Bona Ezeudu and his wife, Ngozi, nurse an open, sore wound in their hearts. In late September, 2009, their 19-year-old son, Lotachukwu (Lota for short), fell prey to kidnappers. Distraught friends and relatives rallied round the Ezeudus to raise some of the ransom money demanded by the kidnappers. But despite the payment of the ransom, Lota – who was then a second-year accountancy student at the University of Nigeria (Enugu campus) – was never released. He has not been seen since.
Lota’s parents have lived a nightmare since. Few tragedies in life are as utterly extreme and cruel as parents awakening to the reality that their child has disappeared as if into thin air. To lose one’s child to kidnappers is as close to pure, heartrending pain as parents can ever get. Bona and Ngozi have been experiencing that pain for close to three years. What’s worse is that the passage of time does little or nothing to heal the wound. If anything, every waking day brings home the shattering realization that their beloved is still missing, still unaccounted for. If there’s an album of savage punishments, this one must rank as one of the topmost.
Bona happens to be an artist, one of Nigeria’s most gifted painters and sculptors. Before his son’s kidnap, he maintained a strong record of individual and group exhibitions in Nigeria and outside. Since September, 2009, when some nefarious men kidnapped his son, Bona Ezeudu has paid scant attention to art. The search for his son – or, rather, the cause of ensuring that justice is meted out to those who snatched away his son – that search has occupied his (and his wife’s) every waking moment. It is their one singular, consuming passion. And – as Bona told me last week – he will not give up until every person who had a hand in his son’s kidnap is held to account.
Most of the suspects are in custody, thanks to symbiotic collaboration between focused investigators and the Ezeudus, whose determination is unyielding. But two of the key suspects, a Divisional Police Officer (DPO) named Sam Chukwu and a rusticated police officer named Desmond Chinwuba, are still fugitives. And that’s where Inspector General of Police Mohammed Dikko Abubakar ought to come in. In an ordered society, Bona and Ngozi Ezeudu would be able to leave the task of unmasking the criminals who kidnapped his son to law enforcement investigators.
But Nigeria is far from being an ordered society. In fact, one of the saddest facets of the Lota kidnap saga is that prosecutors as well as the presiding judge believe that DPO Sam Chukwu may have masterminded the crime. Sam Chukwu’s son, Nnaemeka, is in custody in connection with the crime. But the older Mr. Chukwu has on several occasions failed to show up in court to answer charges of his complicity in the crime. His absences do not only amount to arrogant disdain for the courts; they also taint the image of Nigeria’s police.
That’s why Mr. Abubakar should order his officers to snoop around and arrest Mr. Chukwu. It’s a scandal when a police officer of any rank turns rogue, and becomes a breaker of the laws he’s recruited to enforce. It’s a scandal of scandals when an officer of the rank of DPO earns indictment in a horrific crime, and then compounds his treachery by going underground in an effort to elude investigators, prosecutors and the court. Mr. Chukwu should not be permitted to get away either with his involvement in the kidnap of Lotachukwu or his mockery of the court. Even if Sam Chukwu is hiding in the recesses of a cave, there’s no question that the Inspector General of Police (if he chooses) has the wherewithal to smoke him out. Mr. Abubakar should make that task a priority. He should serve notice that he won’t shield an officer accused of a crime, much less one as heinous as kidnapping.
Mr. Abubakar heads a police force that is widely perceived as complicit in minor and high crime. It behooves the IG to demonstrate a readiness to commence the job of sanitizing his agency. There can be no better move than to instruct some of his most trusted lieutenants to go after Sam Chukwu, compelling the fugitive to show up in court to answer prosecutors’ questions. That the investigation into the Lota Ezeudu case has advanced as far as it has owes, in significant measure, to the exemplary resolve of the victim’s parents. Last week, I spoke with Bona as well as one of his closest friends and comforters. They both told me how, in the early days after Lota’s kidnap, so many people warned the Ezeudus that the suspects “were high-placed and dangerous men” and asked them to “leave everything to God.” Bona and his wife easily rejected the entreaty to become docile and acquiescent.
Bona and his wife have not achieved a stoic posture regarding their son’s fate. They are, instead, driven to do the right thing by their treasured, missing son. They are uncommonly, admirably tenacious in pursuing those who, in taking away their son, abbreviated their family’s joy. “My wife and I have chosen to fight for our son,” Bona told me. Then he added: “We’re also fighting because I don’t want any other parents to experience what we went through – and what we’re still going through. That’s why I don’t care how long this struggle takes. As long as God continues to give me life, I won’t stop or retreat until all the perpetrators are caught and put to trial.”
His determination – and his wife’s – is informed by one conviction: “If the parents and families of some earlier victims had fought the evil perpetrators as we’re doing, then it would not have happened to our son. We owe it to our son and to society to make life uncomfortable for those who profit by committing callous crimes.” The IGP should enlist with the Ezeudus in that struggle. For a start, he should help by finding Mr. Chukwu – be he in a cave or copse.