Over 20 years after four young friends were murdered by police officers, justice is yet to prevail.
Chibueze Idah was killed 17 days before his 25th birthday.
His murderers? Police officers on duty at Amaechi Idodo village in the Nkanu East Local Government Area of Enugu State.
This happened almost 20 years ago. But to those who loved him, the pain remains fresh, as does their clamor for justice.
One of such heartbroken relatives is Chief Gabriel Idah, Chibueze’s older brother who says he has since discovered the identities of the murderous police officers.
“They are: Sunday Chijioke Agbo (the leader), Augustine Ugbala, Oliver Ikekwe, Panthelian Ogidi, Stephen Ugwu and Peter Adesileneya,” Gabriel says.
At about 2pm on August 23, 2001, Gabriel’s brother Chibueze and three of his friends - Onyebuchi Edeh (the chairman of Peoples Democratic Party in Ishielu Local Government), Ogbonna ‘Bokina’ Odimbaiwe and Ifeanyi Nnaji - were returning from a trip to the neighbouring Enugu State when they were stopped by police at Idodo village, in the Nkanu East Local Government Area of Enugu State - close to the border with Ebonyi state.
According to an account, the police ordered them to come out of their Toyota car. And, just when they were about to obey the order, one of the police officers suddenly opened fire on them.
Gabriel was in his house at Ezillo town in the Ishielu Local Government Area of Ebonyi State when he got news of the shooting. Some people who had been at the scene of the incident ran to his house to tell him.
Before long, the Idodo scene of the shooting became packed with people.
Gabriel went to the Ezillo Police Station, where he saw his brother Chibueze lying in a pool of blood. Although he wasn’t dead yet, the injury from the bullet had left him almost lifeless. While Ifeanyi Nnaji, Onyebuchi Edeh and Ogbonna Odimbaiwe had sustained minor gunshot injuries to their legs, his brother, Chibueze, had been shot directly in the chest.
Still at the Ezillo Police Station, the other injured victims narrated the shooting. According to them, the police officers, after stopping them at Idodo, asked Chibueze, who was the driver of the car, whether he was “Obata Obie” (Meaning: “Whenever he comes around, everything will be alright”). Obata Obie was the nickname of Onyebuchi Edeh, the PDP Chairman at the time.
When Chibueze retorted, “for what?!”, it angered one of the officers, who fired at him in the chest. It was clear the officers had been specifically after Onyebuchi Edeh.
The officers left for the Ebonyi State Police Command Headquarters in Abakaliki with the injured men, including Chibueze. While there, after a short investigation, Sam Egwu, who was then Ebonyi State governor, ordered the police to take the injured young friends to a hospital in the neighbouring Enugu state, about an hour away.
When the officers realized in Abakaliki that they had shot the wrong target (that is, shooting Chibueze instead of Onyebuchi Edeh), they allegedly killed all of them while on their way to the hospital in Enugu.
Till date, while it is known that Chibueze Idah was killed by being shot in the chest, it remains unclear to the families of the rest of the young men (Ifeanyi Nnaji, Ogbonna Odimbaiwe and Onyebuchi Edeh) what exactly happened to them on that trip from Abakaliki to the hospital.
Gabriel, along with the family members of Chibueze’s friends, have been making efforts to seek justice for their murdered relatives.
They have been to the police, the court and several other places, but nothing has come out of it.
The deaths of the four young men has left a devastating effect on their families.
Chibueze’s mother, Mrs Ogo Idah, and immediate younger brother, were killed in the wake of Chibueze’s death, according to Gabriel.
Ifeanyi Nnaji’s father got sick immediately after his son’s death and died in 2009, never managing to recover. His mother has been battling high blood pressure since then. He also left behind an unborn baby boy who is almost 20 years old now, having grown up without a father.
The story is similar for Onyebuchi Edeh’s folks. After pursuing the case for eight years, his father got tired and died, while his mother now suffers from a heart condition which is in need of a major surgery.
And what of Ogbonna Odimbaiwe’s family? “Our family - my wife and other children - have struggled to move on since Ogbonna’s death,” says his father, Oliver Odimbaiwe. “It’s been very difficult, even after two decades.”
The four friends were popular in their community for being youth leaders and always being in the mix of political events, like rallies and other party functions.
Gabriel says a petition has been submitted to the Judicial Panel set up after the #EndSARS protests, but “I don’t know what the panel is doing in Ebonyi State.”
“The government is supposed to take care of the families of the victims of that unfortunate incident,” he says. “The police commission is even supposed to write to the family on what exactly happened. They are supposed to write to us to know how we are faring or offer some compensation.
“But nothing has happened. And they are doing this to us because they feel we have nobody to fight for us.”
“I'm demanding full compensation,” Gabriel adds. “It is true that there is nothing you can give to people that will make them come back to life, but at least something reasonable ought to be given to take care of the ones they left behind.”
Update: Although the Judicial Panel submitted its report and recommendations to the Ebonyi state government, nothing has been heard of the case involving the four murdered friends.