•Death of detained vigilante sparks row between residents, police
From Obinna Odogwu, Ekwulobia
These days, in Abagana, Njikoka Local Government Area of Anambra State, the people are in a pensive mood.
Residents of the town are very sad over the death of one of the illustrious sons of the community, Chief Cosmas Ebele Nwochu.
Nwochu died in controversial circumstances while in detention at Amawbia Prisons in Awka South Local Government Area of the state.
It was gathered that one night, late last year, the police stormed the deceased’s residence in Orofia village at about 1am and arrested him. The armed police officers allegedly broke into his room and took him away in handcuffs.
Daily Sun learnt that Nwochu’s arrest was informed by a bloody land dispute between the neighbouring communities of Abagana and Ukpo in which lives and property were destroyed.
A group of people had, on August 19, 2016, sacked a police post situated between the two communities and destroyed five buildings under construction. The attackers also burnt two vehicles belonging to the Nigeria Police and killed a security guard. Though they share a common boundary, Ukpo is in Dunukofia Local Government Area.
Wife of the deceased, Ifeoma, told Daily Sun that her late husband, who was the chairman of the vigilance group in the community, was falsely accused of having a hand in the land dispute between the communities. She said that during the period of the inter-communal dispute, her husband was still mourning the death of his second wife and could not have participated in the tussle.
“After the burial of his second wife on August 28, 2016,” she recalled, “the police, at about 1am, invaded our residence in commando style. They came in four vehicles. They broke our door and commandeered one of the children to show them where their father was.”
She told the reporter that her late husband, who was manhandled by the security agents, was later moved from one police cell to the other until he was dumped at the Amawbia Prisons, where he took ill.
“He took ill while in the prison, but they refused to give him adequate treatment. They didn’t even allow the family to cater to his medical needs. He remained that way in the prison and at a point he could no longer speak. It was at this critical point that they sluggishly took him to the hospital where he died.
“He was falsely accused of partaking in the land tussle between Abagana and Ukpo communities. But during the period in question, he was still mourning his late second wife,” she lamented.
Ifeoma, who wept uncontrollably, prayed the Inspector-General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, Anambra State Governor, Chief Willie Obiano, and other people in authority to take up the matter and ensure that her late husband gets justice. She also appealed to kind-hearted individuals for financial assistance to enable her cater to the needs of her nine young children that have been rendered fatherless.
However, the matter has taken on a disturbing trend. Angered by the circumstances surrounding Nwochu’s death, more than 2,000 residents of the community on April 21, 2017, led a long procession from the Njikoka Local Government Area headquarters, Abagana, through the popular Oye-Agu Market and ended at Orofia village. A police team, led by the Abagana Divisional Police Officer, Dan Uke, a Chief Superintendent of Police, was on hand to forestall a breakdown of law and order.
A cross-section of the residents who spoke with the reporter at the venue accused a millionaire businessman from Ukpo community (names withheld) of using the police to intimidate and imprison indigenes of Abagana. They alleged that 15 of their kinsmen were still unlawfully being detained in prison since last year, without trial, on the orders of the said millionaire.
President-General of Abagana, Chief Ben Ugha, said the community was not involved in the attack. He stated that the land belonged to Abagana community, and the people of the community could not have initiated a war in their own land.
Ugha claimed that the deceased was granted bail by the court but alleged that the police refused to release him, even though he had met all the bail conditions, alleging that: “The police refused to release him because they had been bribed.”
Another community leader, Prof. Godwin Okafor, also absolved Abagana community of terrorism allegations levelled against the people, as reported by a section of the media.
Speaking on behalf of her siblings, 14-year-old daughter of the deceased, Ifunanya, lamented that the children have been traumatised. She pleaded with the authorities to wade into the matter so that Nwochu’s death would not be in vain.
Reacting to the issue on the telephone, the police spokesperson in the state, Mrs. Nkeiruka Nwode, declined to comment on the matter. She later sent our reporter the telephone number of the DPO of Abagana, Uke.
Uke, in a chat with the reporter, exonerated the police of all wrongdoing. He said that the police never sat on any bail granted by the court as alleged, explaining that bail granted by the police and that granted by the court were not the same.
Said he, “Those that were arrested by the police were charged to court and were detained in prison custody, where one of them died. I was physically present to make sure that there was no breakdown of law and order.
“There are two types of detention, police detention and police bail as well as court detention and court bail. Those detained by the police stay in the cell but those detained by the court stay in the prison. The police cannot tell the court to detain or release somebody once that person has been charged to court.”
Uke also dismissed allegations that the police had been bribed by a certain millionaire to intimidate Abagana residents, insisting that such accusations were false.