By Chuks Eke
Fears, anger and condemnations are now trailing the recent relocation of one Chief Pius Nweke, a prominent son of Abba community in Njikoka Local Government Area of Anambra state who is serving a jail term for unlawful possession of firearm and ammunition from Onitsha Correctional Center to another center in Abuja by authorities of the Nigerian Correctional Service.
Chief Nweke, an Onitsha-based industrialist and Chairman/Managing Director of Best Aluminium Manufacturing Company Limited had been convicted by a Federal High Court sitting at Awka and presided over by Justice Nnamdi Dimgba on May30, this year on a two-count charge bothering on unlawful possession of firearm and unlawful possession of ammunition preferred against him by the police and was initially remanded in Awka Correctional Center for two weeks during which his sentence would be pronounced.
On June 14, this year, he was eventually sentenced to 10 years imprisonment for count one which is unlawful possession of firearm with an option of N30 million fine at N3 million per annum and three months imprisonment on count two for unlawful possession of ammunition wihout an option of fine.
The court also granted his application to for preference to serve his jail term in Onitsha Correctional center instead of Awka Correctional center where he was remanded before his sentence and consequently he was moved to Onitsha correctional center to serve out his jail term.
Earlier, Nweke’s counsels, Chudi Obieze (SAN) and Ejike Efobi Esq. had told the court that he had an authentic license for the firearm which was issued to him by the federal government.
Nweke, in his own plea, told the court that he has his children, aged mother and retinue of workers working in his factory to cater for and such should not be committed to prison, more so when there was no concrete evidence to send him to prison on account of unlawful possession of firearm.
But barely a week after his sojourn at the Onitsha correctional center, a high powered team of prisons officials suspected to have been delegated from Abuja arrived Onitsha correctional center and whisked him off to yet to be identified particular prison in Abuja.
According to Barrister Efobi, the Anambra state Controller of Prisons was said to have handed Nweke over to the Abuja prisons officials on handcuff and the ferried him to Abuja through the Asaba Airport.
Shortly after their departure, the development attracted anger and indignation from individuals and groups, including Nweke’s Abba community kinsmen, Onitsha Sports Club where Nweke is a bonafide members and several individuals.
Reacting to the development, President of Onitsha Sports Club, Daniel Okafor expressed displeasure that Nweke’s conviction by the court was instigated by a billionaire businessman from Ukpo in Dunukofia Local Government Area of the state just because of the ongoing protracted land dispute between Abba and Ukpo communities which has spanned over the years and which is still pending before various courts in the state.
Describing Nweke as a peace loving and law abiding citizen who acquired his pistol with license in a genuine way as approved by Chief Alex Ekwueme when he was the Second Republic Vice President to Shehu Shagari, Okafor expressed concern that because of the land dispute between Abba and Ukpo communities, Nweke is being punished for sponsoring his Abba community in the land dispute.
President-General of Abba of Abba Town Union, ATU, Alexander Ekwuagana, in a press statement issued to newsmen yesterday, said: “on Tuesday, June 27, 2023, a group of armed personnel led by the Controller of the Nigerian Correctional Service, Awka Correctional Centre, Mr. Chukwuemeka Patrick purportedly acting on the instructions of the Controller-General of the Nigeria Correctional Service, whisked away Chief Pius Nweke (an Abba son and the holder of the title of Ikemba of Abba Town) from the Onitsha Correctional Centre where he is an inmate to a destination yet to be established”.
In the statement entitled: “Whisking away of Chief Pius Nweke (Ikemba), the Nigeria Correctional Service is to be held responsible should anything untoward happens to him”, Ekwuagana stated that
preliminary inquiries suggested that Chief Nweke may be on his way to Kuje Correctional Centre, FCT Abuja and the reason for this sudden movement is yet not clear.
According to Ekwuagana in the statement written on his behalf by one of Chief Nweke’s lawyer, Ejike Efobi Esq., “since he was whisked away, members of Chief Pius Nweke’s family, his lawyers, friends and well-wishers have not been able to establish contact with him”.
“It is recalled that the Federal High Court, Awka presided over by Honourable Justice Dr. Nnamdi O. Dimgba had on 14th June 2023 sentenced Chief Pius Nweke (Ikemba) to ten (10) years imprisonment with an option of N30 millon fine for the offence of unlawful possession of a firearm and another three (3) months imprisonment without option of fine for the offence of unlawful possession of ammunition which sentencing was preceded by an earlier conviction of Chief Pius Nweke”.
“Subsequent to the conviction of Chief Pius Nweke, the trial court revoked his bail and remanded him at the Correctional Centre Awka to await the sentencing hearing scheduled at a later date by the Honourable Court”.
In the meantime, an application made on notice to the prosecution, filed on the 2nd day of June 2023 and seeking the relief of the Court for the transfer of Chief Pius Nweke from the Nigerian Correctional Service Centre, Awka to Nigerian Correctional Service Centre Onitsha upon materials in the affidavit in support of the application including consideration about his health, the trial Court graciously granted the application of Chief Pius Nweke on the 7th day of June 2023 and this was without any objection by the prosecution. This order of the Court was served on the Controller, Correctional Centre, Awka on the 8th day of June 2023″.
“As a consequence, after the sentencing of Chief Pius Nweke on 14th June 2023, he was taken straight to the Correctional facility at Onitsha consistent with the subsisting order of the court for his transfer to the facility”.
“While Chief Nweke was an inmate in the Correctional facility at Awka, the Controller, Mr. Chukwuemeka Patrick was fond of denying him access to his family members, friends, personal physician and legal practitioners claiming that he was acting on superior orders”.
“It is instructive that the Controller of the Correctional Centre Awka, Mr. Chukwuemeka Patrick to the best of our knowledge does not have a previous personal relationship with Chief Nweke. This circumstance gives us reason to believe that he is and has been working as a paid agent of the person(s) from the Ukpo community working behind the scene to see that Nweke dies in custody so that they can take the large parcel of Agu Abba land belonging to Abba community which Chief Nweke is one of the frontline helpers of his Abba community in the litigations affecting the land”.
Mr. Chukwuemeka Patrick was not pleased or in fact, incensed by the order of the court granting the transfer of Chief Nweke from the Nigerian Correctional Service Centre, Awka to the Onitsha Correctional Service Centre that he refused to comply with the order from the day the order was served on him.
“Mr. Chukwuemeka Patrick appeared determined to set himself on a collision course with the court order if not for the intervention of the sentencing hearing that cropped up whereupon Chief Nweke was moved to the Correctional facility at Onitsha on commitment and in compliance with the order to the disappointment of Mr. Chukwuemeka Patrick”.
It was therefore not a surprise that Mr. Chukwuemeka Patrick personally led the operation of the transfer of Chief Nweke from the Correctional Centre at Onitsha to God knows where. Mr. Chukwuemeka Patrick was seen taking pictures of the inmate movement of Chief Pius Nweke which he will send to his sponsors for more reward”.
“We are minded to wonder what could have otherwise motivated the top management of the Nigeria Correctional Service to have acted so brazenly and without regard to the subsisting order of the Federal High Court, Awka which in clear and uncertain terms had commanded the transfer of Chief Nweke from Awka to the Correctional facility at Onitsha”.
Where the Correctional Service is not agreeable to an order of the court on the place of custody of an inmate, the Service is under obligation in line with the rule of law to approach the court for a review of its order instead of acting in a manner capable of undermining the rule of law, the foundation of our democracy by their transferring Chief Nweke outside its Onitsha facility when it has not been established that Chief Nweke was unruly or security risk to the Custodial Centre”.
If Chief Nweke was neither unruly, troublesome nor a security risk what could have prompted Mr. Chukwuemeka Patrick to procure the Controller-General of the Nigeria Correctional Service to decree his transfer without regard to his health which was one of the reasons for the order of the Federal High Court if not to please his paymasters, jeopardize the health of Chief Nweke and possibly bring about his death? We have it on good authority that Mr. Chukwuemeka was fully mobilized by the Ukpo community to do this hatchet job”.
The travails of Chief Pius Nweke (Ikemba) and the people of the Abba community are not unconnected with their Agu Abba land dispute which the Ukpo community joined in 1985 as a party.
When the matter started before the Nigerian civil war, the dispute was between the Abba and Ukwulu Communities. Then, the Ukpo community testified in favour of the Ukwulu community and Ukwulu lost. The case had to start all over after the war because the judgment delivered some days after Biafra had been declared was nullified by a decree of the Federal Government.
The men and women of the Abba community have become an endangered species when they rejected a monetary offer coming from Prince Arthur Eze to forego their patrimony. Ever since June 2019, various institutions and apparatus of Government both at the State and Federal levels have been deployed to subjugate, victimize, intimidate, and harass men and women of the Abba community to stampede and pressure them to abandon their quest to reclaim their ancestral home.
Many have been locked up in police custody in Awka and Abuja; some have been charged to different Courts in Anambra State on trumped-up charges. The Abba community market and farmlands have been overrun with the popular Abba Junction being renamed with the complicity of State Government officials. Even the name ‘’Abba’’ was not allowed to appear in the State Government mounted signposts to indicate direction to Abba homeland.
In 2021, the President General of Abba Town Union was abducted in his office by men later identified as officers of the former SARS, Awkuzu. He was kept in the custody of SARS and later Custodial Centre Onitsha for a cumulative period of 82 days.
The Abba community where Chief Nweke hails from is deeply worried that the life of Chief Pius Nweke is in grave danger by the undue interest of the top management of the Nigeria Correctional Centre and Mr. Chukwuemeka Patrick in particular in this matter. The constant attacks on Chief Pius Nweke are to subdue him to bow before a Pharaoh having been thought to be the arrowhead of the opposition of the Abba community in the litigations for the defence of their ancestral home.
Chief Pius Nweke even at the time of his conviction and for more than forty years before his conviction is a well-known industrialist who has in his employ over 1,500 staff with many people under his scholarship programme. He is happily married with children and has an aged mother to look after”.
We want the world to be notified that the Nigerian Correctional Service is to be held responsible for any ill health, impairment or death happening to Chief Pius Nweke (Ikemba).
However, Controller Chukwuemeka who spoke to newsmen on phone, neither admitted nor denied the allegations against him by the Abba community, rather he referred newsmen to the Public Relations Officer of the Correctional Service, insisting that the PRO is the right person to speak to press.
The spokesman of the Nigerian Correctional Service, Frank Kezie told newsmen on phone that relocation of inmates from one Correctional Center to another is an internal matter, adding however that he would investigate the matter and come up with a feedback on how that particular incident happened.