THE STORY OF OTOKOTO MONEY RITUAL KILLINGS OF 1996
In the history of men, in the year 1996, 19th September to be precise in Imo state; during the regime of late General Sani Abacha, an innocent 11-year-old boy named Anthony Ikechukwu Okoronkwo was murdered for Ritual.
This little boy in context was hawking boiled groundnuts, which was his daily routine.
He moved within the streets of Owerri, selling his groundnuts to whoever that declared interest to buy.
One fateful day, when he got to Amakohia area of Owerri, his eyes and hope lit up with joy and great excitement, when a customer beckoned on him to approach.
The name of this customer that triggered this joy and excitement is Innocent Ekeanyanwu, aged 32 who worked as a gardener inside the Otokoto Hotel. This 'customer' called him into the famous Otokoto Hotel and the little groundnut seller was visibly excited and his joy knew no bounds. To him, he was going to make great sales since it was a hotel, it meant that the new ‘customer’ would probably be buying plenty groundnuts which will equate to more money to take home and also make his parents happy, thereby giving great assistance to his struggling home.
On entering the hotel and waiting for his groundnut to be bought, Ikechukwu the little boy was given the treatment meant for Kings as he was given a bottle of Coca-Cola to cool off from the punishing heat of tropical Africa, especially the non-smiling sunshine of Owerri. Without any suspicion he gulped the drink in his quest to quench the tormenting thirst for a drink.
Sipping his soft drink and taking a look at the glittering surrounding of the hotel, one could imagine that his whole line of thought could have been encapsulated with the thoughts of having a hotel of his own too later in the future. As he was dreaming, his vision became blurry and the sounds around him became muzzled and dull.
Within a short while, he started feeling weak and he dozed off, never to wake up again. His tray full of groundnuts lay in a corner without anyone to guide it. Taking a close look at the boy from a safe distance was the man who had called him to buy his groundnuts. He had spiked the boy’s drink and once he saw he was asleep took the limp body of the drugged lad into one of the hotel rooms and what followed next remains one of the most evil things anyone can ever dream up.
A sharp cutlass emerged from nowhere and the boy’s head was severed from his body. He was beheaded in a matter of minutes. After the boy’s head was cut off, he disembowelled his torso and removed his liver and other parts that he wanted. Not done yet, the boy's genitals were not spared as well.
After butchering the boy and sorting out the organs, he packed his head inside a polythene bag.
The Butcher, Ekeanyanwu then took the polythene bag containing the boy's head, and headed to the house of the man who needed the fresh head. The man who was believed to be behind it all.
HOW DID THE INFORMATION LEAK OUT?
After the grisly murder of the little Okoronkwo by Mr. Innocent Ekeanyanwu (what a name, innocent indeed), he left the hotel to deliver the head where it was needed. He headed for the home of a highly-influential figure, Chief Leonard Unaogu of Eziama, Ikeduru Local Council Area of Imo State. He stopped a commercial motorcycle rider (Okada rider) to convey him to the place.
It was the motorcycle rider named Opara that realized that what his passenger was carrying inside a polythene bag was a fresh human head. It was still dripping with blood. When he alighted, the Okada man quickly alerted the police. Upon arriving at his destination, Mr Ekenyanwu was told that Mr. Unaogu had gone to Lagos.
So Ekeanyanwu had no other option than to return to Owerri with the boy’s head. The Police then intercepted Ekeanyanwu on his way back in a Peugeot 504 car with the head of the victim in the polythene (carrier) bag.
Things happened quickly when a local media station showed the image of Innocent Ekeanyanwu holding the head of his victim on TV. It was believed that the aim of showing this on TV was to reassure the people, assuage public fear, ask the public to help identify the boy and show official transparency but what followed was a catastrophe.
People came out enmasse to protest the boys' ritual killing as they stayed around and within the hotel (Otokoto) premises, for the police to confirm that it was indeed a ritual murder. More people trooped to the scene of the dastardly act as the news spread. Several Owerri residents abandoned their businesses and congregated at the town’s central marketplace. It was there they decided on their next move and outlined their strategies to deal with the Otokoto ‘head-hunters’. The news spread rapidly in every home in Owerri as unemployed and disgruntled youths took over the parks and issued threats to the Owerri millionaires.
From the Owerri main market, the riots exploded and spread. The pattern of destruction was neat. The rampaging crowd first went to the morgue where the headless body of the victim was kept and from there, they rushed to the Otokoto Hotel and razed it to the ground. From there, they went to the nearby palatial mansion of Chief Vincent Duru and destroyed it, wrecked his expensive cars and proceeded to lynch him but he escaped narrowly. From there, the crowd split into attack groups and spread out to other sites of the privileged elite and unleashed maximum destruction.
The well-known Piano Plaza and Stores, alongside another hotel, Chibet Hotel, and various businesses linked to Otokoto and their associates were utterly destroyed. From there, they rushed to the palace of the traditional ruler and chairman of the state council of traditional rulers, Eze Onu Egwu Nwoke and burnt down his residence and his petrol station. They also destroyed the king’s 15 air-conditioner units and many of his cars. They were not done yet, from there, the crowd headed for the residences of former Imo State officials.
These administrators were targeted because of what was described as ‘their alleged unwillingness to properly tackle several cases of ritual murder, kidnapping and robbery while in office.’ The angry rioters only agreed to calm down when the military administrator (MILAD), assured them that a full, state-level investigation of the incident was going to be launched. That was done and the government of Col Tanko Zubairu (military administrator of Imo state) confiscated all the properties as recommended by the panel which was headed by Justice PC Onumajuru.
A LOOK AT THE OTOKOTO HOTEL
At the time of its existence, Otokoto Hotel was located in an upscale area of Owerri, specifically the Amakohia side, and it was a favourite location for the rich and wealthy youths to meet, drink and make merry. It was owned by Chief Vincent Duru, the father of Obidiozor Duru.
BACKGROUND TO THE STORY
Before this horrible incident, the people of Owerri were already quite mad at the bizarre actions of some loud, extremely powerful and obscenely wealthy individuals in the state. These people were highly-connected and oppressed everyone. Rumours were all over the place as to their very dark dealings and even the possibility of ritual murders and killings but no one really had any hard evidence yet or probably those who had it were too jittery to say anything. Whatever be the case, some of these rich people had no visible source of wealth but they kept on living large and instilling an atmosphere of terror and fear on the Owerri populace. For two straight days, the people of Owerri trooped out in their thousands, protesting and rioting
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. Not even the strong-arm tactics of the Imo State military administrator, Colonel Tanko Zubairu, could stop them.
They simply ran amok and the national and international media focused on the Owerri riots of 24th and 25th of September, 1996, also known as the Otokoto riots. Any property suspected to belong to the ’Otokoto men’ was set ablaze, from posh hotels to luxury supermarkets, their flashy automobiles, palatial mansions, everything was destroyed and burnt to the ground.
Any suspected member of the Otokoto gang was lynched. The Owerri public had no faith in the police and as a matter of fact, the commissioner of police at that time, David Abure, was seen as the personification of corruption because it was said that he allegedly wined and dined with the evil ones.
Following the arrest of Ekeanyanwu, he was remanded in police custody while awaiting trial. But while he was in the police custody, ‘magic’ happened and he was killed by food poisoning 4days after he was arrested. However before his demise, Ekeanyanwu had already confessed and mentioned Leonard Unaogu as the brain behind the ritual killing syndicate and the man who sent him to get the head.
He confessed that the ritual killing ring was a well-organized machine that specialized in the harvesting of human body parts and selling them to those interested in using them for rituals and other purposes. He further told the Police that the Otokoto saga had been going on since around 1976 and that no one was spared at the Otokoto Hotel. Even Innocent guests and lodgers were drugged or attacked in the middle of the night while asleep and hacked to death and cut into pieces for sale.
Police officers who swooped on the hotel discovered not only the shallow grave containing that of the little boy but also graves containing other victims with their decomposing and dismembered corpses. Some were buried at inconspicuous locations such as under the flowerbeds. Such evil, such horror!
Back to the story, the man that Ekeanyanwu mentioned before he was poisoned to death, Leonard Unaogu, was a business tycoon and a younger brother to Laz Unaogu, a serving minister under Abacha. He was eventually arrested by the police. When the police arrested him, he denied with a straight face that he knew the man called Innocent Ekeanyanwu and claimed that he was not even in Owerri when the crime was committed, claiming to have been in Lagos.
THE TRIAL AND JUDGEMENT
The trial started on the 9th of December, 1996 with the motor cycle rider, Hillary Ngozi Opara as the first prosecution witness. Nine people testified before Justice S.O Ekpe, who took over from Justice Gabriel Ojiako, the retired chief judge of Imo State, during the trial. Margaret Acholonu a receptionist of the hotel stated that two spots were dug at the hotel premises and it was from the second one that the body of Okoronkwo was exhumed. She also implicated Chief Duru. She also said that on that fateful day, she saw Ekeanyanwu with a black bag and he told her he was going to his village at Eziama.
A sergeant Sunday Onwuchekwa, told the court he was in the office when Ekeanyanwu was arrested with a fresh human head of the innocent boy. According to Onwuchekwa, before the police took Ekeanyanwu to Otokoto Hotel, the crime scene, he confessed to killing the boy at Mba River in Ikeduru and dumped the body inside the river.The police followed the false trail but found nothing at the Mba River. So at about 7:00 pm on the 20th of September 1996, they returned to Owerri.
The following Monday, they continued with their investigation and took him to Otokoto Hotel where the headless body of the boy had already been identified before the police team arrived.
On 20th August 1997, a senior magistrate court in Owerri docked 9 police officers for the murder of Ekeanyanwu.
Ifeanyi Anozie, an assistant commissioner of police
Chukwu Obasi, an assistant superintendent of police
The case snailed on due to series of adjournments, absence of lawyers, presiding judge, suspects or even the retirement of judges or their transfer etc.
When the case finally resumed, many were pissed off. Leonard Unaogu, the minister’s brother, was transported in a new station wagon from the prison to the court like a royalty.
Vincent Duru and other suspects were brought in a Black Maria from prison to the court, in handcuffs as Duru protested the preferential treatment given to Unaogu.
Interestingly many judges handled the case.
First, it was Justice Gabriel Ojiaku, then Simeon Ekpe who was almost done with the prosecution until he was elevated to Court of Appeal.
Then finally on 28th April 1999, Justice Chioma Nwosu-Iheme took over the case and dealt justice to it. She sentenced all the seven suspects to death. These included Chief Vincent Duru, the owner of the Otokoto Hotel and Unaogu who denied knowing each other. Unaogu appealed the sentence in 2012 but the sentence was upheld by the Appeal Court. He later died some years ago at the Port Harcourt Prisons in what was described as very mysterious circumstances.
Events that Happened
After judgment, the convicts all moved to the Port Harcourt Prisons in the middle of February, 2003 pending their execution.
They got the most liberal visiting privileges and their meals were prepared at their homes. They were like lords and Duru (a Ph.D. holder in psychology from California State University) was said to have impregnated one of the female police officers and even had a ‘traditional wedding’ with her before his trial ended. Interestingly after their incarceration, the rate of child kidnappings in Imo dropped drastically. Chief Vincent Duru (alias Otokoto) one of the men convicted in the celebrated case of the ritual murder of September 19, 1996 in Owerri, Imo State, was reportedly hanged.
His execution reportedly took place on Sunday, November 13, 2016, 13 years after his conviction in 2003.
Nigeria is still in the grips of ritual killers, almost two decades after the Otokoto saga. The same factors that gave birth to the 1996 Otokoto ritual killings are still in place today.
The continued existence of these factors explains why after bloody Otokoto saga, the country still had to face the Okija/Ogwugwu shrine saga in Anambra State and the Soka forest horror of Oyo State, among several others.
The Nigerian disease is still there – yet to be healed. We must put a stop to the growing menace of "Get Rich Quick" Syndrome pervading our society today.
Funny enough, karma usually catches up with these people involved in Human Ritual Killings as more often than not, they do not end well. As they say, 'THE DEVIL HAS NO FREE GIFT'.