On the 19th of January 2013, the people of Amansea community in Awka North local government area of Anambra State woke up to an inexplicably horrendous tragedy. Some villagers had gone to fetch water early that faithful morning when they were greeted by the gory sights of bloated bodies floating within the large bowel of Ezu River. Their ancestral land had been invaded and desecrated by unknown persons and the only source of water serving this community and most of the neighboring communities that make up the Awka North local council area was poisoned. Some group counted 35 dead bodies. Another said it was no less than 50. A report later released by the International Society for Civil Liberties and the Rule of Law reportedly indicted the SARS unit of the Nigerian Police for the atrocious act.
Nigerians are now familiar with the unsavory details of rogue officers in SARS who murdered innocent citizens with unparalleled savagery. None however, compares to the scale that resulted in mass execution of young men whose bodies were found in Ezu. No matter how hard the spin doctors try to make it all about Officer-in-Charge, James Oshin Nwafor and his dreaded Awkuzu SARS, it is implausible that such a brazen act of barbarism carried on for so long without the tacit support of the powers that be. “I will kill you and nothing will happen”, the officer was quoted to have bragged to many of his hapless victims, countless times.
Peter Obi was the Governor of Anambra State between 14th June 2007 and 17th March 2014, the time within which this cringe-worthy crime took place. And so it’s natural to ask, what did our beloved Okwute know and when did he know it? Most importantly, what did his Excellency do about the horror visited on the subjects he swore to protect?
Recently, Civil Liberties Organisation through her South East Zonal Chairman, Comrade Aloysius Attah, issued a statement absolving the former Governor Obi of blames and grievances surrounding the Ezu River killings. But wait bro, not too fast. I’m not so sure that such a determination could be made of anyone, prior to a thorough and conclusive investigation, let alone the presiding governor at the time. That said, it’s also important to note that few accounts had reported some good effort on the part of the former governor in pushing the case forward. Per the reports however, some of his best efforts were stymied by Abuja since SARS was only answerable to the Inspector-General of Police. That for sure is one of the many travesties of our current administrative arrangement where the governor is the chief security officer of the state, but has to work alongside a police chief whose loyalty is expressed from without.
MASSOB, a group that claimed that nine of her members were part of the bodies discovered also believed the problem was not with Peter Obi. Later on, a panel of inquiry constituted by the Senate Committee on Police Affairs and National Security came out with nothing and has been described as a charade at best. One is curious to know if representatives from the southeast in the National Assembly were part of those committees. If so what did they know and what have they done about the case? If not, why not?
Besides setting up a panel of inquiry which clearly didn’t yield much fruit, was Governor Peter Obi convinced that he did enough? Even with the expected stonewalling of the investigation by the police hierarchy, there is no question that state governors in Nigeria have humongous powers and enormous influence on their own. Or were there concerns about a potential political blow-back for exposing the powerful interests behind this crime syndicate and then the decision to thread slowly? Or maybe Obi truly did his best but just couldn’t get past our notoriously convoluted, cash-and-carry criminal justice system. We have no way of knowing.
And then another question. How did OC Nwafor warm his way into Gov. Willie Obiano’s inner circle to become his Special Assistant in charge of security and stayed on till he was relieved of that position following the EndSARS protest, just few weeks ago? Could it possibly mean that the administration was totally oblivious of the litany of complaints against the officer in question and the huge baggage he carried on as the poster child of the atrocities that Awkuzu SARS had come to represent?
These are serious questions begging for genuine answers. For any individual who was or currently in a position of power or influence in both the past and present administrations in Anambra state, the question is what did you know and what did you do? Try they may but It would be extremely difficult for any of these political actors to walk out of this stench, sparkly white, no matter the effort to clean things up. More than anyone else, methinks it’s in their best interest to resurrect the inquiry and pursue it till justice is served and Alaigbo washed off the stain of this fratricide. Only then can our people proclaim with one voice: OZOEMEZINA.
Sometimes one can’t help but imagine for a moment, what would have been the case if this horrendous crime had played out in Abeokuta, Ogun State instead of Amansea, Anambra State. I imagine there would be a massive protest by the more socially conscious Yorubas. I believe the ubiquitous Lagos press would have descended on the story like a hawk and some journalist would even build a whole career out of it. The case may have garnered enough headline all over the world causing America and Britain to strong-arm the Federal Government of Nigeria into carrying out a thorough investigation. But Amansea is not in the Southwest and my people would have to first calculate the opportunity cost of lost earning before trying to pursue such a case. After all, standing up for social and criminal justice has never been our forte.
The exploits of officer Nwafor in many ways are reminiscent of the ugly days of the late Eddy Nawgu in the late nineties. The self-acclaimed prophet of God was himself a god of sorts and carried on like an outlaw owner of a terror franchise which he unleashed at will on his fellow Anambrarians and beyond. At the peak of his inglorious reign, Eddy was reported to have made even highly placed individuals “disappear”, without a trace, simply for daring to challenge his position. Just like OC Nwafor, he got away with everything and nobody could touch him. He finally met his Waterloo in the hands of the dreaded Bakassi boys but not before his powerful backers in Abuja made the last ditch effort to save him, including an attempt to fly him out to safety with a chopper.
It’s clear to me that all these madmen that often dance naked in the middle of the village square always have some powerful drummers perform for them at some remote locations. The dancer of course takes a cue from the tune minted by these masters. In the case of Awkuzu SARS, the chilly story on the back end was that some of the young victims were murdered so their organs could be harvested and then sold to ritualists. Of course, one has no way to verify such claims but fact remains that all leads need to be pursued and motives considered, to inch a little closer to a hitherto elusive truth.
Today, we are calling on the Anambra State Government under Governor Willie Obiano to set up a new panel of inquiry to take a fresh look into this abominable crime. Such panel need to be as transparent as it gets and possibly should conduct an open hearing so that grieving families will get a chance to hear about the circumstances that led to losing a loved one. The panel needs to be peopled by the clergy and other men and women with impeccable character instead of politicians with vested interests. To accord the seriousness it deserves, it should be an independent investigation and not comingled with the rest of the very many other criminal acts that have now come to light. Other stakeholders such as Ohaneze Ndigbo, the South East caucus in the National Assembly, Anambra thought leaders and Igbo intellectuals should all lend their full weight in support of this effort for a thorough investigation of this human tragedy.
No matter how we twirl the hula hoops or choose to weave tales around this catastrophe, the stench from the decomposing bodies of the young lives snatched from families that were denied the simple dignity of burying their dead, will never go away. The Ezu River dead bodies will remain a festering sour on the conscience of a people and a referendum on what human life is truly worth to Ndigbo.
•Dr. Agbo, a Public Affairs analyst is the coordinator of African Centre for Transparency and Convener of Save Nigeria Project. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org