■ Accuses police of aiding suspects to escape from detention
■ We’ve dismissed, charged to court accused officers –Police
Obinna Odogwu, Abakaliki
Recently, the remains of Mrs Catherine Okorie, who was kidnapped and killed by suspected political assailants, were laid to rest in her country home in Ishiagu community, Ivo Local Government Area of Ebonyi State.
Catherine, 58, was kidnapped from her residence in the night of January 18, 2017 and whisked to a forest in Lokpanta community in Abia State from where her kidnappers demanded the whooping sum of N200 million from her family.
The mother of nine was later killed and buried in a shallow grave located in a forest bordering Lokpanta in Umunneochi and Awgu council areas of Abia and Enugu states respectively, for reportedly recognizing one of her abductors.
Her decomposing body was dug out some days later. It was gathered, however, that the family did not give the N200 million ransom demanded by her abductors.
The deceased, Sunday Sun gathered, was a relation to the former Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Senator Anyim Pius Anyim, a former president of the Senate.
Her abduction and subsequent killing came in less than one year after her son, Steven Okorie, was killed by gunmen suspected to be the same assailants in their community.
The development has, indeed, devastated the family.
During the burial, top political office holders and other personalities, including the state governor, Chief David Umahi, both at home and in Abuja were in attendance.
Tears flowed unceasingly as the matriarch was lowered in her grave.
Although the deceased has been buried, her first son, Mr Ikechukwu Okorie, told Sunday Sun that his mother’s blood, like the biblical Abel, is crying for justice.
He disclosed that the family has vowed that no stone would be left unturned until they get justice for their beloved mother.
The untold story
Giving a graphical account of the incident, Okorie narrated that the fate that befell their mother and brother was politically motivated.
He said that for his perceived interest to run for the House of Representatives for his constituency, Ohaozara, Onicha and Ivo Federal Constituency in 2019, one of their kinsmen (names withheld) plotted and kidnapped their mother.
He disclosed that the initial plan of the kidnappers and their master was to keep his mother and drain him financially such that he would no longer have the financial muscle to contest the election in 2019.
His words: “By 18th of January 2017, I got a call while heading home from site. They said that some persons came and whisked away our mother and said that we should come to 82 Division.
“The next caller hit it straight. He said that ‘it looks like your mum has been kidnapped.’ I immediately called the DPO of Ivo Police Division and they swung into action and arrested some suspects and the story continued.
“Later, the kidnappers called and demanded N200 million as ransom. I asked them where I was going to bring such money; that I don’t have that kind of money. They said well, that they are warning me to stay away from the 2019 election.
“That reminds me what happened in 2015. I showed strong interest in the House of Representatives election for my constituency, Ohaozara, Onicha, and Ivo Federal Constituency. Because of other exigencies, we were asked to leave the present man who was there to return with the senator. Both of them returned.
“For 2019, I have not even started talking to anybody. I was just going about my normal business, but these people have already started pressing their buttons.
“But for whatever reasons, they saw me as a strong contender. For whatever reasons, they decided to hit at me and, so, they went for my mother. They took (kidnapped) her and warned me to stay away from 2019 (election).
“And this was how we dragged from the 18th until 22nd or 23rd of January, 2017, we didn’t hear from them again. But they were insisting on N200 million. I said even Okonjo-Iwuala when her father was kidnapped, even as a Minister of Finance did not pay N200 million.
“Why would you take my mother and ask me to pay N200 million? At a point they asked me to pay N150 million and later on N50 million. Later on, they went back to N150 million before eventually, they disappeared.
“That was when we got seriously worried. Days progressed into weeks and later on one month passed. It was in the last week of February that we got one of the persons that we were tracking and he opened up.”
The suspect escaped from police cell
Hell-bent on securing justice for his mother, Okorie told Sunday Sun that he deployed his hard-earned resources and funded every manhunt expedition carried out by security agencies to hunt down the killers of his mother.
According to him, his determination paid off as some of the suspects were apprehended in some states, including Abia State. The kingpin who the police gave his nick-name as Pilot was also apprehended.
Regrettably, the kingpin escaped from the cell in the police headquarters, Abakaliki, the state capital.
Killing of his brother, Steven
Before Mrs Okorie was killed, her son, Steven, was also equally murdered by suspected political assailants.
Ikechukwu told our correspondent that the hoodlums had attacked him and wanted to snatch his CRV car with which they wanted to attack another community leader (name withheld) who was vying for a political position in their community.
“I hope my late younger brother will find it in his heart, wherever he is, to forgive me. Many times it looks like we talk more about the woman than him. But you can understand; she is our mother. Truth is that, within three or four months, I lost a younger brother that was just finishing from the Abia State University and my mother.
“Some gunmen wanted to snatch the CVR car he was using in the village. I don’t know what happened, they shattered him there. They made sure he was dead before they left. And this happened on the 20th of August, 2016.
“And what caused it? A certain man sent his boy to go and harass one man (names withheld) who as at 2016 or thereabout, had ambition to be the community leader of Amaeze. The community has many mining sites and quarries, which is a good avenue of making money.
“Because of that, the position is a very lucrative and the man has strong following, but his opponent felt that he was biting more than he could chew by opposing his candidate.
“So, he sent his boys after him. The boy went and connived with some other people from outside Ishiagu, the Lokpa people, one other man and Pilot that led the team that kidnapped and killed my mother.
“He sent them to go and harass their opponent. Of course, he did business within that period with the man and gave him some money. Then, those boys went in the night to his place.
“Whether it was to rob him or kidnap him or other thing, I wouldn’t know, but at the end of the day, it was said that they found N2 million cash in his house. So, because of the volume of money that they found, they decided to exit with the money.
“The man who sent them admitted that he collected N100,000 from that money, but his boys said that they gave him N300,000. He gave N100,000 before and later they sent additional money through someone who collected for him. This happened in June.
“Importantly, they said that when they went to their opponent’s place, they saw bank and haulage vouchers that if you put them together, cumulatively, they ran into millions.
“So, they now felt that the man really was a goldmine; that they should go and kidnap him and make more money. That was what they planned and the execution day was on 20th August, 2016.
“Unfortunately for them, they didn’t have mobility. They got into town and it was the same person that organized the kidnapping of my mum in January last year.
“They said that he was the one that called my brother and the guy drove to the location and they shot him dead, trying to collect his vehicle. They said that they wanted to use his vehicle to ferry their opponent.
“But unfortunately, my brother foiled it because he refused to give them the key and flung it into the nearby bush. So, they didn’t get the key. They then shot and shattered his legs and he bled to death. Nobody met him alive.
“We didn’t know what happened. All we felt was that they were car snatchers and whatever. Car snatching gone wrong and my brother became a victim. That was what we thought happened. He was buried on the 23rd of September, 2016”, he narrated.
Dissecting suspect’s escape from police
The Police headquarters in Abakaliki has an expansive compound with many buildings dotting the landscape. The main administrative building is strategically positioned in the compound and it houses the office of the police commissioner.
The building has a square-like form with open space in the middle. In its ground floor, lies the cell. Sunday Sun gathered that the suspected killers of Mrs Catherine, including their kingpin were kept in that cell.
There is only one known entrance to the administrative building and it was as expected manned by police officers for 24 hours.
There is also CCTV camera mounted at the entrance to, perhaps, ensure watertight security.
At the two known major gates, police officers are stationed; even the middle gate demarcating the administrative compound and the residential area, supposedly occupied by police officers, was manned by armed policemen.
But how the kidnap kingpin, Pilot, and three other suspects were able to beat this ‘watertight’ security to make good their escape was still a puzzle to Mr Ikechukwu Okorie.
“Do you know the one that is paining us? We spent our money and other resources; we funded the expeditions and this thing happened in January 18 and she was killed on 22nd of the same January.
“By July 31, 2017, we caught the man that drove the vehicle to my compound the day they kidnapped my mother. My brother do you know what we are hearing? That Pilot that we know how much we spent for him to be caught since 31st July, 2017 has disappeared from the cell they kept him on Sunday being 22nd October, 2017.
“Where do they tell that kind of nonsense? And this is a man that has given foundation-shaking confessional statement. Our lawyers mounted pressure on the police to arraign this man in court since 31st July. They did not do that till he escaped.
“They kept dilly-dallying only for us to hear that he is no longer there. However, they released him, I don’t know; whatever caused them to release the person that went, kidnapped, and shot our mother dead and they would not arraign the person. However, the person disappeared, I am sure that Ebonyi State Police Command is joking. It’s a joke of the century”, he lamented.
Okorie alleged that the police played double standard on the matter, claiming that a prominent politician from Ishiagu community (names withheld) who he alleged had a hand in the fate of his mother has been making efforts to close up the matter.
“When we caught some of the suspects and kept them in the custody, the man kept going to the police station even in the wee hours, trying to get across to them and do funny things.
“He made every arrangement and every effort to truncate our efforts at getting to the facts of the matter. And major among them was that he threatened one of the lawyers that organized a press conference at which the lawyer insisted that the government (police) should arraign the people they arrested, including the man’s boy (name withheld)”, he said.
The distraught Okorie told Sunday Sun that each time the memories of his mother flew through his mind he cried bitterly.
“Almost every day I cry because nothing can replace a mother. Every day in my life something comes up that my mother would have handled. And at such moments, I get overwhelmed by emotions and I let out my tears”, he said with a voice laden with sorrow and emotions.
Indeed, the Ebonyi State Commissioner of Police, Titus Lamorde, at a press briefing that was held in his office confirmed that his men did not do their work well in the case of the escapee suspects.
The CP said that the escape of the suspect, and three others was as a result of negligence of five police officers on duty on the night of their escape.
“And unfortunately and sadly enough, on the night of Saturday/Sunday, that is October 21 and 22, the people unfortunately when they were in the cell between 2:00a.m and 3:00a.m because of negligence of those on duty four suspects escaped, including Pilot who is a principal suspect in the kidnap of the late Mrs Okorie. There were five policemen on duty”, he said.
CP Lamorde, however, vowed that the police would do everything within their powers to re-arrest the fleeing criminals as soon as possible.
He said already the police were taking actions in that regard.
When contacted on Thursday, the Ebonyi State Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO), Mrs Loveth Odah, disclosed that the police officers numbering seven who were on night duty that fateful night of the incident have been dismissed from service and charged to court; adding that about 15 suspects have been charged to court in connection with the kidnap and killing of the matriarch.
“All the people that were involved in that matter were all dismissed from the Nigerian Police Service and charged to court. That police counter duty is being manned by police officers day and night. So the officers that were on duty that night; even the one that was on duty very far away from the counter was also arrested and were all dismissed and charged to court”, she clarified.