By Joy Obomase
August 1, 2013 is a day that traders at the popular Old Market Road, Odoakpu in Onitsha, Anambra State would not forget in a hurry. Commercial activities had peaked for the day when suddenly, stern looking policemen invaded the market.
In a commando-like manner, the policemen stormed Upper Class Hotel, located within the vicinity of the market. The question on the faces of curious observers was later answered when rumour went round that human skulls and arms had been allegedly discovered in one of the hotel rooms.
The alleged discovery further led to the arrest of the owner of the hotel, Mr Bonaventure Mokwe and some of his staff , who were subsequently whisked into the operatives waiting van which zoomed off , leaving a haze of disbelief and confusion in the air.
Controversy from different quarters trailed the arrest and continued detention of Mokwe and his staff at the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, an action that reportedly did not only violate the suspects rights but was seen as not following due process.
The Anambra state government was not spared either, as it was blamed over its role on the speedy directive for the demolition of the age-long hotel.
Mokwe was however granted bail by the court after spending 88 days in police custody.
Describing the whole scenario as a set up, the business man in the eye of the storm, told Vanguard Metro that his ordeal may not be unconnected with a motor park dispute between him and some Onitsha natives.
Origin of the incident
Recalling the incident of August 1, 2013, deprived him of the companionship of his family for almost three months, Mokwe said, “ Prior to the day I was arrested and my hotel demolished on the directive of the Anambra State Governor, I was involved in a motor park dispute with Onitsha natives headed a native of Umudie village.
Within the period , I wrote the Obi of Onitsha three times asking him to intervene and call Onitsha youths to order but he remained understandably silent. When that failed, I wrote a petition to the Anambra State Commissioner of Police which he minuted to the Onitsha Area Commander who in turn assigned an Inspector to investigate. But these efforts ended as soon as it started.
When that failed again, I went to Court and obtained an order which was served on the Palace of the Obi of Onitsha, the Police and the Chairman of Onitsha Youths in charge of Ose Motor Park. Soon after that, Aghamelum bus drivers started loading in my park and hell was let loose , as threats started coming from the youths of Onitsha which culminated in the planting of the exhibits in my hotel.
The human skulls and magazines were parked in a sac and planted in the wardrobe at my Hotel Lodging Room Number 102.I drove into my office around 7am that fateful day because I had a land transaction. Before I could settle down, my hotel was surrounded by the police numbering over 100. As I made my way towards my office entrance, some of them were already in the passage. I was taken into my office and shown a search warrant.
In the process of doing that, one police officer betrayed the whole adventure when he shouted at one of my staff to be shown room 102. It did not make sense to me then. The first thing I saw when the door of the room was opened, was an unsealed traveling bag on the floor. Some polythene bags were inside the bag and two on the bed. Nothing was found in the toilet and under the bed.
The police then opened the wardrobe of the room and brought out one single “Baco sac”, in which were two rotten skulls, two AK 47 riffles guns that looked unserviceable and two loaded magazines.
The mock search exercise started and ended after five minutes or thereabout at the door of room 102 . Incidentally the lodger locked the room and left with the key around 6.30am, shortly before which the police showed up.
The manager informed the police that the room was sold to one Mr John Obi, in the evening of 31st of July 2013. The receptionist brought the duplicate of the lodging receipt in addition with the hotel guest manifest and both reflected John Obi as the occupant at room 102. It is important to point out that the hotel guest manifest had earlier been submitted at the police station before the arrival of the policemen to the hotel. This has been the routine for some time now.
I was immediately handcuffed and taken outside the corridor of the hotel, where I was told to sit next to the exhibits while they took pictures. Soon after that, I, alongside my staff were taken to the Police Area Command Onitsha and paraded before the public and press, he claimed.
My ordeal at SARS
Continuing, Mokwe said,“We were subsequently taken to SARS Awkuzu, along with my wife who is a lawyer and detained. At SARS, the identity of the person that lodged in my hotel room number 102 on the very day the police came searching was unmasked. Though he gave his name as John Obi but his true identity was that of a native of Umudie village. His picture was smuggled and shown to the receptionist who identified him as the person he gave the receipt of room 102 that fateful day. It was him who planted the exhibits in the hotel room wardrobe.
I almost died in the first two to three days at SARS. Any confessional statement emanating from SARS Awkuzu is a function of individual’s pain threshold. In effect, an innocent people can be a casualty of any sort. While informants are very important in police work, being able to know when a particular informant collects money to set-up another person’s rival as in this case of mine, is also critical.
When the identity of the people that orchestrated my hotel set-up became known even by the general public, a petition was written by my lawyer to the Inspector-General of Police, listing their names. But the Police deliberately sat on it because arresting them would have meant releasing me and that would have meant an embarrassment for Governor Peter Obi.
With the Police under relentless pressure from the media, most especially by NIPPRON, I, along with three of my staff were arraigned in Court on the 17th of October 2013 and a manufactured murder charge along with possession of human skulls and fire arms were heaped on us and we were subsequently remanded in prison on the 17th of October till 4th of November 2014 when we were granted bail. I spent a total of two months and seventeen days at SARS Awkuzu.
A week after I arrived from SARs, it became increasingly clear that the incident was a set-up. Matters were not helped by what occurred when the police first took me to the grave of one Mr Nwonye Akas, a native of Nkwuele Ezinaka Itite village, who died in 1972 when I was still running around naked, only for them to say I killed and buried the man at the place.
What is my business with rotten skulls? The Police has some questions to answer. Why did they not make attempt to arrest the person that lodged in the room, despite the fact that guests manifesto was sent to them? If it was real, the person that stayed in the hotel room should have been apprehended. It would then been for him to reveal who gave him the thing because there is no way he could have slept in that room with all those things without knowing.
Again, the true reasons in factual terms why my hotel was speedily demolished within hours of my arrest by the state government without informing the police command are also in custody of my lawyers. All these will be made public when the need arises .
My hotel demolition had nothing to do with fighting crime, as it was sold to the general public. Till date, there is no complaint irrespective of police efforts in manufacturing one in their bid to cover up for the Anambra State government from its self inflicted liability.
Details of how the murder charged was framed , was blown in the prison including a tape recording of it. When I was bailed, the Legal Assistant to the Anambra State Governor begged my cousin to tell me to lie low until after the elections. I obeyed. So you can see that it’s not all about justice, it’s about what they can gain from it. They told me to lie low that after electioneering campaign, something would be done to address the issue, but till date nothing has been done.
All I want is justice
The state government should sit with my lawyer or appoint someone to sit with my lawyer and agree on how to pay for the damages. You don’t beat somebody and tell him not to cry. Secondly, this matter is impossible to wish away. No amount of prayer will wish it away. I must be paid everything.
Everything I had was destroyed, including my green card, in that hotel building.
Secondly, those fabricated charges should be cancelled because they are mere damage control charges intended to fill in the blanks, they have no bearing on me because they are manufactured. You don’t charge one for possession when you didn’t see anything on him. Also , you don’t charge someone for murder when investigation has not been done”,Mokwe stated, threatening to use everything within the ambits of the law to ensure he got justice .