Dominic Onyeukwu managed to save his unborn son’s life during a riot. 20 years on, he could not prevent his son from being killed by SARS
When the Kaduna Riot erupted in February 2000, the late Chibuike Ikeagwuchi was still in his mother’s womb. The riot, which led to over 200 deaths and many properties destroyed, later extended to Kano, where Chibuike’s parents lived at the time.
As Chibuike’s mother, Agnes’, due date drew nearer, the riot had intensified. Chibuike’s father, Dominic, decided to prioritize the safety of his wife and family by evacuating them from Kano.
One night in March 2000, Dominic managed to get his plan of escape in motion. But there was a problem. When he and his family arrived at the Sabon Gari Park, the last bus of the F.G. Onyenwe Transport Company to Owerri was almost full, unable to accommodate all six family members.
Dominic decided to put his pregnant wife and four children on the bus so he could stay behind and join them later. He wanted to, as he recalls, “allow my wife and children to arrive home safely without any pressure on the pregnancy.”
His family did arrive safely, and so did he, a month and two weeks later. The family had relocated to their hometown at Oboukwu Obizi in the Ezinihitte local government area of Imo State. There, Chibuike Ikeagwuchi was safely delivered.
“I avoided every trouble. I dogged every bullet,” Dominic remembers. “I did everything I could to make sure that the child was safe and secure.”
But two decades later, Dominic would not be in the position to protect his son, who was murdered in cold blood.
It was the afternoon of September 19, 2020. when an officer named Isaiah Bene, attached to the Nigerian Mobile Police Force (MOPOL) at the Elelenwo area of the Obio/Akpor local government in Port Harcourt, the capital of Rivers State, killed Chibuike, who had turned 20 just months before.
Chibuike and his friend, identified as Reuben, were reportedly walking along the road when they saw operatives of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), a unit of the Nigerian Police Force. Having previously heard and seen atrocities committed by the unit, the two friends started running in fear. The officers chased after them and, when they could not keep up, raised a false alarm with shouts of “thieves! thieves!”
To avoid being killed, Chibuike and Reuben eventually stopped to explain themselves to the SARS officers, who were still running towards them. During their short wait for the SARS officers to catch up to them, the duo was approached by MOPOL officer Bene, who was stationed in Elelewon.
Reuben recalls emptying the bag he was carrying when he heard a gunshot behind him. Chibuike had been shot in the back by Bene and had fallen face down on the ground. The incident was videoed by eyewitnesses and posted on social media.
When the SARS operatives finally arrived at the scene, they handcuffed Reuben. At that time, Chibuike was still breathing, but the SARS operatives refused to take him to the hospital. Rather, they put him on the floor of a tricycle where he breathed his last breath around 3:00 pm.
While Reuben was taken to the police station, Chibuike was taken to the University of Port Harcourt (UPTH) mortuary.
Dominic heard about Chibuike’s shooting from his (Dominic’s) eldest son, Michael. When he heard, he went to the Elelewon police station, where he requested to see his son, but was informed Chibuike was not in their custody.
He then received a phone call from Reuben’s mother, who told him not to leave the police station. When Reuben’s mother arrived at the station, they were allowed to see Reuben, who told them Chibuike had been killed and taken to the mortuary by the SARS operatives. Dominic slumped.
“I did not know when I fell,” he says.
He was shocked but also angry that his son had not only been shot, but taken to the mortuary without his consent. “They allowed my boy to die slowly,” he says.
When Dominic got to the UPTH mortuary that evening, the mortuary attendants did not doubt his claim of being the father of the deceased, because of the striking resemblance.
By the time I saw his body, he was very dark,” Dominic remembers.
The SARS operatives had apparently dumped Chibuike’s corpse and registered him under the name Daniel Anambra, a 30-year-old accident victim.
Dominic took his son’s corpse and travelled to their hometown, where he ensured Chibuike was buried in the family compound on December 21, 2020.
“The boy was a son I did not know I would lose like that,” the 69-year-old Dominic laments. “He was not a cultist – it was proven beyond reasonable doubt. Throughout the time of his death till now, I never saw any group come to say he was their member.”
Dominic describes his late son, who was his fifth and last child, as a potential music superstar who went by the stage name Sleek. Chibuike, Dominic reveals, was in a group that already had an album to their credit.
In 2020, Chibuike was admitted to study civil engineering at the Federal University of Owerri (FUTO), but could not attend because of complications caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
In addition to being an artist, he also installed aluminium windows and roofs.
On October 27, 2020, Dominic instituted two separate cases – criminal and human rights – against the Rivers State Command of the Nigerian Police Force in the Rivers State High Court. The human rights case was speedily carried out and on November 27, 2020, Dominic was awarded the sum of 50 million naira for damages. The criminal case was adjourned to April 14, 2021, while officer Bene was remanded in prison.
Chibuike’s mother, Agnes, cries as she reflects on her son’s life. “Life has never been the same,” she says, sobbing. “I keep calling his number. I was there when they were burying him but I still call his number [to see] whether he would answer me.”
“Though I have other children, the departure of that boy seems as if 20 people left my house,” she adds.
Dominic, meanwhile, says the loss of his son has shattered him, almost driving him to insanity. “His loss disorganized me,” he explains. “Since his loss, I’ve become disoriented.”
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.