By Egufe Yafugborhi
On December 4, 2021, at about 6:30 pm, Stanley Okanne, a businessman from Imo State was gripped by an unusual fear of imminent danger as he parked his car on the main road and walked the pathway to his house under construction at Platinum Estate, Eneka, Obio/Akpor Local Government Area in Port Harcourt metropolis.
He was on one of his periodic inspections to the site where he is gradually putting finishing touches to the already roofed bungalow towards joining a growing number of landlords in the area.
The area had always been volatile, but on this occasion, the atmosphere looked stranger than usual. Most of the settled neighbours appeared to have abandoned the area. Straight to his property, he couldn’t find his water tank, its stand and other things he procured for installation, which were too visible not to be seen because they were elevated structures. A bemused Okanne then called out his security guard, but there was no response.
Recalling the scene, Okanne said: “I noticed that virtually all materials I bought recently to complete the house had disappeared. I heard some noise inside the building and believing it must be Ismaila, the guard, I called his name but there was no response. The moment I opened the door into the living room, my fears were confirmed. I walked into the entrapment of a gang of six menacing men in my own property.
They brought out guns, mainly locally-made, ordering me to lie down. They took the N235,000 on me, my handset, car key and other items.
The six-man gang that occupied the house were not faceless. After manhandling Okanne, one of them, later identified as Emmanuel Chuku, returned his phone, car key and money.
Expressing his surprise, Okanne said: “I thought at that point they would just leave me but the gang leader’s action surprised me. He reminded me that they had warned me through my security guard never to come back to my uncompleted building. He said they would let him go, but that I might not be lucky if I return to the house again. They further warned me not to report the matter to the police as what happened to others who tried reporting them in the past would happen to me. They bragged the police was on their payroll.”
On December 8, 2021, Okanne petitioned the Rivers State Commissioner of Police, Friday Eboka, over the matter through the Law Chambers of Felix Chukwu and Co.
In the petition, Okanne alleged that his uncompleted building had become an operational base for armed robbers who stock guns, ammunition, hard drugs, charms and other weapons in the building.
He also reported the matter to the Platinium Estate Landlords Association and Elders of Rumukaraka, the family that sold the land to him. Okanne said he was shocked by what the landlords’ association told him.
He said: “They told me several other landlords had reported same criminal activities of the gang. They showed me a recent petition they initiated through the family lawyer which the Inspector-General of Police is currently investigating through the Rivers State SCID against the suspected gang members.”
Police recover arms, charms
Okanne’s petition was assigned to the Deputy Commissioner of Police, SCIID, Kehinde Longe who has just been promoted to a CP along with his wife in recent promotion by the Police Service Commission. The SCIID head in turn assigned the case for discreet investigation to the Anti-Robbery Department of SCIID otherwise known as D-5, under the Command of CSP Iwatt Akpan.
After taking statements from the complainant, witnesses and community leaders, a Police Tactical Team was deployed to arrest the suspected criminals. After some covert operations, the team eventually stormed Okanne’s property on December 17, 2021.
Chairman of Platinium Estate Landlords Association, John Nwankwo who witnessed the police raid said:
“That day, as the D-5 team closed in on the suspects, we were worried. It was an honest petition, but we were worried that what if they met Okanne’s home empty? We could be accused of raising false alarm. Fortunately, the suspects were drunk when the police arrested them.
“Right in Okanne’s house, the police arrested Okechukwu Achonma, Kingsley Opurum, Worlu Collins; a fourth suspect escaped. 16 rounds of ammunition, charms, machetes, cultist regalia, a mattress and drugs were also found with them.“The three suspects confessed to taking over the building including owning the ammunition recovered. They further confessed to receiving ammunition and guns from four persons they named to the police.”
Victim, witnesses allege bias
Nwankwo claimed that after one of the suspected accomplices made statement to the police, calls for the release of the gang members began to come from different quarters. He said: “After their confession, calls started coming from senior police officers that the boys should be granted bail.
“Two of the suspects were granted bail the next day as other accomplices mentioned refused to honour police invitation to make statement. The two suspects immediately returned to Okanne’s house and were seen by neighbours removing exhibits suspected to be guns wrapped and hidden in the septic tank from the building which the police claimed they couldn’t locate.”
Wondering why the police would quickly release the suspects, Nwankwo said: “Suspected criminals were arrested with ammunition and police claimed they couldn’t see the guns. It’s also curious the speed at which two of the criminals were released, prompting their return to Okanne’s house to remove trace of new evidence.
“This act of the police has not only compromised this case but has also destroyed further evidence. It is unprofessional to release and allow suspects access to a crime scene where ammunition and other dangerous weapons were recovered from. The police is expected to seal the place until after investigation.”
Following concerns raised over the alleged bias, the Estate landlords, community chiefs and elders alongside Stanley Okanne, were invited for an interview with the DCP SCIID on the matter. Nwankwo, however, lamented the outcome of the interview.
He said: “We were shocked to hear ACP Olayinka claim that Okanne can’t prove a case of robbery when the matter has not been investigated. The officer said the only matter against the suspects is unlawful possession of ammunition which is for police to decide whether to charge to court or not. It is like making judgment when investigation has not even commenced on the matter.
“Our lawyer sternly protested that verdict and insisted that thorough investigation must be conducted and all accomplices mentioned must be arrested and their statements obtained. Police finally agreed that the matter should go for full investigation. Unfortunately, all suspects were released on December 20, 2021.
When contacted, ACP Olayinka said: “The matter is under investigation. When we conclude investigations, we will charge available suspects to court. When a matter involves landed, it has different angles, so police has to be very careful so we don’t dabble into civil matters.“As of now, we have evidence of at least unlawful possession of ammunition. The criminal aspect of the case is what we are looking into. We want to know how these people got such ammunition.
“We are aware communities at times engage vigilantes to secure them. We are exploring to know whether the purpose for the ammunition is genuine. A report has been written. When there is approval for the report, we will take it up from there.”
Victim relocates to Imo
Sadly for Okanne, the police freeing all suspects arrested in the case have doubled his fears.
Frustrated Okanne said: “They have been threatening me and fellow landlords and other witnesses that they will deal with us. They also keep boasting that nothing will happen to them. I have to run for my life which is worth more than the property but I really want my house back and safe.”
Also expressing fears, Nwankwo said: “Why won’t Okanne and other landlords be afraid? Nobody engaged any vigilante. We, the Estate members, the community leaders and landowners from whom we acquired the land all affirmed nobody engaged the suspects as vigilante.
“That is why we are surprised that all the suspects were granted bail under the circumstance. As a lawyer, I know the police and court can exercise discretion to grant bail on criminal matters, but it is certainly questionable in this case because that discretion must be exercised under strict adherence to the law and after proper investigation.
“In this case, you have hoodlums who owned up to bearing ammunition. They confessed to a source who supplied them ammunition. The source, called for questioning owned up to arming the suspects. They robbed a house owner at gunpoint and occupied his home. The same suspects have come back, parading the estate and causing fear. Now they have left Okanne’s house and currently occupies the property of former Edo State Surveyor-General, Irene Egbetugbe. He too has gone to report to the CP.
“So the police really need to do the needful because some individuals acting as if they are above the law can’t go about chasing people away from their homes with impunity. Even more worrisome is the DCP’s inexplicable resolve to ‘keep in view’ the prosecution of the suspects after the investigating team has so recommended.”