Wrongly targeted by police officers, Samuel Chukwu’s house was burnt to the ground, provoking pain that not only killed him but his wife too.
Samuel Chukwu, 66, was on his bed in his town at Omunchala Omademe in the Ikwerre local government area of Rivers State. It was the morning of September 24, 2016. Suddenly, he was woken up by what sounded like sirens. He would later find out that the sirens were from vehicles belonging to different units of the Nigerian Police Force.
The vehicles had stopped and parked in front of Samuel’s compound. Soon, the men inside the vehicles started shooting sporadically into the air. This startled Samuel, who came out and started to ask why they were shooting. The policemen claimed they had come to the compound of Barnabas Chukwu, Samuel’s cousin, because Barnabas’ son, Nyeche Chukwu, had kidnapped a corps member serving in the rural community.
Samuel told them that he was neither Barnabas nor was his house Barnabas’ house. Chibuike Chukwu, Samuel’s 37-year-old son, confronted the officers, reiterating his father’s stance of not being Barnabas, but the policemen threatened to shoot him. Chibuike was forced to lie on the floor.
Shortly afterwards, the policemen brought out a keg of petrol and poured it all over Samuel’s bungalow. They started a fire that consumed all the property in sight.
The policemen later realized they had come to the wrong house. But it was too late – the damage had been already done, and it was devastating. It had been a costly case of mistaken identity, but the policemen did not show any remorse. They just got back in their vehicles and sped off from the scene of their crime.
The officers had not done their homework. They did not ask questions to verify their suspect’s location when they had arrived at Samuel’s compound, which consisted of several buildings, one of which – just adjacent to Samuel’s – was Barnabas Chukwu’s house.
Samuel, a father of six, was a popular public servant in his community. He collected and saved money for hundreds of farmers in the community. He saved the money and shared it with the contributors when they needed it. He was said to be keeping an unspecified amount of such savings in his house, which was burnt to ashes by the officers.
The sight of his house burning to the ground, destroying all of his property acquired through sweat and blood, alongside other people’s money, was too much for Samuel. He immediately had a stroke and never recovered. He died three years later on October 27, 2019. His wife, Florence Chukwu, who also experienced the terrible scene of their house in flames, developed an unknown illness shortly afterwards and died on April 25, 2018.
After the incident, Chamberlain Emonu, Samuel’s cousin, reported the matter to the Nigerian Police Force Headquarters in Port Harcourt. The Rivers State Criminal Investigation Department (CID) was then assigned to investigate the matter. The CID later refused to release the report of the investigation to Samuel’s family.
Chamberlain then wrote to the National Human Rights Commission in Port Harcourt, who also investigated the incident. The Commission visited the scene and took pictures. Due to financial constraints, they say, Samuel’s family could not follow up with the case until they had the opportunity to petition the #EndSARS Judicial Panel of Inquiry.
The Panel was established on October 22, 2020, by Rivers State Governor Nyesom Wike in response to the nationwide #EndSARS protests to look into cases of police brutality and extrajudicial killings. Chibuike submitted a petition through his lawyer, Promise Amadi-Wordu, and is now waiting for the panel’s recommendation.
Chibuike describes his father as a “good man who loved justice and helped people when they were in need.”
“My father was not a thief and a kidnapper,” Chibuike says. “He did not do anything wrong in this community. We are a Christian family. We are not a criminal family. We do genuine things and we worship God.”
A peasant farmer with five children, Chibuike says life without Samuel, the patriarch and provider of the Chukwu family, has been difficult. He adds that it has been a challenge feeding his five siblings who look up to him as the eldest child, not to talk of his own five children.
“The community has been supporting the family to feed,” he says. “The chiefs in the community provide financial help to me and my family.”
Chibuike wants justice for his father’s death, as well as for the cruel destruction of his property. At the panel, the family is seeking compensation of N100 million.