By Chioma Gabriel, Deputy Editor
If anyone had prophesied to Pastor Ayahanden Sunday Ntan, an Architect attached to the office of theÂ Presidency at Dodan Barracks in Lagos that his journey to Ikom, his village in Cross River state for the burial of his maternal uncle was going to be ill-fated, perhaps, he would have dismissed it. Indeed, nobody could imagine that the communal clash at Ezza-Ezillo in Ebonyi State which had claimed many lives and is still on-going would claim the lives of innocent travelers who had no business with the on-going carnage in Ebonyi state.
But that became the lot of Pastor Ntan, his nephew Fammy Odo, a 300- level Computer Science student at the Lagos state University, his driver Benedict Agbo from Benue state and a mobile police officer accompanying him on the trip.
According to Barrister John Ntan, theÂ younger brother of the deceased and the family spokesman, the tragedy that befell his brother and nephew has left the entire family in shock.
â€œWhat happened was a big blow to all of us. It is gradually sinking inÂ to us but the truth is that some of us are yet to come to the reality that this has really happened to us. Pastor met his death on Friday 12th March on his way to Ikom in Cross River State. He decided to pass through Enugu/Abakaliki/Ogoja road and untimely death cut short the journey for the burial of our maternal uncle who was lying in state that Friday. At about 8:15 p.m on that fateful day,Â I knew they were alive and had gone past Enugu.
â€œHe left Lagos at about 9:10 a.m. that morning and at about 8:15 pm, I spoke with my nephew with whom he traveled. My brotherâ€™s name isÂ Architect Ayahanden Sunday NtanÂ and my nephew is Fammy Abung Odo. I spoke with Fammy and asked him where they were and he said that they had just passed Enugu on their way to Abakaliki. So, oblivious of any kind of communal clash or conflict or whatever in that area, they moved on, intending to spend the night at Abakaliki and then maybe continue the journey the next day to Ikom.
â€œBut between Enugu and Abakaliki, and more towards AbakalikiÂ axis, we are not sure whether it was armed robbers, police or community mob or whatever that intercepted them. We donâ€™t know whether there was a scuffle between them and the people because they have a mobile police and a drive in the car. But we waited to hear that they have reached Ikom, their destination but we didnâ€™t hear anything. Before then, we tried to call them again but there was no connection and our belief was that the Abakaliki network was not good or that they were charging their phones in the hotel and put off their phones.
â€œThe next day, it was the same thing. That was on 13th March, Saturday. We kept trying till 11 am â€“ 12 noon and got no response. By 2 p.m, my mother called and ask, â€œbut you said my son is coming home. I have not seen him. Or has he returned to Lagos? We said no.
We then started making contacts. We called my brother who was at Ikom to go to the Area Command in Ikom to incident and make complaint of missing persons. My brother went to the Command and laid complaint and they started making phone calls to Ebonyi State and sent signals to Enugu, that somewhere between Enugu and Abakaliki, we couldnâ€™t make contact with our brother who was traveling to Cross River. They were driving a Sienna car, registration number LN 301 EEE, to Cross River and there were four occupants in the vehicle, we wanted to establish if anything had gone wrong, if they were kidnaped.
â€œAbout an hour, they got back to the Command and they said(that was the police now) that they saw a Sienna bus and the bus was nowhere near recognition. It was burnt beyond recognition and they said they saw four corpses in the bus, also burnt beyond recognition.
â€œAt that point we knew something was wrong. My brother got back to me and said that is the information, that our brother and our nephew are dead. But we needed to know how? From information, we heard the police saw the car burning but could not do anything about it. We were also told that my brother and his entourage had a scuffle with some people and we want to know how they knew about that. Who were the people they had a scuffle with and over what?
â€œWe want a thorough investigation.Who killed my brother,Architect Pastor Ayahanden Ntan and my nephew? Were they killed by armed robbers? Armed robbers will not rob you and burn your car.Were they killed by some others or by the community? Did they run into the communal clash after 8.15 pm on Friday March 12th?
â€œHe was not aware of the communal clash but I can tell you that the communal clash was not towards Abakaliki to Ogoja where the Ezza and those people involved in the clash are, not towards Enugu, Abakaliki. And if they ran into the communal clash or into some other people, that is what we want the police to find out.â€
Barrister Ntan said that althoughÂ the family has notÂ petitioned the IGP, there is an unofficial report that the IGP is already aware.
â€œThe report is still with the Cross River State government who got in touch with Ebonyi State government. We were told that unofficially or officially, the IGP called the Commissioner of Police in Ebonyi, and they are investigating it.
â€œWe suspect some kind of foul play. Was it the mob that burnt the car? If it was armed robbery, did they rob and burn the car? If they ran into the police, would the police do that kind of thing and hide evidence? Strange kind of things are being imagined and that is why we want a thorough investigation.
â€œMy brother has not had any problem or any issue with anybody, not in the office or anywhere. He was the gentle and quiet type and couldnâ€™t have had any major issue with anybody. Besides, he was working in Ministry of Works in LagosÂ before he was recently seconded to the Presidency at Dodan BarracksÂ in Lagos. My nephew with him was a ComputerÂ Science student ofÂ Lagos State University . He was a third year student.â€
The family spokesman lamented that the entire family has been thrown into mourning since the news broke.
â€œMany of us are yet to accept the fact that pastor and our nephew are dead. We tried to hide this from our mum and my brother at Ikom spoke with our community head and some chiefs. But you donâ€™t hide this kind of thing for long. My mother Mrs. Enegbe NtanÂ was eventually told what happened and she is still in a state of shock. She didnâ€™t believe it and has insisted on seeing the body of her son. She is still looking out, expecting to see her son return. She cannot be consoled. She doesnâ€™t believe what she was told was the truth. My brotherâ€™s wife still has this look that â€˜you people got to be jokingâ€™ and is expecting us to do something.
â€œThe way the corpses were found, they could not tell who is who and so, they labeled them according to how they saw them. We just believe that the driver and the Mopol were in front while my brother and my nephew were at the back. We didnâ€™t know how this thing happened. Were they burnt alive? Were they brought out, killed and then returned insideÂ the vehicle andÂ burnt? These are the questions and we want answers. Could they have ran over an explosive, considering that a communal clash was going on in the area? And again, we learnt that at the site of the incident, the car was not facing Enugu but looked as if they want to turn and run.
â€œNow, tell me, he is the one taking care of a lot of us, including his wife, Mrs. Elizabeth Ntan and his five children. The mood of his wife is indescribable. She has not stopped crying. The whole thing is gradually sinking but she keeps thinking it didnâ€™t happen. The kids are at different places, different locations. Some are outside the country. The woman is helpless and is expecting us the brothers-in-law to do something. I am a lawyer and the family spokesman.
My late brother was like a father to all of us. We relied heavily on him.Even outsiders depended on him.He seemed to have the answers to issues that need to be tackledÂ in the family. He has connections which he used to help a lot of people including outsiders who came to him for help. So, you can see how devastating this death is to us. You can imagine his attention being needed at our uncleâ€™s burial in the village and everybody waiting for him and the next thing you hear is that the man has died and he didnâ€™t even get to the burial. Now, we buried
our maternal uncle who was lying-in-state that Friday and now, my brother is awaiting his own burial.
â€œWe donâ€™t want anybody to try to erase evidence and that is why we are calling on the Federal Government to invite the FBI and maybe, the FBI through satelliteÂ might be able to pick some images of what happened and then might get something out of the scene. Let us just know who did whatÂ because we are ready to go to the community and face them to find out why they did that if itâ€™s the community that killed him. He was not from Ezza. He was only passing and going to Ikom. Why would they kill him?Â If they are fighting, we will ask them if they are the ones that did it.â€
Asked what the police is doing considering the fact that a mobile police officer was in the car, Barrister Nsan said both the families of the mopol and the driver have been contacted.
â€œThe families of the driver and the mobile police have been contacted and they are interested in getting the remains of their dead ones to bury. It is a terrible thing and we are asking for concrete investigation to know exactly what happened. The corpses are still in a morgue at Abakaliki. We will eventually take the bodies to a morgue at Ikom pending investigation.â€