Awka — To the people of Amansea in Awka North local government area and their neighbouring communities of Ebenebe, Ugbenu, Ugbene and Oba-Ofemili, the gory sight on their Ezu River on Saturday last week remains a nightmare only akin to what they experienced in the Nigeria's civil war when people could wake up early in the morning only to find large number of dead bodies after an encounter between the Nigerian and Biafran soldiers.
On that ill-fated Saturday, some women and their children had gone to fetch water from the river as early as 5.30 am only to discover to their amazement, some dead human bodies on the spot where one of them had tried to collect water from. She ran out from the river bank to inform her colleagues on her discovery, who out of curiosity, dashed to the scene but were greeted with human bodies at different points. Their next move was predicted as they all ran home with their empty cans, panting.
Mrs. Ogochukwu Odika, one of the eye witnesses said as soon as they got home and informed their husbands and parents of their discovery, there was confusion in the community. The first move the men made was to contact the traditional ruler, Igwe Kenneth Okonkwo of Amansea, who dispatched some people to the river.
Upon their return, they briefed the monarch that dozens of decomposing bodies were indeed floating on the long stretch of the river which flows from the Ugwuoba end of Oji River local government area of Enugu State to Anambra State. While some of the men said they walked through the dirty banks of the river and counted up to 50 bodies at various points, others said they counted 40 or less.
The dead bodies were either half dressed or wore only pants. More worrisome was that there were no signs of scuffle anywhere along the banks of the river in all among communities using the river. Every community in the area has a name for its river from where they collect water for their domestic use and the sudden pollution of the river with dead bodies was therefore a source of concern to them.
Igwe Okonkwo later held an emergency meeting with his cabinet at the end, the state government and the state police command were contacted. He also contacted their Enugu State neighbours on the development. The monarch said apart from the mystery posed by the floating bodies, the worry of his people was that their main source of water supply had been polluted. In fact, from the moment the discovery was made, nobody went to the river to collect water and this caused a lot of discomfort to the people.
Mr. Modilim Nwadikwa, 65, said the discovery remained a mystery to his people. He said: "We have contacted our neighbours and they said there was no communal clash anywhere and that nobody was missing in their areas. We have also enquired from Ugwuoba in Enugu State and they told us the same thing. Perhaps, the victims were killed in a place very far from here and dumped into the river.
Following the insistence by the border communities that nobody was missing from their areas, many people began to insinuate that the bodies were either dumped by security operatives or local vigilante groups after mass execution.
Governor Peter Obi, who was away from the state on official assignment at the time of the incident, was immediately contacted. He directed members of the state executive council to move to the spot with a view to finding out the true situation of things. He suspended the visit and returned to the state the following day and moved straight to the scene.
The state government swung into action by supplying the affected communities with water and directed the ministry of public utilities to sink boreholes in the areas as a matter of urgency. Other notable people in the state, including Senator Andy Uba had supplied large quantities of sachet water to the various homes as an interim measure to assist the people. Also, the senator representing Anambra Central, Dr. Chris Ngige was in the area on Thursday with environmental experts to find out how to assist the communities.
Already, the Anambra and Enugu States police commands have said they would carry out a thorough investigation into the matter with a view to unraveling the mystery behind the floating dead bodies.
Shortly after the discovery was made, the Enugu State Police Commissioner, Mr. Musa Daura arrived the scene with some senior officers. He later met his Anambra State counterpart, Mr. Bala Nasarawa and Governor Peter Obi to decide how to handle the matter. According to Daura, the avalanche of dead bodies remained a mystery to him because he had not heard of any communal clash whether in Enugu or Anambra where many people were killed.
However, the Anambra State branch of the Civil Liberties Organization, CLO, and the International Society for Civil Liberties and the Rule of Law, INTERSOCIETY, fingered security operatives and insisted that the State Anti Robbery Squad, SARS, in particular should tell Nigerians if the sqad had anything to do with the bodies floating on the Ezu River.
CLO chairman, Comrade Aloysius Attah and secretary, Comrade Justus Ijeoma, as well as the chairman of the board of trustees of INTERSOCIETY, Mr. Emeka Umeagbalasi said they were tempted to blame SARS on the bizarre incident going by its penchant for extra judicial killings.
Making references to the wanton killing of detainees allegedly executed by the SARS operatives since 2004, CLO alleged that the anti robbery group may have resorted to kill and dump their victims in the river because the former place where they bury their victims in shallow graves within Agu Awka has been developed for residential houses.
The group, while commending the prompt response of the state governor, Mr. Peter Obi on the matter, also condemned the hasty burial of some of the recovered bodies. The organization also called for of the comprehensive list of arrested and detained citizens in Awkuzu SARS in the last one year to determine the number of those released on bail, charged to court and those wasted.
"The reason we are worried is not far fetched. Awkuzu SARS has acquired notoriety as the worst detention center by the police in Anambra where human bazaar goes on unabated."
On his part, Umeagbalasi called on the Inspector General of Police, IGP, Mr. Mohammed Abubakar to investigate thoroughly and conclusively the shocking discovery on Ezu River , arguing that since there was no known intra and inter communal conflict in the area, it was most likely that the corpse were victims of extra-judicial killings.
According to him, usually after arrest of some suspects, little or nothing was heard of their prosecution, conviction or acquittal of those arrested for their involvement in violent crimes such as armed robbery, kidnapping and culpable murder, particularly after they have been paraded, adding that such suspects were rarely arraigned and prosecuted in courts.
He said: "The IGP should order that the corpses be pathologically investigated to determine their style of killing and circumstances under which they were killed."
Relations of detainees besieged police stations
Shortly after the discovery of the mystery dead bodies in Ezu River, relations of detained suspects stormed most of the police stations in Anambra State to ascertain the fate of their relations. Looking desperate and worried, some of the relations said they had sleepless nights after seeing the gory pictures and the number of dead bodies on the television and therefore decided to enquire from the police if anything had happened to their loved ones.
A middle aged woman, who simply gave her name as Ngozi, said her husband of 10 years was accused by his distant relation of being a kidnapper, adding that he had been in police detention for over two weeks. She said, she had been visiting him since he was in police custody. She, however, became worried when some people started insinuating that the dead bodies might be suspected kidnappers in detention in Anambra State.
Some of the anxious relations also made inquiries at the State Anti Robbery Squad, SARS offices at Awkuzu and Nnewi, as well as the Central Police State, CPS, in Awka. While dismissing insinuations that security operatives might have dumped the bodies, the Anambra State police command said it had commenced a thorough investigation into the mystery bodies.
Police commissioner, Mr. Bala Nasarawa said 18 decomposing bodies had been evacuated from the scene, adding that pathologists from Enugu and Anambra states would be involved in carrying out autopsy on the bodies to determine the cause of the deaths. Already, the autopsy had been done on three bodies and the results were still being awaited. The scene has also been attracting a lot of visitors who were busy pointing at objects suspected to be human bodies on the river.
Obi offers N5m for clue
Governor Obi, has offered N5 million to anybody who might provide useful information on the matter. The governor said: "The fact that River Ezu flows into Anambra State from another state, shows that these corpses obviously floated from elsewhere into our state. As you can see, the bodies are already decomposing and this shows that this incident happened some time ago.
"But I do not care where the corpses floated from; I am worried that this type of scenario could be witnessed in our country in this age and time. This is a most barbaric and unacceptable development. It cannot happen in any decent society."
He urged Nigerians to respect the sanctity of human life like other civilized people in the world who believe that life is sacred. He disclosed that he had contacted the Acting Governor of Enugu State, Mr. Sunday Onyebuchi had been contacted, urging him to embark on a thorough investigation into the strange occurrence. Governor Obi, however, disclosed that his state had already begun a painstaking probe into the matter.