When Mbam Eji’s village head faced persecution from a powerful man, Eji stood by his head and village folk - at the cost of his own life.
Mbam Eji was killed in police custody at the Ebonyi State Police Command Headquarters on 6th August, 2020.
Obinna Mbam Eji is the first child of the deceased, one of his 19 children. He is from Ndinkwuda Igbeagu, in the Izzi Local Government of Ebonyi State. He is 25 years old, married and with four children. A smallholder farmer, he grows yam, cassava, and rice.
According to Obinna, on the 22nd July, 2020, the late Mbam Eji was invited to the Ebonyi State Police Command Headquarters in Abakaliki. He was invited alongside six other people, including Nwaduma Oketa, the village head, Philip Alieze, former coordinator of Igbeagu Development Centre, and Mbam Nwankwuda, chairman of Ndinkwuda Village.
Here’s the context of that arrest: A man named Emeka Nwibo, a native of the Ndinkwuda Igbeagu village, wanted to remove Nwaduma Oketa, the head of the village. Nwibo, who was a former personal assistant to the coordinator of Igbeagu Development Centre, was largely seen as a trouble-making thug in the community.
At the State Police Command Headquarters, Godwin Enya, a Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP), arrested Mbam Eji and the six other villagers on the allegation that they had set fire to the compound of Emeka Nwibo February 7, 2020 around 1am.
Mbam Eji and the other six detained villagers were thus placed in police custody at the State Police Command Headquarters until 5th August, 2020.
At around 4p.m. of that 5th August, Obinna went to give his father food, but the officers on duty at the counter sent him away. He was however reluctant to leave. Suddenly, he recalls, DSP Godwin Enya and Emeka Nwibo brought his father out of the police cell and drove off with him.
Between 7p.m to 8p.m that day, DSP Godwin Enya and Emeka Nwibo brought Mbam Eji back to the State Police Command. When Obinna asked his father where they had gone, he said that they (DSP Godwin Enya and Emeka Nwibo) had taken him to an unknown location and accused him of destroying Emeka Nwibo’s property. He added that he told them he never committed the arson.
Mbam Eji continued by saying that the DSP and Emeka Nwibo did not believe his plea of innocence. They told him: “your end is near”, then brought out a cup with some suspicious liquid, ordering him to gulp it down. Mbam Eji told Obinna that he initially refused the cup, but later had to drink its contents after Emeka Nwibo threatened him with a gun.
It wasn’t up to an hour after he returned to the police station - after he had narrated his ordeal to Obinna - when Mbam Eji started to roll on the ground.
The next day, 6th August, 2020, Obinna visited the police headquarters again to see his father. The other villages who had been detained told Obinna that his father, Mbam Eji, was dead.
Mbam Eji died at the age of 55. He was a farmer. He left behind three widows. He had had a fourth wife, who had died earlier.
“In truth, my father was a good man,” Obinna says. “He was a peacemaker, the kind who was always eager to help find solutions to conflicts amongst neighbours. Trouble was not his thing.”
According to Obinna, “There is nobody in this village who would say he had a problem with my father - of course, except Emeka Nwibo, who hated my father simply because my father chose to stand with the villagers.”
As at the time he was killed, Mbam Eji had not yet buried his mother, who had died recently. His plan was to lay his mother to rest after his case. But that was not to be.
“My father’s death left such a devastating impact on our family,” Obinna says. “I don’t think there are words to describe the depth of the loss. We’ve struggled to find money to recover his corpse, not to talk of paying children's school fees.”
Obinna says they wrote a petition to the Commissioner of Police to release Mbam Eji’s corpse, or even to show it to the family, but the police refused.
They were asked to come to the High Court, and on the 4th of December 2020, they went there. After writing a statement, the Deputy Commissioner of Police called Obinna and said the family should leave his police officers alone and deal with Emeka Nwibo directly. That was it.
“It looked like there was no other way we could do anything, except to place our hopes on the Judicial Panel of Inquiry to help us,” Obinna says.
“We had written to the Judicial Panel on the 11th of November 2020. Our demand at the Judicial Panel was for the police to release my father’s corpse to us and give us a N10 million compensation, so that the family could survive through the establishment of petty businesses for my father’s wives.”
On 14th April, 2021, the Judicial Panel of Inquiry in their decision recommended that DSP Godwin Enya should be sanctioned, and Emeka Nwibo should be arrested and prosecuted.
The panel also asked the police to release Mbam Eji’s corpse to his family, and pay compensation to them as well.
However, at the time of this publication, neither compensation has been paid to the family, nor has the corpse of their loved one been handed over to them.