By Egufe Yafugborhi
Even as the video clip continues to trend of one arrested Gracious David West, confessing to the Rivers State Police Command as the mastermind of serial murders of women in the state, not every resident is convinced that the last may have been heard on the spate of killings.
Gracious David West, the alleged prime suspect, was said to have been arrested on Wednesday along the East-West Road while fleeing to Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, following his capture on the Close Circuit Television (CCTV) of a hotel on SARS Road, Rukpokwu, a Port Harcourt suburb where he allegedly killed a middle aged woman the day before.
The suspect, said to hail from Buguma, AsariToru local government headquarters, was allegedly a renounced armed robber, rehabilitated by a church which also assisted him to secure a job at a university in Owerri. He was said to have continued his criminal lifestyle and reportedly declared wanted in June last year before his current link to serial killings of women.
In his confession confirmed by the spokesman, Rivers Police Command, Nnamdi Omoni, the suspect, narrating how he lures his victims to murder in hotels, was alleged to have also told the State Commissioner of Police, CP, Mustapha Dandaura, that he had been involved in over 13 killings in Rivers and Owerri.
In the beginning
When middle-aged Maureen Ewuru, an indigene of Abia, was found strangled in a hotel in D/Line, Port Harcourt, Rivers State, on August 1, it passed, to many, as one sexual affair that went awry.
Two weeks later, another lady was found dead in similar circumstance in another hotel room at new Government Reserved Area, Port Harcourt.
Both incidents, similar to another in Owerri, the capital of neighbouring Imo State, left many agitated residents wondering if serial killers were on the rampage.
By Tuesday, September 17, recurring cases had assumed worrisome dimension from the statistics presented by River State Commissioner of Police (CP), Mustapha Dandaura.
The CP said, “We are, at these times, faced with serial killings that have been going on in the state capital. A total of eight women have been killed in different hotels within two months in Port Harcourt metropolis”.
Many residents believe the death toll may have surpassed the official figure announced by the police.
Dandaura added, “When it started, I summoned members of Hotel Owners Association in the state for a meeting aimed at fighting the menace.
“During the meeting, we made it clear that hotels and guest houses must install CCTV cameras at their receptions and all corridors leading to the rooms”.
Dandaura’s account of the spate of killings followed three latest incidents recorded between Friday, September 13 and Monday, September 16 in three different hotels in Port Harcourt metropolis and an isolated case reported in Omoku, headquarters of Ogba-Egbema-Ndoni local government area.
According to Dandaura, “same modus operandi is used by the killers”.
The CP went on, “They drug the ladies before strangling them. They use white cloth to tie either their necks or their waists. There is element of cultism. They do not remove any vital organ from their bodies”.
Aside the hotel incidents, decapitated remains of a lady had also been found abandoned at Aggrey Road, Port Harcourt, just like that of another lady at popular Garrison area in August.
Also in August, the remains of a lady, simply identified as Timipreye, were also found around Whimpy-Iwofe Road.
She was believed to have been run over by a hit-and-run driver, days before.
Over 75 women groups in Rivers, including the Federation of Women Lawyers, FIDA, Rotary Club and National Association of Women Journalists, NAWOJ, marched through the streets of Port Harcourt on September 18 over the issue of suspected serial killers.
This happened just as Rivers State government called on the Federal Government to join hands with it to arrest the situation.
The protesters marched from the NUJ Press Centre, through Government House, Rivers State Police Command Headquarters, the State Assembly Complex, to the Office of the Department of State Security, demanding end to the killings.
Among the protesters were the President of the Rotary Club, Port-Harcourt South, Rita Nkembeze, and a former Commissioner of Information in the state, Ibim Semenitari.
The women demanded apology from the CP for allegedly stereotyping victims of the serial killings as “prostitutes”
The CP had said, “I am advising women to avoid prostitution; it is not the only way out of poverty. There is no tradition that encourages prostitution. I don’t know why people will be sleeping with people they don’t know.”
The placards and banners flown by the protesters, among others, read; ‘Protect The Woman Life ’, ‘Stop The Killings’, ‘Respect Women, Don’t Kill Them’, ‘Women Have Right To Life’.
Nkembeze said at the Government House that women in Rivers State were worried over the killings, challenging security agencies to step up their operations and ensure that perpetrators were brought to book.
Semenitari, also speaking, said: “We are here to make a demand from the governor of Rivers as Chief Security Officer of the state. We are here to make a demand because our mothers are being killed. We are here to make a demand because our daughters are being killed.
“We are here to make a demand because our sisters are being killed. We know that he will be able to do something about it and we have come with a petition to Government House, Port Harcourt. We are burdened because people are dying in our state without cause.”
Secretary to the Government of Rivers State, SSG, Dr. Tammy Danagogo, while addressing the protesters, stressed that the state was on top of the matter, advising residents, especially young women, to be security conscious.
Speaking on behalf of Rivers CP who allegedly called victims of the serial killings prostitutes, the SSG said, “We doubt if the CP or the police PRO had said something like that, but we sincerely apologise to Rivers women over such statement. A lot of the victims might have been careless but it will be wrong to address them as prostitutes.
“All of us must understand that the Nigeria of today is not like Nigeria of yesterday where some of us grew in. We have to be very careful. That time you can stay anywhere till anytime and nothing will happen.”
He urged parents to give adequate reorientation and caution their daughters on the kind of friendship they keep and to young ladies to be more vigilant of their environment.
Danagogo called on the Federal Government to support the state with intelligence on unravelling the killers, appealing to the Presidency to deploy high-level intelligence gathering support so as to check the menace in the state. Governor Nyesom Wike, the SGG stressed, is not sleeping over the matter and will continue to work with security agencies to stamp out killings.
The SSG had earlier disclosed that the State Security Council, over the last few weeks, had put in place measures to secure young women targeted by serial killers.
He stated that government, in its commitment to security of lives and property, had mandated security agencies to interface with hotels to implement security measures, including mass sensitization of the populace at ending the ugly trend.
By Tuesday, September 17, the police had sealed two hotels where corpses of two of the slain women were found.
Dandaura also disclosed the arrest of two suspects in connection with the killings. One of the suspects, he narrated, was arrested in Kaduna where he had run to after allegedly committing the crime.
The second suspect was said to have been picked Monday night after he allegedly called a lady trying to lure her with N30,000 to a hotel room in Rumuokoro neighbourhood.
The lady had alerted the police who responded immediately and arrested the suspect who was already making useful confession to the police, according to the CP.
The managers and receptionists at three different hotels where the latest incidents were recorded have also been arrested and may be charged to court for allegedly abetting killings.
The CP said the pattern of killings showed that the act was being carried out by a set of unknown cultists, urging all hotels in the state to install CCTV cameras at their receptions and corridors to capture all guests in their premises and to always take full documentation of customers, warning that any hotel that fails would be closed.
He also warned against acceptance of guests on short-time basis, adding that guests should be accepted on full time, another comment that has also provoked criticism from some residents who felt such was petty and not a proactive solution to the problem.
Barring the results the police claimed to have recorded so far, there is palpable fear that another case of a strangled girl could just be moments away, but in which hotel, hardly anybody can tell.