A week after his arrest, Chinwendu Ibekwe died under mysterious circumstances while in police custody, with his grieving family yet to know what exactly happened.
On the 4th of March, 2017, the late Chinwendu Ibekwe was arrested by some policemen from Ubakala Division in Umuahia South Local Government Area of Abia State.
The arrest took place at Chinwendu’s vulcanizer workshop in Mgbarakuma, a village in Ubakala town in Umuahia South Local government of Abia State.
The police alleged that Chinwendu had stolen a tyre which was at his workshop. The tyre, the police said, had been in a vehicle suspected to have been used for a kidnapping operation.
The police took Chinwendu to their station. Chinwendu’s father, Charles Ibekwe, upon hearing the news, immediately got a lawyer and visited the station in an attempt to bail his son.
On reaching there, Charles and the lawyer were told that the case had been transferred to the Central Police Station in Umuahia, the capital of Abia state.
On March 6th, Charles and the lawyer followed up to Umuahia, but they were not allowed to see Chinwendu.
Five days later, on March 11, 2017, Chinwendu was reported dead.
The police told the family that Chinwendu had killed himself while in his cell.
Alozie Ibekwe, a 68-year-old farmer from Umumba Nsirimo in Ubakala town, is Chinwendu’s cousin. Alozie says the family does not believe the police’s claim of suicide. They suspect murder.
“It was hard for us to believe because once you are arrested, the police collect everything you have before putting you in a cell,” Alozie says.
“They collect whatever object you could use to harm yourself.”
A neighbor of Chinwendu, who witnessed the arrest, told the police that it was a customer who had brought the tyre to Chinwendu to help sell it. Chinwendu, according to the neighbor, had told the policemen the story when they arrived casually dressed, disguised as potential buyers of the tyre.
Chinwendu had even called the owner of the tyre, who had admitted to the police that the tyre indeed belonged to him.
The police later arrested the owner of the tyre and put him in the same cell as Chinwendu. “As it turned out, he (the owner of the tyre) is still alive, while my cousin was killed,” Alozie claims. “It is a bitter experience I don’t want to recall.”
According to Alozie, the police didn’t take the family nor the case seriously until Hon. Chijioke Nwachukwu, who represents Umuahia South at the Abia State House of Assembly, got actively involved in the case. Chinwendu used to fix Hon. Chijioke’s tyres, as his vulcanizer workshop was close to his (Hon. Chijioke’s) house.
Hon. Chijioke followed up the case after the family had briefed him, and his influence helped make the police release Chinwendu’s corpse to the family on February 17, 2018. Chinwendu was buried the same day.
“We learnt that the police later transferred all the officers who had a hand in the matter,” Alozie says. “The police could not tell us the name of the officer that shot him, or the others who were involved in the case. They even asked us to do an autopsy with our own money, but we refused. One thing we know is that he died in the police cell and we never had access to him until he died.”
Chinwendu, who died aged 43, left behind a wife, Obiageli Ibekwe, and two children – Chinweotito, 15, and Chibueze, 9. He was one of four children borne by his mother, who was one of the two wives of Charles Ibekwe.
“He was jovial, respectful and coolheaded, and would always apologize for wronging someone,” Alozie says of his late cousin. “He loved church activities, and I remember once joking to him that he would end up serving in the Lord’s vineyard.”
Since his death, Chinwendu’s family has been thrown into a state of severe hardship. His children no longer attend school because there is no money.
“He wanted to see his children go to school,” Alozie says. “He wanted to build a house and have a family that would be proud that they had him as a father. But all of that was not to be.”
Meanwhile, Charles is yet to come to terms with the death of his second son. Since Chinwendu’s demise, Charles has fallen ill due to overthinking. Chinwendu, he says, was the one taking care of him in his old age.
“His importance is not something that can be measured,” Charles says. “He was our source of livelihood. Since he died, it’s not been easy.”
“We have handed over everything to God,” Charles continues. “His death has created a very big vacuum in the family. I am sick and I have no money to take care of myself.”
Obiageli, Chinwendu’s widow, says that her husband’s death has caused her “pain, heartbreak, suffering, hardship and too much thinking”.
“Suffering can make someone look older than their age,” she laments. “People who see me now would think I’m an old woman.”
She adds that her income from petty trading has failed to sustain the lives of her children.
Obiageli, like her children, cries anytime she remembers Chinwendu.
“We can’t go on suffering like this,” she sobs. “The government has to address our case and give us justice. If they were in our shoes, how would they feel?”