The Bakassi Boys have been responsible for numerous human rights abuses-many of them unreported-including summary executions, torture, and unlawful detention. Scores, perhaps hundreds, of people have been killed. The individual cases below illustrate some of the main types of abuses, particularly in Anambra State where vigilante violence has been most frequent and has most clearly shown the involvement of state government authorities.
The killing of Prophet Eddie Okeke
A case which attracted considerable publicity was the abduction and killing of Eddie Okeke, also known as Prophet Eddie Nawgu. In November 2000, the Bakassi Boys arrested him at his home in Nawgu, in Anambra State, detained and tortured him at their headquarters at the White House in Onitsha, then killed him. He was forty-three at the time of his death and left behind a wife and eight children, the youngest born eight months after his death.
Eddie Okeke was well-known in the community; he had set up the Anioma Healing Centre in the large compound of his home in Nawgu, which attracted hundreds of visitors. Many of the press reports which appeared at the time of his death replicated the Bakassi Boys’ allegations about him-that he was a criminal who had engaged in assault, extortion, drug dealing, trafficking in children, and ritual killing-fueling the belief that the Bakassi Boys had caught yet another high-profile criminal.
Human Rights Watch and CLEEN do not know whether there is any substance to the allegations that Eddie Okeke was involved in criminal activities. However, the information we uncovered in Onitsha suggested various possible explanations for his killing, including resentment over his wealth and fame; his outspokenness in expressing critical views; and a longstanding dispute that he had with a local traditional ruler and other members of the Catholic Church, who had threatened him and attacked his home on several previous occasions. Information gathered by Human Rights Watch and CLEEN from a variety of sources in Nawgu and Onitsha, including relatives and friends of Eddie Okeke, indicates that the true explanation for his death may lie in a combination of these factors.
Relatives and friends of Eddie Okeke appealed to the governor of Anambra State to save him after his initial abduction. The governor would therefore have been aware of his arrest and torture, but apparently failed to order his release or prevent his death, despite initially promising to do so.45 When a friend of the family called the governor on November 6, two days after Eddie Okeke was abducted, the governor reportedly first claimed that he did not know Eddie Okeke, then asked whose side he was on-a comment interpreted by relatives and friends as implying that Eddie Okeke had opposed, or at least not supported, the governor. He reportedly stated that Okeke had not paid him homage since he was appointed as governor.46
Eddie Okeke’s wife, Joyce Okeke, was present when he was arrested:47
It was on 4 November 2000, at about 4.00 a.m. I was asleep. […] Suddenly I heard a loud bang on the bedroom door. Someone said: “Open this door or I’ll break it down!” I ran to the door. My husband was sleeping. There was a second bang. I opened the door. I saw a lot of men with pump action guns and matchets. They said: “Where is your husband?” I asked them who they were. They pushed me aside. I called my husband to wake up. They went and pulled him from the bed. He was asking them: “Who are you?” They said: “We are Bakassi Boys. It’s a government order.” There were about forty of them and more outside. My husband asked them what they wanted. They were hitting him. They dragged him outside. One Bakassi was standing at the door with a gun. He told me to go outside and cocked his gun at me. They were still beating my husband.
Another group came in and asked me to show them my husband’s room. There was a boy in front of them. I recognized him as a local boy, an armed robber. He had previously assisted people who were after my husband. They turned the whole room upside down. The boy was doing it; the others were watching. They said: “Where are your husband’s guns?” I said: “Which guns?” There was one double-barrel gun there but they were asking for pump-action guns and pistols. I told them we didn’t have any. One of them raised his matchet and said: “I will cut off your head if you don’t give us those guns.” They found nothing. He said: “Turn your back and I will cut off your head.” He charged towards me with his matchet raised, then put it down. They said: “We’ll take you with your husband and if we don’t find what we want, he’s finished.” I went with them and asked a girl to close the door. One of the Bakassi asked me if I wanted to show them anything. I said: “No, there are only children in there.” The children were scared so we had locked the door. The Bakassi wanted to shoot. I said: “No, there are children there.” He said: “Which children? The ones you sell?” I asked the children to open. The Bakassi just looked in and left them.
Meanwhile I heard the Bakassi outside shooting. I came out with them. Some were behind me, some were in front. I was just wearing my sleeping clothes and wrapper. My husband was just wearing his shorts. They had used his shirt to tie his hands. Outside, I saw Bakassi everywhere. They were wearing black, with some red material tied on their heads, hands and guns. They had made people in the compound lie face down outside. They were hitting them on their backs with matchets.
They took me out towards the gate. I could see my husband and about fifteen people ahead with one Bakassi group. I was about ten or fifteen steps away. One Bakassi shouted at me: “If you come any further, we’ll shoot you down.” But a Bakassi behind me was telling me to move. The one in front said: “Are you deaf? If you move, we’ll shoot”. I turned again. The one behind me said: “Move”. I stood still. I said: “I don’t know what to do.” The ones behind eventually said: “Go back”. I started going back. Some of them ran back in and said I should go along with them. They came into the house.
A car and a jeep were parked outside. They told me to give them the keys and open the gate. I called the boy who locks the gate but there was no answer. One Bakassi moved in a flash and slapped me across the eyes very hard. I fell behind the chair. He pulled me from behind with my wrapper. He was trying to strip me. I pulled the wrapper tightly from the front. He started shaking me and saying: “Who do you think you are?”
The Bakassi outside were calling them to come out again. They ran off, taking my husband and fifteen other people, all young men. They took three vehicles. Little did I know they were going to my father-in-law’s compound. After they left I heard gunshots for about an hour. Later, I heard that they had picked up my husband’s father, elder brother, and another relative.
At about noon, I was sitting in the armchair when I heard people outside screaming. They ran in, saying: “The Bakassi have come back!” I went out and met them at the gate. One had a belt of cartridges on one shoulder and a gun. He asked for the particulars to our cars and said: “Your husband said to tell you to give us those guns.” I said: “Which guns?” He told me not to pretend, but I said it was not possible as he didn’t have any guns. They took the whole file of car particulars and the keys. They took five vehicles. There was no clear command among them, but there was one man they called “Boss.”
Before they left, they said they would search the whole compound for the guns and I should go with them. As we went round, they said: “This land is too big. It is bigger than a governor’s.” They saw a mentally-ill boy in the compound. They said: “Your husband is making people mad.” The boy’s mother came and explained that it was the boy’s condition. They said that was not true, that my husband was turning normal people into mad people. Then they left.
I sent someone to report the matter to the police. The governor was away and the deputy governor, commissioner of police, and deputy commissioner of police were not there either. I asked some friends to call the governor. He promised them he would ask the Bakassi to release my husband. That was on Saturday. Up until Monday my husband was still there. I didn’t know what was going on. I sent people to the Bakassi office in Onitsha. They were refused entry. The Bakassi threatened them with knives and sent them away. They said: “Go away or we’ll kill you.” They attacked some of them. I saw the marks on their backs. I didn’t go there myself as I was too scared.
Eddie Okeke’s family and friends spent several days trying to contact the commissioner of police and the governor, by telephone, in writing, and in person. Both officials said they would try to ensure his release, but the family has no evidence that they took any meaningful action. On November 7, the family heard a rumor that the Bakassi Boys were going to kill Eddie Okeke unless the governor, the commissioner of police, or a representative of the president intervened. They eventually found the commissioner of police and begged him to help. He claimed he had done everything he could. In the absence of the governor, they then saw the governor’s wife who attempted to contact the governor’s security adviser, Chuma Nzeribe, and the chairman of the Bakassi Boys, Gilbert Okoye; she did not succeed in reaching them. The protocol officer of the governor claimed that he had gone to the Bakassi Boys but that they had refused to hand over Eddie Okeke. The family returned to the governor’s office on November 8, the day the governor was due to return from his travels. They were prevented from seeing him and the government officials they spoke to would not deliver a letter which had been written by the governor’s wife to to the head of the Anambra Vigilante Services. Later, the family was informed that the governor and the commissioner of police had met and that the governor had promised to have Eddie Okeke transferred to the police.
The news of Eddie Okeke’s death was never directly communicated to his family. His wife explained how she found out:48
On Thursday November 9, I heard on the radio that my husband had been burnt and killed at Ochanja Roundabout in Onitsha. It was all over the radio and the papers. Gilbert Okoye was denying that the Bakassi had taken him and the government was claiming it was a mob action. Up until now, I can’t say what happened. I tried to find out but everyone was scared. I wrote several letters, to the inspector general of police, to the president, to the House of Representatives, to the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, and others. I just wanted to find out what had happened. I didn’t get any reply except one from the House of Representatives expressing the sympathy of the Speaker, and one from the Ministry of Women’s Affairs asking me to come to Abuja. I met some people in the ministry. They said they would get back to me. That was five months ago. I have heard nothing since.
The other people who were arrested at the same time as Eddie Okeke were gradually released over the following days, with the exception of a young man in his early twenties, an orphan who had been looked after by Eddie Okeke and who had recently married. His fate remains unknown. Eddie Okeke’s eighty-year-old father was released on November 11, but his older brother was only released six weeks later. His father had seen Eddie Okeke a few times during the period that they were both in detention. He said the Bakassi Boys would take his son out of the cell for one or two days, then bring him back; he had been tortured and had machete and other wounds from beatings with gunbutts. His father said: “The sight of him alone was enough to make you cry. […] When he was taken out, we didn’t know where they were taking him. […] Some of the Bakassi had a radio and we heard on the radio that he had been killed.”
Others who had been detained at the same time as Eddie Okeke described how he was tortured by the Bakassi Boys. A man who shared a cell with him said the Bakassi Boys kicked Okeke in the stomach and hit him with their machetes and guns. They accused him of killing people. Eddie Okeke denied this and said the Bakassi Boys should test him to prove his guilt or innocence. The Bakassi Boys hit Okeke with a machete and stabbed him all over his body. They said that if he gave them two million naira, they would leave him alone. After they moved Okeke to a different cell, the other detainees could still hear him being interrogated and tortured.49
Some of those detained with Eddie Okeke confirmed that the governor of Anambra, his adviser Chuma Nzeribe, and the chairman of the Bakassi Boys, Gilbert Okoye, all personally visited the detention center while they were held there. A former detainee said that Gilbert Okoye had stated, in front of the governor: “All these people they took from Nawgu are thieves and should be killed. You should even bring others too.”50
After the death of Eddie Okeke, the state government set up a panel of inquiry into the case. The panel had no legal status, no power to require further action by the authorities, and its findings were never published. A local lawyer described the first judge appointed to the panel as a very independent person; however, she was soon replaced by another judge. The panel, which asked for submissions in the form of memoranda, seemed geared towards establishing Eddie Okeke’s guilt, rather than investigating his abduction and death. According to a lawyer who followed the case closely, there were two versions of its terms of reference; the mandate to investigate Eddie Okeke’s death was removed in the second version. Individuals who were close to Eddie Okeke were severely tortured and threatened with death to force them to testify against him at the panel. A lawyer representing the Bakassi Boys alleged that Eddie Okeke had confessed to committing atrocities on video and in a written confession, but failed to produce the evidence. The Bakassi Boys themselves never appeared before the panel, despite a two month extension to enable them to do so. Their lawyer testified for them instead; he claimed that Eddie Okeke had been killed by a mob. He stated that the Bakassi Boys were on their way to Awka to hand Eddie Okeke over to the police when they were confronted with a large mob who attacked them. The Bakassi Boys were terrified so abandoned their vehicle and ran away; when they returned, they saw a fire and Eddie Okeke was no longer there. The Bakassi Boys’ lawyer’s evidence was not challenged by the panel chairman.51
By October 2001, a lawyer acting on behalf of Eddie Okeke’s family had given notice to bring a case against the state government, on the basis that the Bakassi Boys are state agents and that the government should therefore be held responsible.
In a newspaper interview in March 2000, Chuma Nzeribe denied any knowledge of what had happened in the case of Eddie Okeke. 52
At the time of writing, no one has yet been charged with the murder of Eddie Okeke.