Two days ago, a joint sitting of two Senate committees meeting in Awka, the Anambra State capital, heard that ten detainees in police custody may have been killed and dumped into the Ezu River at Amansea. Nigerians were horrified when members of the Amansea community raised alarms after finding numerous corpses floating on the Ezu River on January 19, 2013. So far, there has been no official word on the identity of the corpses.
However, witnesses who appeared before the joint committees suggested that the corpses were likely those of detainees killed by officers of the Nigerian Police which is notorious for extra-judicial executions. The senators were told that the police had denied the families of the ten missing persons access to them from October 22, 2012 till now.
The Senate committee on Police Affairs, led by Igwe Paulinus Nwagu, and the committee on Security and Intelligence, led by Mohammed Magoro, held their public hearing Tuesday at the multipurpose hall in Government House, Awka. Among the witnesses was Uwaneke Udegbunam, a lawyer, who narrated the harrowing account of one Chiekezie Obiofor, his client and relative, from Omor town in Ayamelum local government area. Mr. Udegbunam stated that officers of the Anambra Police Command arrested his client on October 22, 2012. According to him, his client and two other men, PraiseGod Ndumanya and Chinwuba Okoye, were taken into custody at the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) in Awkuzu, Oyi local government area.
The lawyer disclosed that the police in Awkuzu initially denied having Mr Obiofor in their custody, but he was assured by a high-level contact that his client was indeed taken to SARS, Awkuzu. Unable to bail his client, he filed a court case November 12, 2012. In court, the police asserted that his client had died, but failed to release his remains.
The lawyer pleaded with the Senate committee to call for all the files submitted by the police to the Anambra State Ministry of Justice which are labeled “Sudden and Untimely Death” (SUD). The files, he said, would help the committee reach the truth about what happened in Amansea and about a culture of extra-judicial killings in Anambra State. Mr. Udegbunam said he stumbled on a case where a dead person supposedly deposited his own body in the morgue, stating that the receipt for morgue payment was issued in the deceased’s name. The lawyer implored the senators to order the police to release the body of his client to assure the man’s family that he was not among those thrown into the Ezu River.
Also testifying before the panel, an official of the Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) insisted that nine of their members were arrested on November 9, 2012 and had not been allowed access to their families or MASSOB officials.
Uche Madu, MASSOB’s director of information, asserted that they had received information that the police killed their members and dumped them in the river. He told the committee that MASSOB received reports of the extra-judicial killings one week before the bodies were discovered in the river. He added that the denial by the Anambra State Commissioner of Police was untrue.
Asked why it took his organization three weeks to react, Mr. Madu said that they decided to conduct a thorough investigation first, adding that “as long as the bodies are still kept in the morgue, we can still go and identify them.”
Senator Nwagu ruled that MASSOB’s testimony should be documented and asked the movement’s officials to further testify before the Senate committee in Abuja along with the relatives of the deceased.
Testifying earlier, the Anambra State Police Commissioner, the state Commissioner for Health, and the transition chairman for Awka North local government area denied ordering the burial of the floating corpses. The police commissioner, Mr. Nasarawa, told the committee that, after his officers’ arrival at the scene, Governor Peter Obi had directed him to bury the bodies. However, he testified that he told the governor that it was not the duty of the police to bury corpses. The governor then called on the chairman caretaker committee of Awka North local government, who reportedly said it was not the responsibility of her council. The police commissioner then said Mr. Obi ordered both the police and the Awka North council to see that the bodies were buried.
The police commissioner’s testimony at the public hearing sharply contrasted with his earlier claim at the bridge that members of the local community in Amansea had buried the corpses without the knowledge of the police.
When asked at the bridge by Senator Nwagu if blood stains were found on top of the bridge, Mr. Nasarawa simply said, “We have not found any.” His claim surprised reporters who had reported the presence of blood stains when the story broke.
The Enugu State Police Commissioner, Musa Daura, answered in the negative when asked if other communities along the course of Ezu River had been questioned about the corpses.
Horrified members of the Amansea community discovered close to 50 bodies on January 19, 2012. The raised an alarm which prompted the visit of the Anambra State Police Commissioner and, later, the state Commissioner for Local Governments who told the media that Governor Obi was abroad but had been briefed about the dreadful discoveries.
Mr. Obi later visited the scene on January 21 and offered N5 million for anyone with useful information to solve the mystery of the dead bodies. The police confirmed recovery of 18 bodies, out of which three were reportedly taken for autopsy while 15 were said to be buried at the bank of the river, without identification.
However, when Senator Chris Ngige visited the scene on January 24, reporters spotted two bodies and blood stains were seen on the bridge. Residents of Amansea also reported that two other bodies were discovered two days earlier, on January 22.
On January 28, 2012, pathologists from the Nigeria Police and the Anambra State Government visited the bank of Ezu River in response to public outcry and to media reports about “shocking discoveries” on the three bodies earlier subjected to autopsy. The police and state officials promised to exhume the buried bodies for autopsies as well. In addition, they took away new bodies from the site to an unknown destination.
Many observers were taken aback when the police claimed on Monday that the total number of bodies was 19. That claim was echoed by the Secretary to the state government, Oseloka Obaze, during the Senate’s fact-finding mission on Tuesday.
The Senate hearing has moved to Enugu.