Nzekwe Gerald Uchenna
On 19th September 1996, during the regime of late General Sani Abacha’s, in the city of Owerri – Imo State, an innocent 11-year-old boy named Anthony Ikechukwu Okoronkwo was murdered for Ritual purposes.
The little boy was hawking boiled groundnuts, which was his daily routine. He strolled along, selling his groundnuts for peanuts to whoever wanted to buy.
When he got to Amakohia area of Owerri, his eyes lit up with joy when a customer beckoned on him to approach. That ‘customer’ was named Innocent Ekeanyanwu, aged 32.
The boy was called into the famous Otokoto Hotel and the little groundnut seller was visibly very excited since it was a hotel, it meant that the new ‘customer’ would probably be buying plenty groundnuts which will mean more money to take home to make his parents happy and assist his struggling family.
While waiting, the boy was treated like a guest, he was given a bottle of Coca-Cola to cool off from the punishing heat of tropical Africa.
Innocently, he took the Coke and gulped it with relish.
As he was sipping his soft drink and taking a look at the glittering surrounding of the hotel, he could have imagined 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.
In a matter of minutes, he dozed off, never to wake up again. His tray full of groundnuts was lying in a corner.
Observing 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, he took the limp body of the drugged lad into one of the hotel rooms and what followed next remains one of the evilest 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, removed his liver and other parts he needed. 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 and buried his remains.
The Butcher, Ekeanyanwu then took the polythene bag containing the boy’s head and headed for the next destination: to the house of the man who needed the fresh head. The man who is 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 then Stopped a Bike man (Okada rider) to convey him to the place.
It was the Okada man named Opara, whom he stopped to take him to his destination in Eziama that realized that was 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. The Police then intercepted Ekeanyanwu on his way back in a Peugeot 504 car, he was carrying the head with him in the polythene bag.
He was going to the residence of a highly-influential figure named Chief Leonard Unaogu at Eziama, Ikeduru Local Council Area with the head but upon arriving, he was told Mr Unaogu had gone to Lagos.
So Ekeanyanwu had no other option but to return to Owerri with the boy’s head.
When it was time to take the headless body of Ikechukwu to the local mortuary, there was a massive procession and protested by Owerri people.
People came out in 1000s to protest the boys ritual killing. They stayed around and within the hotel premises, waited for the police to confirm that it was indeed a ritual murder while more were matching and trooping to the scene of the Ritual Murder as the news was spreading.
It was in the midst of this tension that the local media station made its miscalculation. They showed the image of Innocent Ekeanyanwu holding the head of his victim.
The goal of the media was to assure the people, assuage public fear, ask the public to help identify the boy and show official transparency but what followed next was a catastrophe. All hell broke loose as the enraged people of Owerri went haywire after the image was the first broadcast on the 24th of September.
All Owerri residents abandoned their businesses and congregated at the town’s central marketplace. It was there they decided on the next plan of action and outlined their strategies to deal with the Otokoto ‘headhunters’.
The news spread rapidly, every home in Owerri had heard the news or seen the image of Okoronkwo’s head or his shallow grave.
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 and from there, they rushed to the Otokoto Hotel and burnt it to the ground. From there, they went to the nearby palatial mansion of Chief Vincent Duru and destroyed his property, his expensive cars were wrecked and Duru himself narrowly escaped.
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 the Otokoto and their associates were utterly destroyed.
The Zubairu-led government later confiscated all the properties as recommended by the panel which was headed by Justice PC Onumajuru.
From there, they rushed to the palace of the traditional ruler and chairman of the state council of traditional rulers, Eze Onu Egwu Nwoke (later indicted alongside Aneke and Abure by the panel of inquiry) and burnt down his residence and his petrol station. They also destroyed the king’s 15 air conditioners and many of his cars.
They were not done yet. From there, the crowd ‘troops’ 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.
Ekeanyanwu, who murdered the boy, was aged 32 and he worked as a gardener inside the Otokoto Hotel.
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 have all manners of fun.
Duru’s hotel was made up of three buildings, (3,5 & 6 Stories each, one behind the other).
It was owned by Chief Vincent Duru, the father of Obidiozor Duru, the leader of the Black Scorpions secret cult that was responsible for robberies and kidnapping of children in the state.
BACKGROUND TO THE STORY
Before this horrible incident, the people of Owerri were already very 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 where they went.
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 the case, these rich people who had no real tangible or easily traceable sources of wealth kept on living large and instilling an atmosphere of terror and fear on the Owerri populace.
This was how Owerri was described at that time:
When the people heard of what happened inside the hotel to the boy, Owerri exploded with anger and resentment that had been piling up for years. For two straight days, the people of Owerri trooped out in their thousands, protesting and rioting.
Not even the strong-arm tactics of the Imo State military administrator, Colonel Tanko Zubairu, could stop them (the administration of the former military governor Navy Captain James Aneke was already seen as corrupt, 419-based and even complicit in the protection of the Otokoto men.
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. The people felt they had had more than enough.
Any property suspected to belong to the ’Otokoto men’ were 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.
Prior to the riots, the youthful members of the Otokoto gang & other secret societies (believed to be offshoots of campus secret cults) involved in ritual killings went everywhere oppressing others with their ill-gotten wealth and making other hardworking youths look clueless & silly.
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 who 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! He was killed by food poisoning 4days after.
He killed the boy on Thursday and by Sunday morning, he was found Dead. But luckily for the interrogators, before he was killed, Ekeanyanwu confessed and mentioned Leonard Unaogu as the brain behind the ritual killing syndicate.
He confessed that the ritual killing ring was a well-organized machine that specialized in the harvesting of human body parts and sold them to those interested in using them for rituals and all the usual nonsense they claimed to be using them for. He also said it was Unaogu who ordered him to get a human head.
Reports have it that the Otokoto saga had been in place as far back as 1976.
Confessional statements revealed that no one was spared at the Otokoto Hotel. Innocent guests and unsuspecting travellers who lodged at the hotel were drugged or attacked in the middle of their sleep and hacked to death after which they were cut into pieces for sale.
Police officers who swooped upon 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.
No one knows the exact exhumed at Otokoto Hotel was up to 24 bodies. Some were buried at inconspicuous locations such as under the flowerbeds. Such evil, such horror!
The man that Ekeanyanwu mentioned before he was poisoned to death, Leonard Unaogu, was a business tycoon. And he was the junior brother to Laz Unaogu, a serving minister under Abacha.
Leonard Unaogu was eventually arrested by the police.
When the police arrested Unaogu, he lied with a straight face that he never knew anyone called Innocent Ekeanyanwu and that he was not even in Owerri when the crime was committed, saying he was in Lagos.
THE TRIAL AND JUDGEMENT:
The trial started on the 9th of December, 1996, with 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. The court also admitted the confessional statement of Innocent Ekeanyanwu.
Margaret Acholonu, a receptionist at 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 Onwucheka, told the court he was in the office when Ekeanyanwu was arrested with a fresh human head of the innocent boy.
According to Onwucheka, 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, 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 till 14th October 1997, over a year, and after series of adjournments, absence of lawyers, the 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, with handcuffs.
Duru protested the preferential treatment given to Unaogu.
Many judges handled the case. First, it was 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.
Justice Chioma Nwosu-Iheme Judgment:
She Sentenced All the seven suspects to death, they were:
Chief Vincent Duru. The owner of the Otokoto Hotel and Unaogu denied knowing each other, but Justice Nwosu-Iheme said that was a lie.
He appealed the sentence in 2012 but he was unlucky as the sentence was upheld by the Appeal Court
Leonard Unaogu: He would later die some years ago at the Port Harcourt Prisons in what has been described as very mysterious circumstances.
BLACK SCORPION SECRETE CULT:
After judgment, the convicts all moved to the Port Harcourt Prisons in the middle of February 2003 pending their execution.
Prior to the case of Okoronkwo, several children had disappeared in Owerri, never to be found to date. Some were kidnapped and their wealthy parents will pay a ransom.
It was so serious that in May 1995, the daughter of Dr Okoh, a Physician in the city was kidnapped by the Black Scorpions, one of the elite secret cult, asked the doctor to pay $12000 before the girl Will be released.
Eventually, the police stormed the hideout of the Black Scorpions and months later, the leader of the cult, Obidiozor Duru (who happens to also be the son of Chief Vincent Duru, owner of the Otokoto Hotel) and Amanze Onuoha, were both arrested.
They were brought before the Imo State Robbery and Firearms Tribunal on the charges of armed robbery, a capital offence.
Businessman and politician Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu were also mentioned in the saga but he denied ever knowing anything about the case.
What happened next was nothing but a mockery of justice. Duru and Onuoha were treated like royalties in the prisoner rather than criminals awaiting the death penalty.
They got the most liberal visiting privileges, ate food cooked and brought from their homes. They were like lords and Duru (a PhD holder in psychology from California State University) even impregnated one of his female Jailers and did a ‘traditional wedding’ with her before he completed his case.
And while they were incarcerated, the rate of child kidnappings in Imo dropped drastically.
In 1997, six people were executed by a firing squad following a judgement by Justice Emmanuel Nnodim. One of those killed was Obidiozor, the son of Chief Vincent Duru, leader of Black Scorpion Cult.
WHERE IS OTOKO (Vincent Duru) NOW?:
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 took place on Sunday, November 13, 2016. This was 13 years after his 2003 conviction. This was after the government approved the execution warrant.
For His Properties:
During the administration of Ikedi Ohakim as governor, he tried to revoke the right of occupancy of the police to the confiscated Otokoto properties but people were said to have kicked against it.
The Duru family was also said to have approached Governor Rochas Okorocha over the confiscated property saying the property belonged to the Otokoto Group and not Duru. Okorocha stylishly brushed the matter aside.
Each time the issue of returning the confiscated property to the Otokoto family, Owerri people rise and protests.
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: poverty, irrational beliefs in supernatural powers that lead people to believe money can be made from flesh without doing any work, weak/corrupt law enforcement agencies and a super-slow judicial system.
The presence 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.
The Nigerian disease is still there – yet to be healed.
We should stop our great pf “Getting Rich Quick” Syndrome.
Otokoto happened in as far back as1996 when many Youths who are involved in Yahoo-Yahoo, Yahoo Plus, Ritual Money etc, were not even born then.
Funny enough, all those who involve in Human Ritual Killing, doesn’t end well. This because ‘THE DEVIL HAS NO FREE GIFT’.
So Youths, be careful.
Say NO to Blood money
Say NO to Human Ritual Killing
Say NO to Kidnapping
Say NO to short-cut to Wealth
God bless You All