DEATH IN DPO'S OFFICE
When Princess Zainab Chinasa Uwakwe won a beauty pageant in Lagos, in 1992, at a younger age, she was full of life. Even at 39, she was still beautiful, with an arresting smile. However, she was not just a beauty. She's also had brain, for business and politics. A professional caterer with sublime skills, her business interests had expanded into oil marketing and she did raise her outfit, DZ Wins Company Limited, Aba, to a notable brand. And she wanted to become a legislator in Abia State. But she died. She died a few months away from tying the nuptial knot with her heartthrob, Ray, who lives abroad.
Zainab died on October 5 last year in controversial circumstances. She died in the office of a Divisional Police Officer (DPO), in Aba. Her ugly story started after a political meeting, in connection with her ambition of representing Aba North State Constituency in the Abia State House of Assembly. She had got a call to come to Cameroun Road Police Barracks, Aba, to see the then Division Police Officer (DPO), Mr. Kabir A. Ishaq, a Superintendent of Police (SP). She did not leave the DPO's office alive.
Since last year October till date, nobody has been docked for her death. Also, nothing has been said about her burial, as her corpse has remained in the mortuary. And her family is worried. Also, members of the family of the late Mazi Peter Uwakwe of Amakpor autonomous community, in Igbere, Bende Local Government Area, Abia State, are alleging plot to swept the incident under the carpet.
Zainab's younger sister, Favour Nkechi Peter, said that the DPO, in whose office the lady died, has been transferred to Katsina State. She also alleged that other officers who were at the police station when the incident happened have been transferred to other police formations.
With tears rushing down her cheeks and voice quaking in palpable pains, Favour told the story of the shocking death of her sister: 'October 5, 2010 will forever remain fresh in my memory. That day, I left for work in the morning and came back at about 6.00pm only to discover that my sister was not yet at home. It was unusual because she rarely stayed out beyond 6.00 pm. So, I called her telephone numbers some minutes after 6.00 pm, to know what was keeping her from coming home, but she didn't pick her calls. After some minutes, I called her again, but got no answers. I then remembered that she left home with a cousin of ours, Mr. Nkem Igbokwe in a car. I called him to ask what was keeping them and where they were.
'Nkem said that he was in the car waiting for aunty to come out, referring to our big sister, Princess Zainab. I asked him where they were and he said that they were at the Police Station on Cameroun Road, Aba. He said that they came to see the DPO. I asked Nkem what took them there and he said that after they came out from a political meeting, because she was aspiring to contest the Abia State House of Assembly election to represent Aba North State Constituency and on their way home, she received a call from someone who said that he was having some problems at the Police Station. The caller, who she probably knew, told her that the DPO was proving too difficult to release him and all that. The caller urged her to come there and use her influence to talk to the DPO.
'According to Nkem, she then directed him to head to the Police Station but before getting there, she had to call the DPO first because the DPO had been asking her to see him for a long time, saying there was something he had to talk about with her. Zainab had previously told me that the DPO wanted to see her but that she didn't know why he wanted to see her.
'On that day, when she called the DPO, he said that there was a case that needed her attention. So, she told him that she was coming. When they got to the Police Station, she met a police officer at the DPO's reception and told him that she wanted to see the DPO. The officer told her to wait because the DPO was with some people in his private office. She told him that he could not wait because she needed to go home, having been exhausted for the day. So, she called the DPO on phone and told him that she was around. The DPO came out of his office to welcome her and invited her in. As they were about entering his office, she told the DPO that her cousin (Nkem) was outside. The DPO then told Nkem to give them some minutes, saying that my sister would be right back. My sister then told him to wait for her in car and assured him that she would be out shortly.
'When Nkem waited for about an hour without seeing her, he called her phone but she did not pick her calls. Nkem thought that they were still busy and wondered what it was that was keeping her there because it was unusual for big sister to be in a particular office for that long. As Nkem was waiting and wondering what could be happening, I called him to know where they were and he told me that he was still waiting for her inside the car at the police station. I told him to leave the car and enter the DPO's office to know what was still keeping her. When Nkem got there, even the police officer at the reception wasn't there anymore. He knocked at the DPO's office, but there was no response and he came out. Then some police officers from the other section came to him and asked him if he was looking for anybody. He told them that he was looking for his cousin that he came there with.'
Tale develops twist
Favour said: 'Nkem said that they asked him if he was related to the lady that came in and he said yes. Nkem said that they then asked for his phone number and he asked them what they wanted to do with his phone number. He told them to show him where his sister was, so that they could go home. After some arguments, he released his number to them. On getting back to the car to continue waiting, he received a call from an anonymous caller who told him to come to New Era Hospital, Aba, where his sister had been rushed to because she was very sick. He asked the caller what kind of sickness was he talking about and he told Nkem that she took excessive alcohol. Nkem again asked under how she could have taken excessive alcohol; moreover she was fasting that day and was supposed to see the DPO briefly and come out because she was exhausted. According to him, all these questions were running through his mind.'
According to Favour, 'Nkem immediately gave us a call at home, saying that we should come to New Era Hospital, Aba. Time was about 9 p.m. I left the home and rushed to New Era Hospital. On getting to the hospital, Nkem, my in-law, elder sister, some friends and I asked them if any lady was rushed in there and they said yes. They even wrote her name as Nene Udah because the DPO did not know her real name. If at all the DPO knew her very well, he should be able to know her full names. But the DPO told them that her name was Nene Udah, thinking that she was the daughter of one of our family friends.
'They told us to go and verify if the lady that was brought in was Princess or Nene Udah. How we were able to locate the room she was lying in was the groaning we heard coming out of it. When we came in, she wasn't wearing anything at the top but she still had her skirt because she was putting on a traditional attire. I looked around and saw her top, where it was kept and used it to cover her up before others could come in. We asked the doctors and nurses why she was in that state and they said that she was rushed in unconscious. We asked them what happened to her and they said that it was a patrol team from Ndiegoro Police Division that brought her there, adding that they told them that she took excessive alcohol. I smelt her breath but there was no alcohol in it. At least, someone who they claimed took a bottle of Hennessy should have the smell of alcohol in her breath. They said that she took a bottle of Hennessy and a can of Bullet energy drink all alone, yet there was no smell of alcohol in her breath. It was unbelievable.'
Favour said she continued to interrogate the hospital staff, revealing: 'I asked the doctors and nurses how come she was half naked; they said that they took off her top and bra and put on the fan so that it could revive her. She was on drip as well. I asked how many drips had she taken and they said that she was on the third. I asked how could she be on the third drip between two and three hours interval. I asked if they did any medical examination on her before administering any treatment and they said no. They said that based on what they were told that she took alcohol, they gave her some injections and pints of drip.
'Then I started looking closely at my elder sister and saw that her neck was swollen with visible marks, just like when someone is slapped on the face and the finger marks appeared. I called the attention of the other people there to see what I was seeing. She was still groaning, totally unconscious; if anyone was there she never knew. And her tongue was in-between her teeth. The inevitable question is, what happened to her neck to make it swollen? Yes, she was plump but I knew the size of her neck. So, if anything happened to her, one could tell.
'When some of my siblings left, I stayed behind so that if she woke up she could see someone around. They left between 9 p.m. and 10 p.m. and I was alone with her. The nurses were coming to check on her after which they left. Some minutes later, she stopped groaning and I called the attention of a nurse. The nurse came in, checked on her and went to call the doctor. The doctor came in, checked her and confirmed her dead.'
What was her reaction when the doctor confirmed the sister dead? Favour said: 'I couldn't believe it. I was holding her in my and I never knew that she had passed out. I only knew that she had stopped groaning. After the doctor confirmed her dead, I called my people and they rushed back to the hospital that night. We looked her over and saw that her skirt was soaked with blood. This was a full grown woman, a business woman and well respected in society; how could she be in that state. She was my elder sister, she shared a lot of things in common and lived in the same house; so I lifted her skirt and found out that her undies were not there. How come her undies were not there? The nurses said that they did not know. She was in a pool of blood. That was when I raised the alarm that this could be rape.'
Favour said she called state's commissioner of police: 'I called the Commissioner of Police, Jonathan Johnson, the next day when her remains were being taken to the mortuary, to tell him what had happened. I never knew that he had already heard it and he knew my late sister very well. He asked it was true that Princess was dead? Who was the guy that took her to the police station? And why would the guy leave her to enter into the DPO's office alone? That was exactly the words of Jonathan Johnson. That was crazy in my own sight. This was a full grown woman and you are now blaming the young guy that dropped her there, who is younger than her by far and who takes orders from her. He said that I should bring the guy immediately to his office at Umuahia. I asked him if that was all he had to say? He said yes, that he wanted to see the guy immediately. I said okay and dropped the call. I did not call him again.
'Meanwhile, the DPO that my sister came to see, switched off her phones. Why did he switch off her telephones when they were ringing? When my people went to see him and asked him why he switched off Princess' telephones, he said that the telephones were making a hell of noise. Okay, somebody came to your office and you said that the person fell sick, why didn't you pick her calls because it might be her family calling or search through her phone and call her relatives or even go and call the person she came with who was waiting in the car? You never let the person she came with know what was happening, instead you took her out through another gate to the hospital.'
Favour accused the police of trying to frame her sister up, saying that hard drugs were planted in her bag to make her a criminal.
According to her, 'after it happened, they planted some hard drugs in her handbag. Thereafter, the DPO asked my siblings that went to see him in his office to take the handbag but my elder brother said no. He told the DPO that when they needed the handbag, they would come and take it. Her telephones, gold jewellery and even slippers were gone. That same day, we got a call from a police officer who did not disclose his name but he told us that hard drugs had been planted in the handbag to make it look like my sister was into drugs.
'When we reported the case at Zone 9, the man was called. The person handling the case was Obiakor, an Assistant Commissioner of Police then, but he is now the Commissioner of Police in Nasarawa State. Obiakor really did a good job by calling a lot of police officers that were on duty, interviewed them and they confirmed that the lady came in hale and hearty but the next thing was that the police officer called them and told them to take the body away when she was already half dead. There were some people in the office when she came. Now, the question is, who were those people in his office that he never wanted another person to see? This shows that the death was planned and executed.
'When the case was raising dust, Obiakor was doing a lot of investigations. When the case was at the table of the commissioner, the commissioner didn't do anything. He didn't arrest the DPO until the case was transfrered from the State CID to Zone 9. It was when the case got to Zone 9 that Obiakor took the action.'
Favour said the autopsy revealed much. She revealed: 'Finally, the autopsy was done. My family hired a pathologist to oversee the autopsy. The person, who did the autopsy, was Dr Wilson but the person we hired to oversee the process was Professor Nwosu, Head of Pathology at the University of Port Harcourt Teaching Hospital. When the autopsy was done, there was a lot of blood that clotted in her neck to show the sign of strangulation. They said that there was no issue of rape. They said that the blood was as a result of her menstruation. The question again is, where went the undies of a woman that was menstruating? If there was no attempt of rape and/or to strangle her, where were her undies? Third, they said that they found about 80 per cent of alcohol in her system but how could that be when she suffered stomach ulcer and had stopped taking alcohol for a long time.
'We are now saying that if at all the result of the autopsy they gave out was true, then certainly something must have gone wrong. It could be that they forced her to take that quantity of alcohol. It could be under duress, at gun point. Anything can happen. It could be that she was forced to take the alcohol so that in the event of an autopsy, they would say that alcohol was responsible. Between the time she entered the office and the time she was brought to the hospital, how could she have comfortably taken a bottle of Hennessy? She had just finished a political meeting and in the meeting she did not take anything, not even water. The water she had, she even took it from the house. She didn't even take kolanut at the meeting because she was fasting. She was supposed to break the fast when she got home but she did not know that she would never come back home.'
Matter taken to Abuja
Favour said that although the matter was taken to Abuja, 'our concern now is that ever since this thing happened, the police has been dilly-dallying. We know how much we've spent on this case. Our lawyer, Mr. Charles Akwuete, has tried to bring back the case because they took the case out of Abia State without our knowledge. They just called us one day and said that we should start coming to Abuja. It was when the man was taken to Abuja that he was released. Why would the IGP, Hafiz Ringim, order the release of somebody in whose office a lady died in suspicious circumstance? Is it because of where we come from?'
She said that the family, through its lawyer, had made concerted effort to obtain justice.
'Our lawyer has been writing, saying that the case should be brought back to the Abia State DPP and tried there because that is the place where the crime took place before it could be taken elsewhere. We've written to the Police Service Commission, yet nothing has happened. Rather they transferred him (DPO) to Katsina State, where he is still serving as a policeman,' she said.
Asked about the guy the late Zainab was supposed to help out at the Police Station, Favour said: 'Thank you for that question. Nobody saw that guy. Till today, nobody knows of him. That's to tell that it was planned. She alone knew the person and her phones are still with the police. She went there with four of her phones and the police are yet to return them.'
Quest for justice
The Uwakwes have been seeking justice to no avail. They have written series of petitions to different persons and organisations for assistance on the matter without much success. In a petition to AIG, Zone 9, Umuahia, through their lawyer, Akwuete Charles & Co, they noted: 'The deceased was served drink, which was suspected to have been drugged by the DPO apparently to have undue sexual advantage over her.'
The petition dated 0ctober 23, 2010 further explained: 'As the family approached the DPO the following day for explanations of what actually happened in his office, he was bold enough to admit that he served her Hennessey. He also produced her hand bag, which he kept in his custody. As he opened the bag and poured out the contents on his table for all to see, one of the contents was her inner wear (pant). Incidentally, Supol Ishaq Kabiru was unable to reasonably explain how her inner wear got into the bag in his custody among many other questions.'
The petition also urged the AIG to use his 'good offices to ensure that investigation and prosecution of Supol Kabiru and others involved in the death of deceased are brought to book in the interest of justice.'
Another petition to the IGP, through Akwuete Charles & Co and dated November 17, 2010, said: 'The suspect was later subjected to interrogations on the unnatural death of the deceased based on the petition to the Assistant Inspector General of Police, Zone 9, Umuahia by the family of the deceased. Interviews between the suspect and our client with their witnesses at Zone 9, Police Headquarters, Umuahia revealed that the suspect had very serious questions to answer about the death of the deceased. This prompted the zonal police command to direct the parties to conduct an autopsy on the deceased so as to further the investigations.
'The family of the deceased objected to a police pathologist conducting the autopsy alone in order not to prejudice them. The police conceded to this and allowed the family to present their independent pathologist who shall conduct the autopsy alongside the police pathologist.
'Sir, we regret to inform you that more than 15 days after the family's pathologist turned in the result of his autopsy, the police pathologist has failed and or refused to release the autopsy result till date. This deliberate act has thereby heightened fears of possible police compromise as initially alleged by the family of the deceased. This not withstanding, the autopsy result available to us by the Professor pathologist consultant who represented our client shows that the decease died an unnatural death and the suspect has a very serious case to answer.
'With the level of investigation so far, the proper thing for the police to do would have been to refer the case file to the Attorney General of Abia State for his legal opinion and action. Instead of resorting to this clear procedure of criminal investigation and procedure, the police, in active connivance with the collaborators of the suspect at the Force Headquarters Abuja, has successfully directed that the case file and the suspect be transferred to Abuja. Consequently, the suspect and the file are now at the Force Headquarters Abuja.
'Sir, we view the foregoing as a deliberate and desperate attempt to frustrate the investigation of this heinous crime of murder of the deceased by the suspect. This is not only because the suspect has wider connection at the Force Headquarters that can be used to frustrate and compromise the investigation, but also the family of the deceased will be greatly prejudiced by this transfer, which will require them to air lift their witnesses and solicitors to Abuja for the purpose of this investigation with its attendant heavy cost on finances and risk.'
The petition further claimed that there are subtle attempts to 'conceal and frustrate evidence in the matter by transferring policemen who were on duty on the date of the incident.
'We state categorically that the said transfer of the policemen from the division was not done in good faith. The transfers were calculated to frustrate their attendance to interviews in this case, so as to give the suspect a good control and undue advantage over the case,' the petition said.
Copies of the petition were sent to the Minister of Police Affairs, Senate Committee on Public Petitions, House of Representatives Committee on Public Petitions, Police Service Commission, National Human Rights Commission, Public Complaints Commission, Nigeria Bar Association, Civil Society Organizations and Nigeria Union of Journalists.
In the same vein, Igbere Welfare Union (IWU), in a petition to IGP and dated November 25, 2010, said: 'We the entire people of Igbere clan resident in Aba metropolis wish to report to you about the possible attempt to frustrate the investigation of the murder of Princess Zainab Chinasa Uwakwe who died on her visit to Supol Ishaq Kabiru.
'In view of the serious question of complicity against Supol Kabiru in the murder of the deceased, as revealed so far by both the police investigation and pathologists, we are surprised to hear that the case file and the suspect have been transferred to Abuja without the family's knowledge as complaints.'
Signed by Chijoke Izuka, secretary of IWU, the petition suggested that to show transparency and fairness in the investigations, the case should be returned to Umuahia.
Grieving mother and daughter
It was further gathered that Zainab's mother's health had deteriorated, as a result of the death of her daughter and the way the matter is being handled. 'Mama, who is hypertensive, is living by the grace of God because she keeps shedding tears every minute of the day. We know that Zainab cannot come back but at least let justice be done to assuage the pains of her death in such in a horrendous manner,' Favour said.
She said that Zainab's nine-year-old daughter has been asking: 'Where is my mummy? When is she coming back?'
Efforts to speak with the Abia Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO), Mr. Geoffrey Ogbonnaya, on the matter, proved abortive as he did not pick or return his calls. He also did not respond to text messages sent to his phone. However, when contacted on telephone, the Investigation Police Officer (IPO), Mr. Itah, said that the matter is now with the legal department at the Force Headquarters, Abuja.