A deadly operation
On Saturday, Dec. 26, 2020, a brutal, lawless gang in the company of seven officers of the Police Special Tactical Squad (STS) arrived in Enugu State, Southeast Nigeria, from Abuja, Nigeria’s Federal Capital.
They drove in a black SUV and Sienna bus fully armed with service rifles. From the Enugu metropolis, they drove about 15km east of the city to a rural community, Oruku, in Nkanu East Local Government Area. There was a special event in Oruku on that day, with several traditional leaders and prominent men from the community in attendance.
The monarch of Oruku, Igwe Emmanuel Chidiebere Mbah, and his cabinet members as well as the leadership of the Town Union had made elaborate preparations for the day.
For the traditional Igbo republican governance structure, this was the community’s general assembly, the traditional equivalent of what in the corporate world is known as the annual general meeting for shareholders. The date had been carefully chosen to ensure that the greatest numbers of dignitaries would be available.
Invitations were dispatched about a month ahead of time to prominent individuals living outside the village. Igwe Mbah followed this up with phone calls and received assurances from a couple of individuals expected to count among the dignitaries on that day. That day also marked the first anniversary of the inauguration of the Igwe by the Enugu state government as the monarch of the community.
So, for the Igwe, it was a symbolic and special event. The STS squad and its escorts had a mission which allegedly was to “take out” Igwe Mbah and another prominent son of the community, Ejike Ani, a former Chairman of Nkanu East Local Government.
By 2 p.m., the armed men arrived at the venue of the congregation. Three individuals from Oruku served as escorts to the police team and were identified as Emmanuel Nwobodo, Onyema Edeh and Sunday Onunze. The mission was led by Musa Danladi, an inspector of police.
The meeting arena was filled and Igwe Mbah was addressing the assembly when the invading armed men emerged from their two vehicles. According to eyewitnesses, the gunmen showed no decorum or regard for the traditional sacred nature of the assembly ground.
They reportedly showed no courtesy or decency in their conduct nor did they show respect for the assembly. Nwobodo, according to witnesses, led the way and pointed the igwe out to Insp. Danladi. “Here is the igwe,” he reportedly gestured.
It was a day in which the sacred stool and items of traditional ordinances were openly desecrated by this invading gang. They seized the igwe like a violent, wild criminal.
According to multiple eyewitness accounts, one of the gunmen, later identified as Insp. Dennis aimed his rifle at the igwe’s thigh and pulled the trigger. The igwe collapsed. Blood flowed and drenched his trousers. “Where is Ejike Ani?” hollered Danladi.
Ani was not at the meeting but Nwobodo soon noticed that Ani”s younger brother, Chigozie, was at the meeting. He showed Danladi Ejike’s brother. They equally seized him. In the igwe’s harrowing distress one of the policemen further clobbered him with the butt of his rifle. They wielded their rifles threateningly and shooting sporadically into the air.
The people were in a panic. A gloomy, chilling horror descended on the assembly like a pall. It was a traumatic and humiliating scene for the community. Their two captives dumped in the vehicle, they identified the igwe’s Ford truck and drove away in the two vehicles they came in as well as the Ford. They left the villagers in confusion and bewilderment.
Igwe Mbah bled to death and was pronounced dead on arrival at the National Orthopedics Hospital in Enugu. Feeling terrified and violated, several community leaders, including Emmanuel Eze, mobilized and proceeded to the State Police headquarters in Enugu to inquire into what was going on. They were shocked to find that there was no official record of such an operation by the Police Command in Enugu.
HumAngle has followed up on the development, interviewing witnesses and parties to the incident only to discover a much wider, deeply intriguing plot. The disturbing event highlighted the deep-seated impunity by men of the law enforcement agents and their collaborators.
How the crisis began
Prior to the carving up of Oruku into three autonomous communities in April 2019 by the Enugu State Government, the community had been stuck in a morbid cycle of local insurgency that lasted over 30 years, according to records. The decades-long fratricidal violence pitting one part of the community, Oruku, against the other part, Umuode, was some sort of a smaller scale replay of the crises in the 1990s that were franchised by Umuleri and Aguleri in Anambra State; Ife and Modakeke in Osun State and Urhobo and Itshekiri in Warri, Delta State.
The deep hatred and bigotry that fuel such carnages never give way easily. The logistics and illicit enterprise that sustain them are usually deeply layered and fiercely guarded by powerful individuals who have personal stakes in the situation(s).
Following extensive consultations by the state government, all parties to the crisis in the Nkanu community signed the first of two memoranda of understanding, (MOU) on April 8, 2019, at the Government House in Enugu. HumAngle sighted a copy of the MOU.
Bath Nnaji, a professor of robotics, and Nigeria’s former Minister of Power led the seven-man Umuode delegation, while Raymond Okenwa, a retired Federal Permanent Secretary, led the seven-man Oruku delegation.
The MOU reads in part, “whereas Oruku and Umuode communities have been engaged in bitter communal hostilities for over three decades, the aforementioned communities have now agreed to find a lasting solution to the communal dispute by demarcating their boundaries.”
According to the document, “the Surveyor-General of Enugu State and other professional staff of his office shall carry out the field work to determine the perimeter boundary of the old Oruku from which the land will be shared according (to) their ratio of 70 per cent for Oruku and 30 per cent for Umuode.”
Each party to the agreement was encouraged to hire a surveyor as observer while the government officials undertake the boundary determination with the state government approving N2.5 million grant for each party for the purpose of hiring a surveyor of their choice(s) to observe.
The final ratification of the agreement was slated for June 14, 2019. Okenwa who led the Oruku team in signing the initial document announced in the presence of the state Governor, Chief Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, that he was withdrawing support for the agreement. The traditional ruler of Oruku at the time, Igwe C. A. Nomeh, and other members of the Oruku delegation were shocked and embarrassed.
Some of the members of the Oruku delegation were miffed as to what (Raymond) Okenwa’s personal interest might be since the idea of the sharing ratio of 70:30 was said to be his idea. Irrespective of his surprise effort to pull the rug off the feet of the agreement, every other delegate from both communities appended their signatures to the document.
As it turned out, having unexpectedly withdrawn support for the initiative, Okenwa was allegedly bent on sabotaging the peace process. The next occurrences in the community let the cat out of the bag.
Together with his brother, Raphael Okenwa, who is a serving major with 4 Brigade, Nigerian Army, in Benin City, Edo State, South-south Nigeria, they allegedly mobilised the local fighting force that had been locked in a battle with Umuode to resist the implementation of the MOU.
Some leaders in the community started noticing renewed influx of arms and petitioned the police. A few things happened in quick succession. The state government moved to dissolve the Executive of the Town Union and appointed a five-man Town Union taskforce headed by Mbah.
The state government proceeded with the peace process and on July 2, 2019, created three autonomous communities from Oruku, namely Agu-Ikpa, Oruku and Umuode. A few signatories to the peace document, including Mbah and Ani, alerted security officials that Maj. Okenwa had called them on the phone assuring them that they had signed their “death warrant.”
Mbah, on Sept. 3, 2019, petitioned the Commissioner of Police in Enugu State, CP Ahmad Abdurrahman, about the threat to his life and the matter reportedly was transferred to Patrick Obetta, Deputy Superintendent of Police and head of Legal, State Police Headquarters, Enugu.
Some underlying plots in the drama were coming to light. For instance, after taking over the leadership of the town union, the Mbah task force team discovered that Maj. Okenwa had been funneling money through the First Bank of Nigeria Plc account of the Town Union allegedly for arms procurement. With the ominous threat through a phone call allegedly by Okenwa still fresh in his mind, and putting this new information together, Ani petitioned the General Officer Commanding, 82 Division, Nigerian Army, Enugu.
The petitioner revealed that apart from a cache of arms allegedly delivered to the dissident group being assembled in the community, Maj. Okenwa, within the same period, transferred from his personal account a total of N12 million in three tranches of N2,000,000; N4,000,000 and N6,000,000 into the First Bank account of the union between March 4, 2019, and March 19, 2019, for the procurement of firearms and training for the gang he was assembling.
This newspaper sighted a copy of the bank document showing the transfers by Maj. Okenwa.
Our reporter reached out to Major Okenwa on the phone to enquire about his role in arming a militia in the community. He accepted that indeed there was a petition but that that was about two years ago. He confirmed that the Nigeria Army in Enugu invited him and interrogated him but found him without blame and asked him to return to his duty post. He did not however dispute that money totalling N12 million was moved from his personal account to the community’s. He said he had not visited the community in the past two years.
Things were, however, moving in different directions. On Dec. 26, 2019, the new Oruku Autonomous Community selected Mbah as its igwe. As it appeared, the two Okenwas working together could not stop the community from signing a peace deal with Umuode, unable to torpedo the peace process, lost control of the leadership of the Town Union and now losing out on the igweship contest.
Their candidate for the igwe position, Moses Nnamani, failed to show up before the traditional kingmakers’ selection panel. It seemed too much of a loss for them to swallow. Not seeing any other path to control of the reins of power in the community, it would appear that the only option open to them was to enlist any rogue elements in the police to fight their way back to relevance.
Are the police running a criminal syndicate?
On Jan. 13, 2020, the Okenwas filed a motion at the court to stop the Enugu State Government from recognizing Mbah as the Igwe of the community. While pushing the strings at the judicial front, they were also keenly reaching out to STS run by Yusuf Kolo, a Deputy Commissioner of Police in Abuja. Kolo was, years back, the head of the notorious Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) in Awkuzu, Anambra State. Not being a stranger to controversial official operations, it was not a surprise that Kolo’s men seemed inclined to dine with the devil. One dramatic and tragic occurrence began to occur in the community thereafter.
On June 10, 2020, some gunmen riding on a motorbike drove to Okenwa Mbada’s house in the village, shot him at close range in the presence of his children and drove away. Mbada was an in-law to Mbah the new Igwe, having married Mbah’s elder sister. Concerned individuals called for help. Some members of the community’s Neighborhood Watch, including Igwe Mbah, drove to Amaechi Idodo Police Station to lodge a formal complaint.
Some eyewitnesses, who included the members of the Neighborhood Watch, mentioned seeing unusual movements at the crime scene by the following individuals – Ugochukwu Okenwa, Moses Nnamani, Oluchukwu Okenwa, Nnabuike Ogbu, Emma Okenwa and Nnabuike Okorie. They said that those mentioned were seen at the crime scene.
Further report was made by the community leaders at the Criminal Investigation Department, (CID), Enugu. The police tracked and arrested four of the six named among the initial suspects. Suddenly, Nnamani filed a petition to Kolo’s men in Abuja accusing the members of the community Neighborhood Watch with Igwe Mbah and Ani, of unlawful possession of firearms, murder and kidnapping.
The STS team led by Insp. Usman Bako parachuted itself to Enugu with a signal transferring the case file from the state CID to themselves in Abuja. He then ordered the release of the suspects already in detention in Enugu.
In a rather bizarre move, allegedly without investigation, Bako arrested Igwe Mbah, Ejike Mba, Ugochukwu Nnaji, Emmanuel Ndubuisi, Okechukwu Ogbu and Dennis Ikeh, all members of the community Neighborhood Watch and took them to Abuja. He ignored statements already made to the state CID team by witnesses.
In a matter of weeks after Bako released the four detained suspects, one of them, Oluchukwu Okenwa, was apprehended by the Police Command in Enugu with two pump action guns and a bag of substances suspected to be hemp. It was obvious that Nnamani, a principal suspect in the murder, had become a principal actor with Kolo’s men in the control room of the investigation.
On Sept. 15, 2020, in a petition to the Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Abubakar Adamu, through the Commissioner of Police, Homicide Section, Force CID, Abuja, Igwe Mbah alerted the police about the bizarre occurrences orchestrated by Bako.
Earlier on June 23, 2020, the office of Igwe & co, Attorneys at Law, representing the Mbada family, had petitioned the inspector-general demanding the arrest of Ugochukwu Okenwa and Moses Okenwa for the murder of Mbada. The Office of the Inspector-General following the petition directed the Office of Deputy Inspector-General, Force CID, to treat. The deputy inspector-general of police, Force CID, however, directed the Office of the Commissioner of Police in Enugu State through a memo dated July 13, 2020, to deal.
Official memos on the case kept flying at cross purposes with only Kolo’s men led by DSP Bako evidently operating outside the rules of engagement. They shielded whomsoever they wanted irrespective of the grave allegations hanging on them.
It was probably for this strange reason that the two principal Okenwas in the murder investigation were never apprehended, interrogated or detained. The late Igwe Mbah in a petition in September 2020 worried that “the DSP Bako and teams of the FIB, STS have been compromised” and prayed that the case be redirected to the Homicide Section of Nigeria Police Force for proper investigation.”
The six men were first charged for unlawful possession of firearms and kidnapping at a Federal High court, Abuja. HumAngle found that the Oruku Neighborhood Watch was duly registered by the Enugu State Government with the weapons in question donated by the government. The presiding judge, Justice Okon Abang, granted them bail. The police quickly changed direction, and charged the six men in a Grade 1 Area Court of the Federal Capital Territory at Nyanya and sitting at Mpape, Abuja. Justice Taiwo Taiwo, on Sept. 30, 2020 granted them bail.
Inaction by Nigeria Army
HumAngle found that the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI) within the 82 Division of the Nigerian Army in Enugu summoned the parties to the petition and took statements, followed by interrogations. But thereafter, nothing was heard about the army’s findings or recommended course of action. Some of the individuals who HumAngle interviewed in the course of investigating this report suspect that the seeming inaction of the Nigerian Army on the petition against its officer might have created the gap that was exploited by the police STS.
Community members and legal representatives have decried the lack of diligence and professionalism in the investigation of the murder case by the police. Some community members complained that the police ignored the demand for autopsy on the body of Mbada.
For instance, in spite of appeals from the igwe, the police overlooked one of the primary pillars of homicide investigations which is obtaining information through an autopsy. Joseph Nwokocha and Co, the attorneys engaged by the igwe, alleged in a petition to the inspector-general dated July 4, 2020, that the police were systematically creating distractions, rigmaroles and subterfuge that had opened up the case to a miscarriage of justice.
Oruku is a restless but sleepy farming community. Installing Igwe Mbah as the traditional ruler of the new Oruku Autonomous Community was the climax of a series of steps by the state government to pull the people from the brink in order to focus the energies of the various communities on crucial development projects. The prolonged violence in the community also created a quicksand of social instability across every fabric. The years of the brutal violence created its own system of unbridled and egregious greed among the elite.
Individuals who funded the war through procurement of assortment of weapons waited in the wings for a reward by way of having a vast expanse of the community land ceded to them or wanted to be the determining voice(s) in the choice of who became the igwe.
As it turned out, by handing over the five-man Caretaker Committee of the Town Union as well as the igwe stool to individuals who were pushing for peace and rapprochement with Umuode by the state government, a powerful, well connected group in the community felt it had lost every leverage to power and was not ready to let go without a fight. HumAngle’s findings reveal that the Police STS routinely had its hands soiled with its bizarre operations in Oruku.
Officers under detention
HumAngle has confirmed that the seven police officers who travelled out of Abuja to Oruku that fateful Saturday during which the igwe was murdered as well as three Oruku indigenes – Onyema Ede, Emmanuel Nwobodo and Sunday Onunze -, who allegedly led them to the village are being detained at the Force Headquarters in Abuja.
This newspaper was informed by a police source familiar with the case that Insp. Dennis who allegedly pulled the trigger on the igwe had admitted that their mission was funded by Nnamani and that he personally received N80,000 cash for the job.
It was possible that the STS team embarked on the ill-fated journey as one in the series of hatchet jobs for their sponsors who did not want to be forced to surrender the weapons in their possession. In a petition to the inspector- general by the late Igwe Mbah on Oct. 24, 2020, he complained of the refusal of some elements in the community to surrender arms.
The petition was titled, “Refusal to Surrender 18 AK 47 RIfles and two general purpose machine guns to Nigeria Police, Enugu Command by Maj. Raphael Okenwa, Moses Okoh, Moses Nnamani, Okechukwu Adenyi, Anthony Nnamani, Kenneth Ukeh, Kate Okenwa and Ann Okezie Nnamani.” It was jointly signed by Igwe Mbah and Ikenna Martin Nwatu, the current President of the Town Union. The petitioners prayed the inspector-general to intervene and recover the weapons from the individuals in the interest of peace in the community.
Arising from this, the inspector-general in a letter dated Nov. 19, 2020, directed the Commissioner of Police, Enugu State Command, to treat the matter and furnish his office with a report urgently. Unable to generate a signal from Abuja to transfer the new directive to their control, the STS men decided to go after Igwe Mbah and Ani.
Earlier in September 2020, worried by the steady harassment of the igwe by the police, the Elders- in-Council of Oruku petitioned the State Governor, Ugwuanyi, for “urgent intervention in the crises bedeviling the Oruku Community…”
They accused “Moses Nnamani, Raymond Okenwa (the retired Federal Permanent Secretary), Mrs Kate Okenwa, Moses Oko, Okechukwu Adenyi, Maj. Raphael Okenwa and Anthony Nnamani of fomenting trouble, sponsoring violence and escalating insecurity in the community.
The petition specifically mentioned that the alleged gang of the troublemakers was using the police to intimidate and harass the igwe. The elders of the community specifically accused the individuals of refusal to disarm and hand over the stockpile of weapons used in its war with Umuode to the law enforcement agencies as a precursor to de-escalation and deradicalisation of exposed youths in the community.
Following this petition, according to an insider within the Government House in Enugu, the state governor hosted a peace meeting during which all those involved in the crisis were present. They admitted, according to our source in the Government House, that they were in possession of 18 AK47 and pump action rifles. The meeting thereafter directed them to surrender the weapons to the community leadership under Igwe Mbah who would officially hand them over to law enforcement agencies.
Earlier, two AK 47 rifles and 160 rounds of ammunition retrieved from one of the members of the opposing group were surrendered to the Director of the State Security Services, Enugu State Command by the community.
Scene of carnage in Oruku
In the rage of the news of the killing of the monarch, youths in Oruku went on the rampage for days, torching buildings and vehicles. No fewer than 10 houses were reported burnt down and families fled the community, unsure of whose house would be the next to be torched.
The state government has moved both military and police detachments to the community to bring normalcy back. There is uneasy calm. There is palpable anger among those who spoke with HumAngle. Several of the community leaders do not feel impressed by the information that the officers who committed the extrajudicial killing of their monarch are in detention.
“Why should the police be the ones investigating a crime committed by the police?” queried one member of the community Neighborhood Watch. There is almost a feeling of consensus among indigenes of Oruku that the police, particularly those in Abuja, are compromised and cannot deliver justice to the community.
The extrajudicial killing of Igwe Mbah has been particularly traumatic for the community because two weeks to his murder he hosted the people and several monarchs from communities in Nkanu East Local Government Area. According to a member of the family, Igwe Mbah had been married for 10 years to Lolo Chidimma Mbah without a child.
Late last year his wife gave birth to a set of twins. Overjoyed, the igwe threw a lavish party to welcome his babies in his palace. Several people, including traditional chiefs who this newspaper spoke with, highlighted how joyful and sacrificial that the igwe was in the month of December. He was only 39 years old.
Accused persons respond
HumAngle sought the responses of some persons accused in the crisis. Apart from Maj. Okenwa and an Insp. Magnus, others failed to respond to the issues.
Okenwa said he had been disconnected from the community for some time and not aware of any new petition against him.
He said the last time he visited Enugu was two years ago when he was invited by the Nigerian Army to respond to a petition against him by two persons.
He said the army found him innocent of the allegations and asked him to return to his unit.
Okenwa said if it was true that a fresh petition had been filed against him it would be the third time the people would be attempting to tarnish his image.
He said he would take it up with them legally and was sure his accusers would not escape justice.
Moses Nnamani’s numbers did not go through. The first one was not reachable and the second one was picked by somebody who spoke in Hausa and identified himself as Al Amin.
This newspaper reached out to Insp. Magnus of IGP Monitoring team, whom documents showed was involved in the arrest and prosecution of the Mbada murder case. He told our reporter that he knew about Oruku as a community in Enugu state but was not involved in the investigation. Insp. Malik Taiwo, a member of the STS according to records, was also involved in the Mbada murder case. Our reporter’s repeated calls to his phone number did not elicit any response.