By Ikechukwu Amaechi
When Chukwuemeka Anichukwuegbo was transferred from Lagos to Ijebu-Ode in 2019 with a promotion to boot by his company, Diversey West Africa Limited, it was a dream come true for him and his siblings. He was aged 33 at the time.
His had been a life of struggle being the second of three siblings orphaned early in life. He was only eight when their father, Fidelis Anichukwuegbo, died in 1995 and just 19 when fate played another cruel game on the family with the death of their mother, Anthonia Anichukwu, in 2006.
With only their maternal aunt, Rosemary Okorie; and a Catholic Priest, Reverend Fr. Hyacinth Ibeh, whom providence brought their way, Chukwuemeka became a father, literally, to his sisters.
Daunting as the challenge was, he took it headlong. Bright academically and focused, he read Industrial Physics at Ebonyi State University, Abakaliki and secured work with Diversey in Lagos about six years ago.
His diligence earned him positions of responsibility. At the time he was transferred to Ijebu-Ode as a line manager, he was already a supervisor.
His elder sister, Stella Onyebuchi Anichukwu, also a graduate, has no job; and his younger sister, Uzoamaka, an undergraduate at the University of Nigeria Nsukka, heaved a sigh of relief that their parlous lot would improve considerably. And it did.
But their dream world came crashing once again in November 2020, barely one year after Emeka went to Ijebu-Ode. On Sunday November 29, Stella got a call from his landlord with a portentous message: Emeka had not been seen in the last 24 hours. Her heart sank.
When she got to the Golden Estate residence of her brother, off Ibadan Road, Ijebu-Ode on Monday morning, her worst fears were confirmed.
Her brother’s two-bedroom apartment was locked but the key dropped on the window pane outside. She said that was unlike him. “He will normally go out with his keys in his pocket,” she said.
That was not all. Emeka’s power generator was outside. Neighbours said there was no public power supply Saturday evening and he used the generator but they also said it was quite unlike him to leave his property outside if he was going out.
Inside his apartment, there were still more puzzles. His electrical appliances were on. His wallet with ATM cards and money was found in the room. Apparently, he had just cooked rice and stew, and eaten, before his disappearance. The pot of rice was still on the gas cooker. The plate with which he ate was on the dining table.
Stella quickly reported the matter at the Igbeba Police Station. Two weeks later, the police called her to ask if she could identify her brother’s corpse and she answered in the affirmative. They took her to a private morgue in Ijebu-Ode, and lo and behold, lying there, stone dead, was Emeka.
The morgue is unregistered. The owner was arrested together with the mortician. Emeka’s cellphone led the police to them. On interrogation, the morgue owner said he took the phone off the corpse and instead of reporting and handing it over to the police, he kept it.
Asked how he came by the corpse, he claimed a police friend of his tipped him off. Rival cult gangs clashed on the Saturday night Emeka disappeared, he said, and whenever such occurs, corpses litter the neighbourhood, collateral damages of an atrophying state. Emeka was a victim of the anomie.
But there were so many gaps in the narrative. He is yet to name his police friend who tipped him off. Assuming, without conceding that his story is true, why would a policeman call an unlicensed morgue operator rather than taking the corpse, a victim of cultists, to a government hospital or police station? Curiously, the investigating police team has allowed that particular trail to go cold.
Emeka’s corpse was embalmed at the illegal morgue. Who authorised the embalmment? As I write, the answer blows in the wind.
Stella said Emeka wore only boxers in the morgue. There were no bullet wounds and blood stains on the body although there is a stitching on the left side of his chest. No plausible explanation was given for it by the suspects.
A third arrest has been made – a lady – who happens to be the last person that called Emeka on his cellphone the day he disappeared. She claimed that the deceased was her boyfriend and that he visited her on the fateful night.
She said she was seeing him off when two men on a motorbike pulled up, shot Emeka several times at close range, and sped off. She also claimed she ran for her life after Emeka fell in a pool of his own blood.
Again, that is curious considering that she neither raised an alarm nor reported to the police. Meanwhile, a police officer at Igbeba Police Station advised Stella to quietly take her brother’s corpse home for burial rather than wasting her time and resources seeking justice. Ijebu-Ode, he claimed, had become a hotbed of cultists who kill and main at will without any consequences from the Nigerian state.
Another officer also advised her never to sleep in Ijebu-Ode because the cultists, who are always around and apparently known to the law enforcement officers, will come after her for daring to seek justice for her late brother. So, on any given day, she goes from Lagos to Ijebu-ode and returns same day to Lagos.
Though three people – the owner of the rogue morgue, the mortician and Emeka’s purported girlfriend – are in police custody, investigation has been shoddy, a fact alluded to by the Ogun State Police Commissioner, Edward Ajogun, when the case file was transferred to the state Criminal Investigation Department, CID, in Abeokuta in December.
Ajogun threw back the case file at the investigating police officer, IPO, ordering him to go and tidy up the investigation. The police boss wondered why there was no autopsy report more than a month after Emeka’s corpse was found and why no attempt had been made to contact the so-called policeman who allegedly alerted the illegal mortuary attendants over Emeka’s corpse.
And as if the trauma of losing a younger brother in such gruesome circumstances is not enough, Emeka’s landlord called Stella on January 5 to tell her that his rent expired in December with a one-week ultimatum to evacuate his property. And you wonder, where is our humanity?
When those in authority argue as Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, did recently that Nigeria is neither a fragile nor failed state, Emeka’s gruesome murder puts a lie to such protestations.
A country where non-state actors kill with impunity without fear of any consequences teeters on the borderline of state failure, if it is not already there.
A country where security officials advise you to pay ransom to kidnappers in order not to jeopardise the life of a kidnapped victim – or as in this case, to quietly bury your dead, if you intend to stay alive yourself – is at best a very fragile state and at worse a failed state.
A country where the citizens are at the mercy of rogue elements while the government that ought to have a monopoly of the instrument of coercion looks on helplessly is at best a very fragile state.
When Stella walked into my office last Friday afternoon, she was distraught. She came straight from Sagamu. Police called her that morning to come for the autopsy at Sagamu General Hospital but flatly refused the presence of an independent pathologist.
Will the Anichukwuegbo family from Nomeh Unataeze community, Nkanu East LGA, Enugu State get justice for their son brutally cut down in his prime? The answer is ensconced in the womb of time. But I doubt. The Nigerian state does not have the reputation of standing up for the weak and vulnerable.
But that shouldn’t be the case.
“I know Emeka is not coming back but these people should be stopped from going on this killing spree. I want every person that is connected with this murder to be brought to book,” Fr. Ibeh said in my office last Friday. That is the minimum expectation in any decent society. But Nigeria is far from decency right now.
On December 26, Emeka’s aunt travelled all the way from Enugu to Mbaise, Imo State, to see Fr. Ibeh and wept uncontrollably for hours. When a sympathiser, in an attempt to console her, said God knows everything, she looked up and said without equivocation that: “God does not know anything about Emeka’s death.” And I agree! Even God must be tired of our bestiality.