It was her beloved husband who christened her ‘Love’ but he did not live long enough for her to really enjoy his love. He died when their children were barely out of diapers. So, single handedly, she raised the children thinking that the older ones, in turn, would train their siblings and take care of her when her bones become weak. But her hopes were shattered sooner than later, as the cold hand of death snatched her first daughter and two sons in quick succession.
Hear her lamentation: “I never knew the world could be this wicked. I lost my husband when my children were at tender age and I struggled to raise them to the best of my ability. Now that my children have grown and I am about getting something from them, they took them away.”
The death of her first son, Mr. Augustine Ekwe Oroko, in particular haunts her day and night. In one fell swoop, the 30 -year old man lost his seven -month pregnant wife and two children. The day had started like any other. The weather was clement and everyone looked forward to the festivity associated with that time of the year. Whether they had any premonition that danger was lurking in the shadow, no one could tell. On that fateful day, the young family woke up early and started preparing for a trip to their homestead where one of their relations was getting married. So sooner they set out for the journey than the events began to unfold with dizzying speed.
The Ekwes had hardly settled in the car when someone fired a bullet ripping through the heart of Augustine who was seated behind the steering. In a jiffy, a group of unidentified armed men with surrounded the car. Gasping for breath as his strength ebbed away, Augustine begged the attackers to kill him but spare his family. His appeal, however, fell on deaf ears as they poured fuel on the car and set it ablaze. The assailants watched the once bubbly family roast before melting into the thin air. That was on December 31, 2011.
Ironically, the trip was fixed for the previous day. In fact, they had already taken off but their car developed fault on the way. After carrying out the necessary repairs on the car, they felt that it was late in the day to continue the journey; so, they decided to return to their residence so that they could take off early the next day. But it was while Augustine was warming up the engine of the car preparatory to the eventual take off that the assailants arrived and wasted the entire family.
Those behind the killing are still unknown. The Ekwes lived in Ezillo, which was involved in a communal clash with Ezza at the time. So, it could either be that they were victims of the clash or their brutal murder was premeditated. However, Ekwes were neither indigenes of Ezza nor Ezillo both in Ishielu Local Government Area of Ebonyi State. They hailed from Uburu in Ohaozara Local Government Area of the state but lived in Ezillo, while Augustine’s business was in Ezza. Up till date, the killers have not been identified. Apart from that, nobody has contacted Augustine’s grieving mother or any member of the family. As a result, Mrs. Ekwe has been literally reduced to a walking corpse. Most times, she mutters to herself as if she is at the verge of losing her mind.
The whole scenario still looks like a nightmare to her. In fact, hardly had she said a few words before she broke down in tears while narrating her ordeal to our correspondent. For several minutes, tears flowed freely down her anguished face. As her body trembled so her voice quaked. Her story could melt even the hardest of hearts. A family source disclosed that since the gruesome murder of her son, daughter in-law and grand children, her life has literally turned upside down.
In an emotion-laden voice, she said enemies had plugged out her eyes. “It is true that they killed Augustine, his pregnant wife and two children- five of them. His only crime was that he went to look for what to eat just like his mates”.
Describing her son as a wonderful and God-fearing person, she lamented further: “What I want to add is that since Augustine and his family were wiped out, nobody has asked me, his mother, how I am faring. Nobody has asked after me. Nobody looks into my eyes till date. Ordinary greeting I do not get from anywhere. I’ve handed over everything to God because it happened because God allowed it. If God had not allowed this thing to befall me, it wouldn’t have happened. I never knew the world could be this wicked. I lost my husband when my children were tender and I struggled to raise them to the best of my ability. Now that my children have grown and I am about getting something from them, they took them away’’.
After another crying session, she added: “But one thing I want to say is that there is nothing impossible before God. I know that there is no act of man that will not be rewarded accordingly. My late son was a generous person, always helping those in need. He valued kith and kin. Whatever happened in the compound, he would come out. I’ve been in tears because I’m totally neglected. Since Ekwe died, nobody remembers that his mother is alive. His only crime was that he went to look for what to eat just like his mates.”
How it happened
Giving an account of the heart-rending event, Augustine’s cousin, Comrade Patrick Onyebo Ekwe, Ebonyi State treasurer of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), said: “In the early hours of December 31, 2010, we congregated as we usually do inside the family compound in preparation for our yearly crusade when we got information that there was a crisis in Ezillo. So, I called my cousin, Augustine Ekwe Oroko, who was a resident there, but it didn’t go through. I decided to call other people I knew there, including one Hon Abba, who is our in-law. When I got through to him (Abba), I asked him the condition of things and he told me that something had gone wrong. I asked him if Augustine was alive or dead and he told me that he was dead.
“I asked him to deposit Augustine’s corpse in the mortuary. But he told me that it was not something to be kept in the mortuary. So, the family contributed money and delegated some of us to go there and see things for ourselves. At the same time, our brother, Barrister Intelligence Ekwe said he would make contacts. He went to the Deputy Governor, Engr. Dave Umahi and said that he should go and ascertain the state of things. So, myself, David Onu, Abata Amara, Genesis Okoro Uneke and Linus Ekwe went there and saw that it was true. They burnt him, his seven-month pregnant wife and two children inside his car. The corpses were inside the car when we arrived. We pulled apart the car and brought out what we could.
“By our tradition, even if he was not married, we could not abandon the corpse there. That day, the Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Abubakar, who was an AIG at the time, visited Ezillo. He was not happy with the situation.
According to the comrade, no one has reached out to the family. “We made other contacts like reaching out to the State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA), but up till now, we have not got any reasonable response. The Agency has been sending relief materials to the place, but nothing has been sent to our compound for the family of the deceased. It was the chairman of Ohaozara LGA, Hon Enekwachi Akpa, who is a nephew that paid a condolence visit. Within the period this thing happened, the mother could not stay in the compound because of the trauma. She went to stay with the in-law in Port Harcourt. She just recently returned home. Augustine was the breadwinner of the family. His death has a devastating effect on all. Up till now, his mother is yet to recover from the shock of losing her son in such a manner. He was about 30 years old, living in Ezilo but trading in Ezzamgbo”.
Patrick added: “From what we heard, he was supposed to return on December 30 because one of our cousins was getting married. But on his way home, his car packed up and after repairing it, he went back to Ezillo hoping to leave the next day. It was when he was about leaving Ezillo that the incident happened. He was already seated in the car with the seat belt on. They shot him inside the car, a Mercedes Benz V- booth, and set it ablaze”.
It was gathered that the remains of the Ekwes was in such a horrible condition that all the young men who went to bring them fell ill upon their return. A source who pleaded anonymity said: “The saying that blood is thicker than water rings true in this situation. If not for blood ties, nobody would have done what the gallant young men did. What was left of Augustine and his family was a horrible sight, something that would make you quiver even in your sleep”.
Plea for help
Asked what the family had done to seek justice, an elder in the family, Ichie Paulinus Ngene Agwu said: “We have not made any formal move to seek justice. As Comrade Ekwe explained, when the matter came up, it was reported to the Deputy Governor believing that something positive would come out through him. But up till now, we have not seen anything. Except the visit of the LGA chairman, we have not seen anything tangible from government.”
Ichie Agwu, therefore, appealed for help for the family. “Since Augustine was the pillar of the household, we are appealing to the government to come to the aid of the family”.
For any assistance, any public-spirited individual can call: 08036495116.