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AN OPEN LETTER TO IGP ONOVO

PHOTO: INSPECTOR GENERAL OF POLICE, MR OGBONNAYA ONOVO.
PHOTO: INSPECTOR GENERAL OF POLICE, MR OGBONNAYA ONOVO.



(Note: This column was written before I learned about the death of Lotachukwu Ezeudu at the hand of his kidnappers, and the arrest of DPO Sam Chukwu on the orders of IG Onovo. I'm deeply distressed by news of Lota's death. That this young man's life was cut short by his callous kidnappers is a testament to the depths of depravity present in some quarters of our society. I'd like to commend Mr. Onovo for arresting Sam Chukwu and a few other shadowy, evil-minded officers. The task of cleansing thus commenced must be sustained).

Dear Mr. Onovo,

There's no question that you hold one of the toughest jobs in Nigeria. Under your watch, a large swath of Nigeria – specifically the southeast – is close to being overrun by bands of criminals who kidnap for ransom. For you, the challenge is compounded by the fact that you happen to hail from the part of the country most besieged by these prowling kidnappers. I suspect that history's final verdict on your tenure will ride, to a large extent, on your success in tackling the crisis of kidnapping.

Let me quickly enter a caveat in your favor. The scourge of kidnapping is neither your fault nor creation. Instead, it is the product – among others – of collective and longstanding irresponsibility by Nigeria's so-called leaders, abdication by too many parents of their duty to impart sound ethical and moral values in their children, and Nigeria's flirtation with a culture that venerates wealth without regard to the illicitness of its source.

No, it would be profoundly unfair to blame you, Mr. Onovo, for our seemingly intractable kidnapping problem.

The question, however, is whether you're doing all you could to get a handle on this malaise? I suggest that the answer is no.

You cannot be unaware of the fact that some unscrupulous police officers have made the tragic choice of moonlighting as kidnappers – or protectors of kidnappers. You have to make it clear that there's no place in the police for any officer who as much as dabbles in this most heinous, despicable criminal activity.

Mr. IG, I believe you know about the case of 19-year-old Lotachukwu (Lota) Ezeudu who was kidnapped on September 26, 2009 and has not been seen since. You must know, then, that a serving Divisional Police Officer, Sam Chukwu, has come under the cloud in Lota Ezeudu's disappearance.

Let me be blunt: That Sam Chukwu still wears a police uniform today sends a dangerous message that the police have yet to adopt a zero-tolerance policy where kidnapping is concerned.

Sam Chukwu's son, Nnaemeka, is seriously implicated in Lota's kidnap. It was Nnaemeka who, on September 26, 2009, lured Lota, a second-year accountancy student at the University of Nigeria (Enugu campus), out of the safety of his parents' home. Nnaemeka, Lota's classmate in secondary school, invited Lota to come to the DPO's home ostensibly to help one Desmond Chinwuba to look at a laptop computer. That's the last time Lota's parents have seen him.

You must know that the selfsame Desmond Chinwuba used to be a police officer, but was dismissed on account of his involvement in a prior case of armed robbery and kidnapping. For some inexplicable reason, Desmond and another co-accused, Ernest Okeke (also a fired police officer) were granted bail. Why would a judge in his right senses grant bail to men accused of crimes as grave as kidnapping and armed robbery? That decision invites serious investigation.

Far more troubling is the fact that DPO Chukwu offered shelter in his home to Desmond. Ernest Okeke was reportedly also a frequent guest at the DPO's home. As a senior officer, Sam Chukwu could not have been ignorant of the two men's criminal record. Yet, he permitted them to gallivant with his son. In fact, Nnaemeka Chukwu reportedly told his friends, including Lota, that Desmond was his father's personal assistant.

In the wake of Lota's kidnap, and as investigators lurked, Desmond skipped out of town to a yet unknown destination. Yet, records provided by a telephone company show that, from hiding, he continued to talk to Nnaemeka Chukwu.

Make no mistake: as long as Sam Chukwu remains in the police so long will there be a stain on your leadership. His continuing presence in the police, you must know, is bound to hinder the work of the police team investigating Lota's case. Worse, it dials a dire message to the residents of Enugu that the police hierarchy in Abuja is far from ready to protect them from rogue police officers. Your decision to keep the man in uniform undermines the credibility of your avowal to wrestle the monster of kidnapping.

In an embarrassing moment for the police that you head, the public relations department recently characterized fugitive Desmond Chinwuba as a tenant of Sam Chukwu's. That line of reasoning, apart from being (deliberately?) deceptive, left the impression that your office was yet to come to terms with the gravity of unanswered questions pertaining to Sam Chukwu.

First, where and how did the DPO make the money that enabled him to own rental property? Two, where did Desmond, a dismissed officer, find the funds to pay his rent? Three, why would a senior officer like Sam Chukwu allow his son to socialize with two ex-police officers standing trial for armed robbery and kidnapping?

Sam Chukwu has gone to court to press for his son to be released on bail. Should the judge accede to the application, it would amount to a serious threat to the safety and security of other citizens. Desmond Chinwuba and Eric Okeke were granted bail, and look where that got Lota Ezeudu and his distressed parents, relatives and friends. Sam Chukwu wants the court to believe that his son is too sick to endure the conditions of prison custody, yet he has not spared a thought for Lota's parents and siblings who, for ten long months, have lived an unremitting nightmare. Chukwu wants his son out free, but he doesn't reckon that the Ezeudus have not seen their own son since that dark day when Nnaemeka Chukwu asked him out on what seemed a pre-planned scheme.

In the end, Sam Chukwu will do what's good for Sam Chukwu. But it behooves you, as IG, to do what's good for public security and safety. It is imperative that you remove Sam Chukwu and other officers of his ilk from their police posts. The image of the police is tattered enough without the gratuitous scandal of an officer who hosts accused armed robbers and kidnappers.

With Chukwu out of the way, you would have cleared the path for the officers investigating Lota's case to get cracking – and solve the puzzle.

What Manner of Honor?

Last week, "President" Jonathan Goodluck invested more than 180 Nigerians with various national honors. With the exception of a few cases, the whole exercise was a hollow ritual.

Like his predecessors, Jonathan seems to have adopted the reasoning that national honors should be conferred on those whose records of national service or conduct seem particularly dubious. Here, for example, is a taste of the generally bizarre quality of this year's recipients. There's Femi Otedola, whose name featured prominently last year on the list of debtors who were busy playing billionaire while owing distressed banks loads of cash. There's Patricia Etteh, a disgraced former speaker of the House of Representatives. After her removal from the speaker's perch – in large part for her plan to spend N628 million to renovate and furnish official quarters – Ms. Etteh seemed to go into hibernation. If she's ever moved a motion or sponsored (or co-sponsored) one solitary bill, it's news to me. How about Abdullahi Dikko Inde, the comptroller general of the Customs? The man has not shaken off allegations that he forged his academic credentials. Yet, Jonathan held him up as a model citizen deserving of our admiration.

Nigeria's national honors have been so debased and trashed that they seem to represent horror to those solid citizens who, as a fluke or afterthought, are infrequently named beneficiaries. Who a nation honors is a barometer of the nation's character and a mirror into its deepest values. Each year, those in charge seem to cast their net in a most unimaginative manner – and end up with a list that's often distinguished by mediocrity, greed and questionable mettle.

Why are "ordinary" Nigerians who are often the nation's truest heroes excluded from the list? Why are there no courteous taxi drivers, conscientious civil servants, committed teachers, caring nurses and physicians, honest traders, ethical reporters etc? Why is it that those who occupy high public office, regardless of performance, are often a shoo-in for these awards?

Perhaps Jonathan should issue a short statement spelling out what informed the bestowal of a national honor on each beneficiary. It'd be illuminating to read something like, "So so and so was honored for rising to the top of his department with certificates that may have been forged."

What a bad name we have given to honour in Nigeria!

Okey Ndibe is at [email protected]

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