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Awka Stands Still as Slain Vigilante Commander, Ezeoke, Is Buried, Amid Growing Concerns Over Cultism

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… Archbishop Ibezim and other mourners praise Ezeoke’s gallantry

… ADUN ‘Committee of Friends’ mourns his demise, as Amobi Nwokafor plans to immortalize his name

… His death heightens concerns over cultism and gang-related crime in Awka

By Ndu Chris Nwannah, ATM Guest Writer, Chudi Okoye and Stella Nzekwe, ATM reporter

The atmosphere was somber, the mood grim, and the place was packed with puckered, grief-wracked faces as the desolate city of Awka, the capital of Anambra State, Nigeria, on 30 January 2020 assembled for the burial of its celebrated vigilante, Mr. Christopher Onyebuchi Nzekwe (popularly known as Ezeoke). The vigilante leader, aged 59, was murdered on 11 December 2019. This was not like any recent calamity in this community. The passing of Ezeoke, and especially the horrid manner of his assassination – gunned down in a brutal, allegedly cult-related street execution – seemed to have stricken the city, in equal measure, with anguish and exasperation. The mourners came out strong in their throngs – Awka indigenes, friends, associates, in-laws and family members – as they converged on Umuike Village, Agulu quarter in Awka, to pay their last respects to the fallen community hero.

Mr Nzekwe had been a former Deputy Intelligence Officer, Anambra State Vigilante Group (AVG), and the Acting Zonal Supervisor, Anambra Central Zone. His execution seems to have been designed as an audacious statement of gang supremacy. But the perpetrators are being apprehended, according to police sources.

Thursday, January 30, 2020 will likely remain for a long time deeply etched in the minds of many mourners as they watched in stunned disbelief while the body of the fallen community policing commander was lowered to mother earth. The city of Awka literally stood still with sirens and combative local music blaring as Ezeoke’s funeral motorcade moved through Zik Avenue, the main transit street in Awka, to Ukwu Oji en route Ezinwafor Square in Umubelle to his country home in Umuike Village Awka. At Ukwu Oji, Ezeoke’s coffin was lifted from the hearse and carried by youths to his residence, where he was welcomed with several gun salutes, a homage to his warrior-like career.

Ezeoke’s wife and mother during the funeral service at Saint Andrew’s Anglican Church, Umuike Village, Awka.

Ezeoke’s funeral service was held at Saint Andrew’s Anglican Church, Umuike Village, Awka. He had been a notable member of the Anglican Communion. He was also one of the patrons of the Boys Brigade of Nigeria (BBN). Numerous priests, family members and sympathizers joined in the service where the Archbishop of the Province of the Niger, Most Reverend Alexander Ibezim, was represented by the Archdeacon, Cathedral Church of Saint Faith, Awka, Venerable Samuel Okonkwo.

In his delivered sermon, Most Reverend Ibezim described late Christopher Nzekwe as a dynamic man who was committed to the service of God and humanity. According to Archbishop Ibezim, Ezeoke died while working for his community, state and nation in a bid to make the society safer for habitation.

The archbishop further stressed that Ezeoke’s death was a reminder to all mortals that there was finite time for everything on earth. He underscored the need for the faithful to be prepared always as all had times for transition allotted to them by God.

The funeral programme featured anthems by the choirs who took part in the service. The Boys Brigade also handed over a boot to one of the deceased’s brothers in memory of his outstanding contributions to the growth of the organization as a patron.

During the service, a former factional President General of Awka Development Union Nigeria (ADUN), Ozo Dr. Amobi Nwokafor, initiated a project to immortalize the late Ezeoke. He stressed that the project would be in memory of Ezeoke’s excellent service to Awka community and humanity.

The funeral attracted high profile security personnel, Anambra State Vigilante Group leaders and officers. The Deputy Inspector General of Police (DIG) in charge of Information and Communication Technology, Mr Celestine Okoye, was also in attendance.

Ezeoke’s remains were interred at his family house, amidst wailings, sobs and cries. Encomiums poured in from different segments of the society. A close ally of the late Ezeoke and Special Assistant on Political Matters to Anambra State governor, Willie Obiano, Comrade Okey Onyeama, said that Ezeoke was a great crime buster gifted in the work of intelligence gathering. Also, a knight of the Anglican Church and close friend of the deceased, Chief Jonas Ekwenugo who spoke to Awka Times, said that he was moved by the massive crowd which turned out for the burial, and observed that Ezeoke was a hero who was murdered in active service to the state. He enjoined the youths to stay out of evil acts as he strongly condemned the killing of the deceased.

The Head of AVG and former Commissioner of Police, Chief Ikechukwu Aduba, who also spoke to Awka Times at the burial, said that “[Ezeoke’s death is] indeed a painful death.” He prayed God to give the Nzekwe family the fortitude to bear the loss. He noted that Ezeoke was productive in the job as he was always ready whenever duty called, and promised that his death would “make everyone sit up.” Chief Aduba further expressed his gratitude to the police, whom he said had caught three persons allegedly involved in killing the vigilante personnel.

On his part, a former Assistant Commissioner of Police and Senior Zonal Supervisor, AVG, Chief M. C. Uyanna, who condoled with the family in an interview with Awka Times, said that “Ezeoke’s demise was a great loss to Anambra State.” But he advised Awka people to be resolute in giving support to security officers to help them combat crime.

The condolences continued on Friday, January 31, as the ‘Awka Committee of Friends’ numbering over 100 paid tribute to the dead. The condolence group was assembled through the help of Dr. Amobi Nwokafor and other committed indigenes. They had paid condolence with a cow prior to the visit as a mark of high esteem for the deceased, and also turned up on the January 31 visit with a cash envelope and assorted drinks, per Awka funeral visit. Speaking on behalf of the group during the visit, Chief Emeka Anagor noted that they were sad over the death and urged the family to bear the irreparable loss with strong hearts.

The funeral was also attended by Obi Austin Ndigwe, considered as traditional ruler by segments of Awka society, along with his cabinet as well as Awka Kingmakers and members of Ozo Awka Society.

Indigenes who spoke to Awka Times in the wake of Ezeoke’s murder said that there was a need for the Anambra State government to strengthen the law enforcement and security apparatuses, and not just buy and distribute vehicles.

Awka residents also noted that cultism and gang-related criminality had invariably permeated the fabric of Awka society, causing serious harm to social harmony and cohesion. People believe these ills could be adequately tackled through serious social reengineering which should focus on youth education and empowerment. It is thought that useful training and provision of tools and funds would enable some of the youths trapped by the allure of cult life to redirect their energies into useful ventures. There is no doubt that the society will be safer with this approach.

The police and other security agencies are expected to be properly funded and equipped with of modern and sensitive tools that will aid them in the job. Community policing should also be strengthened as the vigilante operatives are better equipped to offer useful security tips at the grassroots.

Late Christopher Nzekwe, a former Chief Security Officer of Awka, had twice won the best vigilante award in Anambra State with his group in 2017 at Onitsha and in 2018 at Ekwulobia.

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