Stanley Uzoaru, Owerri
People of Umuezigwe, Amuzi, in Obowo Local Government Area (LGA) of Imo State, are still bewildered over how the life of a 42-year-old widow, Mrs. Rita Dikeocha, was abruptly cut short in the community. Since her death, peace has taken flight from the usually peaceful community. Many have fled the area, while those that remain are living in fear.
Family members of the deceased said she died after receiving severe beating in the hands of two brothers, also from the same community.
The family of the deceased and a village head from the community said the late widow had been at loggerheads with her late husband’s 78-year-old brother over some palm trees. The palm trees in dispute, according to sources, were said to be owned by the late woman’s husband but, when he died, his brother started harvesting the fruits. When several warnings failed to deter the intruder, a confrontation reportedly ensued between the widow and her septuagenarian in-law.
In February 2020, Mrs. Dikeocha was said to have confronted the old man, leading to a fight in his house. One of the widow’s daughters, 19-year-old Nora Dikeocha, said that she was there when the fight broke out. She told Daily Sun that both parties engaged in fisticuffs after the old man slapped the woman.
Said she: “He was always harvesting my mother’s palm fruits. That particular day, my mother went to him and asked why he had to cut them. She told him that the palm trees were what she used in training her children since my father died 17 years ago.
“Before going to ask him, she had checked and discovered that about five or six bunches of palm fruits had been cut from the palm trees. She went straight to the man’s house and she met him at his backyard bringing down the fruits. She asked him why he had to continue harvesting from her palm trees after several warnings and, the next thing, he slapped my mother. She slapped him back and they started fighting. No one else was around to separate them.
“Later that day, my mum called me and asked me to follow her to our youth chairman to report what happened. After three days, the youth chairman told us that he went to the man and the man did not deny cutting the palm fruits. He told him to tell us to forget about it that another one would soon be ripe for harvest and my mum could cut that one.
“This incident happened on February 5. After one week, the children of the man came to our community. The younger one stays in Port Harcourt, while the senior one, whose wife is a Chief Superintendent of Police, lives in Abuja.
“There had been rumours that they were coming for my mother. The next morning, my mum woke up very early to prepare for her akara (bean cake) business. Around 4:30am, our dog started barking and my mother was shouting “leave me alone.” I ran outside and saw the two brothers with a cutlass, a big stick and a pistol. They started beating her; when I cried out, they threatened to shoot me.
“They dragged her on the floor and stripped her naked. After about 10 minutes of beating her, people gathered, including the vigilante members of our community. That was when one of the brothers said my mother had the guts to beat his father. He said that was what his father told him.
“He later requested that we take the old man to the hospital. Our village people did not say anything because they were afraid of them. They agreed that we should take the man to the hospital. So, my mother agreed and took him to the hospital and paid the bills because she was afraid.
“But after three days, my mum fell ill. She complained about her head, and I took her to the hospital. But on February 28, she died. Before her death, she vomited blood. And doctors said she suffered internal injury.”
Her death, it was gathered, infuriated youths from the woman’s village. They promptly invaded the homes of the accused brothers and vandalised it. And the incident led to thepolice arresting seven elders from the community.
The police manhunt turned the whole community to a ghost town, as virtually all the youths and elders, including the village head, Columba Ibekwe and the youth leader, have been on the run for the fear of being arrested.
When the reporter spoke to some of them in their hideouts, they confirmed the incident but said they could not disclose much for the fear of being whisked away by the police.
Ibekwe also corroborated the report of Nora but, like others, he also was afraid of being arrested.
A youth leader who begged to remain anonymous told the reporter that he pleaded with the angry mob while they were about destroying the brothers’ house. He said he was ignored, adding that the people threatened to set him ablaze along with the house.
He also stated that he pleaded with the accused to allow peace reign by forfeiting the palm trees to the late widow, but he said that he was surprised the matter escalated, leading to the widow being attacked.
The elders of the community that were arrested over the matter are still in police custody. But the whereabouts of the remains of the deceased widow have remained unknown. While Nora claimed that the corpse was deposited at the Madonna Hospital, Obowo, some members of the family of the deceased believed her corpse was in Umuahia, Abia State. That controversy is also stalling arrangements for the burial of the deceased.
The said Joseph, according to Akakia, was far away in Lagos State; adding that when and how the late widow would be buried would be determined by the holder of the tally.
The Imo State police command confirmed the matter. The command’s Public Relations Officer, Orlando Ikeokwu, said investigation was ongoing.
Neither the brothers nor any other family member responded to calls to their telephone lines.
At least eight elders of the community have been kept in various police cells for months. Many people in the community believe that the elders have nothing to do with the incident. Some people in the community alleged that the accused killers were walking the streets free while some innocent elders were being punished.
Those in detention are facing a seven-count charge of conspiracy to commit felony, armed robbery and kidnapping in the Owerri Magisterial District. They include John Egelemba, 68, Benedict Egelamba, 57, Chidozie Ojunkwu, 38, Brendan Keke, 47, Desmond Ojunkwu, 72, David Ifeanyi, 58, Gerald Ojunkwu, 60, and Ibeh Christogonus, 62.