Chukwuma Ihezie tried to help a client solve an issue, a move that marked the beginning of the end of his life.
Chukwuma Ihezie, was killed by SARS officers on January 18, 2014. He graduated from the Institute of Management Technology (IMT) Enugu where he studied mechanical engineering.
While he waited for his call-up letter from the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) so he could embark on the mandatory one-year national service, he worked as a taxi driver to make ends meet.
Unfortunately, he ran into some police officers who said he was an armed robber, simply because he reported a disagreement between one of his clients and his client’s friends. The officers took him to SARS’ office and that is where his life came to an end.
Chinedu Ihezie, from Isiala Mbano, Imo State, is Chukwuma’s older brother.
According to Chinedu, his brother was killed by Felix Bolu, who was then the second-in-command of SARS in Enugu.
Uche Osondu, a member of a Nollywood film production crew, had hired Chukwuma to take him to the Media Royal Hotel in Enugu, the eponymous capital of Enugu state. Anytime Osondu visited Enugu to film, he always used Chukwuma as his taxi guy.
According to eyewitness accounts, when Osondu and Chukwuma got to the hotel on the day of the incident, January 12, 2014, Osondu went into the hotel to chat with some of his friends, including movie stars, who were in Enugu. Chukwuma waited patiently outside the hotel.
After a while Chukwuma overhead Osondu’s friends calling him (Osundu) an “armed robber” because Osondu had asked them for some money they were owing him.
It resulted in a misunderstanding amidst heated arguments. When Chukwuma overheard them referring to Osondu as an armed robber, he quickly ran to a police checkpoint close to Toscana Hotel and reported what was happening. He met an officer known as Bassey, who was the leader of a group of four policemen on duty that day.
Rather than visit the scene of the heated exchange between Osondu and his friends, Bassey arrested Chukwuma and took him to the Independent Layout police station.
Back at the hotel, Osondu’s friends held him until some officers came. One of the officers, identified as Sergeant Dogo, shot Osondu. They also took him to the Independence Layout Police Station. While they were there, those who had arrested Chukwuma came in with him.
A police officer at the station later told Chukwuma’s brother Chinedu that when the Divisional Police Officer (DPO) Mohammed Zakari Yau came in and asked the police officer why he had shot Osondu, the sergeant knelt down and spoke to the DPO in his language.
After the DPO finished speaking with the sergeant, the DPO said it was an “armed robbery matter” and he would have to refer the case to SARS.
That was how Osondu and Chukwuma were transferred to the SARS unit in New Market, Enugu that night. The DPO drove Chukwuma’s car to the SARS office. When they got there, he handed it over to Felix Bolu, who was the Second-in-command of SARS then. Officer Bolu asked his officers to prepare a statement immediately. Afterwards, he ordered Osondu and Chukwuma to sign the statements. Osondu obliged but Chukwuma refused to sign the statement, insisting that as an educated man, he was able to write his own statement.
Bolu warned Chukwuma that his order wasn’t up for debate. But Chukwuma refused to sign the statement. The police officer who recounted the event to Chinedu said that Bolu brought out his pistol and shot Chukwuma in his legs four times.
Chukwuma was forced to sign the statement, and that statement was given to the Commissioner of Police. When Chinedu got to the station, the CP claimed that his brother was an armed robber and that he had even made a confessional statement. Chinedu said the handwriting was not his brother’s.
Chinedu had started searching for Chukwuma’s whereabouts on January 13, 2014. He arrived at SARS’ office around 7 p.m. and met Cpl. Mike, who took him inside SARS’ premises. The officer opened a book on the counter and confirmed that Chukwuma was in their custody. “I wanted to see Chukwuma but Mike declined and said I could only do so if their commander or Bolu gave me permission,” Chinedu remembers.
“I contacted Bolu on January 15, 2014 while Chukwuma was still alive but on the cusp of death in the SARS office. Bolu asked me to bring money so he could give my brother medical treatment,” Chinedu says. “That day, I gave Bolu 100,000 naira in his office inside SARS’ office, in the presence of one Inspector Edeh. Bolu then advised Edeh to bring a nurse to treat my brother and ordered me to pay the nurse as well. On January 16, 2014, I met the nurse, Maria Obasi, in the office of Inspector Edeh. She billed me 40,000 naira and I paid her.”.
The nurse promised to treat Chukwuma at the SARS office. Chinedu spoke with her for a day. Subsequently, she stopped picking his phone calls.
When Chukwuma was alive at SARS, they took him to his residence at railway quarters in GRA, Enugu. The officers searched his house, but nothing incriminating was found. His brother Chinedu drove there to witness the search as soon as he got the hint. “They pointed their gun at me and said that if I ever moved an inch from where I was standing, they would shoot me to death and nothing would happen,” Chinedu remembers. “Out of fear, I did not go close. The landlord of the house, his children and I watched as they turned the house upside down, yet nothing was found. They drove back to SARS, carrying Chukwuma, who was in handcuffs, in the boot of the vehicle,” Chinedu adds.
On January 20, 2014, Chinedu went to the SARS office alongside family lawyer Barrister Jerry Eneh, and found out that Chukwuma had died on January 18, 2014.
His corpse was dumped in the mortuary at the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital on the outskirts of the city. The mortuary attendants said Chukwuma’s corpse was brought alongside another dead body on January 18, 2014 by one Cpl. Abugu Jonathan. It was written there in the mortuary record. Chinedu and his family tried everything to retrieve Chukwuma’s corpse for burial, all to no avail. This lasted for three years.
Chinedu reached out to the Civil Liberty Organization (CLO) which helped him write a petition on January 29, 2014 to the Commissioner of Police in Enugu, Ministry of Justice, National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Amnesty International, Sahara Reporters, among others.
Based on the petition, the Commissioner of Police, Enugu Police Command, Mohammed Adamu Abubakar, invited the family for an interview on February 13, 2014. Those present in the interview were Chinedu, his uncle Phillip Uchegbu, Ben Motuanya, a human rights activist, Felix Bolu, Mohammed Zakari Yau, Abugu Jonathan, and all the DPOs in Enugu and other police officers. The family told the commissioner of police they wanted an autopsy, justice and then the release of Chukwuma’s corpse so they could bury him.
The commissioner then asked one Chief Superintendent of Police (CSP) Iwuanya, Officer in Charge (O.C) of X-squad unit to investigate the matter. Iwuanya later told Chinedu to give him 50,000 naira before he could commence investigation. Chinedu paid him 50,000 naira in the presence of his (Chinedu’s) colleagues Maxwell and Mary, who accompanied him to the office of CSP Iwuanya.
On February 14, 2014, Etah Etah, a police officer of X-squad unit, went to the mortuary, took photos of the corpse and brought back a report to his boss, CSP Iwuanya.
The Commissioner of Police told the family to unofficially retrieve Chukwuma’s corpse and bury him and forget about autopsy and justice. The family refused.
In February 2014, the NHRC began their investigation and discovered that the woman thought to be a nurse who took care of Chukwuma was indeed rather a laboratory technician. They also found out there was no robbery incident in Media Royal Hotel. The “nurse” was later sacked by the Chief Medical Director (CMD) of City Hospital, Enugu where she worked, after the CMD was informed about her role in the case. The staff of that hotel also testified to NHRC that no robbery happened on that day. In the course of their investigation, NHRC wrote to UNTH not to release the corpse to anybody, including the police, until they concluded their investigation.
Chinedu wrote other petitions to the Enugu State Police Command, Ministry Of Justice, Amnesty international, Sahara Reporters, Police Service Commission, President of Federal Republic of Nigeria, President of the Senate, IGP, Attorney General of Nigeria, Secretary to the Government of the Federation, and Department of Public Prosecution amongst others but “nothing came out of it”.
Barrister Sunday Egbo and Barrister Sunday Anyanwu went to Abuja on two different occasions to put more pressure on the police to act. After the lawyers went to the IG in Abuja, the IG ordered the Commissioner of Police in Enugu to release the vehicle of Chukwuma to the family, alongside his property; his laptop and other things. They released everything to the Chinedu, who has them till date. “There is no way you will seize the property of an armed robber and still release the same property to the family of the robber,” Chinedu reasons.
A three-man investigation team (led by one Sergeant Ede and comprising Abugu Jonathan and Cpl. Mike) was sent to Enugu to investigate the matter. That was after the Enugu Police Commissioner refused to carry out any investigation.
The team, whose accommodation was provided by Chinedu, gave Chinedu Chukwuma’s photographs they had taken at the mortuary. They also took written statements from the family and said they would go back and write a report on the matter and leave it to their superiors.
“I paid 450,000 naira to finance the autopsy that was conducted on July 17, 2015,” Chinedu reveals. “A doctor also came from Abuja and worked with the morbid anatomy unit at UNTH. It was the only proof I had on the case because the police were saying that my brother got sick and died. The autopsy result showed that he was shot at close range in front of the leg, on the shin. The bullet entered and came out.”
After the autopsy result had been concluded, the NHRC wrote to UNTH and demanded that the corpse be released for burial. Chukwuma was buried on December 30, 2015. He was given a “befitting” burial in his village in Umuozu Ezumoha in the Isiala Mbano Local Government Area, Imo State. Many people, including NHRC, attended the burial. NHRC addressed the people in the community, clearly informing them that Chukwuma was not an armed robber.
The NHRC wrote to the IG and Enugu state commissioner of police for a coroner inquest to be conducted on the matter. But, according to Chinedu, the police didn’t do that because they knew their officer, Felix Bolu, would be found culpable. “The police continue to shield him from coming to answer for what he did,” Chinedu says.
“There is no man on earth that can stand and say that Chukwuma was an armed robber,” Chinedu adds, “except the police who did not know him and do not even know where he was born, how he grew up and the kind of friends he kept around him. He was killed with impunity.”
Chinedu claims Officer Bolu once told him that if he liked, he could go to heaven or hell and nothing would happen, as Chukwuma is not bigger than the many men they have killed. “They told me that they had wasted many and nothing happened,” Chinedu says.“They said I was lucky that they didn’t kill me.”
Within that period, Chinedu says he ran away from his home. “Throughout 2014 and 2015, I wasn’t sleeping in my house because the police wanted to silence me. Inspector Edeh warned that if I didn’t drop the case he would find me and assassinate me. He said I wasn’t any bigger than those they have done such things to in the past. He said they have seen all my petitions and that nobody will attend to them. He said that many of such petitions are uselessly lying there, unattended to, in their office, and that my own would not be different.”
In 2016, the family went to the Federal high court to obtain an order of Mandamus against the killers of Chukwuma. The judge allowed them to go through the process but refused to give them the order.
In October last year, a Judicial Panel was set up to hear cases of police brutality in Enugu. Chinedu submitted a petition to the panel on November 11 2020, which was recorded as “memo no. 7.” “They looked at my petition and said I didn’t write it well,” he says. “They advised me to look for a lawyer who I later engaged to rewrite the petition. I submitted it again on February 12, 2021. They recorded it as “memo no. 135, and was scheduled for hearing on 23 March 2021.” The panel asked the family to serve a summons to the officers who killed Chukwuma, but the family has not been able to do that yet.
“It is unfortunate because there is no way the police can deny that they killed Chukwuma,” Chinedu says. “Every evidence is on ground, all against them.”