When Eucharia Agbasimalo, an accountant, got married to her heartthrob, Obiora Agbasimalo in 2016, there was no way she would have known that tragedy would hit hard on her home, five years later.
Life had been rosy for Eucharia, whose husband had resigned from Zenith Bank to join the governorship race in the state, after about 15 years of a successful career in the banking sector.
But her life became miserable on 18 September 2021 when her husband, a 2021 Labour Party (LP) governorship candidate in Anambra State, was abducted.
Mr Agbasimalo, a chartered banker, was abducted at Lilu, a community in Ihiala Local Government Area of Anambra State, while on a campaign tour to Azhia, another community in the council area.
The former banker was abducted alongside one of the police officers, who was attached to his convoy.
His abduction occurred less than a month before the governorship election in the state which was held on 6 November 2021.
Eucharia was devastated when she first heard of the abduction, but she was later filled with hope when the LP leadership in the state assured her family that the abductors had agreed to release her husband after the election.
The LP National Organising Secretary, Clement Ojukwu, who claimed to be “in touch with” the abductors, gave the assurance to the family, according to her.
Meanwhile, the LP leadership were busy campaigning for the abducted candidate and assuring the electorate in the state that he would be released after the election.
Eucharia was puzzled by the party’s decision and action.
“They (LP) just carried on like nothing happened. They would even carry his posters and placards and be making boasts that they would win the election even in his absence,” she told PREMIUM TIMES.
“I was wondering if it was a political stunt. Like do they really know where my husband is?”
Eucharia became more puzzled when Mr Ojukwu, the LP national organising secretary, reportedly claimed in a press conference that the abductors of Mr Agbasimalo usually allowed the party officials to speak with him.
“Since after his abduction, he (Agbasimalo) has not appeared anywhere and his abductors have always spoken to us to assure us that he is alive and we believe he will be out soon,” Mr Ojukwu was quoted as saying in the conference, about 11 days to the election.
“We always discuss with them (the abductors) to ensure our candidate is alive, and they (the abductors) let us speak with him (Agbasimalo),” the national organising secretary added.
He would boast that Mr Agbasimalo could still win the election even in captivity, mentioning various candidates who had won elections while in prison in Nigeria in the past.
During the signing of a peace accord by candidates of other political parties, Mrs Eucharia was shocked that despite her husband’s absence, officials of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and candidates of other political parties did not bother to ask his whereabouts.
Charles Soludo, another renowned banker and former governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, would later win the election. Mr Soludo, the candidate of the All Progressives Grand Alliance in the exercise, was sworn in as governor on 17 March 2022.
Initial efforts, LP’s indifference
On 7 November 2021, one day after the election, Eucharia had anxiously expected that they would release her husband as earlier assured by the LP leadership.
But when the abductors failed to release the husband days after the election, Eucharia became more devastated.
Disturbed, she contacted the National Chairperson of the LP, Julius Abure, who told her that the party had done the much they could by reporting the matter to various security agencies, including the Police in Abuja and the State Security Service (SSS).
Mr Abure, a lawyer, told a devastated Eucharia that she and her mother-in-law should take up the fight because he (Abure) did not know what else to do since security agencies were not making headway in the case, she said.
The national chairperson, according to Eucharia, said although he did not have money to give out, the party would render any other support to the family, such as holding press conferences on the matter.
Eucharia repeatedly called her husband’s phone and pleaded with a man who picked up the call to release him, but that did not help her in any way.
She tracked the husband’s phone number several times to know his location but could not succeed.
At first, the result from the tracking indicated that the husband was in Lagos. Some other days, it would throw up Anambra or Imo as his location.
Eucharia told PREMIUM TIMES she visited the SSS headquarters in Abuja in November 2021, and was shocked to find out that contrary to the claims by the LP leadership, the matter was not “officially reported” to the secret police. She said the party “only wrote a statement” that their candidate was abducted.
“There was no follow-up, no seriousness attached to it,” she said.
Determined, Eucharia, in late November 2021, headed to the Force Headquarters Abuja, where she petitioned Nigeria’s Inspector-General of Police over her husband’s abduction.
Following her petition, police operatives from the Intelligence Response Team (ITR) of the Force Headquarters, in February 2022, visited Anambra State and began investigations into the matter. The operatives later arrested Chukwudi Odimegwu, who was a driver to the missing politician, and one other suspect, Maxwell Nwokolo.
Mr Nwokolo was reportedly collecting money for ransom from the management of Oga Ndi Oga Foundation, which sponsored the abducted LP candidate, claiming that he was negotiating and paying the ransom to the hoodlums.
The foundation is owned by Godwin Agbasimalo, a cousin to the abducted LP candidate, the wife said.
According to Eucharia, the second suspect, Mr Nwokolo had claimed in October 2021, that he is a member of the Eastern Security Network (ESN), the militant wing of the outlawed Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB).
He also reportedly told the distraught wife that her husband was being held in an IPOB camp in the state and that the family should not report the matter to the police or speak to the media, assuring that the victim would be released immediately after the election.
Eucharia recalled that Mr Ojukwu, the LP’s national organising secretary also told Ada Agbasimalo, mother of the abducted candidate, that the hoodlums had assured that they would release him after the election as long as the family did not “make noise” about the abduction.
She also said Mr Nwokolo, the second suspect, had promised to show the family where the husband was being held by an unnamed ESN commander. But made a U-turn after his arrest, saying his continued detention would stop him from fulfilling the promise.
Meanwhile, Mr Odimegwu was released by the police operatives, a few days after while Mr Nwokolo was said to have jumped bail.
But the LP candidate’s family quickly prevailed on the SSS authorities and the police in the state to re-arrest them.
Eucharia told PREMIUM TIMES that she is convinced that Mr Odimegwu, the driver, was involved in the abduction of her husband.
“He (Odimegwu) was supposed to drive my husband to a certain function and then he left the route he was given. And unlike my husband, he understands the terrain very well because he’s from there.
“But then he took a route which everybody considered as ‘a no-go-area.’ The place is a den for criminals and hoodlums. He had instructions to go with 10 other vehicles in a convoy, but for whatever reason, he told them to stand down,” she said.
The mother of two added that another driver, who apparently suspected foul play, later followed them from behind.
“He (the second driver) is alive today and confirmed that he called him (Odimegwu) severally to warn that the route he was following was bad and that he should turn back, but he insisted. I was told that the route was unmotorable. He continued the journey until they ran into the hoodlums,” she narrated.
When confronted, one of the two police officers who were attached to the LP candidate, who escaped the attack, according to Eucharia, said he had thought that Mr Odimegwu was plying the route to beat traffic and arrive at the venue of the campaign rally on time.
She said Mr Odimegwu’s supposed “miraculous escape” and the manner with which “he moved on so quickly” after the incident as though nothing happened further fueled her suspicions that he must have been privy to the attack.
“We later found out that Maxwell Nwokolo and this Chukwudi Odimegwu, were in communication together (throughout the time of the incident) – planning things,” she said, almost crying.
Following Eucharia’s petition, the SSS, in 2022, filed a suit against Messrs Odimegwu and Nwokolo at Anambra State High Court, Nnewi.
The suspects pleaded not guilty to the two-count charge of conspiracy and kidnapping.
Counsel to the SSS told the court that the defendants (Odimegwu and Nwokolo) conspired and kidnapped Mr Agabasimalo and thereafter demanded ransom for his release from his family, on different occasions, totalling N7 million.
The offences are contrary to Section 315 (2)(a)(b)(c) of the 2009 Criminal Code (Amendment) Law of Anambra State, according to a court document obtained by PREMIUM TIMES.
The defendants were remanded at Nnewi Correctional Centre, from where they make their court appearances.
The court sat on 22 September, but the absence of the second defendant’s lawyer stalled the hearing. The matter was adjourned again until 27 October.
Search for help
Eucharia, the wife of the abducted victim, said she had met with and sought help from several influential people in Anambra and beyond but her husband had still not been found.
Among the people she sought help from, were the senator representing Anambra South District, Ifeanyi Ubah, a chieftain of the LP, Pat Utomi, and Governor Charles Soludo of Anambra State.
Mr Soludo, she said, assured her that the state government was ready to give any support to the security agencies to secure her husband’s release.
She had tried, unsuccessfully, to meet with Peter Obi, the 2023 LP presidential candidate, over the matter.
Eucharia and the children are going through hard times since her husband’s abduction; she now shoulders all the family burdens alone.
But one of her greatest worries, she said, is her inability to provide answers to questions from her children who constantly ask about their father’s whereabouts.
“It is so painful,” she said repeatedly, sobbing.
Eucharia is also troubled that she has run out of money to fight for her husband’s release.
She said the prosecution of the suspects was already taking a toll on her meagre finances in the face of her humongous responsibilities.
“There is so much I would have loved to do (for my husband’s release). But I don’t have the resources. You can imagine that I am the only one fending for my two children now,” she stated.
“That’s why I was so pained that the Labour Party left me to my fate.”
When asked what she would like Nigerian authorities to do, she responded, “They should do the right thing. Comb everywhere possible. Do whatever is possible to hold people accountable and find a solution.”
Clement Ojukwu reacts
A PREMIUM TIMES reporter, on 26 September, spoke with Mr Ojukwu, the LP national organising secretary. He denied saying he was in communication with the abductors of the LP candidate.
“It’s not me you are talking about. I have never made any statement that I converse with his abductors. I never said that anywhere,” Mr Ojukwu said, and suddenly ended the call.
Mr Abure, the LP national chairperson, did not respond to several calls and a text message seeking his comments.
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