By Chidi Nkwopara
Imo State was again thrown into serious mourning, Monday, November 22, 2010, following the gruesome murder of the traditional ruler of Ibeamaukwu autonomous community, Umunakanu, Ehime Mbano Local Government Area, Eze Emeka Njoku, in bizarre circumstances.
The late traditional ruler’s business empire included Trendy’s fast food centres, and some filling stations scattered in Owerri and its environs, as well as Aladinma Royal Suites, Owerri.
When Vanguard Metro visited the hotel premises located in the high brow Aladinma Housing Estate in Owerri municipality, soon after the news of the traditional ruler’s death spread like wild fire, scores of sympathizers were seen discussing in hushed tones, even as the discussants maintained that the deceased was very friendly, unassuming, totally philanthropic in nature and provided employment for hundreds of Nigerian citizens.
The initial information gathered by Vanguard Metro was that the royal father was killed that fateful day by alleged suspected assassins at about 2am, while his wife collapsed on getting to know about the mishap.
A reliable source close to the late Eze Njoku also confirmed that the woman was rushed to a hospital and the medical team was working round the clock to revive the royal father’s wife.
“We have lost the traditional ruler. It will be double tragedy if we also lose his wife. The hospital is doing everything possible to revive the woman and we are praying fervently that she should live,” the aggrieved man said.
An unconfirmed story that was also built around the royal father’s death was that he went for a meeting that lingered far into the night in the home of one of the political bigwigs in Okigwe senatorial zone, Chief Tony Chukwu.
Following the initial stories built around the royal father’s death, nobody was able to confirm at press time, if his killers trailed him from his meeting place or waited for him close to his business outfit but his body was found in his Honda vehicle close to his hotel at Aladinma.
Vanguard Metro could not also ascertain at press time if anything was removed from the traditional ruler’s vehicle but the impression among some sympathizers was that “it was a clear case of cold-blooded murder”.
The story started changing less than 12 hours after as the police was fingered in the unfortunate death of Eze Njoku. While the royal father did not live to tell the story of what happened, Chief Chukwu’s younger brother, who was escorting Eze Njoku home that early morning, was hit by bullet(s) and naturally ended up in the Federal Medical Centre (FMC), Owerri.
An Owerri based tabloid reported that the younger Chukwu spotted an unmarked bus that brought a gunshot victim to the FMC as being exactly the one he saw before they were attacked by armed men earlier. A mild drama immediately played out and the identities of the gunshot victim and his co-travelers were blown. They were policemen and were allegedly involved in the shooting that claimed the life of Eze Njoku!
Again, the news started spreading fast and in an obvious bid to douse the growing tension over Eze Njoku’s gruesome end, Imo State Police Command addressed a press conference in Owerri and confirmed that the death of the royal father and how he died.
The Assistant Inspector General of Police (AIG), Mr. Aloysius C. Okorie, who addressed journalists tagged the circumstance surrounding the traditional ruler’s death as “an episode of misadventure” on the part of the police, adding that all the policemen linked with the ugly incident are still in detention.
In the words of Okorie: “The DPO of Owerri Urban received a distress SMS on his GSM that armed robbers were operating somewhere at Okikpe Street, Off Amanze Njoku Street in Aladinma area of Owerri Township. The DPO dispatched a patrol team of four men, three in uniform and one in mufti”.
The AIG also disclosed that the vehicle the patrol team used was an unmarked bus, which at the time was driven by a hired driver, who was also in mufti, adding that the team was still combing the area when they sighted two vehicles, a Honda car and a jeep, coming in their direction at full speed.
“The two mobile policemen (in Eze Njoku’s convoy) apparently sensing danger that the people who tried to flag them down were armed robbers, bailed out from the rear back-up jeep in commando style and opened fire. The men in the patrol vehicle retaliated in the belief that these were the actual robbers they came to track down,” the AIG said.
Imo people, particularly the royal father’s subjects, friends, relations and staff were not amused by the explanations advanced by the police. Angry protests trailed the gruesome murder of the traditional ruler.
Members of the late royal father’s cabinet, youths, old men and women, who stormed Owerri to angrily protest the Eze Njoku’s murder, started their protest march from Aladinma Royal Suites and terminated it in Government House, Owerri.
Some of the placards read: “Those who killed Eze Emeka Njoku must be brought to justice”; “His Excellency, please save us from the hands of assassins in Ehime Mbano”; “Eze Njoku’s death is politically motivated and Ehime Mbano people demand for an answer to the assassination of Eze Emeka Njoku”.
Addressing the placard carrying protesters on behalf of Governor Ikedi Ohakim, the Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Prince Ken Njemanze (SAN), condemned the act and gave an assurance that government would do everything within its powers to protect the lives and properties of its citizens.
Speaking earlier on behalf of the people, a community leader, Mr. Donatus Ibe, described the assassination of their son and traditional ruler as “a rude shock” and appealed to the state government to ensure that those behind the sordid act were brought to book.
The brutal murder of Eze Njoku brings to about four the number of unresolved killings in the state in the past few weeks, leading to serious speculation about the preparedness of the security agencies to grapple with the emerging serious crimes in Imo State.