OKEY MADUFORO, who witnessed the protest by over 3, 000 women in Anambra communities over the alleged ritual killing of a woman, whose body was decapitated, with her private part chopped off by her killers after gang raping her, writes on the incident and the call by the women for Abakaliki indigenes living in their communities to leave.
Nk w o Umunze Market in Orumba South Local Government Area of Anambra State is one of the busiest markets within Orumba North and Orumba South local government areas as well as up to Umunochi Local Government Area of Abia State, with people from all walks of life trooping to the market on each market day. However, on this fateful day (Tuesday this week), the market cut the picture of a Sunday market, which always appeared desolate and devoid of any commercial activity.
This listless situation was occasioned by the mass protest embarked on by over 3, 000 women from different communities within the LGAs. Most of the stalls and shops including bars and restaurants were under lock and keys as many of the market women and others in the communities converged on the streets.
The protest was over the gruesome murder of one them, known as Mrs. Charity Okoli, who many said was gang raped and murdered in cold blood by suspected ritualists, as her body was decapitated and her private part decimated in the process and taken away. Accusing fingers are pointed at some hoodlums from the community, who the people say are Abakaliki indigenes, a neighbouring town in Ebonyi State. This has for some days now since the murder incident pitched the communities against some of their neighours from Abakalili leaving within the communities.
The tension generated by the murder of Okoli came to a head on Tuesday when the women mobilised in their thousands to take over the streets protesting her death and other heinous crimes which they said had been committed by the Abakaliki indigenes. They moved from Umunze roundabout to the local government headquarters and ended up at the boundary bewtween Ezira community and Umunze, chanting different songs while calling out in loud voice that “Abakaliki people must go.” The late Okoli was said to have been gang raped in her home last week, with some of her body parts including her breasts, fingers, tongue and private part harvested. She was left in the pool of her blood for hours until she was discovered by some neighours and rushed to the hospital where she was pronounced dead later.
Three suspected ritualists were fingered by the people as responsible for this act, which many described as unfathomable and devilish. However, luck was said to have run out on one of them, who was believed to have been under the influence of hard drugs and could not escape from the scene and hid under the bed. He was fished out by the security operatives who came to the scene following a distress call by some of the people. The suspect, according to police report, is held in custody at the State Criminal Investigative Department (SCID) of the Anambra State Police Command in Awka. Police further stated that he has confessed to the crime and revealed that they are a gang of five that resides at the neighboring Ezira community before the incident, with the other four gang members still at large.
Following this revelation, the protesting women with green leaves and placards took to the streets to demand justice for Okoli and the mass exit of all Abakiliki indigenes from Umunze town over the atrocious and condemnable killing of Okoli. The women took their complaints to the Umunze Area Police Command Headquarters, the palace of His Royal Highness, Igwe Promise N. Eze, the Abilikete 11 of Umunze, and the Transition Committee Chairman of the local government, Neville Uchendu, as well as other relevant bodies, demanding justice for Okoli and for Abakalili people living among them to leave their communities immediately. They expressed bitterness over the unbearable and hostile activities of Abakiliki indigenes in the communities, who according to them, allegedly indulge in many crimes including charging outrageous bills for manual labour, raping of young girls and women. Spokesperson and President of the women in the area, Mrs. Enekwechi Bridget, said, “The entire Umunze resolved to come together today for a peaceful protest because Abakiliki people resident in our community raped one of us in Ubaha village and cut off her tongue, one of her fingers, two nipples of her breasts and her private part. ‘‘So, that’s why we are here to complain to the Transition Committee Chairman of the local government area so he can take our report to Awka, the state capital for necessary action.” She further stated that, “We are demanding justice and that the suspects should face the full weight of the law because women are not supposed to face such torture and suffering in the hands of heartless criminal elements, ‘‘Sadly, these Abakiliki people residing among us have been having secret meetings against us despite our hospitality towards them. They charge us as high as N5, 000 to cultivate a seed of yam for us and N200 per head harvest ripped oil palm and they charge us according to the number of heads of the oil palm nuts per tree. “Besides, if you hire them for work, they will not do the work but wait till its 3pm when they will leave the work place and begin to demand money for work not done. They even threaten to kill the person if he or she fails to pay them as demanded. At times they seize farmlands belonging to our people to the extent of laying claim to ownership of such farmland after planting and harvesting their crops.’’ The President General of Umunze Progressives Union, Chief Hippolite Uchechukwu Olua, who addressed the protesting women commended them for their peaceful conduct and urged them to go about their protest peacefully as their complaints would be given prompt attention by the police and other relevant authorities. Olua told journalists that, “Our relationship with Abakiliki people in Umunze is becoming a very bad one. It is not favouring us anymore because of the way and manner they commit crimes in Umunze that we have condoled for a while, it is getting out of control.
“Of recent our wife, Mrs. Charity Okoli, who was butchered alive by Abakiliki men in a gruesome way but we said no more of this devilish act as a community. We accommodated these people as our brothers from Abakiliki, but see how they have resorted to killing our people, they are harassing our women and raping them in their farmlands. “They are increasing labour costs at will; they wake up every morning and change the cost of labour at their dictate but we say no more of such acts. So, our women are aggrieved, they are not happy and that is why they are protesting.” When contacted, one of the Abakaliki indigenes, who gave his name as Mr. Michael Ikwo, told this reporter that what the women are saying is not entirely true but was quick to add that not all Abakaliki people are criminals or ritualists. “We have bad eggs among us but not all of us are criminals, only that the bad eggs among us are spoiling the name of the town of Abakaliki and if anything happens our people would be held responsible for that even if the culprit is from Enugu State, which is our neighbours. But they would group them as Abakaliki people,” he said. However, Traditional Ruler of Umunze community, Igwe Promise Eze, the Abilikete II, disagreed with Ikwo, contending that several reports to the leaders of Abakaliki community in the area were made but nothing has been done to checkmate the people. The monarch lamented that his subjects have suffered so much in the hands of Abakaliki people who came to the town to engage in farm work and other menial jobs for subsistence. He noted that the victim died due to loss of blood which made her to become unconscious after she was rushed to the hospital in Amawbia where she later died, a development that angered everybody.
The monarch, however, urged his people to remain calm as the police and leaders of the community are working round the clock to ensure that justice is done at the end of the day. “What these people are doing in our Umunze town is unheard of and the most worrisome thing is that our young and innocent daughters are being raped daily and some are pregnant without knowing who the fathers of their children are and that means bringing bad blood of hoodlums into Umunze town. “We don’t want them anymore and even if they would be allowed to stay there must be conditions for that.’’
“I have told the Divisional Police Officer who is the closest to us here that the suspect must be charged to court for murder and he has assured me that the matter would not be swept under the carpet. I have instructed the youths to exercise restraint while awaiting the outcome of the case,” he further disclosed. While the Anambra State Police Command continues serious manhunt for the other suspects, the Police Public Relations Officer, DSP Tochukwu Ikenga, appealed for calm, promising the monarch and leadership of Umunze community that the suspects would be tracked and brought to book. The Abakaliki people are mostly farmers and labourers who are hired to work on people’s farms for money and they are scattered in all parts of Igboland.