Warning: This story contains a graphic photo some may find offensive

By CHIDI NKWOPARA,  Owerri

Way back in 1996, indigenes and residents of Owerri, the Imo State capital, rose up in unison against what they described as “bizarre happenings perpetrated by some criminally minded individuals in the society”.

This class of nouveau riche took laws into their hands. They could stop even in the middle of the road just to greet their friends. Apart from having armed security men as escorts, these fellows and their henchmen usually pounced on innocent citizens that dared to query any of their nefarious acts.

The people continued to tolerate their excesses until the bubble burst. This happened when little Innocent Okoronkwo was brutally murdered in Otokoto Hotels, Amakohia, near Owerri, by suspected ritualists.

Little Innocent and members of his immediate family never sensed that danger was lurking around the corner. He was, on this ill-fated day, asked to go and sell groundnuts to augment the family earnings. He never came back alive.

Owerri residents’ anger boiled over when the headless body of hapless Innocent was exhumed within the premises of Otokoto Hotel. The people marched angrily to all the known properties of those with questionable character and destroyed some of them. Those who survived the onslaught quickly scampered to other states for safety.

Security agents swung into action. Some people were arrested in connection with the gruesome murder of Innocent, tried and convicted. Government went a little further to confiscate properties of some of these individuals.

About 11 years ago, another ugly incident occurred in Owalla Uratta, Owerri North Local Government Area of the state. Okechukwu Osuji was murdered May 11, 2001, by members of a secret cult in a thick forest along Toronto-Egbu road.

The hoodlums, who call themselves “Aburu puru ime ihe nile” (a group that can do all things), went to the bizarre extreme of carefully extracting their victim’s brain for ritual purposes and drank his blood!

Not too long after the ugly incident was reported to the police, a principal suspect, Mr. Ejike Okoro, was arrested. On serious interrogation, Okoro gave the names of the other members of the secret cult as Cajetan Okoro, Raphael Ike, Paul Njoku, Eric Igbo, Chidiebere Njoku and Anayochukwu Unamba.

The other three accused persons that were eventually discharged and acquitted by an Imo High Court presided over by Hon. Justice Chukwuemeke I. Ohakwe, for lack of credible evidence to warrant conviction included Uchenna Udeh, Ikechukwu Ukonu and Boniface Okoro.

The interesting thing about this murder case is that the accused persons and their victim hailed from the same village, Owalla Uratta, Owerri North local council area. As at the time the crime was committed, the accused persons were aged between 18 and 25. It was also gathered that the police picked up the accused persons in an uncompleted building in the process of perfecting their devilish act.

*Principal suspect, Mr. Ejike Okoro, at the scene where the victim was buried

The investigation was handled with clinical finesse. At the end of the thorough investigation, the police gathered enough facts to prosecute the criminals, vide suit number HOW/37C/2002.

At the point of taking their plea in court, the suspects were told that their offence ran contrary to Section 39(1) of the Criminal Code Cap 30 Volume II Laws of Eastern Nigeria 1963, as applicable in Imo State.

Delivering his judgement on June 25, 2013, Justice Ohakwe said the prosecution had established the offence of murder of Okechukwu Osuji on May 11, 2001, against the first, second, third, fifth, eight, ninth and 10th accused persons and subsequently sentenced them to death by hanging.

The court equally relied on the evidence of the investigating police officer, Inspector Abiodun Abioye, who gave a graphic account of how the first accused, Ejike Okoro,was arrested and how he later took him to where they kept the body of their victim.

Continuing, Ohakwe said the prosecution had overwhelming evidence that members of the secret cult dragged their victim into a thick forest along Toronto-Egbu road on the fateful day, murdered him and collected his brain for ritual purposes.

On why he discharged and acquitted Uchenna Udeh, Ikechukwu Ukonu and Boniface Okoro, Hon. Justice Ohakwe said: “From the evidence adduced by the prosecution, there is no evidence except the confessional statement by the first accused person, Ejike Okoro, linking the third, sixth and seventh accused persons with the murder”.

It was also the considered opinion of the fiery High Court Judge that the confessional statement of the first accused person was not binding on them and therefore set them free.

What else would one call getting to hell’s gate and being immediately shown the way into freedom? Whether the discharged persons have learnt their lessons is any person’s guess.

 

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