Special Report

March 5, 2013

Ezu River: The unending mystery

Ezu River: The unending mystery

Residents and visitors at the Ezu river

By Emeka Mamah, Vincent Ujumadu & Ishola Balogun
WHO killed 25 young men of between 25 and 40 years and dumped their bodies in EzuRiver in Amansea, Awka North Local Government Area of Anambra State on January19?
Could it be the Anti-Special Robbery Squad, SARS, at Awkuzu, near Awka, the Anambra State capital or who?

These questions remain unanswered since January 19, 2013 when the people of Amansea woke up to find dead bodies in the river which is their only source of water. Until now, nobody seems to know how the bodies got into the river. EzuRiver has its source at Agbogwugwu in Awgu Local Government Area of neighbouring EnuguState.

It flows into AnambraRiver which empties into the River Niger. Ezu traverses most of Awka North Local Government Area in Anambra North Senatorial District.The spot in the river where the bodies were found is on the Old Enugu-Onitsha Road, with a bridge of about 35 metres markedly placed above it. Some Amansea indigenes who were fetching water from the river early in the morning of the fateful day, discovered the dead bodies.

Residents and visitors at the Ezu river

Residents and visitors at the Ezu river

They said they saw the bodies floating slowly, with some wedged on the banks of the river. The actual number of the dead bodies has not been ascertained, with conflicting figures ranging from 23 to 25. Vanguard gathered from the residents that 18 bodies were discovered on January 19; four others on January 20, while three more were noticed two days later, bringing the total to 25.

Emergency meeting

On seeing the bodies, the indigenes alerted the traditional ruler, Igwe Kenneth Okonkwo, who mobilised his cabinet for an emergency meeting after which the state government and the state police command were contacted. Since then, the river has become a tourist centre as people now visit the area for first hand information. What made the discovery more mysterious was when various communities on the banks of the river in Anambra and EnuguStates said that nobody was missing from their areas. Anambra State Governor, Mr. Peter Obi, who was not in the State directed the State Executive Council, to find out what happened. Anambra State contacted Enugu State even as Mr. Daura, the Enugu State Commissioner of Police joined his Anambra State counterpart, Mr. Bala Nasarawa, in the search for answers.

The men Igwe Okonkwo of Amansea sent to the scene on January 19, said they saw blood stains on the bailey bridge, from where the dead bodies were believed to have been thrown into the river. They said they did not see any sign of scuffle in the area. However, the Anambra State Police Commissioner, said the police saw no blood stains when they visited the scene.

Were the victims killed elsewhere then dumped in the river? Without communal clashes among the communities in Anambra or EnuguStates, or major road accidents suspicions rose that the bodies were dumped from the bridge.

A Fulani woman residing in the area said she saw a vehicle parked on the bridge in the wee hours of January 19, with some people dropping objects into the river from there. Some natives said two vehicles which resembled Toyota Liteace (L300) actually dropped off the objects into the EzuRiver in the early hours of January 19.

At EzuRiver, Vanguard observed that a police post is located less than 250 metres from the bridge on the river. It was not new and was close enough to observe the reported movements on January 19. Though 25 decomposing bodies evacuated from the river were earlier given a mass burial close to the river, the uncertainty surrounding the deaths necessitated their exhumation for autopsy.

Initially, three of the dead bodies were exhumed, then all the rest were exhumed for the exercise by police pathologists from Force Headquarters, Abuja and AnambraState. The results of the autopsy are yet to be released but the AnambraState government explained that the “startling discoveries” from the autopsy report on the first three bodies forced it to order that the rest of the bodies be exhumed for the same purpose.

Anambra State Commissioner for Health, Dr. Lawrence Ikeako, said it would be out of place to use the result from the three bodies originally taken away for autopsy to represent the cause of the death of all the corpses found floating on EzuRiver.

Prof. Anthony Agbata of the Nnamdi Azikiwe University Teaching Hospital, Nnewi led the team of pathologists, and a commissioner from the Force Headquarters led the police side.

No gun injuries or machete cuts on the bodies, says Police: The police said all the victims were males, some wore only singlets, while others wore only boxer pants. Anambra State Commissioner of Police, Mr. Bala Nasarawa, also confirmed that there were no gun injuries or machete cuts on their bodies. Nasarawa would not  say if the police had done biometric tests on the victims.

Vanguard had also wanted to know from the police whether those carrying out the exercise used INEC’s data capture to know where the victims lived and who they were before their death, but the state Police Public Relations Officer, PPRO, Emeka Chukwuemeka, said the command did not understand those technicalities as it had left them in the hands of medical experts. Commissioner for Health, Dr. Ikeako, also said the pathologists had not briefed him.

He also urged those seeking information on the matter to wait for the findings of the autopsy. Ikeako said the state government had spent N1.5 million on the morticians and those who evacuated the bodies, with more bills for the autopsy and embalming.

Senate probes:The Senate asked two of its committees to investigate the issue following a motion moved by Senator Andy Uba representing Anambra South. Senate committees comprising Paulinus Nwagu, Chairman, Committee on Police Affairs; Mohammed Magoro, Chairman of the Committee on National Security and Intelligence; Solomon Ewuga, Mohammed Sami Sani, Dr. Chris Ngige and Alhaji Shaaba Lafiagi visited the traditional ruler of Amansea, Igwe Okonkwo, the initial burial site on the bank of Ezu River, before they commenced a public inquiry at the Government House, Awka.

The committees observed that nobody from Ugwuoba in Enugu, which shares boundaries with Amansea, was available to speak on the mystery deaths.
Vanguard visited Ugwuoba before the arrival of the senate committees and was informed that none of its members was missing.

However, the Anambra State Police Commissioner, Mr. Nasarawa curiously told the Senate committees investigating the mysterious discoveries that the decomposing bodies were buried immediately following a court order. Nasarawa did not say who instituted the suit, those sued and how that happened within hours of the bodies being found.

Testifying later during the Senate committees’ public hearing at the Government House, Awka, Nasarawa, said the police were not involved in the burial. According to him, it was the responsibility of the Awka North Local Government to bury them, with the supervision of the police.

He said: “When the governor cut short his visit outside the country and returned because of the incident, he asked me about the evacuation and the arrangement for the burial and I told him it was not the duty of the police and that it is the responsibility of the local government.

“He then asked us to put heads together to decide on what to do to protect the health of the villagers whose environment had been polluted.”He further explained that the police were still trying to unravel the mystery surrounding the discovery of the bodies, pointing out that a Deputy Commissioner of Police from the Force Headquarters was leading detectives in the investigation which is yet to be completed.

He further said that there was a serious problem in carrying out the assignment because of what he described as the refusal of people to come up with useful information despite the pledge of N5 million by Governor Peter Obi to anybody that would offer useful information on the incident.

The commissioner also told members of the committee that there has not been any arrest on the matter, but promised that “very soon, the police will achieve the desired result.”

MASSOB petitions: As the controversy continued, the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra, MASSOB, claimed that some of the dead bodies were its members earlier arrested by the police in Onitsha and detained at the Special Anti Robbery Squad, SARS, headquarters, Awkuzu.

Relations of detained members

MASSOB director of information, Comrade Uchenna Madu in a petition to President Goodluck Jonathan gave the names of the MASSOB members as Basil Ogbu, Michael Ogwa, Sunday Omogo, Philip Nwamkpa, Eze Ndubuisi, Ebuka Eze, Obinna Ofor, Joseph Udoh  and Uchechukwu Ejiofor.

He said: “They were arrested at MASSOB security office at Onitsha, AnambraState on November 9, 2012 by a combined team of Nigeria security agents and were later handed over to SARS headquarters, Awkuzu, AnambraState. Some of our disguised members and relations of the detained members were denied access to them, including medical assistance.

Efforts by our legal counsel to secure their bail from the police were futile. Our demands for their arraignment before a competent court of law were frustrated by security officers. They claimed that the court was not sitting because of Christmas. We got information from an insider that MASSOB members detained were secretly killed along side other robbery suspects.

One of the officers arrested for gross indiscipline

“Our lawyers who confidently waited for their arraignment in January 2013 did not believe that such barbaric, primitive and wicked act could happen because according to them, a comprehensive police reformation on human rights is being carried out by the Inspector General of Police, IGP.”

Nasarawa described the MASSOB claim as baseless, noting: “I have the names of the people published as victims and we checked with our records and discovered that there were no such names. We have records of all MASSOB members we arrested and many of them are in Awka and Onitsha prisons and facing trial in court.

“The prison authorities usually write us whenever they are taking them to court and I want to say that they are still being detained. The police in AnambraState did not kill anybody or dump corpses in the river. I am against extra judicial killing and I have warned my officers and men not to indulge in extra- judicial killing.”

The state Director of the Department State Security, DSS, Mr. Alexander Okeiyi, also told members of the Senate committees that as part of the investigation, checks had been carried out in communities in Enugu State and when nothing could be established, checks were extended to Ebonyi and Cross River States which had been experiencing communal clashes, but found out that the number of casualties in such skirmishes were not up the figure discovered in Ezu River.

Akunyili reacts: Former Minister of Information, Professor Dora Akunyili, who reacted on the Ezu River saga, asked security agencies to tell Nigerians the source of the dead bodies, arguing that if security operatives could not tell Nigerians what really happened, then Nigerians were no longer safe.

She said: “If these people were killed, who killed them and why were they killed? Again, the mass burial that was hurriedly done was what I did not understand. There ought to have been proper identification before the corpses were buried.”

Akunyili also dismissed the claim by MASSOB, that some of the dead bodies were members of the group, asking, where they were since the bodies were found on EzuRiver several weeks ago? According to her, if some of their members were missing, MASSOB would have been the first set of people to go to Ezu River to find out if their detained members were the victims, adding that for them to wait for one month after the discovery to claim that some of the dead bodies were their members was merely to add to the confusion.

Only source of water in the community: The river which has provided water for the people of Amansea area of Anambra could not pass any test of purity as its colour remained brownish, yet this is their only source of water for drinking and other domestic uses.

A RESIDENT in the area who was seen taking his bath in the river said: “It is the only source of water we have. Before the incident, every one fetched water from Ezu. We drink from it and wash our clothes with it. After the incident, the government and Senators Chris Ngige and Andy Ubah among few others provided us with some sachets of water. We have been surviving on those sachets of water.”

The state government has, however, taken decisive steps to determine the extent of the contamination and has provide an alternative source of water for the community. A  borehole has already been provided by the former Governor of Anambra State, Senator Ngige to serve the people but some inhabitants still use the river. Some of them complained that the sachets water could not practically meet their needs.

Traditional methods of unravelling the act: Vanguard gathered that the EzuRiver was angry to have received this level of defilement. A resident hinted that some used the river for spiritual purposes, adding that its serenity and healing powers have been desecrated.

The resident said: “Like other rivers in Igbo land, it has healing powers and that is why I believe that grave consequences await those who did this.”

When Vanguard visited the river, a red knotted material was seen around the river bank, giving an indication of possible worship of a river deity.

Unravelling perpetrators

Igwe Okonkwo said the community had embarked on local ways of unravelling the perpetrators of this act, adding that the gods would not only reveal those behind the act, but also deal appropriately with them. Besides, there were reports that the goddess of the river was angry and had a 90-day ultimatum for the perpetrators to confess or face the wrath of the goddess. The 90- day period will lapse in March, if it is anything to rely on.

Ngige speaks on the mystery bodies: “We are surprised just like every other person to read the reports. I called Igwe Kenneth Okonkwo and he confirmed to me that there were bodies floating on the river. They had conflicting figures. While he and the community said there were about 30, the official figure from the police, because I had to call the Police Commissioner, Bala Nasarawa, and the Director of Department of State Security, DSS, and they gave a figure of 18.

I had to come myself on Thursday, January 24. That day, the residents reported to me that on  January 22, they saw two more bodies. The same day I came, they recovered two more bodies, making a total of four more bodies. Any way, it is a strange phenomenon. It is a phenomenon that is riddled with a lot of questions begging for answers.

Questions begging for answers

“First there is no communal strife, along the path of this river. The course of this river had been cross-checked and there is no war, communal strife or clash along those paths. So, we are still at a loss about what actually is happening. The only other alternative is that the bodies emanated from sources that are unknown to anybody. They could be detainees and that is why the MASSOB people allege that some of those bodies were their members. In fact, they started giving out names during our public hearing of their members that had been in the police detention since October/ November 2012 and not been seen or charged to any court. These two situations are anomalous. If you detain anybody, the constitution says you do not detain more than 48 hours before you charge to court.

“You are given one day to do all your charges and whatever you need to do and arraign such detainee. So, you cannot detain somebody indefinitely and that is why if somebody has done something unlawful in the society, such a person should be taken to a magistrate court on what they call “holden” charge. Why do we detain people and people allege that they cannot see detained relations, friends, and members of their organisations or partners? So, this is it and the MASSOB people were courageous enough to come to the public hearing and make these declarations.

“Another organisation, the Inter-society; led by Emeka Umeagbalasi, they did not appear, but they had been  writing in the newspapers, but we are surprised they did not come to confirm what they have written in the media and in the petitions they have sent all over the place. Some lawyers, particularly one Udegbunam Emmanuel appeared again and said that one of his relatives taken from their home in Omo in Anyamelum Local Government Area, was later paraded as an informant to kidnappers, but they have not seen him since December, last year.

“He went to court and filed a writ of Habeas Corpus and that after many court adjournments, the police appeared with a medical certificate of death which he claimed that he investigated and found out not to be correct or genuine. All these are neither here nor there; they are not helping matters, because if you face suspicion and people perceive something, sometimes, perception and reality have very thin line. So, as a committee working we are looking at all the evidences gathered and we will put them in our committee’s report and send to the Senate in plenary.
SARS in Awkuzu had been accused of allegedly killing robbery and kidnap suspects periodically. Are you people not thinking towards that direction?

When I came, like I said, only two bodies were floating and those bodies were not brought out in my presence, so I did not see them; so I won’t know. I don’t also know about the story of Special Anti-Robbery Squad, SARS, Awkuzu, (which is being accused of killing suspected robbers or kidnappers and dumping their bodies in EzuRiver). There had been many stories told about the place, that they engage in extra-judicial killings.

“I don’t know whether it is true or false for now but I asked  the Police Commissioner; if he has audited the detainees in the cells of the police formations here since the incident and he said they normally indent, audit and cross-check their detainees prisoners and that after this issue, they had done so and nobody was missing from the Awaiting Trial Detainees, ATDs.

We will still look into all those matters. We told the people that if they had further evidence that they could send them to us and we will take them into account in what we are doing. I do know that eventually, we will sort it out; we will find out what exactly is happening. Nothing hidden under the sun goes like that forever. It might take us some more time. Even the Commissioner of Police was optimistic too.

You have not seen the autopsy report, did you demand for it?

Yes, for sure they will give us the autopsy report. We told the Commissioner of Police and we are also telling the Deputy Inspector General of Police, CID, and AIG, Force Medical that we need the autopsy results. We need them, so we can know the cause of death; if the cause of death is through bleeding or excessive loss of blood, strangulation, physical torture or manhandling, we will know. If it is due to physical bullet wounds, we will see. If it is clubbing to death, we also see signs of violence; external violence. So, when they bring the autopsy result, we will resolve some mysteries. I know it will assist us in resolving the matter, one way or the other, what has happened.

‘Startling revelations’ as observed by the Anambra State commissioner for health
Well, for a man who said that they had to do further forensic examination, you don’t have to query him anymore. He said “startling,” so; it was the startling thing he discovered that made them to take the bodies for more tests.