Loading...

Remembering the men,
women,and children killed
by SARS over the years.

Shattered Dreams

Emmanuel Egbo’s 13-year-old life was snuffed out 13 years ago by a law enforcement officer without reason or remorse.

 

Emmanuel Egbo was thirteen years old when a police officer killed him.

Think about the thirteen-year-olds in your life. They laugh a lot. Play a lot. Emmanuel was just like that. He loved to play football. Whenever he returned from school, he would finish his homework – if there was any – run errands like fetching firewood and planting cassava for his mother, then run to the field to play football.

On the evening of May 26, 2008, in Attakwu, a town in Enugu State, Emmanuel was in front of his uncle’s house playing ball one evening when trouble came. What was the trouble? Nigerian police. The police officers walked up to Emmanuel and asked him what he was doing. He stated the obvious: He was playing football.

One of the police officers, out of nowhere, aimed his gun at Emmanuel and fired.

Emmanuel died on the spot. His ball was still rolling when his lifeless body hit the floor. He was 13 years old.

The police officers put Emmanuel’s corpse in their pickup van and drove to their station, the Divisional Police Station in Agbani.

His mother, Grace, had six children – two boys and four girls. His father, Joseph, was a railway worker who died in 1997. Emmanuel’s elder brother, Peter, died in 1998.

Emmanuel’s cousin, Gabriel Ugwu, describes him as an intelligent boy who always topped his class. His family had hoped that when he grew up he would become a star and transform their lives.

Gabriel was one of the family members who rushed to the police station on hearing about his death. Gabriel says Mr. Hussein, the Divisional Police Officer (DPO), confirmed that police officers had brought the corpse of a boy to the station and that one of the police officers had confessed to killing the boy because he was an armed robber.

How is a 13 year old boy playing ball outside of his uncle’s house a thief? Were any weapons found on him? Had he been seen robbing anybody? These were the questions Emmanulel’s family asked DPO Hussein. The DPO defended himself by saying he had merely believed the story he was told.

Later, the police officer who shot and killed Emmanuel was identified as Corporal Habila. According to the lawyer handling the case, Corporal Habila has since run away.

The police dropped Emmanuel’s body at the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital (UNTH), Ituku Ozalla. The hospital did not allow his family to see his corpse because the police had told the hospital that Emmanuel was an armed robber.

Grace says her son was a devout Catholic and an altar boy. And that he was helpful and strong for someone his age and size. Emmanuel always assisted on the farm. He went to the farm every Saturday to get firewood for her. He also dug a well in the family compound.

Emmanuel’s family wrote to Mohamed Zarewa, the Enugu State Commissioner of Police (CP), but there was no meaningful feedback. They got in touch with a lawyer, Olu Omotayo of Civil Rights Realization and Accountability Network (CRRAN), who took up the case and began writing petitions against the extrajudicial killing of Emmanuel. Mr. Omotayo wrote to Ogbonna Okechukwu Onovo, the Inspector General of Police (IGP), Amnesty International, the Police Service Commission (PSC) and even the presidency.

 

Mr. Omotayo eventually got the IGP’s attention, who ordered the Assistant Inspector General of Police (AIG) of Zone 9 in Abia State to find Corporal Habila. Corporal Habila was found in Kafanchan, Kaduna State, and brought back to Enugu. He was charged with murder at the Enugu High Court.

Gabriel Ugwu says the case soon became warped in corruption, as the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP), whose name Mr. Ugwu cannot remember, chose not to bring forth eyewitnesses from the side of the police to testify before the court. The DPP insisted that there was no need for eyewitnesses since Corporal Habila had admitted in his statement that he was guilty. The case kept on getting adjourned.

Soon, Gabriel Ugwu lost interest. Sometime in 2019, a number he did not know called him. He picked the call and, on the other end of the line, was Corporal Habila.

Corporal Habila, while laughing, told him that he was in Lagos as a free man. Gabriel Ugwu says he wept.

Thirteen years after, Emmanuel’s corpse is yet to be released to his family.  His mother says she prays every day that her son’s remains are released so she can give him a befitting burial.

“If they [the police] had given me his corpse, I would have forgotten about it [Emmanuel’s death],” Grace says. “But since they have not given it to me, I remember him all the time.”

______

This story is part of a multimedia project by Tiger Eye Foundation and media partners across Nigeria, documenting police brutality in Nigeria, and advocating for police reform.

 

Read More

A Man of the People

When a beloved bus driver refused to surrender his car keys to a security man, he was shot in his ear and his spinal cord, sparking a four-day battle for his life which he eventually lost.

 

Daniel Ikechukwu Ugwu, who died in January 2020 at the age of 32, was a native of Imilike Ani, a town in Udenu Local Government Area of Enugu State.

A faithful family man, Mr Ugwu was a loving husband to 27-year-old Onyinyechi Ugwu and a caring father to their six children.

On Children’s Day, he would take his wife and children to Okpara Square, an open space for celebration in the state’s capital Enugu, to have fun. The family would visit popular supermarkets—Shoprite and Spar—and buy goodies, all while laughing and holding hands.

______

At about 5 p.m. on January 6, 2020, Mr Ugwu, a driver for the transport company Peace Mass Transit (PMT), arrived at the company’s bus terminal in Yenagoa, the capital of Bayelsa State, having travelled from Onitsha in Anambra State.

While the passengers were alighting from the vehicle and their luggage was being brought out, a policeman attached to Fidelity Bank, Okutukutu in Yenagoa, approached Daniel.

The policeman asked Daniel to hand over his car keys. When he refused to comply, the policeman cocked his gun and shot Daniel, also injuring a passenger in the process.

The policeman tried to run away but was caught by witnesses and beaten up. The police arrived later and rescued their trigger-happy colleague from the mob. They also took Daniel and the injured passenger to the hospital.

Onyinyechi Ugwu, who was seven months pregnant at the time, said she and her husband had spoken in the early hours of that day. She was in her village at Ezza, in Ebonyi State. She had been preparing to return the next day, to Enugu, where the family lived. She says when her husband called that morning, he had asked about the children and told her he was about to begin his journey from Onitsha to Yenagoa. This was one of the things she loved about him, she says; he told her everything he planned to do, never kept her in the dark.

Mrs Ugwu was distraught when news of her husband’s shooting reached her. The man who called to give her the news also told her that her husband, who had regained consciousness despite getting hit in his left ear and spinal cord, wanted to speak with her. Daniel asked her to come to Yenagoa. He told her he was dying.

Throughout the night, Mrs Ugwu cried while her mother and family members tried to console her.

On January 10, 2020, four days after he was shot, Mr Ugwu died at the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital (UNTH).

It is now 2021, more than a year after Daniel’s death.

His wife is yet to receive the compensation—2.5 million naira—that Fidelity Bank’s representative promised to pay for the upkeep of her children. When she requested to know the reason for the delay, the representative told her the bank headquarters was yet to approve for the money to be released. Mrs Ugwu also says the police in Yenagoa have done nothing to assist her.

Mrs Ugwu remembers her husband as a “loving, caring, generous and playful man” who never let his wife and children lack anything.

Daniel, his wife says, extended his kind and caring nature to many others; his mother, siblings, co-workers, friends.

She now sells food to take care of her children, but this does not bring in nearly enough. They owe several months of rent and may soon be thrown out. The children no longer go to school. She just cannot afford it.

Mrs Ugwu, meanwhile, now has problems with her eyes. Her mental health has deteriorated too. She is barely able to pay attention during conversations, always finding herself absent-minded, worrying.

“My heart is bleeding, seriously,” she says. “It is a lifetime’s worth of pain.”

____

This story is part of a multimedia project by Tiger Eye Foundation and media partners across Nigeria, documenting police brutality in Nigeria, and advocating for police reform.

 

Read More

Catholic to Criminal

On the brink of his final secondary school exams, devout Catholic, Christopher Omeje had just closed from rosary prayers when he was gunned down by SARS officers, who mistook him for a criminal.

 

Christopher Chukwuebuka Omeje died on June 30, 2009. He was 19 years old.

Cause of death? SARS.

Christopher lived in Ovoko, a town in Igbo Eze South Local Government of Enugu State, where he attended the Boys Secondary School.

He loved to read and excelled academically. He read anything, at any time. Labels, books, receipts, anything.

When the time for his Senior Secondary School Examination (SSCE) drew near, Christopher begged his father, Dominic Omeje, to get him a room in a house close to his school to enable him to study for his exams without distraction. His father obliged and found for him a house, paying the rent for a year.

The only thing Christopher loved more than reading, was attending Block Rosary gatherings,  where fellow Catholics had prayer and fellowship sessions in front of a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Christopher never missed these.

One evening, after a Block Rosary gathering, Christopher stood at a bus stop waiting for the bus home. While he waited, officers of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), who were dressed in mufti, drove past him.

The officers stopped their car and reversed, screeching to a halt where Christopher was standing.

Then, one of the officers, later identified as Inspector Victor Ugwu, shot Christopher.

Just like that.

The officers put him in their car and drove off. Unfortunately, before they got to Iheaka, a nearby community, Christopher had bled to death.

The officers drove to Urban Police Station, in Nsukka, where they reported that they had shot him because they suspected he was a “criminal.”

They took the corpse to the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital (UNTH) in Ituku Ozalla, Enugu.

When news of Christopher’s death reached his family, they could not believe it.

“We didn’t know what to do at first,” Christopher’s 27-year-old sister, Onyinyechi Omeje, says. “We didn’t believe the story.”

His father, Dominic, who was not in town when his son was shot dead, asked his brother Alphonsus Omeje to go to UNTH and confirm the news by identifying Christopher’s corpse. Alphonsus returned from UNTH with sad news.

Christopher’s corpse was in the mortuary for three months before the police released it to his family for burial. The police told the family that what had happened to their 19-year-old was a “mistake”.

During his burial, Christopher’s fellow Block Rosary members wept and walked the streets of Nsukka, chanting his name and demanding justice.

After the burial, Christopher’s family employed the services of a lawyer, Ike Obeta, and sued Inspector Victor Ugwu at the Enugu Ezike High Court. During one of the court sessions, Dominic asked Inspector Victor Ugwu if his son had done anything to him to warrant killing him. The latter said it was a mistake, that he did not even know Christopher.

Four years on, the case has amounted to nothing. “It appeared that the police didn’t want the killer to face justice,” Dominic says. “We kept on going and seeking justice for 4 years, yet nothing happened. At a point, I became tired. They were asking us to come today, come tomorrow.”

Inspector Victor Ugwu is still a free man.

“I have stopped thinking about it to avoid high blood pressure. Now, my son’s killer is free. We still see and greet. But each time I see him, I get angry because he reminds me of my late son.”

 

Dominic Omeje says he had to relocate his family to Nsukka because, at Ovoko, whenever his wife saw Christopher’s grave in front of their compound, she broke down in tears.

Apart from his own struggles with high blood pressure, Dominic says he fights the urge to cry anytime he hears the name of his late son or sees any of his former classmates. He recalls with difficulty how his son only stayed 15 days in the house he had rented.

Thaddeus Omeje, 21, one of Christopher’s brothers, says his late brother taught him how to play the drums, and was strict but gentle.

“He always encouraged us to be serious in whatever we were doing, especially with our education,” Thaddeus says. “He was a perfect example because he was always serious.

“Anytime we had assignments in Maths, we were never worried because he was always going to help us with them,”

 

On June 30th of every year, Christopher’s family—father, mother, three brothers and three sisters—say a prayer for him. They also have a celebration of Mass dedicated to him, to remember and celebrate memories of him.

Christopher would have been 31 years today. His killer, Victor Ugwu, has never been arrested.

Until justice is served and Victor Ugwu is imprisoned, all the family has to keep itself sane is the hope that their beloved son and brother is resting in God’s bosom.

_____

This story is part of a multimedia project by Tiger Eye Foundation and media partners across Nigeria, documenting police brutality in Nigeria, and advocating for police reform.

Read More

Murder by Torture

Twelve years ago, a land tussle sent Chijioke Ugwu into the notorious hands of SARS officials, who tortured him to death.

Chijioke Ugwu, who died aged 62 in July 2009, was an astute businessman who started with a pickup truck. He used the truck to supply wood to construction sites in the southeastern Nigerian city of Enugu. With the money he made from that business, he bought another truck, which he gave out on hire purchase. A native of Akegbe-Ugwu in the Nkanu-West Local Government Area of Enugu State, Mr Ugwu also owned a garri-processing plant that produced at least thirty bags daily.

A family man, he had two wives and a full house. The first wife bore five children, while the second wife produced three. Every Christmas Eve, Mr Ugwu would drive his first wife—Obiageli Ugwu—and their five children to the market to shop for clothes, foodstuff, shoes and any other thing they needed for the Yuletide.  He also made sure that Obiageli’s drinks-and-beverages provision store was always filled with goods, and had begun plans to buy her a car.

Mr Ugwu was popular in his community and loved the tradition of his people. He participated in masquerade festivals and gave money to the masquerades. The Igwe of the community always listened to him because of his reputation as an honest man. Mr Ugwu joined the community’s security team and in his time, incidents of robbery in Akegbe-Ugwu reduced.

On July 17, 2009, Mr Ugwu drove to a friend’s mechanic shop at Gariki in Enugu to repair his truck. There, a friend, Paul Mba, called and asked for his location.

Mr Ugwu disclosed his whereabouts to Mr Mba, and after a few minutes, police officers stormed the place and arrested him. Before then, the police had arrested two other men who Mr Ugwu knew. The men, like Mr Ugwu, were part of the security team of Akegbe-Ugwu. The police officers took Mr Ugwu and the two men to Gariki Police Station.

At the station, Mr Ugwu called his first wife, Mrs Ugwu, and told her what had happened to him. The next day, July 18, Obiageli went to the station but did not see her husband. A police officer told her Mr Ugwu had been transferred to the office of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) located at Enugu-Onitsha road, New Market.

At the SARS office, the officers insisted that Mrs Ugwu must pay 1,000 naira before she would be allowed to see her husband. Upon payment, her husband’s cell was unlocked.

Mrs Ugwu recalls how traumatizing the sight of her husband was upon his release: as a result of the beatings he had endured in custody, Mr Ugwu’s body was full of wounds, his legs were broken, and his jeans soaked with blood.

On July 20, Mr Ugwu was taken to an Enugu Magistrates’ court, alongside the two men arrested with him. The court, unfortunately, could not sit because the injuries the men had sustained in custody had left them weak. The judge instructed them to get treatment before appearing in court again.

Later, Mr Ugwu informed his wife that the SARS officers had planned to take him back to the cell, where they were sure to continue torturing him. Fearing the worst, Mrs Ugwu begged the magistrate to send her husband to prison instead of the cell. The magistrate, much to the annoyance of the SARS officers, agreed. Mr Ugwu was taken to an Enugu prison.

The people of Akegbe-Ugwu at that time had a land tussle with Akwuke, a neighbouring community. Mr Ugwu and the two other arrested men were at the forefront of this struggle. Mrs Ugwu believes her husband and the men were targeted arrests. Her first daughter, 25-year-old Nnenna, supports her argument. Nnenna recalls that her father told her that one of the SARS officers had told him to pay five million naira to regain his freedom, as some members of the Akwuke community had ordered his death by paying 500,000 naira to the SARS officers. Nnenna says her father rejected the offer.

On July 21, Mr Ugwu died in the clinic of the Enugu prison. His remains were taken to the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital (UNTH), Ituku Ozalla, where an autopsy was conducted and a verdict reached: He had died from a lethal injection administered to him in SARS custody.

Mr Ugwu’s family filed a petition against the SARS officers and went to court in March of 2010. In 2011, the court ruled in their favour and demanded that they be compensated with the sum of five million naira. Instead, the family received 1,090,000 naira, which Mrs. Obiageli Ugwu shared with her husband’s second wife in the presence of their lawyer. The family is yet to receive the rest of the compensation.

After Mr. Ugwu was buried in June 2012, the family returned to court twice, demanding the remainder of the money. But they kept getting tossed to and fro, and have grown tired of following up.

Mr Ugwu’s family have struggled financially since his death. His pickup trucks were sold to pay bills. His workers at the garri-processing plant embezzled money and sold some of the machines. His wife’s business collapsed.

His daughter, Nnenna, could no longer pursue her dream of becoming a medical doctor and had to get married in 2017 at the age of 22. Nnenna’s other siblings have dropped out of school, too, and taken up different small-scale businesses.

Nnenna says, “I love and miss my father. Most times, I feel like he is still here.”

_______

This story is part of a multimedia project by Tiger Eye Foundation and media partners across Nigeria, documenting police brutality in Nigeria, and advocating for police reform.

 

 

Read More