By Jonathan Ugbal, Nandi Bette and Ushang Ewa
Tension is building up in Katabang clan of Boki local government area in central Cross River State following the death of their clan head, HRH Otu Henry O. Okong in police custody.
Chief Henry died four days ago after spending about three weeks in police detention following a sweeping arrest by the police in his community after the alleged murder of a woman by a gang led by her nephews.
The trouble began over one month ago in Buanchor community when a gang beat a woman to death over allegations that she was a witch by a Prophet whose church is popular in Boki and is referred to as “Mother.”
The deceased woman’s nephew is said to have visited ‘Mother’ in Olom where he was told that his aged aunt was the cause of his mental issues and he led a group to her house and beat her to death.
The murdered woman is said to have had no children of hers but raised her siblings and even built the house which the mother of her alleged murderer lived and is said to have raised her nephew who led the gang to beat her to death.
The Police then swung into action and arrested Chief Okong and a few others. “The police came to the village and now arrested the chief and the clan head and took them to the police station in Bateriko. Eventually they were taken to Calabar and they told the people to produce the people who murdered the woman before the chiefs can be released,” a family friend told CrossRiverWatch on condition of anonymity.
He said the chiefs were first taken to the Okundi division where the villagers succeeded in arresting two of the culprits and brought them to the police division, but, the chiefs were not released and the culprits were not arrested too.
“By the time they (villagers with arrested culprits) got to Okundi, the police had transferred these people to Calabar. Rather than say okay, bring the boys, they (police) told the villagers to take the boys to Calabar. Of course, the villagers are not police and could not restrain them and the two culprits escaped having seen that the police were not going to hold them,” the source said.
The source added that the villagers tried to get the police to release the people on bail and the police command in Calabar was reluctant as they said the Commissioner of Police had gone for Sallah break (Eid El-Kabir).
“The police had asked the villagers to bring NGN500,000 before they could release the people on bail. When the villagers brought the money, the police now said they are waiting for the Commissioner to come back from Sallah and the Commissioner had an extended Sallah; he was away for about a week,” the family source said.
The clan head is said to have taken ill while in custody and instead of been taken to a hospital, the police bought drugs. The villagers are said to be suspecting strangulation as the cause of death and are demanding an autopsy.
Also, there are allegations that the police took him to the clinic after he was found dead without his family’s knowledge.
He is said to have defecated and urinated when he died which suggests strangulation and he was found naked in the death bed with his family members querying what happened to his clothes since he was fully clad when he was arrested.
Till date, the police is yet to produce the clothes and more information on the death of the clan head and the continuous detention of the remaining chiefs, CrossRiverWatch gathered.
Chief Okong, till date superintends over Kanyang, Katabang and Buanchor communities and CrossRiverWatch gathered that the family are in talks to seek legal redress.
But, the police deny any wrongdoing.
The Commissioner of Police in the state, CP Hafiz Inuwa told CrossRiverWatch in a telephone interview that Chief Ekong died in the hospital.
“He slumped in the police station and he was taken to the hospital where he was diagnosed,” Mr. Inuwa said adding that: “They killed a person who they said was the one that tied another person’s progress. The person that died was the one who watched over what happened. We are taking all of them to court.”
He said that the police had delayed the post-mortem of the deceased because they want the family taken along and maintained that: “the autopsy will prove the police stance.”
On why they had been detained for a long time, he replied: “It is a case of murder, somebody murders your relation. Is that a case that will be treated within one day, two days or one week? It is a capital offense.”
He alleged that those speaking to CrossRiverWatch had been clamoring for the release and possible non prosecution of the “Mother” who had allegedly given the prophecy that led to the death of the first woman and disclosed that the police will “demystify her.”
Mr. Inuwa denied allegations that he had demanded for money. “Thank God they did not say it was me they met that they said asked for the money. They said they met the people at the counter, how is it possible for me to know those at the counter? The people are just saying arrant nonsense, even if you ask the O/C CIID, he may not know the people at the counter immediately.”
He accused the villagers of attempting to, “frustrate the prosecution of these people,” and maintained that: “They will be prosecuted and we will not spare that woman. We will demystify her because she is becoming a problem to the society.”
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