Last week’s demolition of a three –storey building housing Upper Class Hotel, located at No. 8 Old Market Road, Onitsha, was the third to be supervised by Governor Peter Obi of Anambra State in the last one year.
The governor, on two previous occasions, led security operatives to demolish the houses of two suspected notorious kidnappers at Oraifite in Ekwusigo local government area and Uli in Ihiala local government area.
During the previous occasions, Obi made it clear that any property belonging to confirmed criminals in the state would be demolished to serve as deterrent to others who engage in criminal activities. After the two demolitions last year, there was a noticeable drop in crime rate in the state, especially kidnapping and armed robbery. That is why the alleged discovery of fresh human heads in the Onitsha hotel last week jolted many people, including security operatives.
On that Wednesday, policemen from the Onitsha Area Command, allegedly acting on a tip off, swopped on the hotel and made what was said to be a startling discovery in one of the rooms. There, three human heads, said to have been wrapped in a cellophane bag, were allegedly kept beside the bed. In the same room were reportedly found two AK47 rifles, 40 rounds of live ammunition, some mobile telephones and two army caps.
The visit to the hotel by the police was allegedly carefully planned as police intelligence unit from the Inspector General’s, IGs, office, was said to have, for about one month , been gathering information on alleged criminal activities in the hotel.
Though the proprietor of the hotel, Chief Bonaventure Mokwe, was often not working in the hotel as he has other businesses in parts of Onitsha, the police ensured that he was in the hotel on that day. At the time the police demanded to search the rooms, most of the workers were allegedly present and 11 of them, six females and five males, including the owner of the hotel, Mokwe, arrested. The hotel proprietor is currently being detained at the headquarters of the Special Anti- Robbery Squad, SARS, Awkuzu in Oyi council area.
An Infinity jeep with registration number, DA 203 FST, belonging to the hotel proprietor, was impounded by the police. Mokwe is the son of a wealthy businessman from Umuchu in Aguata local government area of Anambra State who, after his education and following the death of his father; started managing his late father’s businesses.
One of the suspects, who claimed to be a cleaner in the hotel, said she invited her daughter that fateful day to help her in the job as she was not feeling well only to be rounded up by security men. She also said that she had been telling the hotel management to give her the keys to the hotel room where the human heads were allegedly found to clean it because of the stench, said to be oozing from there, but to no avail.
She said: “I don’t know anything concerning this incident; I am just a cleaner in the hotel. My daughter just returned from school on holiday and I begged her to assist me clean the hotel before we were arrested. Even before the arrest, I noticed that one of the rooms was permanently locked, even without any guest, I have been telling the manager to give me the keys to the room so that I could clean it but he refused and there was odour oozing out from the room before our arrest.”
Demolition Barely 48 hours after the discovery of the human heads in the hotel and arrests that followed, Governor Obi led security operatives and other government officials to the hotel and ordered the immediate pulling down. Addressing a large number of Onitsha residents who made the vicinity of the hotel a tourist center soon after the discovery, Obi insisted that he would not allow criminals to return the state to the ugly days of the past when Anambra was associated with evil deeds.
The governor announced that the state government had confiscated all assets belonging to the owner of the hotel, explaining that the action was in line with the policy of his administration to sustain the fight against crime and criminality.
He said: “I will not relent in my resolve to flush out hoodlums from all parts of the state and I will continue to knock down property belonging to criminals. I am aware some people would rather want us to convert those property for use for public purposes, but I tell you, acquiring those property and knocking them down is psychologically more beneficial because the weight of the punishment is proportional to the fear it engenders in people to avoid crime.”
‘Action hasty’ Some lawyers in Anambra State are, however, questioning the hurry in pulling down the hotel building when, according to them, investigations were not concluded. Dr. M.N.Umenweke, who claimed to be a solicitor to the proprietor of the hotel, said Governor Obi might have been misinformed to take the action he took, unlike his usual way of listening to all sides and getting all facts as he did in previous cases.
In fact, Umenweke and some other lawyers hired by the family of the proprietor are threatening to petition the Inspector General of Police (IGP) Mohammed Abubakar, and Anambra State Police Commissioner (CP), Bala Nassarawa, over the issue. To them, there might be unseen hands determined to ruin Mokwe and members of his family, arguing that the best thing under the circumstance was to order a full investigation on the human heads saga.
According to them, Mokwe is very well known in Onitsha area and had not been associated with any crime. Already, the lawyers have filed a suit at an Onitsha High Court to seek for the preservation of the fundamental rights of the hotel proprietor pursuant to order 11 rules 1 and 2 of enforcement procedures 2009, section 33, 34 and 35 of the Constitution of Nigeria.
Another lawyer, Mr. Kachi Bielu, also in a petition to the IG, said Mokwe was framed up. His petition to the IG reads: “It is our instruction from our client to appeal to you to use your good offices to send a crack team from the Force Criminal Investigation Department, FCID, or the monitoring unit and transfer the case to police formations where the case will be properly handled and investigated.
It is the belief of our client that where this allegation is not thoroughly investigated by competent and unbiased hands, these unmitigated and dangerous elements will continue to set innocent people up over one allegation or the other in the state. “We appeal to you and urge you to get the police at Special Anti-Robbery Squad, Awkuzu to transfer the case to Abuja where a full scale investigation will be conducted in order to unravel the persons behind this act and curtail their activities.”
The lawyers are demanding to know who made the complaint to the police about the alleged criminal activities in the hotel and why government should demolish the only evidence against Mokwe, which is the hotel where the human heads were allegedly found.
They said: “There were two old rusty human skulls planted in the hotel and there was no trial and the next thing was an executive sentence. The skulls could have been obtained in any burial ground, lab or mortuary or even teaching hospitals where students use them for practical.
“The police arrested Bonaventure Mokwe on 1/8/2013, tried him same day and passed judgment that same day, executed the judgment the same day and the next day, the hotel was demolished.
“This is a hotel with so many rooms and the proprietor only uses one as an office and the objects were supposedly found in one of the commercial rooms. Again, the IG was petitioned on 2/7/2013 which led to this invasion and the question is why should the person who saw human heads wait until 1/8/13 to invade the hotel? Why was evidence destroyed in a hurry?
Wife of the hotel proprietor, Mrs. Mokwe, has also cried foul, alleging that her husband was set up. Mrs. Mokwe, herself a lawyer, is calling on authorities to intervene in the matter to save her husband.
She said: “My husband is being detained in a very de-humanizing condition at SARS and the police have denied him access to his lawyers and relations. Government has also threatened to further demolish his plaza at Ose-Okwodu and other properties belonging to him and members of his family. Indeed, my husband has not been given a fair hearing.”
She said that her husband, who is an estate agent, has unresolved problems with some people, adding that about four of the disputes are pending in court. According to her, the masterminds of her husband’s arrest may have smuggled two human objects into his office which the police claimed were human heads and arms in one of the rooms in the hotel and pleaded that her husband be charged to court or granted bail.
Members of the civil society groups led by Comrade Justus Ijeoma have also called on the police not to compromise the investigations in order to unravel those behind the ugly incident. They however commended the Nigeria police for bringing their intelligence to bear in the discovery.
Many residents in Onitsha, including Messrs Eddie Okosi and Ugochukwu Ezeani, commended the state government for the ‘quick intervention’, saying the state government was already winning the war against criminals. According to them, Obi has rebranded Onitsha, adding that the city is regaining its lost glory.