Okey Sampson, Aba
How best could one describe the action of Lance Corporal Johnson Ajayi of 144 Battalion of the Nigeria Army, Asa, Abia State who killed a commercial motorcyclist, Chimaobi Nwaogu Uzoukwa for not giving him N100 bribe? Beastly!
This is not the first time security personnel would be killing motorists for not parting with paltry sum of money on demand at checkpoints, but the Soldier Ajayi’s cruel action was rather extreme. His victim, Uzoukwa, 30, a father of two kids, aged two years and seven months respectively, hailed from Amaise, Umuokereke Ngwa in Obingwa Local Government of Abia State; he elected to be a commercial motorcyclist not out of passion, but as a last resort, according to those around him, to eke out a living and take care of his very young family.
Uzoukwa had dutifully carried out his self-assigned job until August 7, when tragedy struck .
To get on-the-spot assessment of the chilling murder of the defenceless okada rider, the reporter travelled to his home town, Umuokereke Ngwa, about 15 kilometres from Aba metropolis.
The genesis of Uzoukwa’s gruesome murder by Ajayi on August 7 began on July 27. According to Mr. Chika Igwe, youth president, Amaise Umuokereke Ngwa autonomous community, the slain motorcyclist had on Saturday, July 27, rode his motorcycle through the army checkpoint at Ohanze, along the Aba/Ikot Ekpene highway where Corporal Ajayi was a regular face. As usual, the soldier stopped the okada rider and he obeyed. Then Ajayi allegedly demanded for a N100. “Uzoukwa pleaded with the soldier that he just came out that morning and that he would ‘settle’ him later in the day when he must have made some money. After delaying the cyclist for some time, the soldier allowed him to go”, Igwe said.
Uzoukwa’s seven-month-old son took ill on the night of August 6 and the father decided he would take him to hospital the following morning. There was no money in the house and the commercial cyclist would have to do some run around to raise some money. Early in the morning, the young man had already hit the road with his bike, hustling for money. By 11 am, the okada rider had garnered little cash; he decided to use some to purchase drugs needed for his son before taking him to hospital. Uzoukwa was heading home to take his sick son to hospital when on getting to the Ohanze army checkpoint, Ajayi stopped him.
According to Igwe’s account, “the one that took Uzouwka’s life happened on Wednesday, August 7. The soldier (Ajayi) had stopped the young man and he obeyed. The soldier later demanded that the okada rider should ‘pay’ him for the day he didn’t drop money at the check point,and also another N100 for the day tragedy struck.The cyclist , however, gave him N100 for that of the previous Saturday and told him he did not go to work on that unfortunate Wednesday because his son was sick .He reportedly later showed him the drugs he bought for the little boy as evidence.
After collecting the N100, the soldier left Uzoukwa and was attending to other motorists. Having stayed for over one hour without hearing from the soldier again, Uzoukwa thought that everything was over. Then after receiving barrage of phone calls from his wife over the deteriorating health condition of his son, he decided to go so that the son will not die”. At home, the wife had waited endlessly and decided to trek to their home with the sick child pending when the husband will arrive. But the husband never did.
Saturday Sun was told that immediately the okada rider left the checkpoint, Corporal Ajayi swiftly stopped another, carrying two passengers and heading towards Akwa Ibom State. He forced the passengers to disembark, commandeered the rider to go after Uzoukwa. The cyclist dutifully obeyed not knowing the intention of Ajayi. Unknown to Uzoukwa that the soldier was coming after him, he called to inform his wife he was on his way back to take them to the hospital. The wife who was by then out of their home, responded by asking the husband to come to his in-law’s place which was not quite far, to pick them. That was the last she heard from her husband.
Chiamaka Chimaobi, now a widow at just 19, gives an account of her husband’s death amidst sobs. “We were supposed to have taken our youngest son to the hospital because he was sick. On that fateful day, my husband told me we should wait for him in the house while he would go out and see if he could get some money and would be back in no time to take us to the hospital. After waiting for him till about 11 am and he was nowhere to be found, I decided to take the child to his maternal home which is not far from our home so that if he returned, he would come there and pick us. When he was coming back, he called and told me on phone he was coming back and that was the last I heard from him.
“We were still at the place hoping he was coming back when I received a call telling me my husband was dead. Initially, I thought the person that called me was joking and I said it was a joke taken too far. When some people raised the alarm, I rushed out because the scene of the incident was very close to where I was waiting for him, and behold, my husband was lying in the pool of his own blood , stone dead.
“There was confusion over my husband’s death until a palm wine tapper revealed what happened. He said he was on top of a palm tree and he saw a soldier carried by another okada rider, chasing my husband from the axis of Ohanze military checkpoint. The palm wine tapper said immediately the motorcycle carrying the soldier got close to my husband who did not know he was being chased, the soldier who was later identified as Lance Corporal Ajayi Johnson, shot him from behind and he fell from his motorcycle and died instantly while the soldier went back to the checkpoint at Ohanze which is about 8 kilometres from where he shot my husband on the same okada that brought him”.
Mission accomplished, back to base
Having observed how Uzoukwa was killed, the motorcyclist who brought the soldier on the dangerous mission was reported to have declined taking him back, but the killer soldier threatened to kill him the way he did his colleague. Under duress, he took Ajayi back to the checkpoint.
Not having any feeling for human life, after killing Uzoukwa, the soldier went back to his duty post after disguising himself by shaving his head and beards. “We were told when he was coming after our brother, one of his colleagues asked him not to, but he insisted that he would want to teach the deceased a lesson,” a relative said.
However, Uzoukwa’s killing drew the ire of youths in the area who put their brother’s corpse in a mini casket and brought it to Opobo Junction in Ogbor Hill, Aba. They protested within the Ogbor Hill of the city, destroying a police van in the process. They took the corpse to some media houses located in the area. Police later dislodged the protesters and took away the corpse. The following morning, over 15,000 youths also protested at the Opobo Junction, but was again dislodged by a combined team of military and police personnel.
Following the killing of Uzoukwa, the Umuokereke village has remained in a state of mourning and agony. Evangelist Faraday Richardson while bemoaning the death of the okada rider said:
“As a retired military officer and now called into the vineyard of the Lord, I saw that incident as a wicked act, very inhuman because I see no reason why somebody should because of N100, destroy another man’s life, destroy a family because the young man killed was the breadwinner of the family with quite a very young family.
“We are not happy, the military should stop enslaving people in the area particularly motorists, especially if they don’t pay N100 extortion money as they pass through the checkpoint in the area as their lives will be in danger.
“This is not the first time the soldier in question was engaging in acts which negate human dignity”. The deceased’s mother, Mrs. Patience Nwaogu Uzoukwa, 50, who was at her farm when the incident happened, said it would have been better if the soldier had killed her in her son’s stead. “I have five children, three boys and two girls; he was the last among the boys. Who will train his two kids? My prayer is that the soldier should also face the same treatment he gave to my son. He should not be spared. I wept uncontrollably when I was told about my son’s death and I’m still weeping”, she lamented.
Uzoukwa’s siblings, Chinweikpe and Onyedikachi who spoke to Saturday Sun lamented the death of their younger brother. If they had their way, they would want to skin the soldier alive. For the okada rider’s wife, she was yet to come to terms with why the soldier killed her husband who was just 30. “Who is going to train my kids for me?” she asked, weeping.
Pa Emmanuel Nwosu, 90, oldest man in the deceased’s village saw the killing as an insult to the community. “In Igboland, once someone was being pursued and he ran to his home, no harm befalls him again; killing of our son by the soldier who pursued him all the way from Ohanze to his village is sacrilegious”, the nonagenarian said in a fit of anger. He implored the government to do something to assuage the anger of youths of the area who he said are aggrieved like any other person in the community. The traumatized youths of the community have given government and army authorities two weeks ultimatum to mete out commensurate punishment to the killer soldier said to have been arrested. They equally demanded access to the corpse of their brother, a demand the state commissioner of police said could only be granted after investigation.
Abia State governor, Okezie Ikpeazu had already visited and condoled with the family of the slain okada rider where he promised that the killer soldier will not go scot-free. He reportedly donated N300,000 to the family and promised to train Uzoukwa’s two children for upwards of five years each.