The day was Thursday. The month was September, the year was 1996. The location was Otokoto Hotel Amakohia Owerri the Imo state capital in Nigeria. The tag was Otokoto Ritual Saga.
Yes Thursday, 19th day of September 1996 in Imo state of Nigeria. Under the Governorship of Tanko Zubairo during the late Sani Abacha’s regime.
A lad of 11 years old boy named Anthony Ikechukwu Okoronkwo was murdered in cold blood.
Ikechukwu Okoronkwo was living with his aunty at Ajuruchi crescent by Rapour Junction Amakohia Owerri Imo state.
While other children were in the classroom, little Ikechukwu would be hawking petty items to help the family in daily meal.
On that fateful day, Ike was hawking boiled groundnuts. He strolled along, selling his groundnuts to whoever wished to buy. He walked through the street of Ajuruchi Crescent and was heading towards the Late Loveday Ememe Hospital at the end of the street.
He was obviously heading to the hospital to sell to familiar customers when someone near the bank of the Nworie River right adjacent to the hospital drew his attention to sell to him. Ike immediately diverted towards the river.
He was not seen again and was neither looked for as none took notice of whatever happened. People at the hospital gate probably thought he had gone to another route for his business. None suspected that Ike had entered an irreversible danger.
Later the same day, a commercial motorcyclist, simply identified as Mr. Opara had suspected that the passenger he conveyed to Eziama Mbaitolu was carrying a suspicious luggage.
Not comfortable with the content in his passenger’s bag, Mr. Opara drove him straight to a highly populated junction and raised alarm.
However, the passenger made move to escape but the mob was so thick to bypass. His bag was immediately searched. And the content was the most gory site to behold.
Inside his bag was the head of little Ikechukwu Okoronkwo dripping with fresh blood.
With the pressure surrounding him, he had no option than to confess and give the A to Z account of his mission. He gave his name as 32 years old Innocent Ekeanyanwu.
Ekeanyanwu stated that after he called Ikechukwu to the lonely Nworie River, he paid for the entire groundnut and asked him to take it to someone at the Otokoto Hotel which is close to the Ajuruchi crescent.
Innocent carefully ensured that nobody saw him walking together with little Ikechukwu Okoronkwo.
Before the small boy entered the hotel, Innocent was already there and ushered Ike in using a short cut.
The boy was called into the famous Otokoto Hotel and was visibly very excited that he would probably be selling heavily to this heavy buyers.
While waiting, the boy was treated like a guest, he was given a bottle of Coca-Cola soft drink stuffed with sedative drugs. He innocently drank the Coke and slept off moments later.
As soon as he slept off, Innocent took the limp body of the drugged lad into one of the hotel rooms, used a sharp cutlass and severed his head from his body. He was beheaded in a matter of minutes.
This led to the Genesis of the Otokoto ritual saga.
Ekeanyanwu, who murdered the boy, was aged 32 and he worked as a gardener inside the Otokoto Hotel.
After the boy’s head was cut off, he dissected his torso, removed his liver and other vital organs as well as his genitals.
After the insensitive murder of the little Okoronkwo by Mr Innocent Ekeanyanwu, he left the hotel to deliver the head to the person who demanded for it.
Ekeanyanwu had stopped a cyclist popularly known as okada rider in Owerri to take him to the place. The cyclist who was identified as Mr. Opara took him to the destination at Eziama Obaire in Mbaitolu Imo state.
Their journey ended at the house of a highly-influential figure named Chief Leonard Amajuoyi Unaogu, Ochiriozuo I of Eziama ( Leonardo Consign Group Of Company Limited) in Ikeduru Local Council Area of Imo State.
Nevertheless, upon arrival, he was told that Chief Leonard Unaogu went to Lagos.
Ekeanyanwu, ordered the cyclist to take him back to Owerri.
It was at this juncture that the cyclist, Mr. Opara drove him to the heavily populated junction and raised alarm.
Innocent Ekeanyanwu confessed to the crowd that he was trying to deliver the head of little Ikechukwu to his paymaster, Chief Leonard Amajuoyi Unaogu [Oputaobie of Eziama, Leonardo Consigns Group Of Company LTD].
Unogu was an influential and very rich son of Imo state from Eziama Obaire Ikeduru Local area.
On mentioning the name of Chief Unogu, hell was let loose as many people have been questioning the source of immeasurable wealth of some people in Imo state including Chief Leonard Amajuoyi Unogu.
The chaos drew the attention of the police who came and took Ekeanyanwu for thorough interrogation and investigation.
The mob who had already given him enough beating escorted him to the police station.
With the police and Ekeanyanwu, armed with enough information from Innocent Ekeanyanwu’s confession, the crowd proceeded to the famous Otokoto Hotel along Orlu Road Amakohia Owerri. On reaching the hotel, Ikechukwu Okoronkwo’s mutilated body was recovered at the corner of the backyard of the hotel covered
Further searches in the hotel rooms and environs led to what is called the “Worst Experience In The History of Imo State.
According to eye witnesses, inside one of the rooms at Otokoto Hotel was a large Refrigerator where the body of one unidentified dark and well built man was recovered. Human parts were filled in the refrigerator.
Some staff of the hotel were apprehended and upon interrogation, they confessed that the hotel had been into this heinous crime for a long time.
The staff further disclosed that numerous mounds at the hotel garden which people think are yam and cassava stands were actually shallow graves.
Youths started digging the graves and met the worst eyesore ever in the history of Imo state.
In one of the graves was a headless body of one hairy fair man with golden wrist watch. In another was up to six decomposing headless children buried together.
Each of the mounds have a gory story to tell. A story of an unknown victim of ritual.
The crowd could not contain their anger. Therefore, they started destroying structures at the premises while a faction of them headed to the house of the hotel owner Chief Vincent Duru (aka Otokoto) which is not far from the hotel.
Otokoto was dragged to the scene. And he was heard retorting with his apprehenders. Telling them that such cannot happen in his hotel. That his first son Obidiozo has been the hotel manager since four years.
Nevertheless, on reaching the venue and seeing the littered body, Chief Vincent slumped and the crowd gave him water and forced ciggerate into his mouth. And told him that until he brought the last of his gang, he will stay awake.
The arrival of Otokoto coincided with the arrival of the then Imo State governor who was massaged to go for immediate rescue and stop the crowd from causing mayhem.
The eyewitnesses said that as soon as the governor arrived, the crowd hastily sang the national Anthem and Pledge with him and led him to the scene.
A witness said:
As soon as the governor saw the littered Bodies, only his military energy prevented him from passing out. Tears ran down his cheek and he raised his two hands. What I heard was “Too” “Allah” “Haba” and he hurriedly left the scene”
Immediately the governor left, the crowd that has become extremely thick pulled down the fence and started burning the structures.
Even police were helpless.
Staff had already mentioned enough people involved in the crime.
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. However, what followed next was a calamity.
All hell was let loose as the enraged people of Imo State went haywire after the image was shown on the 24th of September.
The news spread rapidly. Everybody in Imo State and beyond had heard the news or seen the image of Okoronkwo’s head or the numerous shallow graves. All about the Otokoto ritual.
Thousands of people came out to protest
Residents abandoned their businesses and gathered at the marketplace. It was there they decided on the next plan of action and outlined their strategies to deal with the ritualists whom many have been named by the staff.
Unemployed and disgruntled youths took over the parks and issued threats to the Imo millionaires.
From there, the crowd devided into attack groups and spread out to every part of the state.
As a result of the Otokoto ritual saga, Otokoto Hotel was burnt to ashes, Piano Super stores was burnt. The house of Eze Onu Egwu Nwoke was burnt down. The residential house of Chief Vincent Duru was burnt. Chibet Motel was burnt, Darmaco was burnt etc.
Some proceeded to the house of Chief Leonard Unogu and burn it down. Chief Phillip Nwosu’s house was not spared.
At Imo Housing Estate Egbu Road, a roasted corpse was brought out from the house of one of the millionaires.
The crowd carried the corpse first to Fire service police station and headed to Government House.
The roasted body was aledged to be that of one man from a Royal family in Imo state who has been missing for almost five years before the discovery. Sources said that the dental arrangement, and a deformity on the toes are indications that the corpse was him.
Besides, he was last seen with the Otokoto ritual saga group who told the family that he travelled out.
This again led to a more chaos and burning of properties belonging to named suspects.
They were not done yet. From there, the mob headed for the residences of former Imo State officials.
These administrators were targeted because of what was described as ‘their alleged unwillingness to properly tackle several cases of ritual murder, kidnapping and robbery while in office.’
Nevertheless, the angry rioters only agreed to calm down when the military administrator (MILAD), assured them that a full, state-level investigation of the incident was going to be launched on about the otokoto ritual saga.
Suspects ran away from the state. It took the please of respectable traditional rulers, imo elites and the then governor who promised never to compromise on justice to calm the situation. And of course the governor did not compromise.
The Zubairu-led government later confiscated all the properties as recommended by the panel which was headed by Justice PC Onumajuru.
Imo state became calm and habitable as before.
The Otokoto Hotel
At the time of its existence, Otokoto Hotel was located in an upscale area of Owerri, specifically the Amakohia side, and it was a favourite location for the rich and wealthy youths to meet, drink and have all manners of fun.
Duru’s hotel was made up of three buildings, (3,5 & 6 Stories each, one behind the other).
It was owned by Chief Vincent Duru, the father of Obidiozor Duru, the leader of the Black Scorpions secret cult that was responsible for robberies and kidnapping of children in the state.
The Root Of The Otokoto Ritual Saga
Before this horrible incident, the people of Owerri were already very mad at the bizarre actions of some loud, extremely powerful and obscenely wealthy individuals in the state. These people were highly-connected and oppressed people indiscriminately.
Rumours were all over the place as to their very dark dealings and even the possibility of ritual murders and killings but no one really had any hard evidence yet or probably those who had it were too jittery to say anything.
Whatever the case, these rich people who had no real tangible or easily traceable sources of wealth kept on living large and instilling an atmosphere of terror and fear on the Owerri populace.
This was how Owerri was described at that time:
When the people heard of what happened inside the hotel to the boy, Owerri exploded with anger and resentment that had been piling up for years. For two straight days, the people of Owerri trooped out in their thousands, protesting and rioting.
Not even the strong-arm tactics of the Imo State military administrator, Colonel Tanko Zubairu, could stop them.
Meanwhile, the administration of the former military governor Navy Captain James Aneke was already seen as corrupt, 419-based and even complicit in the protection of the Otokoto men.
Imolites simply ran amok and the national and international media focused on the Owerri riots of 24th and 25th of September, 1996, also known as the Otokoto riots. The people felt they had had enough and took laws into their hands.
Any property suspected to belong to the ’Otokoto men’ were set ablaze, from posh hotels to luxury supermarkets, their flashy automobiles, palatial mansions, everything was destroyed and burnt to the ground. Any suspected member of the Otokoto gang was lynched.
Prior to the riots, the youthful members of the Otokoto ritual gang & other secret societies involved in ritual killings went everywhere oppressing others with their ill-gotten wealth and making other hardworking youths look clueless & silly.
The Owerri public had no faith in the police and as a matter of fact, the commissioner of police at that time, David Abure, was seen as the personification of corruption who wined and dined with the evil ones.
The Actual Investigation
Ekeanyanwu was remanded in police custody while awaiting trial. But while he was in the police custody, the unexpected happened! He was killed by food poisoning four days later.
Innocent Ekeanyanwu killed Ikechukwu Okoronkwo on Thursday and by Sunday morning, he was found Dead.
But luckily for the interrogators, before he was killed, Ekeanyanwu confessed and mentioned as many names as possible who were the brains behind the Otokoto ritual killings.
Ekeanyanwu had confessed that the Otokoto ritual killing gang was a well-organized machine that specialized in the harvesting of human body parts and sold them to those interested in using them for rituals and all they need it for. He also said it was Unaogu who ordered him to get a young human head.
Unverified reports stated that the Otokoto ritual saga had been in place as far back as 1976.
Confessional statements revealed that 80% of guests were not spared at the Otokoto Hotel.
Many innocent guests and unsuspecting travellers who lodged at the hotel were drugged or attacked in the middle of their sleep and hacked to death after which they were cut into pieces for sale.
Police officers who swooped upon the hotel discovered not only the shallow grave containing that of the little boy but also graves containing other victims with their decomposing and dismembered corpses.
No one knows the exact number of exhumed bodies at Otokoto Hotel. Some were buried at non conspicuous locations such as under the flowerbeds.
The man that Ekeanyanwu mentioned before he was poisoned to death, Leonard Unaogu, was a business tycoon. And he was the junior brother to Laz Unaogu, a serving minister under the late head of state, Gen. Sani Abacha.
Chief Leonard Unaogu was eventually arrested by the police.
When the police arrested Unaogu, he lied with a straight face that he never knew anyone called Innocent Ekeanyanwu and that he was not even in Owerri when the crime was committed, saying he was in Lagos.
The Trial Of The Ritualists
The trial started on the 9th of December, 1996, with Hillary Ngozi Opara as the first prosecution witness on the otokoto ritual saga.
Nine people testified before Justice S.O Ekpe, who took over from Justice Gabriel Ojiako, the retired chief judge of Imo State, during the trial. The court also admitted the confessional statement of Innocent Ekeanyanwu.
Margaret Acholonu, a receptionist at the hotel, stated that two spots were dug at the hotel premises and it was from the second one that the body of Okoronkwo was exhumed. She also implicated Chief Duru.
She also said that on that fateful day, she saw Ekeanyanwu with a black bag and he told her he was going to his village at Eziama.
A sergeant, Sunday Onwucheka, told the court he was in the office when Ekeanyanwu was arrested with a fresh human head of the innocent boy.
According to Onwucheka, before the police took Ekeanyanwu to Otokoto Hotel, the crime scene, he confessed to killing the boy at Mba River in Ikeduru and dumped the body inside the river. The police followed the false trail but found nothing at the Mba River.
So at about 7:00 pm on the 20th of September, they returned to Owerri.
The following Monday, they continued with their investigation and took him to Otokoto Hotel where the headless body of the boy had already been identified before the police team arrived.
On 20th August 1997, a senior magistrate court in Owerri docked 9 police officers for the murder of Ekeanyanwu.
Ifeanyi Anozie, an assistant commissioner of police
Obasi Chukwu, an assistant superintendent of police
However, the case lingered till 14th October 1997 as a result of series of adjournments, absence of lawyers, presiding judge, suspects or even the retirement or transfer of judges.
When the case finally resumed, many were pissed off. Leonard Unaogu, the minister’s brother, was transported in a new station wagon from the prison to the court like a royalty. Vincent Duru and other suspects of Otokoto ritual were brought in a Black Maria from prison to the court, with handcuffs.
Duru protested the preferential treatment given to Unaogu.
Many judges handled the case. First, it was Gabriel Ojiaku, then Simeon Ekpe who was almost done with the prosecution until he was elevated to Court of Appeal. Then finally on 28th April 1999, Justice Chioma Nwosu-Iheme.
The Justice Chioma Nwosu-Iheme Judgment:
Justice Nwosu-Iheme sentenced all the seven suspects to death.
Chief Vincent Duru. The owner of the Otokoto Hotel and Unaogu denied knowing each other, but Justice Nwosu-Iheme said that it was not the truth.
He appealed the sentence in 2012 but he was unlucky as the sentence was upheld by the Appeal Court.
Unaogu later died some years later at the Port Harcourt Prisons in what has been described as very mysterious circumstances.
The Deadly Gang
After judgment, the convicts were moved to the Port Harcourt Prisons in the middle of February 2003 pending their execution.
Prior to the case of Okoronkwo, several children had disappeared in Owerri, never to be found to date. Some were kidnapped and their wealthy parents will pay a ransom.
It was so serious that in May 1995, the daughter of Dr Okoh, a Physician in the city was kidnapped by the deadly Black scorpion gang who asked the doctor to pay $12000 before the girl will be released.
Eventually, the police stormed the hideout of the deadly gang and months later, the leader of the black scorpion cult, Obidiozor Duru, the son of Chief Vincent Duru, (Otokoto) and Amanze Onuoha, were both arrested.
They were brought before the Imo State Robbery and Firearms Tribunal on the charges of armed robbery, a capital offence.
A wealthy businessman and politician in Imo State was also mentioned in the saga but he denied ever knowing anything about the case.
Inside The Prison
What happened next was nothing but a mockery of justice. Duru and Onuoha were treated like royalties in the prison rather than criminals awaiting the death penalty.
To worsen the matter, Amanze and Obidiozo got the most liberal visiting privileges, ate food cooked and brought from their homes.
They were treated like kings. Duru who was a PhD holder in psychology from California State University even impregnated one of the female warders and did a ‘traditional wedding’ with her before he completed his case.
And while they were incarcerated, the rate of child kidnappings in Imo dropped drastically.
In 1997, six people were executed by a firing squad following a judgement by Justice Emmanuel Nnodim. One of those killed was Obidiozor, the son of Chief Vincent Duru, leader of the deadly Cult.
Chief Vincent Duru (alias Otokoto), one of the men convicted in the celebrated case of the ritual murder of September 19, 1996, in Owerri, Imo State, was reportedly hanged.
His execution took place on Sunday, November 13, 2016. This was 13 years after his 2003 conviction. This was after the government approved the execution warrant.
Police took over the Otokoto premises
However, during the administration of Ikedi Ohakim as governor, he tried to revoke the right of occupancy of the police to the confiscated Otokoto properties but people were said to have kicked against it.
The Duru family was also said to have approached Governor Rochas Okorocha over the confiscated property saying the property belonged to the Otokoto Group and not Duru. Okorocha brushed the matter aside.
Each time the issue of returning the confiscated property to the Otokoto family comes up, Imo people rise and protests.
This investigation and research took us almost six months to gather all the necessary information and details. Although, some of our documents leaked out during research.
Right now, we are gathering information and details of the abattoir discovered recently in Orlu Imo State.
As soon as we are done with this, we shall publish it here.
Articles from A.I.C.E. Owerri
Some Owerri citizens