bed that day. If it were to be in America where they do finger prints and all that, I think I wouldn’t have passed through this storm the way it happened.
Coming in, I was on the phone on a very long international call that lasted for about 55 minutes because they were planning for a conference in Louisiana, USA. So, the pastor was talking to me regarding how to send my tickets among other things. Eventually, I started looking into her eyes because I was expecting that with the way I was talking on top of my voice, she would have some movement or something like that but there was no such. So, I was the one that went to her shook her leg and hit her hand but she did not respond. So, I raised the alarm; I called the hotel management and they called the police. We called the ambulance and the police and I took her to the hospital. When we got there, the doctor pronounced her dead.”
Arrest and detention
“It was a very traumatic moment for me. One, she was a total stranger I never met anywhere. We were just trying to build father-daughter relationship spiritually. Unfortunately, that was what happened. We took her to the mortuary; it was very traumatic. I really felt so bad; it was like my whole world was collapsing. We couldn’t open her phone because it was pass-worded; nobody could call with it. I suggested to the police officers to remove the sim card and one of them put it inside his phone and later called one honourable that linked us to the husband. As at that time, I was already in detention.”
Relief came the way of the preacher when an autopsy report indicated that she died of heart failure. He said: “One of the best pathology in Nigeria did the autopsy. I was not at the scene; my younger brother represented the family. At the end of the day, they found out that the woman died of heart failure. It was also shown that she had no poison in her body. After their investigation, the commissioner of police called both of us. For the first time, I got convinced that the police are really working because they stood on the ground of justice and it was vividly clear. I want to use this opportunity to thank the Nigeria Police; I am really proud of them. I did not meet the commissioner of police until the day both families were called together and given the news about the cause of death. The documents are with the family of the deceased.
“I am deeply sorry for the death of this young lady; it was never meant to be. I am so shocked that she died. She could have died anywhere. What if she had died in her house? What if I was the one that slumped and died in the hotel when she came to visit me?
I am so sure in my conscience as a preacher who will stand before God where time shall no longer be that I am fully innocent of her death. I have no hand in it; I have never killed a chicken before, not to talk about a human being. They have the right to bring their own doctor and conduct any text they like. She was a daughter, a friend; somebody that I wished well. If she had died somewhere else and they called me for assistance, I would have sponsored the burial if I were not even connected to her in anywhere. It is unfortunate that people went around stating that I poisoned her or killed her to do ritual. I have never been to any shrine in my life. My father was a pastor; I knew up in a very strict ministry background. I have been preaching since when I was 15; this is my 26 years of preaching. I am too exposed to go into diabolical things. I feel the loss and pain of her family. I sympathise with them. “I have learnt so much from this – never to be too free with strangers or be too relaxed with people you don’t know.”
An unforgettable experience
On the lesson he learnt from the incident, Apostle Okpe said: “My experience in detention was really funny because I got to meet the kind of people that I never thought I would stay together with. I slept of the floor for the first time for over 50 days and ate in an atmosphere that was not conducive for me. It was very pathetic in the cell where I heard cases of people who were robbers and kidnappers. I was not beaten; nobody touched me.
Some of them said they used to watch me on television and they asked me to pray for them. I started preaching in detention. As a matter of fact, I was able to lead over 90 people to Christ in the cell. I turned the cell into church. I was preaching everyday, doing vigils. It was a wonderful experience. For me, the cell was a church; I never saw it as a lion’s den.”
Encounter with the family of the woman
“As expected, the husband of the deceased and the family were not really friendly; the husband was hostile to me. He felt I killed his wife, but I want to use this opportunity to let him know that I was not responsible for the death of his wife. I did not and can never kill anybody for any reason. I don’t need to do that. Every man you meet is a door leading somewhere. However, it depends on where you are going. Although they told me categorically that they didn’t need anything from me, personally I wish I could be a blessing in other ways. Something like taking responsibility for the schooling of child she left behind or whatever. If possible, I even want to become friend to the family because the person who died is not my enemy. The person who died was a friend and a daughter. Then if she is truly a friend, we should honour her even in death.”
It is so pathetic that they blew it out of proportion and I feel so bad. And I feel that wherever she is now, she may not be happy with the family. They look at it that they are crying for justice, but actually it was embarrassing. To the best of my ability, if the husband calms down from his anger, I could be his friend. God forbid, what if he is driving and he hits somebody and the person dies? What if somebody dies in his car? People can die anywhere.
“Sometime ago, I was flying to Frankfurt and the man sitting in the plane with me died. I was sleeping while the old man was eating. And before I knew it, the old man slumped and died inside the aircraft. So, who do you blame for the man’s death? So, if he could let the storm roll over and feel that we could talk, I could be his friend. I didn’t lure his wife to anything.
It is not every time that people go to hotel do evil. People go to hotel to sign contracts; people go to hotel to exchange contacts, to meet people and for diverse reasons. It is only in Nigeria and Africa that people think that when you go to hotel, it is evil you go to perpetrate there. That is not the idea. The idea is that hotel is a transit point. I don’t live there. I don’t have an office there, so you don’t expect me to begin to look for people’s offices to assist me because I want to talk to somebody.”
For the records
“I was arrested on April 8, 2016 and released on June 2, 2016 after thorough investigations. I was there for about two months. The file has been sent to DPP by the police for advice.”
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Tuesday, 28 June 2016