– By James Ubadike
The security situation in the sleepy town of Oraifite in Ekwusigo Local Government Area of Anambra State is tense and may implode anytime .
This is because the majority of the people are preparing for a showdown with the town’s controversial billionaire, Wilson Orakwue Emeka Offor, over innumerable flagrant human rights violations. The immediate cause of the current uneasy relationship between the businessman and his folk is the detention since Saturday, July 13, 2013, of a social activist from the town named Comrade Boniface Okonkwo by the police on Offor’s instructions.
Okonkwo’s sole offence is that he criticized Offor in an online forum of Oraifite indigenes for donating a whopping 1.3million dollars to Rotary International for polio eradication while their town lacks basic amenities and the people wallow in abject poverty. Offor considers the criticism defamatory and consequently directed one Jeff Nkonye of Fortress Chambers in Lagos who is also the legal adviser to the Oraifite Improvement Union, to write a letter demanding Okonkwo to retract the accusation within 24 hours and render an unreserved apology to the controversial businessman in both two national newspapers and the forum named Mbala Obodo. The letter was written on June 28.
The activist stood his ground. “The next thing we saw”, narrated Sylvanus Udedibia, Okonkwo’s first cousin living with him in Lagos, “was Okonkwo’s arrest by a detachment of policemen from the Federal Special Fraud Unit and the Special Anti-Robbery Squad who came all the way from Abuja and shot into the air several times to intimidate the family and neighbours in Ilasamaja, Mushin, in Lagos”.
The activist was arrested in a commando-like operation in the early hours of the day he was preparing to travel to South Africa. Offor, according to Mike Ofiaeli who is coordinating the campaign for Okonkwo’s release, had sent Sunday Igboanuzue, a Lagos-based trader, and Godson Ugochukwu, a young lawyer in Lagos, to secretly monitor Okonkwo’s movements and report to him.
Narrated Godson Onyeakosi who is Okonkwo’s lawyer: “Comrade Okonkwo was not told of his offence until he was whisked away to the Lagos State Police Command where the team from Abuja officially informed their colleagues that Okonkwo had been arrested for allegedly impugning Emeka Offor’s character in an online forum, and that the government contractor had written a petition to the Police Headquarters to this effect. The police in Lagos were scandalized that the force high command was dragged into such a silly civil case. In fact, an officer did wonder aloud to everyone’s hearing ‘have we degenerated to this level? Have we become so cheap a tool in settling personal scores ”.
Since his arrest on Saturday, July 13, Okonkwo has been kept incommunicado in Abuja, sharing a very small cell with hardened criminals like armed robbers, kidnappers and murderers, revealed a police source who requested our correspondent not to reveal his name in the media for fear of victimization by his bosses. It was gathered that, contrary to common practice, the criminals refused to beat Okonkwo when on entering the cell he identified himself as a social crusader who was “abducted for criticizing a wealthy government contractor”.
Since his arrest the police have denied Okonkwo access to his phones, and they have stopped him from meeting visiting family friends, relatives and sympathisers. At the time of filing this report, his lawyer was making frantic efforts to secure his release from the court. “It is a monumental shame that the anti-corruption fighter should be detained without trial for two weeks now whereas the Constitution provides that no person can be detained for more than 24hours without trial unless the offence for which he is suspected of committing is not a bailable one like murder”, said attorney Onyeakusi. “It is unbelievable acts like this one by even non government officials could be perpetrated with telling impunity in a so-called democracy. No wonder, a section of the Nigerian people and the international community should regard Nigeria as a failed state. We are beginning to see our own version of the Somali warlord, Farah Aideed”.
It is understood that this is not the first time Offor’s path has crossed with Okonkwo’s. “Comrade was one of the few people in Lagos courageous enough to express an opinion different from Emeka Offor’s at the Lagos Branch meetings of the Oraifite Improvement Union when Offor was living in Anthony Village”, recalled an executive committee member who pleaded for anonymity.
“Offor used police to intimidate Okonkwo, but the young man refused to be cowed. Other courageous members were threatened with police. Owen Okolo, who now lives in Abuja, was falsely and maliciously accused of owing him a huge amount of money , with police sent after him. This was around 2007. Isaac Anachuna was dragged by the police to Awka as the first step to Abuja for detention but his Isingwu people immediately taught Offor a hard lesson.
“When Azuka Okwuosa, a former chairman of Nnewi Local Government and a confidant of Chief Emeka Ojukwu was rising rapidly in politics, Offor, who had nominated him to be the Commissioner for Works in the Dr Chinwoke Mbadinuju administration, asked the governor to drop him from his cabinet in 2002. Worse, he caused the police to whisk Okwuosa, who is his cousin, away from Enugu to Abuja to be detained on a false and frivolous charge.”
According to this source, Offor decided a few years ago decided to humiliate the first senior advocate of Nigeria from Oraifite, Chuks Momah, in whose chambers in Aba, Abia State, Offor’s cousin, Nnoruka Udechukwu (SAN), was practicing. On the day Momah’s Ifite people were celebrating the popular traditional Afia Olu festival which the senior lawyer was leading, Offor got the police to disrupt it on the incredible excuse that the people were involved in a public assembly without police permit.
The most humiliating of Offor’s reckless use of police against rivals, real and perceived, was reserved for Ikechukwu Obiora, a lawyer. The controversial businessman caused the police to arrest Obiora at his wedding reception. His offence? Obiora, who was to become a senator from 2007 to 2011, dared to challenge Offor’s candidate for the Anambra South senatorial ticket, Dr Nnamdi Eriobuna, an indigene of Ihembosi in Ekwusigo Local Government Area, in the 1998 senatorial election.
“Offor has finally beaten more than he can chew”, declared Ofiaeli. “His cup has runneth over. The heartless arrest and continued incarceration of Comrade Bonny Okonkwo, an innocent person who has been kept in the same place as violent criminals for two weeks, challenges the humanity of all Oraifite people. The man dies in all who keep silent in the face of tyranny. Our hometown is unfortunately sitting on a keg of gunpowder, and a few of us have managed all this while to keep the mass of our people in check because we do not want them to take the law into their hands, despite the unbearable provocation. Wilson Orakwue Offor, alias Sir Emeka Offor, must be held squarely responsible for the ongoing situation in our place”.
Meanwhile, the radical Lagos-based lawyer, Femi Falana, will today go to court in Abuja to enforce the fundamental rights of Okonkwo.