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JULY 31, 2006    VOL. 19. NO 17

One Murder Too Many

Uzor Obi-Okoli

The recent gruesome murder of Uzor Obi-Okoli, proprietress of the TenderLove Orphanage Centre, Awka, Anambra State, is perhaps indicative of the nation's failure in the fight against drug addiction
By Okechukwu Obenta.Awka
The environment at TenderLove Orphanage Centre, Awka, the Anambra State capital, to say the least has remained moody since the calamity which befell it on Sunday, July 9. The scenario at the orphanage, indeed, evokes a feeling of intense grief, sympathy and pity. When The Source visited on Monday, July 17, it was clear that the staffers are indeed facing the most excruciating challenges of their lives.
The unfortunate situation was thrown up by the sudden death of the proprietress of the centre, Uzor Obi-Okoli, an Awka-based female traditional title-holder, politician and philanthropist, who was on that day in a most violent and gruesome manner shot to death at her palatial home in town, allegedly by one of her sons, Chuka.
A former Commissioner for Women Affairs and later Special Adviser on Energy under former Governor Chinwoke Mbadinuju's administration, Uzor as a Commissioner for Women Affairs was instrumental to the establishment of the state government's Housing Motherless Babies Home located at the Real Estate Awka. And still driven by her passion of love for the motherless, Uzor, upon leaving the service of the Anambra State Government started a project to build a home for the motherless kids. This dream was eventually realised on November 19, 2005 with the commissioning of the one-storey building housing TenderLove Orphanage Centre, Awka by Ken Nnamani, President of the senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
In the melee that trailed Uzor's death, Chuka, the 28 year-old second son of the deceased has been arrested and is currently being detained by the police at the State Criminal Investigation Department (SCID) of the state police command in connection with the murder.
The Source learnt that Chuka was the only person that slept with her mother in the same apartment at the family's home that fateful Saturday night that his mother never woke up from sleep. The other persons who The Source learnt were in the household that night were a securityman and the aged mother of the deceased. Her husband, a multi-millionnaire businessman and proprietor of Billante Construction Company, Chief Obi-Okoli and other members of the family were said to have all been away from Awka. Although family members, including the security man, Uzor's aged mother, the husband, and indeed every other member of the family has been very economical in telling the story of what actually happened, there are strong suspicions that Chuka is not unaware of what happened to his mother. The Source learnt that both the security man and Uzor's mother had confirmed that in the early hours of that unfortunate Sunday, that at about 2am, they had heard the sound of heavy gun-fire in the compound, particularly in the main building. They said Shortly after the firings, Chuka drove out in his mother's 500 SL Mercedes car, the same vehicle which she rode in when she returned from the Orphanage the previous evening. The security man had thought that it was “madam” who was actually going out in the car when he opened the gate for the vehicle and was wondering why madam should be going out at that early hours of the morning. The Source , learnt that it was at about 9 am when Uzor's mother waited for her to come out as usual but did not see her or hear any word from either her or Chuka that she decided to go upstairs to find out if all were well with them. Upon climbing the staircase and getting to the door leding to her daughter's room, police sources said, she was hit with a grisly sight. Directly in front of her laid Uzor, stone dead and in the pool of her blood. Also lying beside her was the gun with which she was shot in the chest and tommy, with her intestines gushed out. The aged woman struck with awe, The Source was told screamed probably to attract the attention of her grandson, Chuka, but, she was disappointed as Chuka was nowhere to be found. He was later said to have been arrested somewhere in Lagos where he was allegedly planning to escape to the United States of America. His mother's Mercedes car with which he escaped to Lagos was also said to have been recovered by the police somewhere in a mechanic workshop at Lagos where he parked it. Some substances, The Sources findings learnt suspected to be hard drugs were said to have been found in the apartment where Chuka slept in the family house, Awka that fateful night his mother was shot.

Haruna John, Commissioner of Police, Anambra State confirmed the arrest of Chuka in Lagos and the recovery of the Mercedes car. He also confirmed that Chuka is currently being detained at the state CID and that the police also recovered a gun in the family house located on Obi Okoli Avenue, around the temporary site of the Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka. But the state police boss would not want to allow anxious media men who thronged the state police command headquarters requesting to have an interview with Chuka to have that privilege. The police boss, infact, told The Source that it was not appropriate to make Chuka available for an interview by newsmen as at last week when The Source visited insisting that such action would impede on police investigations which he said were still on-going . John said that investigations were also still being conducted to determine the source of the gun, and whether there were other people with Chuka and his deceased mother before the incident took place.

But The Source learnt that Chuka, an alleged drug addict had only just returned to Nigeria from the United States of America, after serving a four-year jail term between 2001-2006 in connection with an armed robbery operation he was involved in that country. Described as a beloved son of his deceased mother, Chuka was said to have been angry with his mother for always making reference to the jail term he served overseas each time she wanted to caution him over his unwholesome behaviour. He was even said to have complained to his grandmother, who was staying with them, to warn his mother to stop reminding him of his ordeals while in the prison.

Another version of the story over the death of the philanthropist even had it that Chuka allegedly murdered his mother because she refused to give him a certain amount of money he demanded from her to enable him relocated from America to South Africa.

According to this source, Chuka was said to have been provoked that his mother turned down his request, that he dashed into his room, got hold of a gun and fired several shots at his mother who reportedly dropped dead immediately. The Source learnt that immediately he confirmed that his mother was dead, he ran down to the car lot and drove away in the Mercedes car.

Some other sources even suggested that Chuka was not actually Uzor's biological child but only a child. Whatever version of the story is the truth, what is worrisome is that there are strong indications that Chuka is not unaware of what happened to Uzor.

And perhaps muchmore worrisome is that with the death of Uzor, the future of the 10 motherless kids whose ages are put at between three and 14 months are now in jeopardy.

Amogu Helen Ngozi, a 28 year-old graduate of Economics from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka who is also an Awka Catholic Parish Legionary worker told The Source that with God the future of the children will never crumble. The death of Uzor, she stated would rather be a challenge to her and her colleagues at the orphanage and every other philanthropist to make sure that the dream of the deceased was realised.

Helen, who is also the Administrative Officer of the orphanage assured, “Because people there are looking to see what will be the outcome of the kids here, I tell you, by the special grace of God, we are doing our best to see that everything will be how it used be even when “Mummy” was here, because I so much believe that wherever she is, her greatest joy will be to see these kids being taken care of. And we are urging all those who had bean assisting through donation of children's items, clothing and other materials to continue to assist the centre”.

Recounting her last day at the centre, one of the attendants, Ekwutosi Obidike, a housewife told The Source that Uzor was so much attached to the kids that on the eve of her demise, she had returned from Port-Harcourt, River State and driven straight to the orphanage just to see the children. Obidike told The Source that she arrived the orphanage at about 4pm and left for her house at about 6pm to take a rest. She said that on arrival, Uzor had saw her feeding some of the kids and immediately took over from her. And before retiring to her house, she had personally fed little Jessica, Kanyima and Tobi.

But the tide, according to Ekwutosi, changed the following morning when they waited for her to come and bring out the children's food but did not see her. “Normally, if everything was okay with her, at least before 6.30am, mummy is already here, even on Sundays, to make sure that she brings out the children's food so that they will be properly attended to,”Helen explained. And because of Uzor's absence, Helen, therefore had to go to the market to purchase few items with which the kids were taken care of that fateful Sunday.

Helen gave the names of the kids at the orphanage, which include three boys and seven girls, who are all fondly called “princes” and ‘princesses” as Kanyima, Kenwy, and Tobi as well as Dilli, Jessica, Sandra, Cindy, Mago, Diana and Nicole.

Senator Ken Nnamani, president of the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria when he commissioned the orphanage on November 19, 2005 had wished that the centre would continue to grow from strength to strength. His words: “May God continue to inspire the proprietress such that the villa (TenderLove Orphanage Centre) will continue to grow from strength to strength”.

Also, the then governor of Anambra State, Chris Ngige had commended Uzor saying, “The Government and people of Anambra State are grateful to you and your proprietors/Trustees for giving to the Nigeria people and in particular, Anambra State such a good place.”

Uzor who was one of the directors and indeed a co-founder of the private oil company, Orient Petroleum Resources Limited, The Source gathered had two days before her demise, travelled to Port-Harcourt to visit her elder brother, Emeka Nwawka, who was receiving treatment in a hospital following bullet wounds he received when suspected armed robbers attacked him in Port-Harcourt. Nwawka is the Managing Director of Orient Petroleum Resources Limited. Were if not for Nwawka's lucky survival of the attack, it would have been double tragedy for both the Nwawka family of Nibo, Awka-South Local Government Area of Anambra State and Orient Petroleum Resources Nigeria Limited, which has former Secretary-General of Commonwealth, Chief Emeka Anyaoku as chairman, with former Vice President Alex Ekwueme as a co-member of the Board of Trustees. There is, indeed, little doubt that the murder of Uzor by whosoever is really one murder too many.


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