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BLOOD ON UNIFORMS (3): In Nigeria’s South-east, no justice for several killed, injured during lockdown


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By Kemi BUSARI


On Thursday, April 9, 2020, ten days after Nigeria entered partial lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic, officers of the Nigeria police, army, correctional service and others had extra-judicially killed 13 while enforcing the curfew – the virus had only claimed six lives then. By May 4, when the government eased the lockdown, about 20 persons had been killed in similar circumstances. For three months, investigative journalist, Kemi Busari, followed the trails of these arbitrary killings which have left many families devastated, with no hope of justice.

WHEN Chibuisi Okameme, a filling station attendant, left home for work on April 5, 2020, three prodding dreams were likely his motivation: the need, in collaboration with his other siblings, to build a house for his ageing mum, the desire to introduce and get wedded to his fiancée soon and the burning aspiration to further his education which had stalled for a long time.

Stanley Azu, the police officer whose trigger ended Chibuisi’s life also had plans for the day. Thwarting Chibuisi’s dreams was probably not one of them.

Chibuisi had left home early and resumed work at Greenmac Energy Limited located at Umuaka Street in Obingwa Local Government, Abia. Due to the lockdown imposed to curtail the spread of COVID-19, the 29-year-old was with only a few of his colleagues. All was going well until around 1 p.m. when some disturbing noise was heard from nearby. It was the distress wail of one of Chibuisi’s customers.

“It happened that the person they (policemen) were hitting was one of our customers,” says Anthony Nnam, one of Chibuisi’s colleagues. “So, when my colleague (Chibuisi) rushed out to go and rescue him, he was telling them to leave him that he is our customer.”

Greenmac Energy Limited
Greenmac Energy Limited

The unnamed customer was said to have defied the lockdown to get some medicines but was stopped on the New Umuahia Road, Aba, on his way back. An altercation soon ensued between him and the officers, then beating began, prompting a cry for help from the victim who was said to be diabetic.

Chibuisi and Nnam were sitting at the car wash section of the filling station when the discomforting noise was heard. Multiple witnesses said Chibuisi, acting as an arbitrator, begged the police officers to stop beating and release the unnamed customer but his interference soon angered officer Azu. The manager of the filling station, Ndubuisi Nwabeke, who witnessed the whole incident said the officer acted entirely unprovoked.

“When he went there, he was begging the policemen to leave him (the customer), unfortunately, one Inspector Stanley Azu by that time was inside the minibus that brought them. So, as Chibuisi was pleading (with) them, that inspector just jumped down from that bus, pointed that gun. The gun was at his shoulder (level) when he jumped down, he brought the gun down, lowered it and shot him (Chibuisi). The boy fell, blood-covered everywhere. Then, the police wanted to run away.”

Horrid images gathered in the course of this investigation can be viewed in a separate folder here. These are graphic pictures. Beware!

With the help of a soldier who incidentally was at the filling station at the time, the fleeing officers, attached to Ohuru-Isimiri Police Divisional Headquarters, were tracked down and mandated to provide medication for Chibuisi but it was late already.

He died shortly after being taken to Abia State Teaching Hospital, Aba.

Still on rough road to justice

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Chibuisi’s elder brother, Kelechi Okameme, wedded on April 4. He was barely 24 hours into his honeymoon when he received the call announcing Chibuisi’s death.

A few months earlier, both siblings had drawn an estimate and agreed to commence a building project which they intended would benefit their mum.

The aged mum, who had lived in Lohun/Menyi in Bende Local Government of Abia State had a rough life. Just six months after birth, she lost Chibuisi’s twin; then in 2017, she lost another of Chibuisi’s siblings, Nsomma. She was yet to fully recover from the 2017 incident when the news of Chibuisi’s death filtered in.

The 60-year-old Alaoma Okameme could not hold back the hot, anguishing tears which have become an undesirable part of her days since Chibuisi’s death. With a shaky voice, shrieking under the weight of memories of a lost beloved son, Mrs Okameme recounted her darkest moments. She had wanted Chibuisi to attend his brother’s wedding but he couldn’t make it due to the lockdown.

“He asked if all went well about the ceremony and I said yes, all was alright. He asked if I went to church and I told him I couldn’t go because I was tired, I asked him what about you, did you go to church? He said no, that he was at home doing laundry.”

Chibuisi's mum in tears
Chibuisi’s mum in tears

That was the last Mrs Okameme heard of her son.

The next morning, she was informed of her son’s death. The interview with her was interrupted intermittently by uncontrollable sobs but despite the pains, she still wants some clemency for the assailant.

“Now, I’m just empty; but I can’t demand the death of his killer because his blood can’t be up on my head but let them do justice and find a way to help me and also release my son’s body for burial. Seeing his grave will serve as a closure for me because as it is now, I still feel he’s in Aba,” she said.

It’s been 10 months since the incident happened but Chibuisi has not been buried yet owing to the lingering court case challenging his death.

Chibuisi
Chibuisi

Abia State Public Relations Officer of the Nigeria Police, Geoffery Ogbonna confirmed to PREMIUM TIMES that officer Azu has been dismissed after ‘’some internal trials’’.

“Such cases are being charged to court after investigation. It may interest you to know that before any such cases are charged to court, the police officer involved must be shown the way out of the job. So, as it is, the policeman behind that dastardly act is no longer a police officer. He was tried in an orderly room, then dismissed after which he was arraigned and that case is pending in the court,” he said.

Lawyer to the family, Chibuzo Ekpehe, said the police still await advise from the Department of Public Prosecution (DPP) to continue the case as the magistrate court, where it was formerly charged, has no jurisdiction on murder cases.

How NSCDC officer killed the father of three

Onyedikachi Agbatuwa was not killed during the lockdown. The case of his death wasn’t captured in the pitch leading to this investigation but via statements by residents and perceived impunity after a brief led PREMIUM TIMES to his village, Umuokpo in Obingwa Local Government of Abia State.

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His outmoded mud hut, just a few metres away from the dust-oozing Aba-Ikot-Epene Road is still standing just beside the decaying wood-crafted shed which used to serve as a meeting place for Onyedikachi’s customers who dine in bushmeat and local wine popularly called tombo.

The structures are still erect but it’s current occupants now live in harrowing anguish – their patriarch is no more.

Onyedikachi
Onyedikachi

Sorrow befell the once lively compound around noon of September 3, 2020. It was still raining in this part of Nigeria and due to the murky state of the Aba-Ikot-Epene Road, a truck got stuck, blocking passage.

It was at this period that a Hilux vehicle conveying two Chinese expatriates wanted to pass. The Chinese were escorted by an officer of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defense Corps (NSCDC), identified as Inspector Robinson Otobong, from the Akwa Ibom Command of the corps.

Seeing that the major road was blocked, Inspector Otobong attempted to pass through the Agbatuwa’s compound just a few metres away from the road. The vehicle had already paved the way and passed through the compound before the Agbatuwa’s but Onyedikachi would not allow it pass through his compound.

Onyedikachi’s brother, Ahaturuchi Agbatuwa, neighbour Maduabuchi Onyekaonwu and other residents watched him resist the attempt to pass in his compound but they never saw what was coming. Angered by the confrontation, Inspector Otobong shot Onyedikachi twice. First in his leg, and later in his ribs.

Onyekaonwu pointing to exact spot Onyedikachi was killed
Onyekaonwu pointing to exact spot Onyedikachi was killed

His wife of 10 years, Ihechi Agbatuwa, now heavily pregnant, also watched the movie-like termination of his husband’s life but could not do anything to save him. As of that time, she was one-month pregnant: their expected fourth child.

“I was cooking in my kitchen here when a white vehicle was coming along this way and my children were playing in the compound.,” the 32-year-old said, fighting back tears. “They wanted to pass through the compound, my husband just rushed out and tell them to get back because of the children so that they won’t jam (hit) them. Then, the civil defence (NSCDC) officer just opened his door and came out, shot him in his leg for the first (time).

‘’Then the driver took speed (sped off) and crossed that place. Instead of the man to go when he had shot him the first, he just came back and shot him the last one, that he was dead. Then I started shouting, they came and push me, took my husband’s dead body and drove away.”

Ihechi
Ihechi

Ihechi’s wail soon caught the attention of more villagers who joined in chasing the vehicle. The fleeing assailant was eventually held by soldiers stationed at Wigwe, a border community between Abia and Akwa Ibom states. From here, Onyedikachi’ lifeless body was taken to the hospital but there was nothing medics could do to revive his lifeless body. He was dead already.

No justice yet

Three days after the incident, Abia State Governor, Okezie Ikpeazu, visited the compound to commiserate with the family. Ihechi still holds three of his promises dear: the promise to get justice for the family, build a new structure for them and cater for the children.

However, none of these three is yet to materialize, they said.

Although Destiny, 10, Chisom, 6, and Chikamso, 2, are back to school, Ihechi has been unable to pay their school fees and “feeding has become difficult”, she says.

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“They (governor) said that they will build a house and help me train my children, find something so that I will be managing but since then they have done nothing,” she said of the governor’s visit.

Onyebuchi Ememanka, the Chief Press Secretary to Governor Ikpezau directed our enquiries to the immediate past chairman of Obingwa Local Government, Kingsley Nnachi, who facilitated a meeting of the widow and the governor’’.

Mr Nnachi told PREMIUM TIMES that the governor gave Mrs Ihechi money for upkeep, starting up a business and another for her late father’s burial. Additionally, he said that a delegation of the NSCDC who visited Mrs Ihechi gave her ‘some funds’ for the burial of her late husband promising ‘’to incorporate her whenever there is an opening in the corps and that the governor had recently instructed someone to commence the building project’’.

Reacting, Mrs Ihechi admitted to receiving funds from the governor for the burial but denied all other claims.

The Agbatuwa's residence
The Agbatuwa’s residence

Due to financial constraints, the family is unable to procure the services of a lawyer to seek justice. Instead, they wait on the outcome of the case instituted after the police investigation. PREMIUM TIMES could not access court papers but people familiar with the case said the officer was charged with murder and is now remanded.

Mr Ogbonna said the case is still pending in court. “After the incident, the civil defence officer was arrested and handed over to the police for proper investigation and after the investigation, he was arraigned and the case is still in the court.”

The family knows little about the progress of this case but their wish and demands are clear.

“Let the government come and help the family of the wife because (as it is) I don’t have anything to train the children,” Ahaturuchi says in obvious frustration.

“We want them to help me bury my husband and look for something to train these children,” Ihechi says.

Politicians trade blames over death of teenager in Ebonyi

Who killed Chidi? This question has been up in the air since April 4 2020 when 18-year-old Chidi Oji Aro was killed in Nguzu Edda, one of the homelands of Edda people in Afikpo South Local Government, Ebonyi State.

A version of the story has it that he was killed by cultists; another version accused members of COVID-19 Task Force. Others said a soldier killed him but the most popular version is the ‘we don’t know who killed him.’

His mum, Nnenna Oji Aro, is not aware of any concrete explanation why her son was killed even 10 months after the incident.

“I was at home here, I heard many people shouting. I ran to where the incident occurred then all the villagers started crying. He was coming back from church when this incident happened,” a dejected Nnenna told PREMIUM TIMES.

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Chidi's mum
Chidi’s mum

She could not give further details or answer questions on who killed or is suspected to have killed her son.

Most of the residents, Chidi’s other family members inclusive, were unwilling to speak with PREMIUM TIMES on the incident. A few did on the condition their names would not be mentioned said Chidi was only caught in the middle of a ‘political struggle’ between two big wigs in the community.

These residents allege that the local government chairman, Eni Uduma Chima, and the lawmaker representing Afikpo South West at the state assembly, Nkemka Okoro Onuma, were responsible for the death.

They allege that supporters of these politicians, mostly cultists, have been in constant conflict in the area in recent times and one of their disputes, turned bloody. Chidi was caught in the middle.

Chidi's room before his demise
Chidi’s room before his demise

PREMIUM TIMES reached out to both politicians to give an account of their alleged involvement in the death of the teenager but none responded.

After agreeing to an interview, Mr Chima, failed to answer calls on the agreed date. On his part, Mr Onuma declined comments on the issue during a meeting with this journalist at the state house of assembly.

Who killed Chidi?

However, these politicians, in the heat of events, had given conflicting accounts of their involvement, mostly debunked by residents.

In a report published by The Sun in April, Mr Onuma countered a narrative from Mr Chima that he was holding a party in his house amidst COVID-19 lockdown. It was reported that a team allegedly sent by the chairman was in the area to enforce the state government’s directive against the public gathering.

Nkemka said he never hosted any public gathering, instead, the attack on his home was ‘’deliberate and orchestrated by his political enemy’’.

Nkemka, source...Facebook
Nkemka, source…Facebook

“I never hosted any gathering as stated earlier, but as someone representing a people, whenever I am home, there must be people in my native place, at least my relations, that come around. So, I was home sitting in the compound, outdoors in walled premises with the gate open in the company of some few people not more than 10 persons when the enforcers said to be sent by the chairman forced their way into the compound and started a commotion and threatened the people must leave because I flouted the governor’s directive, which wasn’t true.

“After the leader of the team called Mukoro as I was told later had an altercation with someone at my gate, he ran back to Ekoli, possibly to report back to his master, Hon Eni Chima and some hours later, at about 7.30 p.m. they came back reinforced with a team of armed persons who started shooting and trying to force their way into my compound that had been locked then.

“Because my people saw this as an affront, I was told some of the young people took it for the invasion of their town by neighbours and tried to stop them. After all, they were not law enforcement, didn’t wear uniforms and were unidentifiable.

“During this melee, they shot three persons, and one of them died. All these people that were shot are from Nguzu, my town. For the records, these armed persons are not security personnel or operatives of any known law enforcement body. And in all these crises, there was no presence of the police that should ordinarily enforce such directive using professional and civil means”

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In his account to The Sun, Mr Chima said Chidi ‘’was killed by a soldier after the lawmaker tried to prevent the COVID-19 Task Force from doing their work’’.

“The anti-coronavirus taskforce people accosted Hon Nkemka about a ceremony that was held in his compound and they were beaten on his orders, and he was afraid and felt they might regroup and come again. So, he needed a crowd to protect him and he mobilised them, but he couldn’t control them and they mounted roadblocks and started attacking motorists going to Ekoli and vandalising their vehicles, even people who are not from Ekoli were also beaten.

“If you ask motorcyclists in Amasiri they will tell you that Amasiri people were also attacked and their motorcycles burnt and that is the reason Amasiri people are presently seizing motorcycles coming from Nguzu to Amasiri.

Chima, source...Ebonyi News Network
Chima, source…Ebonyi News Network

“I called the Divisional Police Officer (DPO) at that point but when they arrived, they refused to disperse. They went and reinforced with mobile policemen and soldiers.

“When the security men came back to remove the blockade, they thought it was Ekoli people that were coming to do reprisal and they opened fire and the soldiers returned fire for fire, and killed one person and recovered his gun and others fled with two of them sustaining bullet injuries. And one good thing is that the soldiers who killed the boy are not denying it. They have made statements both to the Army and the Police authorities. Nkemka is just trying to trivialise and politicise it.”

When contacted, Commissioner of Police, Ebonyi State Command, Awosola Awotinde, said the matter has not been brought to his attention.

The lawmaker blamed the death on the task force, the chairman on soldiers but a lot more questions still need to be answered. Who among the task force fired the fatal shot? Did a soldier fire the shot? Under what circumstance was Chidi killed? Has the assailant been brought to the book? Above all, who killed Chidi?

PREMIUM TIMES attempted to find some answers to this from the police.

The spokesperson of the state police command, Loveth Odah, said the issue happened long ago and as such she no longer had details to share.

Horrid images gathered in the course of this investigation can be viewed in a separate folder here. These are graphic pictures. Beware!

How ‘drunk officer’ killed Ebuka in Nkpor

The first task Ebuka Nwoye discharged on April 15, 2020, was to run an errand for his mum. A Samaritan had offered Kosarachukwu Nwoye, some grains of rice as the lockdown and its attendant inability to fend had taken a toll on the family.

Back from the errand, Ebuka joined his friends at a football pitch located at Eze-Ego Street, about 200 metres from the house. The next thing Mama Ebuka, as Kosarachukwu is fondly called, heard was gunshots, then edgy noise followed by information by residents that Ebuka has been shot.

The football pitch
The football pitch

She was at the scene in a flash but there was nothing the poor woman could do to revive her 22-year-old son. He was shot at the back at close range by a policeman identified as Christopher Ozor.

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A fresh video of the incident shared with PREMIUM TIMES shows residents wailing with Ebuka’s body lying lifeless on the road.

The policeman who shot Ebuka was well known in the area. Ozor, popularly called Ojukwu, served, then, at Awada Police Station but his daily routine would always take him to the New Tyre Market where he unwinds at a pub, residents say, belongs to his girlfriend. One of his ‘loosening’ escapades was ongoing on April 15 when Ebuka passed in front of the pub.

Ebuka
Ebuka

Residents would not talk about the incident when for fear of being attacked by the police. Two of these residents, who confided in this reporter said they had received threats from unknown people on their phone lines.

A witness who later agreed to speak on the condition that his name is not mentioned said he was returning to his house when he heard gunshots. This witness was one of the first people to come to Ebuka’s aid.

“Those officers were drunk, they went to a bar to drink. Along the line, the owner of the bar pointed to the boy that he was looking for his trouble. From their stories I heard that day, I observed that the woman had a friend that works with SARS (Special Anti-robbery squad). It was that her friend that did the shooting,” the witness said.

No justice

Mama Ebuka still carries around the picture of her son’s killer to serve as the lead for whoever is willing to assist her to get justice. Her pains are visible; so are Ikechukwu and Chinasa’s, brother and sister to Ebuka.

Christopher Ozor
Christopher Ozor

What’s more excruciating to the family is the knowledge that the assailant has not been brought to book. People familiar with Mr Ozor said he was only redeployed from his former Awada station to a new one, 3.3 Police Station.

Public Relations Officer (PRO) of the state police command, Haruna Muhammed, requested some time to ‘consult’ before answering PREMIUM TIMES questions. He couldn’t after a follow up.

The family made many moves to seek justice before finally deciding to bury Ebuka on September 7, 2020. Sensing that nothing was happening on the part of the authorities, the family, through their lawyer on August 28, petitioned the Inspector-General of Police seeking a ‘speedy intervention’. Still, nothing came out of their efforts.

It’s been 10 months since the incident. Mama Ebuka, although craving justice, has lost hope in the current system. “If you help me, I will ‘buy’ another child, I will like that,” she said satirically and broke into tears.

L-R- Kosarachukwu, Ikechukwu and Chinasa
L-R- Kosarachukwu, Ikechukwu and Chinasa

Meanwhile, a journalist, Miriam Godspower, has been following the case since it occurred.

Through her Akwaugo Foundation, she has also offered assistance to the family. She is also frustrated with the system but hopes some succour comes in terms of justice and assistance to the family who struggles to survive.

“It aches the head to hear that incidents like this (where) this person were shot in broad daylight…yet nothing has been done about it. I did a whole lot, yet there was nothing…It is so bad. And you know when justice is delayed, denied, corruption continues, evil continues, the hope of the poor man is dashed.”

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Apart from arresting and charging the assailant to court, Miriam wants Nigerians to help Kosarachukwu with cash to start a business, feed the family and educate her children.

‘Ozor shot a second person’

The first few reports on the incident in Nkpor had it that two people were killed by Ozor. The second is Ekene Obieze who miraculously survived. The bullets that hit Obieze ripped apart his stomach, revealing his intestines.

The assailant did not stop there, he reportedly used a knife to cut Obieze at the back, leaving him unconscious. Residents say it is the usual practice of notorious police officers to take ‘every means’ to kill whoever they attacked so that such a person won’t witness against them later.

With multiple surgeries, Obieze was revived but now lives in constant pain from the wounds. His stomach was stitched vertically.

When PREMIUM TIMES visited 10 months after, Obieze was on a trip to a village where he sought herbal medication to mend his excruciating wounds.

“I came for treatment in the village,” he said frustratingly on the phone. “The thing (injury) is ‘hooking’ me, you know it’s a major operation they did for me. There is medicine I’m taking here. Where they ‘chook’ (stabbed) me with a dagger and the place they did the operation is paining me.”

Obieze, a welder, had only married a month before the incident happened.

Now he is physically incapacitated, bedridden, and can barely walk. Apart from bringing Ozor to book, he seeks assistance to access quality healthcare and means of feeding his family.

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