Imo River is known to swallow those who misjudge its depth, as anyone would expect any river of its size and flow to do. But for a strange circumstance and unclear mission, its namesake and southeastern Imo State, a territorial habitat of predominantly Ndiigbo, several years, took the ill reputation of a gubernatorial construct that swallow its indigenes.
It was inconceivable but sadly true then, that high ranking government officials would simply disappear and never to be heard from again whilst the State – Imo, that is – would not bat an official eyelid. At least it happened in broad daylight in 2012, and none has returned a satisfactory inquisition as to cause and determination.
Arguably, the gubernatorial culprits continue to be free as privileged high priests of Igbo cultural more, or leading lights of its political suasion. They legislate for the good order of the sovereign; they grace occasions of socio-cultural primacy; and dictate to the mass of the people on sundry issues, albeit suffocating the future with unwashed hands of iniquity in the manner of Pontius Pilate, the infamous one.
Imo has lost quite a lot of its finest, evidently through the dubiety or sheer compromises of its gladiators. Perhaps it is implacably true that persons with a gluttonous incentive to get rich quick through gubernatorial presence ensured that the likes of Emenike Ihekwaba were taken out of their path so that they can appropriate without let or amass lucre without hindrance. Till date, Imo State or the federal agencies have not organized a conclusive, public inquest to unravel the sordid abduction. Did phantom projects become the rule, after these abductions, rather than the exception?
It’s been an age since Emenike Ihekwaba was forcefully taken on Sunday, August 26, 2012 and suspiciously spirited away never to be seen again. He was then a Principal Secretary in Imo Government House. His record in service was as clean as a whistle. His reputation for transparency and lawful compliance with extant rules and procurement regulations were without blemish. Some perceived his conduct as an approximation of a stake in the classical work of Dionysius the Areopagite in the old century epic tome, “De Coelesti Hierarchia”. It bred consternation and discomfiture to the powers that were. Alas, these are not the vita of professionalism and excellence that endears anyone to a compromised helmsman, not the least back then.
At the time of Emenike’s abduction, it is instructive that Mr. Baba Adisa Bolanta was Police Commissioner of Imo State Command (although subsequently promoted to Assistant Inspector General), when press statements were made suggesting that the whereabouts of Emenike was known. This prompted radio and television pronouncements, with reports in The Sun and Guardian newspapers of November 1 and November 2, 2012, respectively, reiterating the promise of safe resolution.
Public frustration with official apathy was boldly recorded by courageous and forthright Imo sons. Vanguard’s veteran OpEd columnist, Dr. Obi Nwakanma captured that era of iniquitous display of raw power in his heroic piece titled: Where is Emenike Ihekwaba? This provocative interrogation was published in the Sunday Vanguard newspaper of July 6, 2014. He pungently took the Imo government to task inquiring what it knew about this unexplainable disappearance, and when it knew about them. He likened the frightening era to what obtained in Idi Amin’s Uganda when high-ranking officials routinely disappeared without trace.
Several others, including the victim’s family, sought explanations as well but all to no avail. In a September 14, 2014 piece in The Guardian newspaper, entitled “One nation under grudge”, a family member bemoaned Emenike’s fate and affirmed that time would never heal certain wounds. Again, in a double newspaper publication in the Vanguard of May 18, 2015, and The Guardian of May 24, 2015, other family members sought after the earthly whereabouts of the missing one with the biblical riposte: Are you our brother’s keeper? Alas, those who should know ominously kept their silence.
When a planted news report appeared in one of the newspapers to sway and misdirect the family, the self-styled social crusader and activist, Ikenna Samuelson Iwuoha, was understandably piqued, and quickly rebutted that desperate attempt. The arrest of a notorious kidnapper, alias Vampire, was spuriously pushed as a scapegoat to explain away Emenike’s disappearance. In his piece in Pointblank News of June 10, 2015 Iwuoha challenged the mischaracterization. Then in another outing in the News Express of August 7, 2015, he rejected the purported confessional statement of Vampire as alleged by officials while parading the villain on July 28, 2015.
About a month earlier on June 26, 2015, Iwuoha claimed to have also petitioned then Inspector General of Police, Solomon Arase, with copies to the Presidency, security agencies and the general public, on the abduction of Emenike Ihekwaba, insisting that the uncomfortably suspicious kidnapping had tell-tale sign of high-level malfeasance, reinforced by the ambivalence of officialdom. His charge and expose were mind boggling and revealing.
On September 2, 2015, in an OpEd in The Guardian newspaper, the family again reminded Imo that it had just spent three years waiting for justice. A similar reminder by a family member was published in The Champion newspaper of August 26, 2015. It is rather curious that after family members made several attempts, locally and at Abuja, to find a resolution to this nightmare, high ranking religious leaders of note and several stakeholders of reach in Nigeria intervened by inquiring into this suspicious abduction but, regrettably, all such efforts were fruitless.
On March 20, 2017, in an incisive research piece entitled “Criminals on the Highway” by Sunday Umahi, The Sun newspaper reminded its readers that Emenike is still missing and that no one in government had lifted any finger to unravel his fate. The author narrated the ordeal of that infamous day of the abduction thusly: a white SUV parked in front of (his car) and three hefty men wearing bullet proof vests with the inscription ‘Police’ and carrying heavy guns came out. They forced him into the boot of their vehicle and took him away.” That was how a life of honesty and commitment to decency was spirited away.
The abduction of Emenike Ihekwaba without trace has left a deep, gaping hole in the hearts of many. It challenges the notion that honesty pays. And it has obviously not paid off for the victim family. Imo State is the crime scene where this ranking governmental official reportedly went amiss in broad daylight and under the nose of the government he served. Emenike served under Jude Agbaso as he was the Deputy Governor then, just as Anayo Rochas Okorocha was the Governor and Chief Security Officer. Under their watch, Emenike who toiled honestly in their offices, disappeared into thin air.
The behind the scenes and denials have been tenuously stage managed to no avail, publicly and privately, in both low and high places, and to media outlets without success. But the question remains unanswered: Where is Emenike Ihekwaba?
No one who lives or transacts government business in the heartland of Eastern Nigeria will admit ignorance of the harm done to the person and family of Emenike Ihekwaba. This man thought, quite regrettably though, that honesty and playing by the books of lawful engagement, were basic expectations of a public official in Nigeria. He was dead wrong.
It has been over eight years since the government, to which the man served meritoriously for about three decades, and its law enforcement agencies, neglected their constitutional duty in resolving his fate. How wrong and naïve his plight would suggest to anyone to toe a similar path of rectitude. When the very institution that one serves fatally neglects its duty of care with abandon, reasonable persons are wont to question if transparent civic conduct is the higher ideal it purports.
The unresolved disappearance of a loved one is excruciating in its intensity and pain but when the State is suggestively abysmal in its law enforcement expectations, it becomes even more severe and agonizing to fathom. The whereabouts of Emenike has been treated with disdain by entities constitutionally empowered to provide an answer. Presently no kingpin ought to wield tyranny in a democracy or even contumaciously impose self to the chagrin of the state.
Thank God crimes like this are never time-barred by statute of limitation in most parts of the globe. Even in the hereafter, the holy book does not absolve culprits of their date with destiny.
For Imo to ever lay claim as the heartland of the nation, it must close the loop on this and repudiate the murderous hypocrisy in its midst. It must find peaceful habitation with truth and the principles of natural justice. Emenike Ihekwaba deserves his moment of justice, unless Imo has become a river of fear and cowardice, where might is right.
And to hand over the perpetrators to God, keep Emenike alive in the consciousness of good men and women, and again, formally deliver his case at the altar of heavenly supplication, as the holy book admonishes us to do in all circumstances, family and friends will assemble at St. Paul’s Anglican Church, Nkwerre, in Imo State on Friday, December 18, 2020 to remember and memorialize the gallant life that this good son of Igboland bequeathed. He served humanity well, even though the agents of darkness refused him a sunset with dignity.
Dr. Ihekwaba is a victim advocate from Nkwerre, Imo State.