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Heartrending stories from Cotonou• Corpses of 3 Nigerians in mortuary 40 days after they were killed • Ploy to arrest Igbo leader fails

Posted by By MAURICE ARCHIBONG on 2005/06/23 | Views: 630 |

Heartrending stories from Cotonou• Corpses of 3 Nigerians in mortuary 40 days after they were killed • Ploy to arrest Igbo leader fails

More than 40 days since three Nigerians were killed in Cotonou, their remains are still in a morgue in the Beninese economic capital, Sun Travels can authoritatively reveal.

More than 40 days since three Nigerians were killed in Cotonou, their remains are still in a morgue in the Beninese economic capital, Sun Travels can authoritatively reveal.

Unconfirmed reports say the first victim, Chinedu Ohuka, died after being stabbed several times in the face and both sides of the neck by a Beninese tout that had gone to extort money from the Nigerian trader. Sadly, the late Mr. Ohuka had visited his Ezihinite-Mbaise, Imo State home to conclude plans for his wedding, two weeks before the 30-year-old met his demise on May 1 at the hand of an alleged extortionist.

It could be recalled that some Igbo had embarked on a riot the following day (May 2). According to sources, two more Nigerians died from gunshots fired by Beninese security personnel, who had gone in to restore order. Apart from the mortally felled, Nnamdi Ogoko and Ogbu Eleanya, one Igbo is said to have lost two toes, while another took a bullet that lodged in his leg. The late Ogoko hailed from Ahiazu-Mbaise LGA area of Imo State. He was 20, when disaster struck. The other deceased, Eleanya, was an indigene of Abiriba.

Following the May 2 disturbances, some 100 Nigerians were arrested and detained. Days later, many had been released, while dozens more were arraigned in court charged with disturbing the peace, vandalization, stealing, among other offences. Through the combined efforts of the Nigerian Embassy in Cotonou, Chief Uko Elendu, President of the Nigerian Community Union (NCU) and Chief Ebuka Onunkwo, Leader of the Igbo Union Cotonou (IUC), all the detainees were later released, even though a few bagged suspended sentences. The last detainee left off the hook was 14-year-old Master Christopher Egbe, who was arrested and detained in Cotonou, where he had gone to collect school fees from relations. He spent a few days extra waiting to be brought before a judge of cases involving juveniles.

According to the Igbo leader, the release of the detainees would further cement the good relationship between Nigerians living in Cotonou and their host community. However, Chiefs Elendu and Onunkwo had coughed out colossal amounts, at least CFA 1. 4 million francs (roughly N400, 000), some say it was higher, to pay some Beninese, who sought compensation for damages allegedly incurred during the Nigerians’ protest.

During a telephone conversation, Elendu had recalled that at least one similar unrest had occurred in February 1992, which led to some Nigerians being jailed for a long time. Now, he was NCU president, Elendu said he had to do all within his powers to complement the efforts of the Igbo union leader in securing the release of all those arrested.

Chief Onunkwo had told Sun Travels a week earlier that there were plans to call all Igbos in Cotonou to a meeting, where, among other issues, everyone would be reminded of their primary reason for being in Benin Republic – to trade. Prior to that rally, slated for Friday June 10, some town criers had gone round parts of Cotonou to inform all Igbo about the meeting. Curiously, a contrary announcement had been issued by some persons that an Igbo trader simply described as mischief makers. Some respondents said those that hatched the stay-away plot had peddled rumours that the meeting was called to have all Igbos contribute money to offset the expenses incurred by Elendu and Onunkwo in resolving the crisis.

The meeting was attended by many executive members of the NCU, Cotonou. Among them was Alhaji Abdul Lateef Olujobi, NCU Secretary, Elder Urakpa, an Ngwa from Abia State, who led Igbo traders union at Missebo for eight years as well as Chief Andrew Okoro, who held that same office for four years. Urakpa, a Church Elder, had flagged off the meeting with an opening prayer. Subsequently, Chief Okorie observed that the convocation had to be special to be attended by the NCU president and the Igbo leader. He thus solicited maximum attention from the audience.
Okoro’s speech was interspersed with anecdotes, even as he enjoined all Igbo to heed elders’ advice, if the young ones want to live amicably with their Beninese hosts.
“If I told you how long I have lived in Benin Republic, you’d probably ask me what I was still doing here”, said one leader, who alluded to never having encountered any problem even though he has been resident in Benin for many decades.

Urakpa also wondered why such a crisis as erupted on May 2 this year was allowed to take place. Said he: “I ruled this market for eight years and there was no trouble or riots, here”. The church elder also reiterated the need for younger Igbos to always remember that they were in a foreign land. Chief Onunkwo, who echoed similar sentiment even took his’ further to the spiritual level. “If there’s any force of bondage holding any one of you down, we overcome it today, in Jesus’ name”! You could almost hear the chorus of “Amen” several kilometres away. He advised any Igbo that believes he is influential in Cotonou, to use such influence to help his fellow immigrants instead of luring such young ones into trouble and compounding their difficulties.

However, when the meeting called to investigate the immediate and remote causes of the May 2 unrest began, a few Igbo traders could be seen carrying on doing business as usual. But not for long. The Beninese market authorities, who had earlier been informed of the meeting subsequently effected closure of all shops and stalls forcing every Igbo to attend the meeting. But trouble was not yet over, for one Igbo is said to have gone and attracted the attention of the Beninese police to an alleged illegal gathering. Several police trucks arrived at the scene around 11 am, while Chief Onunkwo was on the rostrum at the meeting which took place in front of the office of NCU President Elendu. If Onunkwo’s detractors were hoping to see him arrested and detained, they went home shamed. Onunkwo had gone on to explain the purpose of that gathering to the security men, and the fact that the authorities had been informed about the meeting and much to the disappointment of Onunkwo’s rivals the police departed as quietly as they had arrived.

A man, whose name we could not get was seen being chased away from the venue by a crowd, even as a loud chorus broke out: “Ebuka, Ebuka, Ebuka ka yin ge so; mo ne je je mo ona na na, Ebuka ka yin ge so (Ebuka, Ebuka, Ebuka we would all follow, whether going or coming, Ebuka we’d follow)”.
Continuing, Onunkwo said he had to cough out a lot of money to ensure the release of every one because as a leader he couldn’t enjoy, when those he leads are suffering. However, he added that it was from God that help came: “Supposing one could not raise the money, what would my people think of me”, he queried rhetorically.

After the gathering, Onunkwo had gone on a courtesy visit to the office Mr. Mamah Sika, the Beninese Minister of Internal Affairs. He was accompanied on that visit by among others, Chief Alasa Okorie, deputy Igbo Leader.
Last Monday, we were in Cotonou to find out what efforts were being made to recover the victims’ remains with a view to burial. Our trip couldn’t have been more fruitful, for it coincided with a meeting between Nigerian Community leaders in Cotonou and the local Nigerian Embassy officials. After a two-hour wait, the executives emerged all tight-lipped. However, Sun Travels reliably gathered the meeting was called in connection with the tragic incidents that left three Nigerians dead, and efforts to get an autopsy report, recover the bodies for burial, among others.

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