By Joachim Ezeji As the rampaging menace of kidnapping continues to ravage the south-eastern part of Nigeria, one man who towers shoulders above his contemporaries in confronting the menace by speaking out is HRH Eze Desmond Ogugua, the traditional ruler of Eziudo autonomous community in Ezinihite Mbaise Local Government Area. After reading his story in a recent SUN Newspaper weekend edition I made up my mind to re-echo his voice by devoting this column to him. He is a man of courage. If every octogenarian in present day Nigeria is to tell the raw truth at all occasions, then, Nigeria will surely be a much better place. Sadly, in Nigeria today, while many so called old men are keeping quiet as evil thrives, some are simply part of it. In reaction to a recent ugly incident of kidnapping in his community, HRH has had the opportunity to say the truth as it is, and I hope the government of Imo State led by Ikedi Ohakim heard him. The governor must take the message very seriously. Eze Ogugua emphatically holds the view that there are two reasons kidnap has become a scourge among our people. He says that one is political, and the other is economic. He argues that the poverty created by the government through neglect in communities has made some idle and evil minded youths to resort to kidnapping as means of making themselves heard and as a weapon of retaliation to society for abandoning them. According to him, the result is the proliferation of the art as even robbers have diverted their art to kidnap for better returns. Eze Oguguo pointed out that in the beginning; government didn’t take the issue serious until it developed into this bigger problem. He also argues that the police have not been equipped to handle the kidnap problem; insisting that that there is no way that you can climb the iroko tree without a rope. In his words “Police can’t chase kidnappers who are more sophisticated in arms out of town with just their bare hands.” Arguing further, Eze Ogugua explained that politicians are a remote cause of kidnapping. He argued that the kidnappers are youths the politicians used in their desperation to win elections; and , in his own words; “Today, these armed men the politicians gave birth to have turned the arms against unsuspecting persons in the society, including the same politicians. I am sure they must have found out that they sired a clan of hoodlums they can no longer control. The horde of hooligans they created have gone out of control and turned terror on all of us”. HRH Eze Oguguo then recalled an ugly incident of kidnapping in his community: “I have a good instance at hand on a kidnap that took place in my community on July 27, 2009. I was overseas for medical attention when the incident occurred. When I came back four months later, not much had been done by the police who literally left the matter unattended to. The victim had neither been found nor his condition known talk less of identifying the kidnappers”. He continued: “The victim was Pius Onyeremadu. After his kidnap, a report was made at the police station. When I came back, I summoned the community leaders to tackle the abomination. In the course of the interrogation of some people, I suspected two persons who I later handed over to the police for further investigation. The police in Alagbon, Lagos, were later invited and CID from there interrogated the suspects who confessed to the act and named nine others who were part of it, including the owner of a dangerous hotel in the town”. According to the Monarch, it was in that dangerous hotel the victim, Onyeremadu, was kept with a signpost on the rooms where he was barring people from coming closer there. The nine persons were later arrested and taken into custody by the police while they continued with investigation during which it was found that the victim died on August 20, 2009, barely a month after he was abducted. By the time Eze Ogugua returned in November, his community devised several means to track down the kidnappers and possibly release their victim not knowing he had died. One of their strategies was community prayer sessions. They assembled at village squares in all the villages of the Eziudo community and prayed that God should apprehend the kidnappers. Ironically, the suspects were part of the prayers. They joined as the prayer train moved from one village to the other. As the prayer leaders voiced their petition to heaven, they all joined to chorus a loud amen.
Unknown to them, prayers get answers, and as they unknowingly prayed against themselves to be caught and exposed, so they were later caught. Indeed, they were later caught and in their confession had told the police that they dumped the body of the victim in Imo River after he died in their custody. But when they were taken to the river with divers, they recapitulated on the earlier confession and accepted to say the truth on where the body was discarded.
They asked the police to take them back to the community that the man’s body was stuffed inside a soak-away pit in church premises in Eziudo. As they got there, this time, their tale was right. They pointed at the cesspit that has not been in use for sometime in the premises. The police commenced a dig of the pit. A video recording of the expedition showed four policemen from Alagbon cracking the concrete slab on the pit with pickaxe to make it wide enough for someone to climb in and confirm the testimony. The man’s remains were squeezed into the pit via a little gap and the smaller slab replaced.
As the police gained access into the pit, they beckoned on the villagers to come closer and see the man’s bones littered all over the place. His dress was first picked up from the moist earth and shown to family members who confirmed it was his. Painstakingly, the policemen harvested Onyeremadu’s bones like in Ezekiel’s vision in a yellow polyethene bag. With that they climbed off, displayed the odd specimen before the people before taking them away as exhibit and for forensic analysis after which they would be released to the family. Since the investigating police came from Alagbon, the suspects were taken to Lagos for proper interrogation and investigation, after which they were brought back to Owerri for trial.
Eze Ogugua in this story revealed that his community is defraying the cost of everything that has been done so far on behalf of the community; yet, the police are asking the community to defray the forensic analysis of the bones at a cost of N250, 000 before that could be handled. In his words, he lamented “The problem has cost us much money, and it is not yet over”.
Curiously, neither the government nor the police are helping the community to defray the enormous costs involved in exercise of this nature. Cases of this nature have become goldmine for police officers as they see it as opportunities to make money. Why should communities be left to defray the entire cost of security incidents of this nature? What is Governor Ohakim doing with the colossal security funds he allocates to himself every year? Incidents of this nature are often the purpose of security votes. I therefore use this medium to call on the Imo State Government to quickly refund all expenses incurred by the community without any further delay. This is the only effective way to encourage and motivate people and their communities as otherwise dispirits them.
Also, a pathway should be created to couple the security vote of the governor to the security issues in the dispersed communities. Such coupling will enable communities to handle what is required to uphold peace through their Chiefs and local vigilante bodies. Eze Oguguo had recalled “I know how much I have spent in organizing security groups, summoning meetings of elders and youths and assisting the police in its efforts so far”. He continued “If a monarch has no money, he can’t handle this and things will get worse”. That is true!
I hope the Governor is reading this piece, if not let his aids take this piece and show him. The gospel truth as told by HRH Eze Oguguo is that the society can’t effectively tackle kidnapping and other dangerous crimes without the cooperation of the local leaders in the communities. To do this the government must be fair and transparent, using public funds for the public, not otherwise.
Despite the fact that government collects a lot of revenue and maintains enormous resources, what else is stopping government from extending appropriate support to local communities? It is a sad revelation, but it takes courage to say it.
HRH Eze Desmond Oguguo had revealed and I quote him “Government (both state and local government) has never assisted my community in any way in this ugly incident. It has been my people and the police. I would solicit the support of the government for traditional rulers and community leaders in this wise.”
What a tale!