Ombatse Killings: In search for justice, By Nicholas Ibekwe

Nicholas Ibekwe

Many of the murdered policemen would still be alive today if the police authorities had done basic checks.

Since my brother, Christian, was gruesomely killed alongside over 90 other policemen a month ago by Ombatse cultist/ militiamen in Nasarawa, the need for justice – or rather the absence of it – has tormented me like a sore toe in an ill-fitting shoe. Though I’ve tried to airbrush the torture with a façade of occasional light-heartedness, I’ve only succeeded in switching from one level of depression to another like a danfo driver switching lanes in Lagos rush hour traffic.

My pillows should be renamed Insomnia. Even when I manage to sleep, it’s often in snatches – I’m violently roused to reality by frightful nightmares sweating like I took a dive in the devil’s pool. Leaving the house is terribly becoming unexciting these days. Almost everything that thrilled me suddenly tastes bland. I’m badly beaten and bruised all over by dejection.

One might argue that these are signs of intense grieving. True. I haven’t known grief this deep before. The pain I felt at the passing of my old man was nothing compared to this. However, I’m traumatised more at my helplessness to bring the perpetrators of this heinous crime to justice; it disturbs me greatly that 10 years from now I might have to tell my two nephews (3 and 1.5 years old) that the savages that killed their dad were never arrested or prosecuted. Worse, the government and police authorities have made only a feeble, or honestly, no attempt whatsoever to make them pay. They haven’t even bothered to tell the truth of how these men were led to their death. It breaks my heart that the founder of this cult group still talks freely to the media and brags about how “his gods sent fire from above to kill the policemen.”

I’m not saying this because I crave for people’s pity or sympathy. No. First, I want to express how brazen we have become at the brutal waste of human lives and the impunity that vultures around it. Further, I hope by sharing the trauma my family endured these past month, we can begin to, at least, imagine the suffering of thousands of families that have lost loved ones in the convulsing madness that has darkened the soul of the country. I also intend that this piece will serve as a wakeup call for those of us in our nice little bubbles outside the north that evil is roaming just down the street. But I doubt if that would be necessary. If anyone don’t still realise how dare our situation is at the moment, he/she probably just woke up from a thousand years hibernation.

On a personal level, this article is therapeutic. I hope it would completely purge the emotional clogs I’m still burdened with and free my grief-ravaged mind for the flow of positive forces.

I’m not naïve. Bad things regularly happen to good people. Then again if you work as a security agent the probability of having a bad guy put a bullet in your heart is very high. But Christian didn’t deserve to die the way he did. In fact no one deserves to die such way. The details I shall be sharing in the following paragraphs are gory and heartrending. I want to apologise to the families and others affected by this tragedy. I’m not trying to make anyone relive the trauma. Remember, I know where the shoe pinches. But my training as a reporter has taught me the truth has to be told, for the greater good, no matter how unpleasant it may be.

Many of the murdered policemen would still be alive today if the police authorities had done basic checks before hurriedly deploying over a hundred officers to their death. They were not properly briefed; the police had no intelligence or bothered to get any. There was basically no planning whatsoever. To highlight the haphazard manner the team for the operation was put together, many of the officers were told just few hours before the operation. For instance, my brother had already finished his shift for the day and was only summoned back by his bosses. Yet nobody within the police has been made to account for disaster. Small wonder their convoy was easily ambushed and the men butchered in the most coldblooded manner. Many of the bodies recovered were sprayed with bullets; butchered with cutlasses and deliberately burnt beyond recognition. The Assistant Commissioner that led the team was discovered in an abandoned well, bloated, with one of his legs missing.

The pictures of some of the officers suggest they were captured before they were hacked to death. Their legs were bound; hands tied behind their backs. We got the body of my brother, though terribly mangled by bullet wounds and deep machetes cuts, back for proper burial. I hope he died quickly.

In fact my family was fortunate. Over 90% of the bodies recovered were mutilated beyond recognition and were buried en masse. As of today only 12 families got back the bodies of their loved one for proper burial.

The bodies that were recovered by the Red Cross (the police were too scared to retrieve their dead) were treated in the most demeaning manner possible. Charred remains of policemen were stacked together in a heap in plain sight. Decomposing remains of policemen were strewn on the floor of over- capacitated morgues. Families who could recognise their love ones were asked to pay for their embalmment. The police authorities provided no support and didn’t bother to treat the corpses with dignity. I know a policeman who resigned after seeing pictures of the slain officers.

I wish no family the trauma we endured the fortnight following this tragedy. Perhaps in the most bloodcurdling heartlessness I’ve ever heard of, one of my brother’s killers called my sister-in-law with my brother’s phone and said: “We are those that attacked the police. We have killed all of them.”

Then there was the argument over the identity of my brother’s body as another family claimed it was the body of their son. This report, detailing what happened cannot even begin to scratch the surface of nightmare. I can’t describe myself as a religious person and I think miracles are overrated. But, if the fact that my mom didn’t suffer a heart attack or stroke isn’t a miracle then nothing is. Just as I typed the last sentence, I peeped at her grief-weary face and can’t help but wonder how she could muster the strength to survive those nightmarish 14 days or so.

The shock of my brother’s death is beginning to wane. And as I gradually accept the reality of his death I’m beginning to handle it properly. My sun is beginning to rise again. The decapitated banana stem is sprouting fresh shoot. Thanks to the kind and soothing words from friends and colleagues who called or left messages on Facebook and Twitter. Your words have proved to be the most potent balm in curing my grieving mind. I’m forever grateful for your support. Who knew I have some of the most amazing friends ever! I thought my somewhat cocky and nonconformist persona has earned me a busload of haters. I’m humbled and overwhelmed by your show of love. Thank you.

Nicholas blogs here

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