Gruesome Killing of Abducted NELAN Engineers in Ebonyi

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Definitely, there’s no means to discuss the gruesome killing of the five NELAN engineers deployed as consultants to the AfDB road project in Ebonyi state without tears. The coldhearted murder of these professionals who were abducted on 3rd November, 2021 namely; Engr. Nelson Onyemeh (lead consultant) from Ihiala in Anambra State; Engr. Ernest Edeani from Nkanu in Enugu State; Ikechukwu Ejiofor from Umunya in Oyi LGA of Anambra State; Engr. Samuel Aneke from Nkanu in Enugu-East LGA of Enugu State and Engr. Stanley Nwazulum from Amawbia in Awka-South LGA of Anambra State is the height of inhumanity to man in recent times. May their souls rest in peace.

From a report by the Commissioner of Police, Ebonyi State Command, CP Aliyu Garba during his meeting with the bereaved families at Police Headquarters in Abakaliki recently, apart from the agonizing news of recovering the remains of the five NELAN engineers from inside one shallow grave in the bush where they were dumped, one of them was beheaded. Recall that a source had earlier alleged that the consultants were burnt. Possibly, to cover it up alongside the headless body, the felons buried them immediately. Bodies of two policemen that were also killed on their way to the scene and shallowly buried beside the consultants’ grave were also discovered and exhumed. One can only but imagine the pains these victims went through in the hands of their heartless killers.

While I commend the security operatives for recovering their bodies at last, regrettably, the Police didn’t do well before this development. It took the Police roughly four months to trace the place these citizens were gruesomely murdered and covered up whereas the state governor, David Umahi impliedly knew when, where and how they were killed and buried, as he updated his cabinet some days after their abduction, precisely on 30th November, 2021. According to reports, the Umahi led-government played cat-and-mouse games with the consulting firm prior to the abduction.

The questions curiously begging for answers are; how did the governor ‘convincedly’ know these facts even ahead of the Police in the field despite the fact the incidents apart from the abduction, didn’t take place in an open space, but covertly in a remote area? Is there more to this? Many questions running through the mind. With conviction, Umahi announced their miseries not long after the abduction. The Police just ascertained the announcement recently, and also discovered that one of them is headless. The ‘beheading’ part jogs my memory of the Bible episode where John the Baptist was killed on King Herod’s command, beheaded and his head placed on a platter for Herodias as a proof. Sensibly, as the Police has established the announcement, the searchlight should spread to all tentacles.

The ‘beheading’ part jogs my memory of the Bible episode where John the Baptist was killed on King Herod’s command, beheaded and his head placed on a platter for Herodias as a proof.

For now, the Police defence on the delayed intervention is that the criminals slew two policemen on their way to the place. My empathy notwithstanding, this is absurd, embarrassing to the agency, and shameful to the ears. Another squelchy defence by the Police is that the engineers took a wrong route on that fateful day by going through the Ezza route. Unknown to them, from records, the engineers had traversed the ring roads for fourteen months prior to the abduction and had a total of about 112 visits to the area without any squabbles with the community.

Further enquiry reveals that the consultants were warmly welcomed to the communities. A worksheet also shows that the consultants with no challenge concluded enumeration of trees along the roads on the 28th October, 2021 after two weeks of harmoniously sharing a space with the community. Thus, the Police must do a holistic investigation to present accounts that will not hurt listeners’ eardrums.

As their remains have been recovered, deposited at the morgue for autopsy accordingly, investigation must gather momentum to unveil the masterminds of the heinous crimes. Logically, if there’s no record that the consultants reported any faceoff against the host communities at any Police station, then the seeming blackmails against the communities cannot fly in the face of logic and reality. The communities cannot suddenly conspire, abduct and kill strangers working in their space without any dispute. Ditto on the so-called Ezza warriors. If it was for ritual, all the heads would be missing. The cruelty observed at the burial scene as discovered by the Police strongly suggests malice and intimidation. The missing Toyota Hilux is also a bold statement of conspiracy.

From observation, there are records of intra-communities disputes at times but without any pointer to assaults on strangers. So also, there are many non-indigenes moving freely and residing in Ebonyi state, how much more consultants on a short visit working on their roads. Rationally, it wasn’t a case of abduction for ransom but elimination to settle scores. It suggests an attack on the firm. Ideally, investigation should be extended to the corners that allegedly had a history of acrimonious encounters against the firm over their consultancy services.

For example, a source had earlier said; “Specifically, those close to the murdered civil engineer who spoke to the television’s reporter, insisted that the relationship between Governor Umahi and NELAN had remained very frosty to a point that some of the vehicles assigned to them for the execution of the project were allegedly withdrawn, leaving them with only one Toyota Hilux for their routine operations”. Furthermore, in Daily Sun of 21 December 2021, a colleague in the firm also narrated;

“We are saying that it was a planned thing; it wasn’t a spontaneous issue because they have been going to that community. One thing we understand is that that community doesn’t hurt foreigners.… There is a foul play, but we can’t place our finger on it …. In fact, the Toyota Hilux with registration number, ERR-001-EB they traveled in also disappeared with them till this moment”. These revelations have enormous weight if justice must prevail.

What next? The Nigerian Police must go beyond the assassins to fetch the monsters behind the heinous crimes. The post-mortem to also determine their identities including the beheaded victim shouldn’t take another long wait. The blood of these breadwinners in their families is calling for justice, and it is the duty of the Police to play neutral and do a perfect job. To sum up, the hasty conclusions in defence in a sensitive matter as this is not the way to go. Let justice prevail. The tragedies should not be swept under the carpet, and the seeming delay tactic is unacceptable.

Umegboro, ACIArb is a public affairs analyst and social advocate

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