In December 2019, Owen Chikachukwu was arrested and taken into custody – and has not been seen since. Answers from law enforcement officials are not forthcoming, while the officer who led Owen’s arrest has advised his family to “forget about him.”
WHEN 27-year-old Owen Chikachukwu, who went missing two years ago and is feared dead, completed the Community Secondary School, Agbani in the southeastern Nigerian state of Enugu, he wanted to attend university. But he could not. He was poor and no one could sponsor him.
So he got a motorcycle and became an okada man, carrying passengers from place to place, earning his keep.
Owen’s mother, Nkechi Umeh, gave birth to him out of wedlock. She is now married and is a mother of five girls. His guardian, Echela Awah Ikechukwu, describes him as a kindhearted, considerate and hardworking young man.
Owen was a native of the southeastern town of Amuri, Agbani in Nkanu West Local Government Area of Enugu State. In April and June of 2019, there were violent cult clashes, resulting in several deaths. A few months later the Anti-Cult Squad of the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) went into the streets and began an arrest spree, arresting anyone they felt was a cultist.
On December 1, 2019, Owen and his friend, Izuchukwu Ani, were at the bar of a hotel, sharing drinks, when officers of the Anti-Cult Squad, led by a certain Inspector Jude, came into the bar and arrested them. They were taken to the police station, where the unit commander, Ekeleme, put only Izuchukwu in a cell. According to Izuchukwu who was eventually taken to court and granted bail, that was the last time he saw Owen.
When Owen’s family found out he had been arrested, they went in search of him at the police station. The Anti-Cult Squad, to their surprise, denied arresting or even meeting Owen.
Later, Izuchukwu told Owen’s family that while he (Izuchukwu) was in the cell, he asked Inspector Jude about Owen. Inspector Jude told him to “forget about him.” Izuchukwu said he thought Inspector Jude was joking.
The inmates, Izuchukwu remembers, told him that if he did not see or hear from Owen again, it probably meant that he had been killed or transferred to another police station. An inmate who had been in the same cell with Owen told Izuchukwu that the officers had tortured Owen to death.
On the advice of Larry Oguego, the National Coordinator of Human Rights Volunteer Corps (HRVC), whom Owen’s guardian Mr Ikechukwu contacted for help concerning the case, Owen’s mother went to the police station and demanded to see the list of those who had been arrested in December 2019, hoping to track down her son. Inspector Jude threatened to arrest her, before kicking her out of the station. He maintained that the police knew nothing about Owen’s disappearance.
Owen’s mother is now a broken woman.
“I can’t get myself to believe that my son is no more,” she says.
She cries when she remembers her son, whom she describes as a caring and respectful young man. The day before Owen was arrested he had helped her to fetch water and told her of his intention to quit the Okada job so he could return to school.
Owen’s stepfather, Anayo Umeh, shares the same sentiment about his step-son being respectful, hardworking, and obedient.
Mr Umeh says he had advised Mr Chikachukwu to stay away from town when the cult clashes started.
Owen’s disappearance and continued absence has really disturbed Mr Umeh’s household. “We have not found him and it is really affecting us, his mother especially,” he says.
In October 2020, in response to the nationwide #ENDSARS protests, Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of Enugu State inaugurated a panel that seeks to look into cases of extrajudicial killings and police brutality. Owen’s family submitted their petition, and their case was adjourned to January 2021. After the panel rounded up hearings, they told the family that they had made recommendations to the state government. Owen’s family is yet to hear from the state government.
Mr Ikechukwu, Owen’s guardian, says despite the advice from family and friends to discontinue his search for the truth concerning the disappearance, he will not stop doing all he can to find answers. He claims to have had a dream in which Owen told him not to stop fighting. This, he says, reinforces his resolve – even after over a year of dead ends.
Mr Ikechukwu believes Owen did not deserve the treatment he got, even if he was indeed a cultist, as alleged. He says the police should have given him a fair chance to defend himself in the court of law.
“What I need is justice. If they [the police] have killed him, they should provide us with his body so we [can] bury him,” he says. “If they have not killed him, they should let us know where he is being kept.”
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.