One Thursday, on the 19th of September 1996, during the brutal regime of the late General Sani Abacha, something happened in Nigeria that shocked the entire world. In the usually calm and serene city of Owerri, capital of the country’s southeastern state of Imo, an 11-year-old boy named Anthony Ikechukwu Okoronkwo was meandering his way through the streets of the city with his precious tray of merchandise playfully balanced on his head. The little boy was hawking boiled groundnuts, which was his routine, the same condemned destiny for millions of other Nigerian kids today. But in his infantile innocence, the little boy was only doing what he was ordered to do by his parents. He strolled along, selling his groundnuts for peanuts to whoever wanted to buy. When he got to Amakohia area of Owerri, his eyes lit up with joy as a customer beckoned on him to approach. That ‘customer’ was named Innocent Ekeanyanwu, aged 32.
The boy was called into the famous Otokoto Hotel and the little groundnut seller was visibly very excited, since it was a hotel, it meant that the new ‘customer’ would probably be buying plenty groundnuts which will mean more money to take home to make his parents happy and assist his struggling family. As he sauntered into the central lobby and reception area of the hotel, he must have given a cute boyish smile as he was told to sit and wait a bit. While waiting, the boy was treated like a guest, he was given a bottle of Coca-Cola to cool off from the punishing heat of tropical Africa. As every innocent boy of his age would react, he quickly took the bottle of Coke and gulped it down with relish.
For many Nigerian kids, drinking a bottle of Coca-Cola inside the lobby of a hotel was more than a dream come true. Made to feel at home, he must have been wondering how nice his new and unusually receptive customers were. As he was sipping his soft drink and taking a look at the glittering surrounding of the hotel, he could have imagined having a hotel of his own too later in the future. As he was dreaming, his vision became blurry and the sounds around him became muzzled and dull. In a matter of minutes, he dozed off, never to wake up again. His tray full of groundnuts was lying in a corner.
Observing the boy from a safe distance was the man who had called him to buy his groundnuts. He had spiked the boy’s drink and once he saw he was asleep, he took the limp body of the drugged lad into one of the hotel rooms and what followed next remains one of the most evil things anyone can ever dream up. A sharp cutlass emerged from nowhere and the boy’s head was severed from his body. He was beheaded in a matter of minutes. Passersby outside the hotel had absolutely no idea of what was going on inside the ‘high-brow’ hotel. After the boy’s head was cut off, they proceeded to disembowel his torso and removed his liver and other parts they needed. They were not done yet, his genitals were not spared as well. After he was done butchering the boy, he sorted out the organs, packed his head inside a polythene bag and they made a shallow grave where they hurriedly buried his mangled remains. Of course, the boy’s parents somewhere in the city had no idea their little boy had just been gruesomely murdered. Ekeanyanwu then took the polythene bag containing the head and headed for the next destination: to the house of the man who needed the fresh head.
THE OTOKOTO HOTEL
At the time of its existence, Otokoto Hotel was located in an upscale area of Owerri, specifically the Amakohia side, and it was a favourite location for the rich and wealthy youths to meet, drink and have all manners of fun. Duru’s hotel was made up of three buildings, (three, five and six stories each, one behind the other). It was owned by Chief Vincent Duru, the father of Obidiozor Duru, the leader of the Black Scorpions secret cult responsible for a spate of robberies and kidnapping of children in the state. All of Owerri placed the Durus under their radar and surveillance, with rumours all over the place about their nefarious activities.
BACKGROUND TO THE STORY
Before this horrible incident, the people of Owerri (Ndi Owerre) were already very mad at the bizarre actions of some loud, extremely powerful and obscenely wealthy individuals in the state. These people were highly-connected and oppressed everyone where they went. Rumours were all over the place as to their very dark dealings and even the possibility of ritual murders and killings but no one really had any hard evidence yet or probably those who had it were too jittery to say anything. Whatever the case, these rich people who had no really tangible or easily traceable sources of wealth kept on living large and instilling an atmosphere of terror and fear on the Owerri populace. This was how Owerri was described at that time:
‘Luxurious commodities also became available in Owerri during the early 1990s, but mostly through a set of exclusive shops. These shops catered to members of their owners’ class: the newly affluent and generally youthful social elites of the town. Besides the arrival of airplanes in Owerri’s skies for the first time since Federalist bombing attacks during the late 1960s, the town’s bicycles and decrepit Peugeot 504 taxis now shared its potholed streets with the extraordinarily expensive automobiles and sports utility vehicles of the nouveaux riches. While the poorest Owerri indigenes listened to Igbo-languages programs on their radios and visited more wealthy relatives to watch frequently disrupted local television programming or videos, the town’s mansions were equipped with generators providing constant power, satellite dishes, video discs, and giant-screen televisions showing current international news, business reports, dramas, sitcoms, and music and movie programming from Great Britain and the United States.
By 1996, Ndi Owerre (Owerri indigenes) could, indeed, see what they had been missing before airport prosperity, but for most of them this was little more than a glimpse through the ornate gates of elite mansions or into shops whose goods had price tags the equivalent of several months’ earnings. Since a number of the town’s parvenu millionaires were not ndi owerre themselves, old ideals of reciprocity between wealthy and poorer clan members did not seem to apply under the new regime. This lack of reciprocity was especially felt as the young elites took titles and demonstrated their dollar/naira power at public, ‘cultural’ events like masquerade outings, weddings and funerals. Successful business entrepreneurship in 1990s….build lavish houses, and flaunt their riches in the faces of their suffering neighbours. When the question was posed about the origins of such untoward wealth, two possibilities beyond legitimate entrepreneurship presented themselves to the Owerri imaginary. First, the money could be the ill-gotten gains of Nigeria’s emerging culture of drug couriership and weapons sales. Second, and even more frighteningly, the money could be the product of the worst type of crime: the direct exploitation of children, whether as targets for parental extortion or as targets for money magic, a practice otherwise known in Nigerian Anglophone circles as’ritual murder’.’
That was a description of the atmosphere of Owerri of that time. And yes, the oppression by the wealthy was real. They flaunted their questionable wealth in the most nauseating manner, took all the chieftaincy titles, moved around with armed teams of police and soldiers harassing everyone on the roads, their cars had special and customized plates and any motorist who dared to protest got the beating of his life. These gods were virtually untouchable until everything scattered.
When the people heard of what happened inside the hotel to the boy, Owerri exploded with anger and resentment that had been piling up for years. For two straight days, the people of Owerri trooped out in their thousands, protesting and rioting. Not even the strong-arm tactics of the Imo State military administrator, Colonel Tanko Zubairu, could stop them (the administration of the former military governor Navy Captain James Aneke was already seen as corrupt, 419-based and even complicit in the protection of the Otokoto men while he was in office). They simply ran amok and the national and international media focused on the Owerri riots of 24th and 25thof September, 1996, also known as the Otokoto riots, the people felt they had had more than enough.
Any property suspected to belong to the ’Otokoto men’ were set ablaze, from posh hotels to luxury supermarkets, their flashy automobiles, palatial mansions, everything was destroyed and burnt to the ground. A more detailed description of the riots is given in the subsequent sections. Any suspected member of the Otokoto gang was lynched. Prior to the riots, the youthful members of the Otokoto gang and other secret societies (believed to be offshoots of campus secret cults) involved in ritual killings went everywhere oppressing others with their ill-gotten wealth making other hardworking youths look clueless and silly. The mob action of the Owerri people was described thus by Declan Okpalaeke in the Echoes of Otokoto below:
‘Members of the irate mob arrogated to themselves the power of the judge and jury. It was for them, apparently, an opportunity for a putsch, for a cleansing of their once peaceful town. And they went about it with maddening fury. They pointed out magnificent buildings within the city suspected to belong to fraudsters and kidnappers. And once fingered, such buildings were marched upon were marched upon and torched with exotic cars and other properties destroyed, their owners pronounced guilty by the mob. As the crowd moved from one part of the town to another, more people joined in the act of fury and more victims fell to its jungle justice.’
The Owerri public had no faith in the police and as a matter of fact, the commissioner of police at that time, David Abure, was seen as the personification of corruption who wined and dined with the evil ones. But how did the news of the brutal hotel killings leak out to the public?
OWERRI EXPLODES: THE SHOCKING DISCOVERY
After the grisly murder of the little Okoronkwo by Mr. Innocent Ekeanyanwu (what a name, innocent indeed), he left the hotel to deliver the head where it was needed. It was the motorcycle operator named Opara who took him to his destination in Eziama who realized that was his passenger was carrying inside the polythene bag was actually a fresh human head. It was still dripping with blood. When he alighted, the motorcyclist alerted the police who then intercepted Ekeanyanwu on his way back in a Peugeot 504 car, he was carrying the head with him in the polythene bag. Opara would later testify in court.
With the motorcycle he took earlier, he was going to the residence of a highly-influential figure named Chief Leonard Unaogu at Eziama, Ikeduru Local Council Area with the head but upon arriving, he was told Mr. Unaogu had gone to Lagos. So Ekeanyanwu had no other option but to return to Owerri with the boy’s head. When it was time to take the headless body of Ikechukwu to the local mortuary, Owerri residents trooped out of their homes, it was a massive procession and they protested all the way. They stayed around and within the hotel premises and waited for the police to confirm that it was indeed a ritual murder. Some other Owerri residents kept watch in front of the medical center, watching everything and also waiting for the confirmation of a ritual murder from either the morgue or the police. But the notice was to eventually come from the Imo State television station. Suspicion was already thick in the air and anyone could smell the tension. It was Owerri people versus some of the most devilish forms of humanity in their midst.
It was in this midst of this tension that the local media station made its miscalculation. They showed the image of Innocent Ekeanyanwu holding the head of his victim. The goal of the media was to assure the people, assuage public fear, ask the public to help identify the boy and show official transparency but what followed next was a catastrophe. All hell broke loose as the enraged people of Owerri went haywire after the image was first broadcast on the 24th of September. All Owerri residents abandoned their businesses and congregated at the town’s central marketplace. It was there they decided on the next plan of action and outlined their strategies to deal with the Otokoto ‘headhunters’. The news spread rapidly and before long, every home in Owerri had either of the news or seen the image of Okoronkwo’s head or his shallow grave. Unemployed and disgruntled young men took over the parks and issued threats to the Owerri millionaires. From the Owerri main market, the riots exploded and spread.
The pattern of destruction was neat. The rampaging crowd first went to the morgue and from there, they rushed to the Otokoto Hotel and burnt it to the ground. From there, they went to the nearby palatial mansion of Chief Vincent Duru and destroyed his property, his expensive cars were wrecked and Duru himself narrowly escaped. From there, the crowd split into attack groups and spread out to other sites of the priviledged elite and unleashed maximum destruction. The well-known Piano Plaza and Stores, alongside another hotel, Chibet Hotel, and various businesses linked to the Otokoto and their associates were utterly destroyed. The Zubairu-led government later confiscated all the property as recommended by the panel which was headed by Justice PC Onumajuru.
From there, they rushed to the palace of the traditional ruler and chairman of the state council of traditional rulers, Eze Onu Egwu Nwoke (later indicted alongside Aneke and Abure by the panel of inquiry) and burnt down his residence and his petrol station, they also destroyed the king’s 15 airconditioners and many of his cars. They were not done yet, from there, the crowd ‘troops’ headed for the residences of former Imo State officials. These administrators were targeted because of what was described as ‘their alleged unwillingness to properly tackle several cases of ritual murder, kidnapping and robbery while in office.’ The angry rioters only agreed to calm down when the military administrator (MILAD) assured them that a full, state-level investigation of the incident was going to be launched.
Some of the suspects.
Following the arrest of Ekeanyanwu, he was remanded in police custody while awaiting trial. But while he was in the police custody, magic happened as usual, he was killed by food poisoning. He killed the boy on Thursday and by Sunday morning, the 22nd of September, he was found dead in police custody and by Monday morning, the news of his death was already spreading throughout Owerri.
But luckily for the interrogators, before he was killed, Ekeanyanwu confessed and mentioned Leonard Unaogu as the brain behind the ritual killing syndicate. He confessed that the ritual killing ring was a well-organized machine that specialized in the harvesting of human body parts and sold them to those interested in using them for rituals and all the usual nonsense they claimed to be using them for. He also said it was Unaogu who ordered him to get a human head.
Some reports indicate that the Otokoto saga (as the ritual killing came to be known) had been in place as far back as 1976. Confessional statements also show that no one was spared at the Otokoto Hotel. Innocent guests and unsuspecting travellers who lodged at the hotel were drugged or attacked in the middle of their sleep and hacked to death after which they were cut into pieces for sale.
Police officers who swooped upon the hotel discovered not only the shallow grave containing that of the little boy but also graves containing other victims with their decomposing and dismembered corpses. No one knows the exact number of bodies exhumed at Otokoto Hotel, with figures varying from 8 to two dozen. Some were buried at inconspicuous locations such as under the flowerbeds. Such evil, such horror!
The man that Ekeanyanwu mentioned before he was poisoned to death, Leonard Unaogu, was known in the society as a business tycoon. Everyone knew him. But that was not all. His junior brother, Laz Unaogu, was a serving minister under the General Abacha regime. The brother of a serving federal minister was implicated in the beheading of a poor boy, it was a classic case of the rich against the oppressed and poor Nigerian majority. Leonard Unaogu was eventually arrested by the police when Duru claimed that police officers had told him that the late Ekeanyanwu had confessed that Unaogu commissioned the killing. He was arrested and made to face the judicial commission of inquiry and eventually held in prison, charged with murder. It seemed the government really wanted the culprits or at least someone punished because the people of Owerri were ready to pounce on anyone should they be released to go free.
But the people of Owerri made their voices heard, they pursued the case till the very end. In fact, the Otokoto case can be seen as the case of the Owerri people versus the Otokoto Seven (as the seven principal suspects were called). The police arrested Unaogu and when he was quizzed, he lied with a straight face that he never knew anyone called Innocent Ekeanyanwu and that he was not even in Owerri when the crime was committed, saying he was in Lagos. He would later say the same thing in court only for the presiding judge to brush it aside as nonsense saying his location when the offence was committed was irrelevant to the matter at hand.
Ekeanyanwu, who murdered the boy, was aged 32 and he worked as a gardener inside the Otokoto Hotel. When he died of food poisoning, the Imo State Police Commissioner released a press statement with the speed of light saying the police knew nothing about it saying there was no foul play. This irresponsible talk from the police chief enraged the Owerri youths, who promptly returned to streets demanding justice for the slain boy. This time around, they were determined more than ever to find their own evidence of ritual murder.
They invaded the homes of ‘suspected dealers in human body parts’ sniffing around for hard evidence which they reportedly found in one of the houses. The churches were not spared too, especially the new-breed evangelical churches, with their main target being the Overcomers Christian Mission along Wetheral where it was rumoured that human skulls were discovered with charms and amulets but the police later said what was found there were various animal skulls, pots full of vulture and other feathers, chalk, red candles, books on mystic subjects, photographs, cowries, objects shaped like human beings and bottles that contained unspecified powders and herbal preparations.
Energized by their success at this discovery, the protesters marched on other churches, a lodge and even an ashram. All the churches popular with the millionaires of Owerri were attacked and destroyed. Only Winners Chapel narrowly escaped as it had been surrounded by battle-ready police officers. By the time the storm calmed on the 27th of September, 26 buildings and several cars had been destroyed. It was a barbarous scene and the savagery mixed with the brutality was clearly evident in the destruction. All the Otokoto suspects were remanded in the Owerri federal prisons during trial.
THE TRIAL AND JUDGEMENT
At first, nine people testified before Justice SO Ekpe, who took over from Justice Gabriel Ojiako, the retired chief judge of Imo State, in the course of the trial. Trial started on the 9th of December, 1996 with Hillary Ngozi Opara as the first prosecution witness. The court also admitted the confessional statement of Innocent Ekeanyanwu, taken by Ambrose Nnah, a police sergeant who recorded the statement in Igbo. He testified in court on the 17thof June, 1998 as a witness saying the statement was recorded in English and read to Ekeanyanwu in Igbo before he thumbprinted it. Counsel to Duru and Unaogu (Tony Mogboh, SAN) objected saying there was nothing to show it was interpreted to him in Igbo after it was recorded in English and that the Igbo version should also be attached to prevent distortion. Their objections were overruled with the judge saying:
“There is no evidence before me that the statement was not made voluntarily. And if a statement is made voluntarily, it is admissible in evidence. The objections are therefore overruled. I rule that the statement is admissible in law and should therefore be admitted as exhibit II.”
A receptionist in the hotel named Margaret Acholonu stated that Duru was actually in the hotel the very day the boy was beheaded. She also said that two spots were dug at the hotel premises and it was from the second one that the body of Okoronkwo was exhumed. She also narrated that on that fateful day, she saw Ekeanyanwu with a black bag and he told her he was going to his village at Eziama.
A police sergeant, Sunday Onwucheka, told the court he was in the office at the Owerri police headquarters on the 20th of September when Ekeanyanwu was brought in with a fresh human head by the divisional police officer (DPO) in charge of the Iho police station in Ikeduru. He said Ekeanyanwu was then taken to the Ifeanyi Anozie, an assistant police commissioner at the Criminal Investigation Department in Owerri. Anozie then directed that Onwucheka, ASP Aguobi, ASP Obasi Chukwu, leader of the team, DSP C Nmezi and other ranks should investigate the case.
According to Onwucheka, before the police took Ekeanyanwu to Otokoto Hotel, the crime scene, he confessed to killing the boy at Mba River in Ikeduru and dumped the body inside the river. The police followed the false trail but found nothing at the Mba River. So at about 7:00 pm on the 20th of September, they returned to Owerri. The following Monday, they continued with their investigation and took him to Otokoto Hotel where the headless body of the boy had already been identified before the police team arrived.
It was discovered that during the course of the investigation that there was a time when Duru came out while standing with Ekeanyanwu and shouted at him:
‘Have you implicated me?!’
Other witnesses included Laeticia Okoronkwo who happened to be the distraught mother of the boy, Sulaiman Idris Ibe, a retired police inspector who was on duty at Eziama when Opara the cyclist came to report, police photographer and Ralph Nwaiwu, the doctor who performed the autopsy on Ikechukwu.
On the 20th of August, 1997, another separate trial began at a senior magistrate’s court in Owerri and docked were nine police officers. They accused of being complicit in the murder of Ekeanyanwu. The White Paper on the Otokoto crisis had recommended their dismissal from the force and trial. They were:
Ifeanyi Anozie, an assistant commissioner of police
Chukwu Obasi, an assistant superintendent of police
The case snailed on and on the 14th of October, 1997, over a year after and after a series of adjournments, absence of lawyers, presiding judge, suspects or even the retirement of judges or their transfer, the case was back in court. That was then a letter dated 16th of May 1997 from the then federal solicitor-general to the Imo State attorney-general ordering that the accused persons be released saying no prima facie case had been established against them. But the ever-vigilant indigenes of Imo got to know of the plan and promptly raised an alarm and embarked on another protest until the state government assured everyone via radio that all suspects would appear in court.
When the seven suspects finally appeared in court, many were pissed off. Leonard Unaogu, the minister’s brother, was transported in a new station wagon from the prison to the court like a royalty. Vincent Duru and other suspects were brought in a Black Maria from prison to the court, with handcuffs. Duru protested the preferential treatment given to Unaogu. Many judges handled the case. First, it was Gabriel Ojiaku, who retired in 1997 handing over to Simeon Ekpe who was almost done with the prosecution until he was elevated to the Court of Appeal and the case was stalled until Justice Chioma Nwosu-Iheme finally took over on the 28th of April 1999.
The Otokoto Ritual Killings of 1996: Justice Chioma Nwosu-Iheme delivered judgment
In her judgment, given in February 2003, Justice Chioma Nwosu-Iheme said of Chief Vincent Duru:
‘You are a hardened and unrepentant murderer.’
“This is a typical case when a circumstantial evidence has proved a case of murder with the accuracy surpassing that of mathematics. It has left no one in doubt, of the connection between one accused person and others. It is to me a syndicated arrangement with clear division of labour,” she said.
Of Unaogu, the sixth accused and the minister’s brother, she said:
‘I believe that the sixth accused accused procured and counselled Innocent Ekeanyanwu to bring a human head. You are a highly-sophisticated criminal, a very intelligent man who chose to channel his intelligence the wrong way. You shall be hanged by your neck until you die. May God have mercy on your soul….the sixth accused person, Leonard Unaogu could be described as essential part of the actor who orders for the heads of human beings as if he is ordering for goat heads. It is indeed an unfortunate case, a very intelligent man who chose to channel his intelligence the wrong way. The blood of Ikechukwu Okonkwo must be a very strong and powerful one that cried to God in high heavens.”
“It is indeed condemnable, even God Himself condemned it when he said in Ezekiel chapter 8 verse 20 that “the soul that sinneth shall die.” The accused have demonstrated specie of wickedness surpassing those of Jezebel. The law is very clear on the consequences of these acts and the perpetrators will go in for it.”
But Unaogu was still unrepentant and so confident that he replied the judge saying:
‘If God will permit!’
One of the spectators in the court was so mad at his arrogance that he responded him sharply saying:
‘Which God? God has permitted this! The measure you gave is the measure you have received. ’
All the seven suspects were sentenced to death, they were:
Chief Vincent Duru, the owner of the Otokoto Hotel (he and Unaogu denied knowing each other but Justice Nwosu-Iheme said that was a lie). He appealed the sentence in 2012 but he was unlucky as the sentence was upheld by the Appeal Court.
Ebenezer Egwueke: 62-year-old was eventually freed after spending 16 years in prison (pictured below). He was reportedly found innocent and said he was not a manager but an ordinary supervisor at the Otokoto Hotel. He had appealed the sentence and his innocence was upheld by the Court of Appeal, his family said they spent N2.5 million on legal fees alone but were happy to finally have him back. He said: “If I had committed anything worthy of imprisonment, I would have accepted my fate but unfortunately, I did nothing to warrant 16 years of suffering. While in prison, all my friends deserted me and my wife and eight children passed through very difficult times. I don’t know where to start life again. I don’t even know with what to start with again. My mates, who started the race with me, have since overtaken me.”
The freed suspect.
Almost everyone working at the hotel was arrested after the discovery.
Leonard Unaogu: He would later die some years ago at the Port Harcourt Prisons in what has been described as very mysterious circumstances.
On the day of the judgment, a special detachment of armed policemen were sent to maintain order and control the charged crowd at the Owerri High Court. After the judgment, Unaogu speedily addressed the reporters saying:
“I am dying because I helped the less-privileged and widows in the society.”
While Duru said:
“This is not a thorough judgment.”
Anyanwu on his own said:
“History will see the judgment as it is.”
Relatives of the condemned, such as the two wives of Unaogu burst into tears and wept uncontrollably, the wife of Rufus Anyanwu fainted and was bundled out of the scene by sympathizers while others in the court, especially the Owerri indigenes, were very excited and satisfied with the judgment patting one another on the backs for following the struggle for justice till the very end. At the end of the day, a total of 16 people were convicted over the Otokoto saga.
After judgment, the convicts all moved to the Port Harcourt Prisons in the middle of February, 2003 pending their execution even as their lawyers boasted they were going to appeal the judgment, which they did but the sentence of execution was still upheld. It took seven long years for the Nigerian judicial system to get justice for one boy, very efficient, right? Prior to the case of Okoronkwo, several children had disappeared in Owerri, never to be found till date. Some were kidnapped and their wealthy parents parted with ransom, it was so serious that in May 1995, the daughter of Dr. Okoh, a prominent physician in the city was kidnapped by the Black Scorpions, one of the elite secret clubs which introduced itself to the doctor and demanded for the ransom of $12,000 before the girl could be released. The doctor managed to convince the police to go after the kidnappers and punish the well-oiled criminal gang.
Eventually, the police stormed the hideout of the Black Scorpions and months later, the leader of the cult, Obidiozor Duru (who happens to also be the son of Chief Vincent Duru, owner of the Otokoto Hotel and already arrested as at the time of the Otokoto riots) and Amanze Onuoha, were both arrested and brought before the Imo State Robbery and Firearms Tribunal on the charges of armed robbery, a capital offence. But what happened next was nothing but a mockery of justice. Vincent Duru the father was seen as the very symbol of evil and people often referred to him as Otokoto. Businessman and politician Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu was also mentioned in the saga but he denied ever knowing anyone called Amanze.
Duru and Onuoha were treated like royalties in the prisoner rather than criminals awaiting the death penalty. They got the most liberal visiting priviledges, ate food cooked and brought from their homes and Duru (a Ph.D holder in psychology from California State University) even impregnated one of his female jailers and did a ‘traditional wedding’ with her before he completed his case. But while they were incarcerated, the rate of child kidnappings in Imo State dropped noticeably. But in 1997, six people were executed by a firing squad following a judgement by Justice Emmanuel Nnodim. One of those killed was Obidiozor, the son of Chief Vincent Duru.
In 2002, Justice Lawrence Alinor also sentenced three police officers to death by hanging at the Owerri High Court for their roles in the death of Innocent Ekeanyanwu, the principal witness in the Otokoto case.
The devastating loss of a child can only be felt and understood by the affected parents and that felons make a mess of the Nigerian judicial system, the last hope of the poor man, means we are still not addressing our priority as a nation and that is a pity indeed.
NB: This is July 2015 (when I first wrote this piece) but it is not clear whether the other convicts have been sentenced to death or not. After the death sentences were handed out, nothing was heard again.
UPDATE: Chief Vincent Duru was eventually executed by hanging on Sunday, November 13, 2016, 13 years after his 2003 conviction.
WHAT OTHERS SAID ABOUT THE OTOKOTO SAGA
Because one of the suspects was a brother to the minister in the Abacha junta, the media had a lot to bash the Abacha government with. They accused his government of colluding with the most evil of entities on earth to rob Nigerians of everything, from their lives to their property. The Abacha government was also connected with the late Charles Okafor aka Eze Ego, King of Money . Linking the Abacha junta with the darkest and most shady of characters was the favourite pastime of the Nigerian press at that time. Abacha made life difficult for them and they did the same too.
‘What brought this sadistic phenomenon (ritual murder) to the fore was the Owerri incident. A peaceful and serene town known more for its neatness and a generally accommodating disposition, the Imo State capital began to acquire a reputation for criminal tendencies in the early 90s. Inhabitants who spoke toTheWeek linked the phenomenal transformation to the activities of ‘419’ men and drug couriers.’ – Taye Ige, ‘For the Love of Money’.
‘We Africans have a long tradition of sacrificing human life to seek power or wealth. But in the past, one always had to kill a kinsman. You could not just kill any stranger. This imposed limits and costs to taking a human life. It is not so easy to kill your relation. But now these people kill anybody to satisfy their greed. We are in trouble.’ – A 55-year-old Presbyterian minister interviewed over the Otokoto saga.
Following the riots, full investigation was launched into the matter and according to the editorial of Post Express Wired (a virtual Nigerian media) in 1997, the first abridged White Paper was so damning that it was immediately witdrawn from public circulations, all copies destroyed and the report completely redrafted. It had implicated the elite and top government functionaries as the brains behind all the corruption in Owerri.
Another analyst believes the main reason why the military administrator killed the first report was to ensure that General Abacha did not have any excuse to over-militarize the state, as he was doing in the nearby Niger Delta with federal forces. But that was not to be because from 1997, the people of Owerri felt the iron grip of the military junta. People were required to stand by their cars for physical inspections at some checkpoints and sometimes the crazy soldiers seized their goods after conducting dehumanizing searches (Nigerians have really suffered and we are still suffering but it is much better now, things are changing fast).
The paranoid military government cast a pall of extreme discipline on the historic city. All Otokoto-related buildings, streets and even plots of land were renamed or dismantled by the authorities. The Otokoto phenomenon was to exist in the minds of the Owerri people as the military authorities did all that was possible to wipe out its horrible memories. Some Igbos protested the change of Otokoto-associated landmarks saying it was an assault on Igbo cultural power. In summary, the people of Owerri once again recognized the power in their unity and the government of the day was forces to sit up, there was more transparency as the administrators were aware of the fact that mob-enforced transparency will lead to more destruction and jungle justice. The spread of rumours such as the discovery of 200 male organs inside a goat’s belly stored in a freezer at Otokoto’s village home heightened tension.
(NB: Four years after the incident in 2000, the Bishop of the Overcomers Christian Mission, Alexander Ezeugo Ekewuba spoke on the matter saying:
‘The human skull was handed over to me by some individuals who felt that I should remove those skulls from their homes after conducting deliverance exercises in their respective houses…I felt that I was enlightening the public by showing them what people do in public….So by so doing, I never knew that I would incur the wrath of so many people who out of misunderstanding thought I was among the people that they were looking for. I am not into any occultic practices. From the homes of Professor Nwoke and others I got these skulls and went on television. Let me say that of all the people that suffered during the Otokoto crisis, I am the only man that has been vindicated.’)
During the administration of Ikedi Ohakim as governor, he tried to revoke the right of occupancy of the police to the confiscated Otokoto property but people were said to have kicked against it. The Duru family was also said to have approached Governor Rochas Okorocha over the confiscated property saying the property belonged to the Otokoto Group and not Duru. Okorocha stylishly brushed the matter aside. Each time the issue of returning the confiscated property to the Otokoto family, Owerri people rise and protests.
Nigeria is still in the grips of ritual killers, almost two decades after the Otokoto saga. The same factors that gave birth to the 1996 Otokoto ritual killings are still in place today: poverty, irrational beliefs in supernatural powers that lead people to believe money can be made from flesh without doing any work, weak/corrupt law enforcement agencies and a super-slow judicial system. The presence of these factors explains why after bloody Otokoto saga, the country still had to face the Okija/Ogwugwu shrine saga in Anambra State and the Soka forest horror of Oyo State. The Nigerian disease is still there – yet to be healed.
This article was written in honour and memory of the late Master Ikechukwu Okoronkwo and other Nigerians who vanished in the hands of ritual killers. It is hoped that a time will come when their souls will get the justice they truly deserve and these evil machinations will be nothing but a faded remnant of our dark past.
Thanks for your time.
Anayochukwu Agbo & Adejuwon Soyinka, New Otokotos on the Block,TELL, 17th February, 2003, page 51.
Transparency and Conspiracy: Ethnographies of Suspicion in the New World Order by Harry G. West, pages 67 – 72.
A Culture of Corruption: Everyday Deception and Popular Discontent in Nigeria by Daniel Jordan Smith.
Newswatch, January 2003.
Power of Midnight Prayer by Gabriel Agbo
Monsters of the Market: Zombies, Vampires and Global Capitalism by David McNally
Criminal Abuse of Women and Children: An International Perspective by Obi N I Ebbe and Dilip K. Das.
Exploring the Occult and Paranormal in West Africa by Josephat Obi Oguejiofor and Tobias Vendl.
Trends in Nollywood: A Study of Selected Genres by Ayakoroma and Barclays Foubiri.
THE NEWS, Volume 9, Issues 13-25, Independent Communications Network Limited, 1997.
Otokoto: Day Owerri residents raged against ritualists by Kayode Fasua, National Mirror, 27th January, 2013.
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