The story of Otokoto money ritual killings of 1996 in Owerri, Imo state
On 19th September 1996, during the regime of late General Sani Abacha’s, in the city of Owerri – Imo State, an innocent 11-year-old boy named Anthony Ikechukwu Okoronkwo was murdered for Ritual purposes.
The little boy was hawking boiled groundnuts, which was his daily routine. He strolled along, selling his groundnuts for peanuts to whoever wanted to buy them.
When he got to Amakohia area of Owerri, his eyes lit up with joy when a customer beckoned on him to approach. That ‘customer’ was named Innocent Ekeanyanwu, aged 32.
The boy was called into the famous Otokoto Hotel and the little groundnut seller was visibly very excited since it was a hotel, it meant that the new ‘customer’ would probably be buying plenty groundnuts which will mean more money to take home to make his parents happy and assist his struggling family.
While waiting, the boy was treated like a guest, he was given a bottle of Coca-Cola to cool off from the punishing heat of tropical Africa. Innocently, he took the Coke and gulped it with relish.
As he was sipping his soft drink and taking a look at the glittering surrounding of the hotel, he could have imagined having a hotel of his own too later in the future. As he was dreaming, his vision became blurry and the sounds around him became muzzled and dull.
In a matter of minutes, he dozed off, never to wake up again. His tray full of groundnuts was lying in a corner.
Observing the boy from a safe distance was the man who had called him to buy his groundnuts. He had spiked the boy’s drink and once he saw he was asleep, he took the limp body of the drugged lad into one of the hotel rooms and what followed next remains one of the evilest things anyone can ever dream up.
A sharp cutlass emerged from nowhere and the boy’s head was severed from his body. He was beheaded in a matter of minutes.
After the boy’s head was cut off, he disembowelled his torso, removed his liver and other parts he needed. Not done yet, the boy’s genitals were removed. After butchering the boy, and sorting out the organs, he packed his head inside a polythene bag and buried his remains.
The Butcher, Ekeanyanwu then took the polythene bag containing the boy’s head and headed for the next destination: to the house of the man who needed the fresh head. The man who is behind it all.
How did the information leak
After the grisly murder of the little Okoronkwo by Innocent Ekeanyanwu (what a name, innocent indeed), he left the hotel to deliver the head where it was needed.
He then Stopped a Bike man (Okada rider) to convey him to the place. It was the Okada man named Opara, whom he stopped to take him to his destination in Eziama that realized that was his passenger was carrying inside a polythene bag was a fresh human head.
It was still dripping with blood. When he alighted,the Okada man quickly alerted the police. The Police then intercepted Ekeanyanwu on his way back in a Peugeot 504 car, he was carrying the head with him in the polythene bag.
He was going to the residence of a highly-influential figure named Chief Leonard Unaogu at Eziama, Ikeduru Local Council Area with the head but upon arriving, he was told Mr Unaogu had gone to Lagos.
So Ekeanyanwu had no other option but to return to Owerri with the boy’s head. When it was time to take the headless body of Ikechukwu to the local mortuary, there was a massive procession and protested by Owerri people.
People came out in 1000s to protest the boys ritual killing. They stayed around and within the hotel premises, waited for the police to confirm that it was indeed a ritual murder while more were matching and trooping to the scene of the Ritual Murder as the news was spreading.
It was in the midst of this tension that the local media station made its miscalculation. They showed the image of Innocent Ekeanyanwu holding the head of his victim.
The goal of the media was to assure the people, assuage public fear, ask the public to help identify the boy and show official transparency but what followed next was a catastrophe.
All hell broke loose as the enraged people of Owerri went haywire after the image was the first broadcast on the 24th of September.
All Owerri residents abandoned their businesses and congregated at the town’s central marketplace. It was there they decided on the next plan of action and outlined their strategies to deal with the Otokoto ‘headhunters’.
The news spread rapidly, every home in Owerri had heard the news or seen the image of Okoronkwo’s head or his shallow grave. Unemployed and disgruntled youths took over the parks and issued threats to the Owerri millionaires.
From the Owerri main market, the riots exploded and spread. The pattern of destruction was neat.
The rampaging crowd first went to the morgue and from there, they rushed to the Otokoto Hotel and burnt it to the ground.
From there, they went to the nearby palatial mansion of Chief Vincent Duru and destroyed his property, his expensive cars were wrecked and Duru himself narrowly escaped.
From there, the crowd split into attack groups and spread out to other sites of the privileged elite and unleashed maximum destruction.
The well-known Piano Plaza and Stores, alongside another hotel, Chibet Hotel, and various businesses linked to the Otokoto and their associates were utterly destroyed.
The Zubairu-led government later confiscated all the properties as recommended by the panel which was headed by Justice PC Onumajuru.
From there, they rushed to the palace of the traditional ruler and chairman of the state council of traditional rulers, Eze Onu Egwu Nwoke (later indicted alongside Aneke and Abure by the panel of inquiry) and burnt down his residence and his petrol station.
They also destroyed the king’s 15 air conditioners and many of his cars. They were not done yet. From there, the crowd ‘troops’ headed for the residences of former Imo State officials.