By Freedom Ajala, Abakaliki
But for the gallant efforts of the men of the Special Anti-Kidnapping Squad, (SAKS), Ebonyi State Command, the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, (SARS) and other corresponding units of the Command who never rested on their oars, the abduction and later, murder and secret burial of a kidnap victim, Mrs Catherine Chukwu, who was abducted from her Ishaigu, Ivo LGA residence, Ebonyi State, could have perhaps, remained like other many unresolved criminal cases in the country
Although the victim was killed and buried in a shallow grave in a thick forest called Lekpesi- a boundary between Abia and Enugu State in Lokpanta, Umunneochi LGA in Abia State, the kidnappers were hell-bent on hiding the truth from the Police.
However, the Police breakthrough, according to the Command’s Public Relations Officer, DSP Jude Madu is coming on the heels of a classified confessional statement made available to the Investigators by one Ogbujule Chukwu Mathew of Lokpanta, Isuochi, Ummunneochi Local Government Area of Abia State who was arrested on the 10th of February this year.
According to him, “he made some confessionary statements which led to the arrest of one Ezenwa Egeonu, male, of same address on 23rd of February 2017. Upon interrogation, the said Ezenwa confessed that the victim had been killed by the gang and was buried at Lokpanta Isuochi in Abia State. He led a team of anti-kidnapping squad of this command to the scene were the corpse was buried. The area has been identified and that was why the command made adequate arrangements for the exhumation of the corpse”.
The said Ezenwa, it was gathered, started playing pranks with the Police after his confession and vital disclosures and became patently evasive for weeks in a journey to show the anti-kidnapping team where his men buried the victim. “He took our men there and instead of showing the exact spot, he started taking the Police round that vast bush until the early morning of Sunday, when he said that his time was up and he was then ready to talk. He then took our men to the exact spot where they buried the woman”, said the Command’s Public Relations Officer in an exclusive interview.
The journey to the exhumation of the already-decomposed remains of the late Mrs. Okorie was a tortuous one. The State’s Police Commissioner, CP Titus Larmorde who is just settling down to his job made extensive efforts and preparations as soon as the facts were unambiguously established and delegated the State’s Assistant Commissioner of Police, Criminal Investigations Department to lead the operation. The journey, which had a team of not less than 50 Police men, 15 Police Hilux vans of various units of the Command, an ambulance, morticians, the Head of Pathology Department, Federal Teaching Hospital, Abakaliki and this reporter lasted for over ten hours.
When the team took off from Abakaliki, it branched through Ivo Division to pick a ready SARS team that was communicating with a team of the SAKS team who had reportedly been in the forest, (locus sine quo)- scene of the incident reportedly for the past two weeks. It headed off to Lokpanta in Umunneochi LGA, which shares boundaries a few kilometers with Ishiagu in Ivo LGA of Ebonyi State almost directly across the road along the Enugu-Port Harcourt Expressway.
After less than ten minutes’ drive through terrains that appeared ab initio to have no buildings located therein, the team landed in a village market called, Eke Isuochi. They were to pick a pointer who linked them up with the SAKS first team who were some kilometers away from the market, along a major road leading to the forest. The man, who is in his late thirties (name withheld), claimed to be the leader of Lokpanta Undergraduate Association. On sighting the heavily-armed Police team, panicky village traders who were at the market were seen gripped with apprehension.
The team was successfully handed over, after riding through a rough road of about three kilometers, to a ready SARS team who were with the prime suspect and two other suspects among who was a woman in her mid-forties. The team then disembarked from the vehicles and armed, not only with guns and bullets but also with bags of water and some snacks led by the AC-State CID, began the search operation.
After walking through a rough and barren forest in a not-too-clearly distinctive boundary between Lokpanta in Abia and Awgu in Enugu State which lasted for 25 minutes, the team found itself in a canal called Lekpesi- a shallow river nearly demarcating the two neighbouring States. A jubilant combined team of SAKS with some SARS men who had reportedly been camped in the thick forest for about two weeks and were reportedly feeding on cashew nuts welcomed the team. With them were four suspects in all who were said to be directly or indirectly linked with the dastardly incident.
Then came the moment of confession. The prime suspect who led the SAKS team to identify the spot, Ezenwa, spoke first upon interrogation: “That Palee, (pointing at one of the suspects) carry us come here; me and Pilot, we be three, Mathew (the ring leader) four and that Ampelo. We dey Six in number. Na that Ampelo (from Ishiagu) say make we kill am. En say because Mama (the victim) don see him face, make we kill am. I tell them say make them no kpai Mama. The man come slap me for back. Na en the other guy, (Chibuike-the gang leader) say him go shoot me. I tell dem say this thing wey dem wan do Mama no dey good. Na en dem come tell me say make I comot. I come go up there go sit down (Pointing to a hilly side of the shallow river).
“As I come sit down there, I come hear kpowai. I dey like this (pointing his head to the ground). Pilot come ask me whether I dey cry? I tell am say I dey cry. I tell am say this thing wey una do, before next week now, una go hear am. Na im I come carry my machine (motorcycle) go back)”, the suspect confessed.
He further made disclosures on where and how they tried to escape from Police search to the effect that they had hidden Late Mrs. Okorie in Mathew’s backyard compound in Amaekwuru village, Isuochi in Lokpanta for several hours and upon getting wind of Police trail, they escaped into the thick forest where the victim was later shot dead on the orders of the said Ampelo who told the gang that he did Internship in Abuja through the help of the victim’s son and she had already seen and identified his face, hence, the reason they should not spare her life or they would all be in danger.
After the exhumation of the already decomposed corpse for autopsy, the team was later taken late in the evening to the said Compound where the kidnappers kept the victim upon her abduction from Ishiagu said to be the gang-leaders’ residence. Upon getting to the village which has been largely deserted due to the serial criminal indulgence of young people from the area, the Police was taken to the said backyard by Ezenwa as they made frantic search for the recovery of the confessed exhibits to no avail. Ezenwa was heard repeatedly shouting that he would not lie to the Police, that he knows the exact spot where the gun(s) and bullets were kept.
Attempts to get the accurate information from the terribly-battered gang-leader, Chibuike who was on the entourage by the visibly angry Police team was unsuccessful as Police sources repeatedly insisted that he rather prefers to die than disclose any vital information. The team returned to Abakaliki late in the night with the exhumed body of the victim which was subsequently deposited at the Federal Teaching Hospital Mortuary, Abakaliki (FETHA) for autopsy. They also took some exhibits such as chairs and other house-hold items as exhibits from the thoroughly ransacked premises of Chibuike (popularly called Umoru) who community sources say has been a ‘terror’ in their area and a torn in their flesh.
“We have taken the body for autopsy. The result of the autopsy will determine our next line of action. We want to find out if they killed the woman with bullet or poison or any other means even though one of the suspects confessed there at the scene that one of them shot at the woman. After the autopsy, we shall also update the public”, the Police image-maker, DSP Madu said.
He said the entire village is on the run because of fear of giving the Police information adding further that out of the six that were actually directly involved in the kidnap, three king-pins are in the Police’ net. “There are some other persons who are not among the Six but they also contributed in one way or the other to aid this crime. Though I may not give you the exact number for now, but others, like their native doctor is already in our net. Then one of the girlfriends of Umoru who had helped him to escape the very first time is also in our net. Investigations are yet ongoing and the Police is assuring the family and the general public that it will get to the end of it all”, said the PPRO.
He further hinted that the suspects have not made confessions as to whether a ransom was paid but that they may have killed the victim when they realized that Police tracking device was closing in on them coupled with the confession by one of the suspects that the victim had identified one Ampelo who did internship in the son’s firm in Abuja who was later to order that they shoot her.
Meanwhile, information has it that the Abuja-based late Mrs. Okorie’s son upon receiving police calls late Sunday morning on the confession of Ezenwa that her mother had been killed burst into a loud cry on the telephone. The news is said to have thrown the people of Ishiagu who had reportedly been at loggerheads with their neighbours, Lokpanta village, into deep mourning.