From Aloysius Attah, Onitsha
Twenty-year-old Ndubisi Nwaefuru at first glance appears innocent and the kind of person you can easily dismiss as a young man who cannot hurt a fly. But as it is said looks can be deceptive. Today, Nwaefuru is evidently gnashing his teeth in regret at the Onitsha Correctional Centre, following his arraignment in court by the police for arson and attempted murder.
Nwaefuru, an apprentice trader in Onitsha, who hails from Ogboje, Ezza North Local Government Area, Ebonyi State, is alleged to have attempted to burn the flat of his master, Mmaduabuchi Ezimora and his entire family while they were asleep, in a bid to cover up the crime he committed when he stole N121,000 belonging to the master.
The incident which happened on Monday, July 20 2020 left both the Ezimora family and other residents of the five-storey building at No. 28 Nnewi street, Odoakpu, Onitsha, in shock and wondering how Nwaefuru could have conceived such devilish plot.
Last year, Nwaefuru was accepted as an apprentice by Ezimore, a footwear distributor from Nnewi, Anambra State, on the agreement that he would serve for six years and thereafter he would be given a financial grant to set up his own business. But the get-rich-quick bug bit Nwaefuru barely one year into the apprenticeship.
Recounting his horrific experience, Ezimora, after much prodding, told Sunday Sun: “I never imagined that the boy I am training, clothing and feeding could plot to kill me and wipe out my entire family but I thank God who has shown us mercy. I went on a business trip and came back after some days. When I came back, Ndubisi never told me that he sold some goods and kept the money. It was my customer that eventually came to buy fresh goods that informed me of the purchases he made through him when I travelled. He never recorded it in the sales book but pocketed the money. When I confronted him about this, he was initially evasive in his response but when I threatened to involve the vigilante operatives guarding the market, he owned up that he sold the items and kept the money in the house. On getting to the house in the evening, he changed the story and said he used the money to buy a phone. I insisted on seeing the phone and he brought it out from where it was hidden under the upholstery chair with another sum of N1,500.
“I used wisdom to probe him further so as to know whether he had kept money elsewhere. He owned up again and said that he opened a bank account and had deposited a total of N121,000 in the account. I asked him how he operated the account and about the constant deposits, he told me that he sometimes used the POS while on errands to deposit money for me. So, I told him that since he was not making full disclosure, I would involve the police the next day so that they can probe him to unearth further details and we left the matter at that point that night.”
Hatching the evil plot
Nwaefuru ate dinner served by Maduabuchi’s wife just like other members of the family that night and they all retired to their respective rooms. Unknown to the family, he later stepped out and bought kegs of fuel and kerosene with the intent to set the entire family ablaze and escape so that the hanging case of stealing facing him could be buried forever. Maduabuchi said that his family was woken up by shouts of fire and alarm around 3.00 am.
His words: “It was the noise that woke me from sleep. On getting up from the bed I discovered that the curtain hanging in my room was already burning with smoke everywhere. I was confused initially wondering what could be amiss. My wife and children woke up too and started shouting. Smoke filled the room and I couldn’t access the door when I attempted to run out initially while the flame started from the same door. But at a stage I pulled with all the strength in me and waded through the fire and rushed to the kitchen thinking that it may be gas fire from there but was surprised that the kitchen was intact.
“We pushed the entrance door open and our neighbours who were the people that actually noticed the fire in the first place surged into our apartment. They were putting out the fire and still asking what could have prompted it. I watched the boy that time and saw his countenance. When the dust settled, we saw the small cans containing fuel and kerosene at one side of the balcony and my instinct told me that the fire was set by the boy whom I scolded in the night.
“I confronted him this way, ‘Nwokem (my boy), why did you do this? Do you want to kill me? And he kept his eyes away from me. Initially he denied and I decided to allow those who responded in putting out the fire to retire home so I could ask him questions privately. I asked him whether he used fuel or kerosene and he said it was kerosene. I took some pictures of the burnt curtain, cracked tiles and few damaged things in the house and said I would involve police in the morning.
‘God used our neighbours to save the situation’
At dawn, the picture of what happened became clearer. Some neighbours who sell food in the nearby market in the morning and normally wake up around 3 am to cook said they were the first to notice smoke and fire coming from the apartment. They also confirmed that while they were screaming so that people could wake up, they saw a young boy trying to jump from the balcony of the apartment. They thought that the boy was trying to run away from the fire without knowing that it was the same boy that actually set the house on fire.
“Further probe showed that Ndubisi’s initial plan was to escape from the apartment after sprinkling the liquid content of kerosene which had flown into the rooms and caught fire immediately. Surprisingly, he could not open the key to the entrance door despite all his efforts. He then tried to jump through the second floor despite the inherent dangers to his life but was also restrained finally by the neighbours who saw him and started screaming.
Police take over
On alerting the police early in the day, a detachment from Fegge Police Station stormed the building, took inventories of what happened and also took Ndubisi along to the station.
Under interrogation by the police, Ndubisi made this confessed to the crime, saying: “I stole N121,000 and put it in my bank account which I told my Oga (master). When he was threatening to deal with me if I failed to produce the money, I told him that I will get it in the morning from the bank. So, when he retired to bed with his wife and three children, I sneaked out and bought fuel, kerosene and oil that I spread in the entire flat so that all of them will die and I will be free.
“Because of fear of being affected by the fire, I did not use the fuel again, I kept it outside the flat and then poured the kerosene in such a way that it flowed to the entire rooms and then I used match sticks to ignite the fire which immediately engulfed the entire flat but other tenants saw the raging fire and started shouting.
“If not that some of the neighbours who sold food in the market were downstairs cooking, I would have jumped down because my plan failed me. The rescuers came in as soon as I lit the fire.”
The Divisional Police Officer in charge of Fegge Division, Rabiu Garba, a Chief Superintendent of Police who also spoke to Sunday Sun said that Ndubisi was charged to court for arson and attempted murder.
Anayo Ikebudu, one of the residents who spoke on the development wondered the direction humanity is moving presently with the high level of crime and wickedness people are now exhibiting.
He said the Igbo apprenticeship model remained a pivotal mechanism that has been used by the Igbo to build enterprises and raise many financially independent men in Nigeria since after the civil war but lamented that this socio-economic development concept is now beset by many challenges.
“You would pick up somebody to help build him up after some years of service and such person would try to not only liquidate your business but also take your life. Children of these days don’t want to take things easy again. The get-rich-quick syndrome inflicted on the society these days has distorted our value system. People are now afraid to pick young ones as apprentices because of things like this one.
“But we still thank God for not only exposing this but also foiling such evil act. You know it was around past 2 am, at that time when sleep was at its peak. If not for divine intervention, we all would have been consumed by fire that day. If God did not make it possible for some neighbours to be awake that time, we may not have known what was going on until the fire may have not wreaked havoc in the apartment and spread to the entire building. The fatality would have been much and probably our death would have become front page news the next day but God said no,” Ezimora philosophised.