Date Published: 07/16/11
14 years after: Otokoto’s death sentence was political-first son by Ogele Agbai
In September 1996, Owerri, Imo State was engulfed in an orgy of rioting and destruction. 11-year-old, Master Ikechukwu Okonkwo from Ihube in Okigwe Local Government Area of the state had been beheaded by ritualists and his bodyless head shown on television.
The ire of the people was ignited. They went on rampage, destroying property of individuals perceived to be ritualists and advance-fee fraudsters. Chief Vincent Duru, proprietor of the popular Otokoto Hotel, Amakohia, a suburb of Owerri, who was named as the mastermind of the ritual killing of Master Okonkwo had his hotel torched.
The rioters also destroyed Piano Plaza and stores. Chibet Hotel was also among the property that were destroyed by the angry residents who saw the incident as an opportunity to sanitize the state.
After the two-day rioting and destruction, the then administration of Col. Tanko Zubairu, which was in power when the mayhem took place raised a panel which recommended the forfeiture and confiscation of the torched property.
The Zubairu administration in addition to accepting the recommendation of the panel ceded the property to federal security agencies. The agencies were the police and customs and excise. The security agencies took over the property. Some like the police renovated and built new structures on the premises of their own property.
Even the personal house of Chief Duru located on Otokoto Avenue, Amakohia was equally seized. The Otokoto Avenue was renamed Ikechukwu Okonkwo Avenue. Later, Justice Chioma Nwosu-Iheme convicted Chief Duru and some others to death by hanging. Some of the convicts like Chief Leonard Unaogu have died at Port-Harcourt Prison where they are awaiting the hangman. Even the police officer, Sgt. Obasi Chukwu that reportedly poisoned Innocent Ekeanyanwu, the man who carried out the ritual murder after getting him to implicate Otokoto had since died. But Otokoto is still agile and bubbling in prison in spite of the fact that he lives each day not knowing when the hangman will come calling.
Uchenna, Otokoto’s first son visited the corporate office ofNigeria Newspoint in Owerri last Wednesday to break his silence. This is the first time Uchenna, who was based in the United States at the time of the incident would talk about the matter. He opened to us and raised many posers.
According to him, the prosecution and eventually conviction of his father was politically-motivated. He maintained that a frontline politician from Ikeduru Local Government Area who did not like the guts and influence of his father colluded with the police to rope him in. He said the politician was also piqued that his father insisted that he must give his younger brother, Obidiozor his share of a business deal both engaged in. Obidiozor was convicted and shot at stake alongside Amanze Onuoha, Nnaemeka Onyechere (alias Dauda) and two others for armed robbery and kidnapping in 1996.
Uchenna asserted that it was unlawful to seize the property of private individuals on mere suspicion that they are ritualists. At the time the offence was allegedly committed by his father, he said there was no law stipulating forfeiture of property of ritualists or a property where the crime of ritual killing was committed. Even then, he maintained that his father was innocent and has been compelled to suffer double jeopardy if after his conviction, he forfeits his property.
Property owned by Otokoto Group of companies
Otokoto ’s first son stated that the property seized by the government do not belong to his father but to Otokoto Group of Companies Limited in which he is a director. ‘In the eyes of the law, Chief Duru is different from the company. Therefore, the property owned by the company do not belong to the managing director of the company’.
Uchenna is piqued at what he called the conspiracy to undo his family and said he would soon head to court to recover the family’s property.
He thanked the former governor, Chief Ikedi Ohakim for revoking the right of occupancy of the police to Otokoto Hotel and urged the incumbent governor, Owelle Rochas Okorocha to enforce the revocation.
Already, the police have urged Okorocha to rescind the revocation. The police said that the revocation has resulted in the displacement of 300 cops. But Uchenna disclosed that the company was yet to take over the property in spite of the revocation order and wondered how an order not yet enforced has dislodged policemen.
Uchenna is also of the opinion that it is unfair to seize their property and cede them to the police that were also found culpable of the crime. He is bitter with the late Sgt Obasi Chukwu. According to him, it was the sergeant who claimed he had found a shallow grave at the premises of Otokoto Hotel after a group of policemen had searched the premises severally without discovering anything. Again, he said the same Sgt. Obasi chukwu poisoned Ekeanyanwu in the police cell thereby denying his father the opportunity of confronting Ekeanyanwu in the dock to prove his involvement in the killing of Master Okonkwo.
‘They said Ekeanyanwu implicated my father. According to them, Ekeanyanwu said my father instructed him to kill Okonkwo, but they killed him (Ekeanyanwu) in police cell thereby not making it possible for my father to confront him to prove his allegation. The truth is that Ekeanyanwu was my father’s gardener but never implicated my father, Uchenna asserted.
He went on: ‘If my father instructed him to kill the boy and he did so at Otokoto Hotel, to whom was Ekeanyanwu taking the bodyless head of the boy to? Remember, Ekeanyanwu was arrested in Iho with the head of the boy’.
Uchenna said he has since been at the Appeal Court to prove his father’s innocence in the matter but that the state has not been appearing in court. He is also angered that two of Otokoto Hotel’s staff members namely Rufus Anyanwu and Ebenezar Egwekwe who were not mentioned in the statements of any of the accused were tried and convicted on the ground that they worked in the hotel thus should be privy to the murder. The duo are also today on death row at Port-Harcourt.
Uchenna said it was the injustice meted out to his father which Ohakim saw that made him to revoke the right of occupancy of the police to the property. The former governor also returned the Chibet Hotel located along Owerri-Onitsha Expressway. But there is snag.
The public believes that Ohakim erred in returning the property to their original owners. In fact, they have started insinuating that his return of the property means he approved of the crime said to have been committed by Otokoto and co.
Raise a panel
Uchenna urged the public to desist from seeing the matter from such narrow confine. He reiterated that his father is innocent of the murder of Okonkwo. He also maintained that the lad was not killed at Otokoto Hotel.
‘Is it not surprising to you that my father is still alive and well while some younger people convicted alongside him have died in prison?, he asked adding: Leonard Unaogu, by far my father’s junior has died. Leonard’s brother who was not convicted has also died. Sgt Chukwu is dead too. Again, the law did not stipulate that a murderer should forfeit his property and that you should cede the property to the police which could not protect the property from destruction and was also enmeshed in the crime. Yes, the police was culpable. They killed Ekeanyanwu thereby destroying the evidence he would have given to bring the actual culprits to book’.
He therefore appealed to Okorocha to constitute a panel to revisit the matter with a view to strengthening out issues. ’The police know those who ordered Okonkwo’s murder. It is now clear to many people but nobody wants to talk’.
Is Okorocha listening? As the chief rescuer, can he rescue Otokoto and other convicts from the hangman’s noose? Are the police deserving of property which they allowed angry mob to destroy and after killing the star accused, Ekeanyanwu, who would have provided the evidence that would have nailed the actual culprits?