Rights group petitions Obiano, implicates Police, DSS in extortion, destruction of property and intimidation

Posted by News Express | 10 May 2017 | 4,088 times

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•Some of the demolished houses.

A coalition of lawyers, media practitioners and social activists under the aegis of the International Human Rights and Equity Defence Foundation (I-REF) has implicated the Police and the Department of State Services (DSS) in an alleged case of extortion, destruction of property and intimidation.

In a petition to Governor Willie Obiano of Anambra State, dated May 8, signed by its Executive Director, Ijeoma, Justus Uche, and Head, Media/Publicity Desk, Comrade Obi Ifediorah, the group drew the Governor’s attention to what it viewed as grave injustices being perpetrated by one Mr. Kenneth Okonkwo and his cohorts, allegedly at the instance of the Governor against citizens and residents of United Okpuno Ezi-Nkwelle Estate, Nkwelle-Ezunaka in Oyi Local Government Area of Anambra State.

The petitioners stated: “The owners of United Okpuno Ezi-Nkwelle Estate, duly registered at the Corporate Affairs Commission started developing the Estate in 2010 having purchased the land from the Ezi-Nkwelle village in Nkwelle Ezunaka. Most of the subscribers to the Estate have completed their buildings and have since been living in the there without any form of encumbrance until 2014 when the people of Osile village in Ogbunike came to lay claim to the ownership of the land. The interference by the people of Osile resulted in multiple litigations in court, some of which are still pending till date. Since then, the tranquil serenity that has made the Estate of choice to all has remained undisturbed.”

They alleged: “The ongoing trouble, however, started for the residents of the Estate after Kenneth Okonkwo and his men entered the Agric Farmland in Nkwelle-Ezunaka belonging to the Government of Anambra State sometime in April and started the demolition of houses built by private individuals on the Government’s land. The demolition exercise reeked in callous extortion as many house-owners in the Agric Farmland who desired their houses to be spared, paid heavy bribes ranging from Two Hundred Thousand Naira (N200,000.00) to One Million Naira (N1,000,000.00), depending on the size and beauty of the house, to Kenneth Okonkwo. This explains why a lot of private houses are still standing at the Agric Farmland despite his claim to have finished work there.

“Apparently overtaken by the fatness and sweetness of the illicit gains that followed the demolition exercise as highlighted above, Kenneth Okonkwo, acting in concert with Mr. Ikechukwu Nnalue, President-General of Nkwelle-Ezunaka called the Chairman of the United Okpuno, Ezi-Nkwelle Estate, Mr. Ikechukwu Udechukwu and directed him to convene a meeting of all the people in the Estate to inform them that they should pay the sum of Two Hundred Thousand Naira (N200,000.00) per plot for Kenneth Okonkwo so that he would not enter the Estate in his demolition exercise The Estate has about four thousand plot. The Chairman and other residents, knowing that their Estate does not form part of the Agric Farmland belonging to the Government, were reluctant in acceding to the demand of the PG and Kenneth Okonkwo.

“Aggrieved by what he call a slight on his authority, Mr. Kenneth Okonkwo stormed the Estate on the 25th of April, 2017 and arrested the wife of the Chairman, Mrs. Chioma Udechukwu; four other executive members of the Estate (Mr. Ifeanyi Nebeuwa, Ikegwuana Ubaka, Okwudili Obiako and Alfred Onuorah) and two vigilante men working in the Estate and detained them at the DSS Headquarters in Awka for three days. When the Chairman of the Estate who was away at the time of arrest returned, he went to the DSS office in search of his wife and Executive members, he was also arrested and detained. It took our intervention through our Executive Director, J. U Ijeoma, Esq to secure their release late in the evening on the 27th of April, 2017 after he spoke with the State Director the DSS, Mr. Yusuf on phone. The Director confirmed to us that he does not know exactly why the people were being detained, but that it was OCHA Brigade (Kenneth Okonkwo) that brought them.

“Incensed by our intervention that got the people released from the gulag of the DSS when he was yet to extract their commitment to pay the money, he continued all manner of threats on the people. In the course of the incessant threats from Kenneth Okonkwo over his insistence on collecting the money, several meetings were held between the representatives of the Estate and the former at the former’s office in Awka. At one of the meetings, Mr. Kenneth Okonkwo brandished his phone and showed those in attendance a conversation on whatsApp chat purportedly between him and Your Excellency wherein, as he claimed, Your Excellency directed him to raise the sum of Two Billion Naira (N2,000,000,000.00) between Oba in Idemili South Local Government and Nkwelle-Ezunak in Oyi Local Government. This, he claimed, is to enable Your Excellency fund the forthcoming election campaign. Much as we do not attach much weight to this claim, which sounds childish and can easily pass for a mere perfidious pouf of a man thirsty for filthy lucre, it calls for an urgent reaction from Your Excellency to either debunk or affirm same.

“When all his antics seemed not to be producing his desired result of cajoling the people into paying the demanded sum, Kenneth Okonkwo in operation personally supervised by him on Thursday, 4th of May, 2017 at about 6.30pm, moved bulldozers into the Estate and started threatening demolition of people’s properties, including dwelling houses where women and children live. He started from the Estate Chairman, Mr. Okechukwu Udechukwu’s house (a house lived in by the Chairmen and his family-wife and children inclusive). When he had touched about eight to ten houses, people started running helter-skater, pleading and begging him to stop that they were ready to comply with his directive for the payment of the Two Hundred Thousand Naira (N200,000.00).

“At this point, Kenneth Okonkwo directed the roaring bulldozers to stop. He, however, stationed the bulldozer in front Mr. Okwudili Obiakor’s (one of the Executive members earlier detained at DSS, which are the people he sees as the opposition to his unscrupulous quest) house, who according to him is the next in the line should they fail to comply by noon of the next day being Friday, 5th May, 2017. He left but not without warning them that any ‘cough’ from them will attract greater sanction by him demolishing the entire Estate without looking back. Copies of photographs showing some of the demolished houses in the Estate are attached herewith for Your Excellency’s perusal. They are marked as ANNEXURE I-REF1

“In the ensuing panic, people started trooping out to pay the money in their numbers so as to save them from the fatal fate of having their home demolished. Between that Thursday, 4th and noon of Friday, 5th, Your Excellency, the people paid a total of thirty-seven million naira (N37,000,000.00), which Kenneth came on that Friday and personally carried as he had reject every request of the people to pay the money through bank. It was only when Kenneth Okonkwo had carried the money (N37,000,000.00) on that Friday that he then withdrew the bulldozers from the Estate and directed the Executives of the Estate to continue collecting the money and hand over to him that if they fail or stop that he would return to the Estate in full force and resume the demolition. In fact, Your Excellency, Kenneth Okonkwo directed that every person who has paid should make photocopies and post same at conspicuous places in their premises, like the biblical Passover blood of the lamb, as that, according to him, is the only thing that would save them from demolishing any house when he returns upon default of others. A visit to the Estate will confirm all this to Your Excellency. We attach herewith copies of Cash Payment Receipts issued to plot-owners in the Estate evidencing the payment of the Two Hundred Thousand Naira (N200,000.00). They are marked as ANNEXURE I-REF 2.

“On accounts of the foregoing threats; malicious and callous acts of Kenneth Okonkwo and his co-travellers, residents have continued to pay the money. For the whole of Saturday, 6th May, 2017, a total of N1.6 million was raised from the collection, which the Chairman of the Estate and others took to Kenneth Okonkwo in his house in Umuawulu on Sunday, 7th of May, 2017.

Apparently emboldened by his ‘success’ in the exploitative ventures, after Kenneth Okonkwo collected the N37 million on that Friday, 5th May, he directed the Chairman to convene a meeting of all property owners in the Estate on Sunday, 7th May, 2017, that he would personally come to address the people on how much they would need to pay for him, Kenneth, to help them get Certificate of Occupancy from the Governor.

“When the International Human Rights and Equity Defence Foundation [I-REF] learnt of the scheduled meeting, we decided to send representatives to observe proceedings of the meeting and to hear directly from the “horse’s mouth”. When we got at the venue of the meeting in the Estate, the Chairman and others who just returned from Kenneth Okonkwo’s house in Umuawulu, where they had gone to give him the money collected of Saturday, informed the gathering that Kenneth has directed that all should proceed to Awka as the meeting would hold at the Government House in Awka.

“When we got to the gate of Government House in Awka, the teeming crowd waited till about 4:30pm without seeing anybody to address us. Later the Chairman informed us that we should proceed to the Kenneth Okonkwo’s office (OCHA Brigade’s office) as the new venue of the meeting. Kenneth Okonkwo arrived the venue at exactly 5:45pm and the meeting started almost immediately.

“In his introductory speech, Kenneth made some flimsy explanation to the crowd on why he embarked on the demolition. He alleged that when he first called on the leadership of the Estate that they failed to come, and that even when they were eventually arrested, detained and released from the DSS that they still failed to honour the agreement he reached with him, apparently referring to the payment of the N200, 000, until he moved into action. He told the meeting that he gathered us to discuss how to get Certificate of Occupancy for each of the property owners to avoid future disturbances from the government. His speech at the meeting was only cosmetic, replete with false and bogus claims; it was also full of unintelligent contradictions. When one of our representatives at the meeting, Comrade Ijeoma began to speak to highlight and interrogate those contradictions and bogus claims, he became visibly uncomfortable and cut his speech short. From the whole proceedings of the meeting it became clear that Kenneth is already poised for a bigger kill and if nothing is done urgently to halt him he may plunge the state into crisis of unimaginable proportion.

“From the foregoing, Your Excellency, it is manifest that the underhand dealings of Kenneth Okonkwo in the handling of the whole of the exercise cast a deep slur not only on Your Excellency’s Administration but also on the entire image of Anambra State. The act of demolishing people’s dwelling houses by any government without notices or order of a competent court is viewed world over as a serious violation of fundamental human rights. Forced eviction cannot be seen as an option for a responsible government, particularly in a society governed by law. We therefore, call on you to use your good office to cause the following to be done:

“1. Direct the immediate halt of the ongoing or any further demolition of people’s houses in the Estate until the matter is fully investigated and the boundaries of the Government’s Agric Farmland determined and properly delineated by, preferably, a commission of inquiry to be set up by the Government.

“2. Direct the immediate arrest and investigation of Mr. Kenneth Okonkwo, Mr. Ikechuku Nnalue, PG of Nkwelle for the respective roles they played criminal extortions being complained of and other violations they allegedly perpetrated in the course of the whole exercise.

“3. If it is found that the alleged lands actually belong to the, those who criminally sold them to the people, must not be allowed to enjoy their proceeds with facing the law. For example, the PG and all those who sold the land should be arrested and prosecuted in accordance with the law.

“4. Your Excellency should also make a categorical statement in respect of Kenneth Okonkwo’s claim to the effect that you directed him to raise money for your election campaign in the crudest of manner as highlighted above.

“5. It is also important that Your Excellency should take out time to visit the Estate and the Agric Farmland to enable you have on the assessment of the issues we raised herein.”

Copies of the petition were sent to the Speaker, Anambra State House of Assembly, Chief Judge of the State, the Commissioner of Police, Anambra State, the Director of DSS, Anambra State, and Amnesty International.

Source: News Express

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