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Families of five NELAN consultant engineers still searching for answers two months after their disappearance (Part 2)

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In the second part of the report, Arinze looks at reactions trailing the disappearance of the engineers and conflicting information. CLOs, others allege state government’ complicity in missing engineers.


WHILE the engineers remain missing, there are allegations that the state government may be complicit in their disappearance as the State Governor is alleged to have been “hostile” towards the lead consultant Onyemeh, and had tried severally to interfere in the operations of the road project.

While the state government blames Onyemeh for not traveling to the site with police escorts, a source working on one of the projects, who would not want his name mentioned, told The ICIR that November 3 was not the first time he (Onyemeh), was visiting the project site without any kind of security.

“And in almost over a year he has visited for supervision, there was no issues with members of the benefitting community” the source said, adding that the same day he was abducted, Onyemeh sent the project surveyor, whose name was given as Femi, to the same location and he went and did his own work and came back safe.

The source further revealed that the state government had indicated interest to take control of the project from Onyemeh, who controls its execution.

Non-governmental and Civil Liberty Organisations have condemned the state government’s handling of the matter as well as the “premature” declaration of the death and burial of the engineers, now referred to as the NELAN 5.

Paulin
Paulin

Reacting to the development via a statement made available to The ICIR, the International Society for Civil Liberties and Rule of Law (INTERSOCETY), said that the disappearance of the five engineers was “well thought out and never an accidental or mob action.

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“The culprits did not also circumstantially act alone or act outside the remote knowledge or complicity of the State actor authorities,” board chairman of the organization, Emeka Umeagbalasi said in the statement.

He called on the Nigerian Police Force’s Bureau of Intelligence and Force Criminal Investigation Department, FCID, to undertake an unbiased, detailed and conclusive criminal investigation into the disappearance of the engineers.

“It is also our call on the National Human Rights Commission, State and National Legislative bodies and the international human rights to take up the aspect of civil enquiries into the dastardly act, “he said.

In a statement issued on Wednesday December 8, Civil rights group, the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria, (HURIWA), berated the Ebonyi State governor over “the state government’s disposition to the case.

In the statement titled, “Alleged killing of site engineers: HURIWA raises objection, demands their immediate release alive by Ebonyi governor”, the group asked the governor to rather than declare them dead, without their family members seeing their remains, ensure that security agencies rescue the engineers alive.

Reps asks IGP to investigate disappearance of engineers

On Wednesday, December 15, the House of Representatives asked the Inspector General of Police, IGP Usman Baba to ensure a thorough investigation into the disappearance of the five consultant engineers.

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This followed a motion titled “call for urgent Investigation into the abduction of five consultant engineers in Effium, Ohaukwu Local Government Area of Ebonyi State” by Hon. Ifeanyi Chudy Momah who represents Ihiala federal constituency in Anambra State. The House also mandated the Committee on Police Affairs to ensure compliance.

While presenting the motion, Momoh was quoted as saying that further delay in conducting thorough investigations will create more complications as trails may run cold, giving the perpetrators enough time to alter pieces of evidence and even escape justice.

“If the true condition of the victims is not properly ascertained, the people’s confidence in the ability of the government to protect them will further deteriorate” he said.

Conflicting information

While the governor had during the security meeting said the suspect arrested in connection with the abduction confessed that the five engineers had been killed and buried, a statement by the Ebonyi State Police Command said that only “three engineers” were missing.

The statement did not, however, say whether the engineers were alive or dead. This has further sparked questions as to how the governor got the said information that the engineers had been killed and buried and from where he got it.

In the statement which was seen by The ICIR, Police Public Relations Officer, Ebonyi State Police Command, DSP Loveth Odah, explained that operatives who were returning from investigation activities in connection with the “three missing engineers” were ambushed by armed Ezza warriors numbering over sixty (60) who attacked them.

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She said that the policemen were in the company of the House member representing Ohaukwu North Constituency at the State House of Assembly, who accompanied them to enable him dialogue with the warriors at Igbuduoke village in Effium/Ezza clan ‘the warring community’ in Ohaukwu Local Government Area of the State.

She explained that the operatives gallantry fought back, resulting in heavy casualties on the side of the attackers while “DSP Bruno Chukwu and two others suffered bullet injuries and are currently responding to treatment, adding that two Police officers – Sergeant Donatus Osugwu and Sergeant Thaddeus Ugoeze – were suspected to have been “abducted by the hoodlums as they were discovered missing in action”.

“Meanwhile, the Commissioner of Police Ebonyi State Command, Aliyu Garba led a convoy of about seven teams on reinforcement where they cordoned the forest and searched the village but could not see the missing officers nor the perpetrators. Efforts are in top gear to ensure the perpetrators are tracked down and arrested,” the statement further stated.

Ebonyi Govt denies complicity in disappearance of engineers

While allegations of the state government/ governor’s complicity in the disappearance of the engineers continue to make the rounds, the state government has come out to deny involvement in the disappearance.

In a statement issued to this effect on Tuesday December 21 2021, Commissioner for Information and State Orientation Uchenna Orji, said that the Ebonyi State Government and the personnel executing the contract job were never contacted or informed about the coming of the officials of Nelan Consulting firm on the fateful day.

The commissioner also said that contrary to reports, the Abakaliki Ring Road is a project of Ebonyi State Government funded through a repayable loan from African Development Bank and not a grant and so the services of Nelan Consulting firm were hired by Ebonyi State Government through international bidding processes.

Dave Umahi
Ebonyi State governor Dave Umahi

Orji said that the state government had a meeting with all companies/ contractors involved in the Abakaliki Ring Road Project over the security situation in a few points within the project locations.

He noted that they all agreed to meet at Ohaukwu Local Government Police Headquarters to get the Police personnel to go with them to the site.

“But the Nelan Officials did not avail, rather they went through a flashpoint from Nwezenyi axis and thus ran into the hot spot of the communal crisis where they were abducted, according to the Police Investigation report,” he said.

When The ICIR contacted an engineer working with one of the companies handling the project, he said that there was no arrangement by the contractors to meet at the police station.

The engineer who pleaded anonymity, said he and other contractors were at their different sections on November 3 because Onyemeh had told them that he was coming for site supervision.

“It was after the abduction that the government organised a security meeting for contractors in Abakaliki,” he said.

“Ever since we started work on the road project, we did not have any security challenge”.

While the circumstances surrounding the disappearance of the engineers remains unknown, Paulin believes that her son will return one day.

“I don’t know when, but he will surely come back because he did not offend anybody, none of the engineers did,” she said.

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