A trader in Anambra State, Mrs Ngozi Okonkwo, tells IKENNA OBIANERI about her struggle for justice for her grandchild who was kidnapped and his school uniform dumped at a shrine
Tell us a bit about yourself.
My name is Ngozi Okonkwo. I am an indigene of Umunnama community in Eziowelle, Idemili North Local Government Area of Anambra State. I am 55 years old. I am a petty trader and I am married with kids and a grandchild.
Your grandson was reportedly abducted. Can you recall the incident?
Yes. My grandson, Tukwasichukwuobi Okonkwo, has been missing since 2019. He was taken away alongside his classmate, Chinenye, by abductors on January 19, 2019. It was while they were waiting for their teachers and other pupils to come and conduct the morning assembly in the school compound at Uzubi Nursery and Primary School that their captors came and took them away and till date, they have not been found.
It was my daughter, Amara, who used to drop them off at their school before she would proceed to her own school. She was in secondary school also located along the same road. What happened was on the morning she dropped the children, the teachers had yet to come to school, so the children were left alone in the compound and that was what gave the captors the chance to lure the children away.
Was there no security guard at the school?
There was no security guard at the school. It was an open compound; no fence and no gate.
How old was your grandson as of the time he was taken away by the assailants?
He was seven years old in 2019, by now he ought to be 10.
What about his parents?
The mother had him when she was living with me. And when she got married, she did not take the child along.
How did you get the news of his disappearance?
I waited for him to return from school after school hours on that fateful day as other kids were coming back home, but he did not return. While I was getting ready to go to the school to check up on him at about 3pm, a teacher from the school walked into my house and told me that my attention was needed in the school. On getting to the school, the teachers told me that someone brought the school uniforms and bags of the missing kids to the school and told them that he picked the items from a shrine known as ‘Ogwugwu’ in Eziowelle. When I searched my grandson’s bag, I found some packets of biscuits inside, even when I did not buy any biscuits for him when he was leaving for school in the morning.
And what did the school authorities say?
The school authorities told me that they did not even know that the two missing kids came to school that day because they (school authorities) had not reached the school before the kids were lured away by the suspects.
Who is the person that was said to have returned their uniforms and how is he related to you?
There is no blood relation; just a member of the community.
Did you visit the shrine where the uniforms were said to have been found?
We visited the place, but we did not find the children. Even the person in charge of the shrine was nowhere to be found.
Did you report the matter to the police?
It was at that stage that I rushed to Eziowelle Police Station and lodged a complaint and consequently, the police first arrested the person that brought the uniforms, and in the end, investigations revealed that it was his elder brother, whose name is Onyedika, that transported those children, together with some others at large, in his tricycle. He is a tricycle operator. They lured the innocent children from the school with packets of biscuits.
What did the police do?
The police arrested and detained him, but granted him bail the following day. Not satisfied with the speed with which the police released the suspect, I went to the state Criminal Investigations Department, Awka, and lodged a fresh complaint, which prompted the arrest of the school headmistress and Tukwasichukwuobi’s class teacher and also the school manager who is a Catholic priest. At the state CID, the traditional ruler of Eziowelle sent someone to take the bail of Onyedika, because they are closely related. It was my petition to the Inspector-General of Police, and the quick response that reinvigorated the case which prompted the police to arraign Onyedika in 2021 after two years of dilly-dally, otherwise, the case would have died off as planned by the suspect and his cohorts.
What is the state of the matter now?
The matter was charged to court in 2021 and ever since then, it has been from one adjournment to another, while the suspect and his cohorts go about threatening me and my family. They go about boasting that the matter will not see the light of the day, no matter what I do. It is a pity that this kidnap matter has gone on adjournment over 15 times. The only day we had a ruling on it was the first day when the plea for the bail of the suspects was heard and the suspects were granted bail. Ever since, it has been from one adjournment to another. All I am seeking is for all the relevant authorities, including the judicial council, to intervene in this matter and ensure accelerated hearing to ensure that justice is served for those missing innocent children. My grandson must not be allowed to die in vain; it is possible that they have killed the children for ritual purposes or possibly sold them off, but whatever, I just want justice to prevail in this matter to serve as a deterrent to others who may think that laws don’t work.
What about the parents of the other kid that was kidnapped along with your grandson?
They have been frustrated and they are tired of pursuing the matter, the frequent adjournments here and there have made them to back out. But as for me, I will see this matter to a logical conclusion, with the help of God. I am also seeking the support of civil society organisations to help prevail on the court for accelerated hearing on the matter.
Where is the case being handled and what stage is it?
It is at the Ogidi Magistrates’ Court 1 in the Idemili North LGA of Anambra State. The matter came up last Thursday, but the Chief Magistrate court One handling the matter did not sit and it was subsequently adjourned till December 6, 2022. I was hoping that, at least, trial proper would commence on Thursday, but I was disappointed when they announced that the magistrate did not sit and subsequently the matter was adjourned.
I am not satisfied with the way the case is being handled. First, the police tried to bury the matter, before it was charged to court. Now at the court, it has been from one adjournment to another without any concrete thing done yet.
Are you suspecting any foul play as regards this issue?
I am suspecting that my grandson’s suspected abductors may have the backing of some powerful individuals, if not, how will you describe the incessant setbacks they have deliberately introduced in the matter?
Where are the school uniforms that were found in the shrine?
They have been tendered as exhibits and in the custody of the police.
Have you for once suspected any ritual killing in the incident?
A lot of things are being suspected, especially as they said their school uniforms were found in a shrine, but I want to remain positive so long as it has not being stated in that direction. Other thoughts like the possibility of the children being sold also flash through my mind, but it is better that the children were sold and are still alive than being ritually killed or whatever, although, no parents pray for either of these.