Wednesday, July 15, 2009
EHIRIM FILES CLASSIC: Interview: Otokoto Saga
Illustration depicts Innocent Ekeanyanwu carrying a beheaded 11-year-old Ikechukwu Anthony Okonkwo in a plastic bag walking to catch the bus to Lagos
Earlier this year, newspapers around BiafraNigeria carried headlines about a crime syndicate, the Otokoto mafia, which spooked Owerri Township and its neighboring suburbs with acts of murder, mutilaton, and illegal human parts trafficking.
On January 23, 2003, Justice Chioma Nwosu Iheme, the presiding judge in Owerri in the Otokoto case, handed down judgment and condemned Chief Vincent Duru Otokoto, the patriarch of the Otokoto family, and six others to death.
Last week in Los Angeles, Maxwell Vincent Duru Otokoto, the first son of the convicted Chief Duru Otokoto, sat down with BiafraNigeriaWorld’s Los Angeles Bureau Chief, Ambrose Ehrim. According to Maxwell Otokoto, his father’s conviction was a set-up and conspiracy. This is the other side of the Otokoto story.
BNW: Before we proceed in this interview, members of BNW and Ikenga Think Tank would like to know who you are. Can you tell me a little bit about yourself?
Otokoto: My name is Maxwell Vincent Duru Otokoto. I am the first son of Vincent Duru Otokoto. I am a businessman based here in the United States, and I am into real estate investments and exportation of heavy equipments to Nigeria and other African countries.
BNW: Now, the reason we are holding this interview is what has been going on and what transpired over the years regarding your family. Much was said about the criminal activities involving your family. How did you feel when the whole thing exploded?
Otokoto: As a matter of fact, it was like a shock to me to get such a news, starting from my brother. Then I had to deal with that and now again I heard that my father is a mass murderer. I couldn’t believe it because I know what my family and what my father stands for based on how we were raised and taught about right and wrong. So, I was in disbelief.
BNW: Earlier this year, in January, it was reported in the country’s dailies that your father and six others had been condemned to death. Those condemned with your father were: Alban Ajaegbu, Sampson Nnamito, Ebenezer Egwuekwe, Rufus Anyanwu, Lawrence Eboh, and Chief Leonard Unogu. How is your dad related to the names I have mentioned?
Otokoto: Okay, my dad is the chairman and managing director of Otokoto Group of Companies, of which Otokoto Hotel is a subsidiary of Otokoto Group of Companies. Rufus Anyanwu is my father’s manager in the pharmaceutical department, that is Otokoto Chemist, and Rufus Anyanwu is married to my father’s younger sister. Ebenezer Egwuekwe is like a brother, he is like a family to us, you know. We come from the same village and he is about my father’s age right from the time Otokoto Group of Companies was being opened or was being talked about, you know. He is like family.
The rest: Nnamito, Ajaegbu and the other I can’t remember his name, they are like watch nights. I don’t have a personal relationship with those three.
BNW: How about Lawrence Eboh?
Otokoto: He is a watch night, too.
BNW: So you have no relationships with the names you mentioned?
Otokoto: No. no, not at all. They were just employees of Otokoto Hotel.
BNW: Now, the main question is about eleven year old Ikechukwu Anthony Okonkwo whose head was found dripping with blood with the convicted murderer Innocent Ekeanyanwu on a police tip-off inside a traveling commercial bus at Eziama in Ikeduru Local Government Area of Imo State. The widespread report was that Ekeanyanwu was part of a murderous gang headed by your father in which Ekeanyanwu committed those horrific crimes. What is your take on that?
Otokoto: I don’t think if my father is running a gang he will use his gardener, you know. My father is too big to use his gardener as a gang. The way I see it, when you go through the court papers you can see there is a big cover up and a big set up going on here with the guy who murdered this young man Ikechukwu Okonkwo, yes, it’s true he worked at Otokoto Hotel. But my father didn’t employ him. My father is busy running his firm, and only comes in and out of Otokoto Hotel to have lunch, you know, and leaves back to Umudim where he resides. He has been retired for the last fifteen years. But it is not a criminal enterprise like that. It was just like the system where we belong that just wanna make their own story and use somebody for a fall.
BNW: When Ekeanyanwu was arrested and led investigators to Otokoto Hotel where the other parts of the body were found, how was it determined the body parts belonged to the same person?
Otokoto: Okay, what happened from what I know about the case is, first of all, according to the statements and papers in the court, the perpetrator Innocent Ekeanyanwu, I think that’s his name, was arrested in Eziama, Ikeduru, and was taken to the police station in Iho, which is closer to his jurisdiction back there. Then, he was taken back to Owerri, and he made a statement to the police inspector at Iho that he killed the guy at Mbaa River in Uzoagba, in Ikeduru.
He made the same statement to Owerri C.I.D that he killed the boy at Mbaa River which the police men at Owerri State C.I.D went and searched to recover the body. They went to Otokoto Hotel to investigate and all of a sudden the story turned that this boy was killed in a shallow grave in Otokoto Hotel. Meanwhile, the police was in Otokoto Hotel for four days or more, and only one police man had to discover this body and called the rest, and said let’s go and pick up his body.
BNW: What exactly do you mean when you said “only one police man had to discover this body and called the rest?” Are you saying it was a set-up and that no post mortem examination or DNA was performed to identify both body parts as belonging to the same person?
Otokoto: That’s a question the civilized world would like to ask. How do you prove this is the guy with the head? But the society that we come from as you may know or may hear about is just about he is guilty, he is guilty, just to make people feel good. A post mortem, an autopsy, was done supposedly and the body and head were matched. I don’t even know if the coroner saw the head with the body together. This thing never happened.
BNW: It never happened?
Otokoto: It never happened.
BNW: Now the report was that when Ekeanyanwu was arrested, he told investigators he was taking Okonkwo’s head to one Leonard Unogu in Lagos. How was your father involved?
Otokoto: My father was not involved at all. The story was like when he (Ekeanyanwu) was arrested, he said, according to the story I heard, that he got this bodiless head, went to his village supposedly to deliver it to his maternal uncle, Chief Leonard Unogu, “the Ochiriozuo 1 of Eziama.” He left this body at his village and his mother peeped into this bag and found this body and called one for his relatives to go get him, and said take this out of my house.
So when the guy carried him on a motor cycle to drop him off where he was going to catch a bus to go back to Owerri because Leonard Unogu wasn’t home for the weekend to get his delivery from him. And when he got to the bus stop, the guy ran down to the police station and informed them that a guy is carrying a bodiless head on a bus heading to Owerri. So, that’s where they stopped him and found the body. Then he told the police; according to the information I have, that they shouldn’t take this any further. That he’s been doing this thing for his uncle for years. That all they need to do is get in touch with his uncle and this entire thing is gonna be done.
BNW: How is Chief Leonard Unogu himself connected to your dad?
Otokoto: Chief Leonard Unogu is not connected to my dad in any way, relationship or form. My father is an older man. Chief Leonard Unogu is a younger man, he got rich yesterday, and my father has been rich way way back, long time ago. So, according to the judgment that was passed in this case, a good question that you asked, the judge convicted my father and Leonard Unogu besides them saying they don’t know each other. He convicted them because Leonard Unogu is a chief in Ikeduru and my father is a chief in Ikeduru, supposedly as chiefs, they must know each other.
Personally, businesswise, Leonard Unogu is a young man to my father. They don’t have anything at all. They don’t have anything in common or dealings whatsoever.
BNW: Before your father’s trial began, there was this guy named Mathew Anyanwu who was arrested and died under mysterious circumstances in prison. What was his connection?
Otokoto: Mathew Anyanwu was one of my father’s employees at Otokoto Hotel, I think. A lot of people were arrested when the police came to my father’s hotel. Almost everybody at the hotel was arrested and they let them stay in jail, and the police were trying to, in my own opinion, tailor their case and find out who is going to work with them and how it’s going to make sense. So, unfortunately, this guy died but I think his death was from sufferings and maltreatment, probably. I am not sure, but I think he just died.
BNW: So it was about arresting everybody they found in the complex, that is Otokoto Hotel, whether you committed a crime or not?
Otokoto: They arrested everybody in the hotel and took possession of the hotel for days. Then when the body was found supposedly by this one policeman, Obasi Chukwu, he went back and called other police men who were investigating with him that he found the body. Then, they ordered to get my father who was the seventh accused to the hotel to dig up this body. So, when they got there, they came with an angry mob. So when they dug the body up, they left my father sitting in front of the hotel so he can be killed or stoned to death when they set the hotel on fire. These are facts, but not everybody knows about it.
BNW: On January 23, 2003, your father and six others were sentenced to death by hanging. In her judgment, Justice Chioma Nwosu Iheme, beyond reasonable doubt, “recapturing submissions of the defense and prosecution” condemned your father and the rest six to death for collaborating with one another in the gruesome murder of Ikechukwu Okonkwo. What went through your mind when you received this news?
Otokoto: As a matter of fact, I was in Nigeria on that judgment day, January 23rd. This case shouldn’t have gone this far. How can you convict somebody beyond reasonable doubt when the document before the court and all the policemen that investigated the case contradicted each other? The evidence that was tendered in the court was all contradictory.
The policemen were saying different things everywhere, and moreover, my father had an alibi where he was on these days in question. But what put my father in this predicament was exhibit 36 which ‘is a purported statement made by Innocent Ekeanyanwu and written by policeman, Chukwu. Only he witnessed this statement while the other policemen accepted that the original statement was written by Ambrose Nnah. And this purported statement states that when Innocent Ekeanyanwu got this little boy, he went to my dad and said “sir, we’ve gotten another one,” and my father instructed him to kill the boy and “do it like they do” which is send it to their customer.
But by this time they are saying that my father said, “do these things,” my father was not at Otokoto Hotel according to his alibi that wasn’t investigated by State C.I.D Owerri, Zone 6 Police Headquarters Calabar, and the state C.I.D in Lagos. Again, according to the court documents, Zone 6 Calabar and Force State C.I.D Lagos instructed the court that exhibit 36 which was a purported statement by Innocent Ekeanyanwu written by inspector Obasi Chukwu is a purported statement by the police department.
And according to the documents in the court, they said that statement is not gonna pass through the eye of a needle, that the police men purported the statement to choose a victim of their own. So why should my father be convicted beyond reasonable doubt? There is Rufus Anyanwu, there’s Ebenezer Egwuekwe whose names weren’t even mentioned but convicted according to the judge because they worked in Otokoto Hotel; and were supposed to know anything and everything that goes on in Otokoto Hotel.
BNW: How about the reported killing of one Sebastine in Lagos in the home of Leonard Unogu?
Otokoto: Before this case, I did not know Leonard Unogu and I don’t know about his dealings in the past. I knew him about this case and when things like this come up, all kind of things comes with it. All I am interested in is what is related to me and my father and my whole family.
BNW: Is there an appeal to your father’s conviction since you believed his testimony of an alibi was not investigated and was not considered by the court?
Otokoto: When I was in Nigeria after the judgment was passed, I went to my father’s attorney the same day and instructed him that an appeal must be filed immediately, which he did. But you know Nigeria’s system of bureaucracy where they keep things stalling as much as they can.
Yes, an appeal is in process and I will take it to the Supreme Court if an appeal doesn’t work out. And hopefully, people will wake up and understand that something is wrong.
BNW: Do you know Ikechukwu Okonkwo, the little kid that was killed?
Otokoto: I don’t know him. The only person I know in all these things personally is Ajaegbu. Before I came to the United States back then, he was a little boy. Nnamito, I don’t know him. Ajaegbu has been in our hotel for more than sixteen to twenty years working in our hotel.
But if I may say for the people that want to hear and people that like justice, and people that want things done right these days, the question I have is if people have conscience to understand what is really going on, they should ask themselves a question: why supposedly Otokoto committed a crime, his hotel, his investments, and his family home in Owerri was set on fire, and what has that got to do with the neighbor who didn’t commit a crime? Why should his house be set on fire? And why should other people’s houses be set on fire, and then seized by Imo State government who said the angry mobs set these houses on fire?
But I think people know there is a conspiracy going on because why should people’s houses or investments be destroyed and seized by the government of a state instead of investigating and arresting the purported criminals. Now they are part of the conspiracy, in my own opinion.
BNW: Conspiracy? Is there somebody you know who may have played a major role in this conspiracy?
Otokoto: No, I don’t have anybody right now in mind. It’s just like a hide and seek situation. What I am interested in is trying to make sure that justice is served and people would wake up and ask questions why this led to this. But because it’s not happening in your house doesn’t mean it’s not gonna come up to you. The point is if it can be done to Otokoto, then who are you. All I know is there is a big government conspiracy and what proves the conspiracy to me is that peoples property and liberty was taken away from them and the government never asked a question, rather they seized their properties.
BNW: Was this conspiracy out of rivalries?
Otokoto: It might be out of rivalries. That I don’t doubt, but you know, it’s a free world that everybody must find a sport for himself or herself. Life is turn by turn, if you cannot beat them, you join them. We can compromise and get along.
BNW: Do you know Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu, and how are you guys related?
Otokoto: Yes, I know Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu. When I was a child my dad use to take me to his house and I use to sit on his lap.
BNW: If indeed he was not part of the murderous gang, do you suspect in your own opinion that he (Iwuanyanwu) may have been involved in this conspiracy?
Otokoto: In my own opinion, to me, I believe in what I see and when people say what can you do. But at this point in time, I have heard all kinds of things. Like I said earlier, it is not my focus right now. My focus is trying to put my father through the legal system and educate the people to ask themselves questions about what makes sense and what doesn’t make sense, and put them in place. Then when that is done first, we can figure out what happened. It’s just a matter of time and time will tell.
BNW: How was your life like after what happened, I mean your relationship with other people in the Owerri area and especially your closest friends here in the United States?
Otokoto: That’s the funny thing. When things like this happen, it teaches you the biggest lesson in life. Now you can find out that all we’ve been doing, the drinking and partying is just rubbish. To be honest with you my friend, everybody left, you know. I sat in the house here in Los Angeles for four years and nobody knocked on the door.
BNW: Otokoto, thank you for your time and good luck in your appeal.
This interview was conducted and published exclusively for BNW on July 12, 2003