Eight days after getting shot by police officers, Christian Ugwuja’s corpse was found in a valley, where it had been dumped.
CHRISTIAN Ugwuja was doing well in life. He had a business and a young family, both of which were blossoming.
But all of that promise would be rudely interrupted in the midst of the EndSARS protests in October 2020.
Kingsley Chibuzor Ugwuja is the deceased’s older brother. He hails from Opi in the Nsukka Local Government Area of Enugu State. He lives in Uwani in Enugu city, where he operates a business centre.
On the 23rd of October 2020, Christian, the second born amongst five siblings, left his house to join the EndSARS protest. His wife, whom he had married in October 2019, and his little daughter, who was barely two months old, were at home when he left.
Wielding placards and banners, the peaceful protesters marched to the Uwani Police Station in Enugu. While in front of the station, the police suddenly opened fire on them. Unfortunately, Christian was one of those who were shot. He took a bullet to his leg. The police then took him away in the company of other protesters.
Kingsley heard of what had happened and started looking for his brother. He went to the Enugu State Police Command, Uwani police station, where the shooting had taken place. He also visited the police station at Garki. But at both places, there was no information about Christian’s whereabouts.
Family and friends joined, and the search for Chrisitian continued. On October 25, 2020, five days after he got shot and went missing, the family hired a lawyer to help find him. The lawyer went back to the Police Command in Uwani, and even to the SARS unit at New Market, Enugu. There were still no traces of Christian.
The search for Christian continued without any positive outcome. But this was until the morning of October 28, 2020, around 9am.
Kingsley was getting ready to leave his apartment to continue the search when he got a call from a friend. His friend said he had heard there were some corpses that had been dumped at various locations: at Milliken Hill, at the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital Enugu, and at the road leading to the Adoration Ground in Emene within the city.
Kingsley’s heart skipped a beat, then began to race. Alongside his lawyer and some friends, he decided to check out the places the caller had referred him to. When they got to the top of Milliken Hill, they saw four corpses from afar in the valley. They decided to go down and check.
In the valley, Kingsley identified a familiar body amongst the corpses. Although the body had decayed, with ants and flies parading around it, he could still tell it was his beloved brother Christian.
It took them four long hours to bring Christian’s remains out of the pit. It was around 8pm in the night when they were able to do so. They bought formalin to subdue the odour and scare ants away.
They brought out Christian’s remains alongside two other corpses. Later, two people came and identified those corpses. The corpses seemed to have received gunshots to their heads, palms and armpits. Kingsley and his team learnt that one of the corpses was from the nearby city of Abakaliki, capital of Ebonyi State, while the other was from Akpugo town in Enugu.
Because of the state of Christian’s remains, Kinglsey and his team couldn’t afford to take it home and bury it, so they decided to have it transported to the mortuary for treatment.
It was hard for them to find an ambulance to convey the body, as it had decayed, but they finally managed to reach the mortuary at the National Orthopaedic Hospital in Enugu. There, the mortician received and treated Christian’s corpse. Kingsley and his team planned to take Christian’s corpse to the village the next morning to begin plans for a burial.
On October 29, 2020, just when the burial plans for Chrisitian got underway, the family heard that the Enugu State government had constituted a judicial panel of inquiry to look into police brutality and killings.
In December 2020, the family’s lawyer filed a petition with the judicial panel. The panel decided and made recommendations for the family’s compensation, but the family is yet to hear from the state government.
Meanwhile, Christian’s corpse was finally buried on November 7, 2020.
“I miss Christian so much.,” Kingsley says. “He was a great brother, and my closest ally. Because we were almost age-mates – I am 36 and he was 34 – we were inseparable while growing up.
He even lived with me for 15 years before he went on to have a family of his own. While living together, we never had an issue. We understood each other and always discussed things together – including plans on how to take care of our family and solve family-related problems.”
“It’s so unfair how he died,” Kingsley continues. “He had so many hopes and dreams. He had acquired a piece of land in our village and had started moulding blocks to build a house. His marriage was barely a year old, and his daughter only turned two months old on the day we found him in the valley.”
“Other members of our family, as well as myself, have been supporting Christian’s family, and making sure they are well taken care of. As for the tender little girl, we are making sure that she grows up never feeling that she did not have a father.”
For Kingsley, the Nigeria Police Force has serious issues to fix.
“It is very unfortunate that the police who are supposed to protect us are the ones killing us. Ironically, the protest was in favour of the police in a way, because one of the protesters’ demands was police welfare – their salary structure, the schools their kids attend and so on.
“If you have a duty to protect people, protect them. I don’t know why they had to shoot at people that way. The brutality is too much.”
He continues, passionately: “Imagine a policeman arresting someone and beating him without asking questions. Imagine a policeman shooting someone and dumping their body in a valley. It’s unthinkable. If this country continues this way, the common man has no hope. We just can’t afford to continue this way. Otherwise, one day, we will wake up to find out everyone has been killed.”
This story is part of a multimedia project by Tiger Eye Foundation and media partners across Nigeria, documenting police brutality in Nigeria, and advocating for police reform.