The story of police corporal Collins Ezenwa 31, father of one, who embraced crime while still on active duty as a cop started in Imo State. Ezenwa was a vulcaniser, but sometime in 2009, he decided to enlist in the Nigeria Police. He had a charming personality and wormed his way into the heart of a senior police officer, Taiwo Lakanu, who is now an Assistant-Inspector General of Police (AIG). Lakanu made him his personal driver.
Nobody knows precisely when Ezenwa took to crime, but it was clear he lived a double life. Like most policemen on his rank, he was on a N47, 000 monthly salary.
He, however, lived a life of opulence. What everyone knows for a fact today, is that Ezenwa became stupendously rich. Before then he dated an undergraduate identified as Gift, who he finally walked down the aisle with. He was so rich that he had to quit his N47, 000 police job. He bought at least 13 buildings in different states, bought a hotel and had 10 choice cars in his possession, two tippers and trucks. When some of his houses were searched, police recovered three AK47 rifles.
It was further alleged that he buried dollars in a pit, which some of his family members had allegedly disappeared with. In a particular street in Enugu State, he was alleged to have bought two buildings and used to move from one to the other to sleep. He opened a fixed deposit account, using his wife as one of the signatories. The money in the account was N100m and the account officer is his wife’s brother.
Detectives have since discovered that before Ezenwa married his wife, she had less than N20, 000 in her bank account. Ezenwa resigned from the police as a corporal on N47, 000 monthly salary in November 2017, and travelled to Malaysia for only a month. He returned from Malaysia to start spending money like King Croesus, buying buildings, cars and businesses.
A brief glance at his timeline showed that he joined police in 2009, started making billions in 2017 and was killed on January 27, 2018. He was estimated to be worth billions and has multi-billion naira properties scattered all over eastern states. With his wealth came a nick name, E-Money. It is strongly suspected that Ezenwa had been hobnobbing with criminals even while working as a policeman, who was supposed to fight against crimes and criminals. IRT uncovered during it investigations that Ezenwa, a mere Corporal, working with the Imo State Police Command, had links with robbery gangs, who specialised in hijacking oil vessels on the high seas and selling off its products to waiting buyers.
“Ezenwa bought several choice properties including hotels and exotic cars in Imo, Abia and Enugu States, within the space of two years. One of his friends Onyekere, advised him to quit his police job and travel out of the country as people may start suspecting that he could have made his money through crime.
E-money left his police job, travelled out of the country for weeks and when he returned he bought a hotel in Enugu and made a deposit of N100m to a fix deposit account which his wife was also a signatory to,” said a police source. IRT commenced investigations into the activities of Ezenwa in October 2017 when Emmanuel and David Ofong, were kidnapped along the Nsukka Kogi Road, Enugu, by a gang of kidnappers and a ransom of $2million was demanded and paid for the release of one of the victims, David Ofong.
The kidnappers held on to Emmanuel Ofong and demanded additional money. IRT went into the case and through the aid of advanced technology was able to establish that Ezenwa was the man behind the kidnapping. The police source said: “We had difficult arresting him because he was always moving in and out of the country, and he moved with various vehicle numbers. Shockingly, we heard, in 2018, that he had been killed alongside two members of his gang. But since Chief Emmanuel Ofong, who he kidnapped was still missing, we continued our case with the hope of arresting other members of his gangs.”
He continued: “In the process, we arrested a banker working for him and he informed us that his wife had a fixed deposit account credited with N100m and we also arrested a property agent who assisted him in buying his properties. We learned that all the vehicles bought by Ezenwa were hidden by relatives and we went after them and succeeded in recovering some of them.” Ezenwa’s downfall started after a gang of kidnappers were arrested by operatives of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) Imo State Police Command. The SARS men ordered the suspects to leave their phone lines open. They had many calls; one of their callers was Ezenwa.
The corporal, unaware he was speaking on an open line, allegedly said too many implicating things, whi l e b e i n g e g g e d by his partners in crime, who were already down. The SARS men began a meticulous and painstaking plan on how to catch Ezenwa and smash his gang. While SARS operatives in Imo State were hunting for a robbery gang, IRT men were looking for the kidnappers that abducted a politician and then Chief Emmanuel Ofong. A Police source said: “Four of his buildings, including a hotel, were recovered in Enugu State. Seven were traced to Owerri and Okigwe areas of Imo State, while one was traced to Aba, Abia State. Seven cars, two SUVs, one Hilux truck, a commercial bus, two tipper-lorries and a trailer truck were equally recovered at different locations within the South-East. All the seized properties are currently registered as exhibit in custody of the police and a motion to have them forfeited has been filed in Owerri High court.”
Controversy has, however, continued to trail the death of Ezenwa, with human rights activists insisting that he was killed by the police while driving in his car with his two cousins. The rights activists however agreed that Ezenwa’s wealth was inexplicable and mind-boggling. A hotel linked to Ezenwa in Enugu was estimated to be worth N220, 000,000. He also had two duplexes and eight blocks of flats worth a combined N180m. One of the victims abducted by Ezenwa’s gang is honourable Tochukwu Okeke, living in Enugu State. He was released after paying ransom. That would be the second Okeke had been kidnapped for ransom.
The first time, he was kidnapped along with his wife. Okeke said that both experiences were quite traumatising. After he was released, he went to lodge a complaint with the Inspector General of Police Special Intelligence Response Team (IRT), led by a Deputy Commissioner of Police, Abba Kyari. The Unit started investigation.
The IRT operatives were still trying to track and nail the kidnappers of Okeke, when Ezenwa was shot and killed. The gory pictures of his corpse were sighted by many people on the Internet. One of those that saw the picture was Okeke. He identified the corpse to IRT operatives. Thus, SARS, Imo State Command, had to handover the investigation to IRT Unit to synergise and conclude its ongoing kidnap investigation.
The investigation is still being handled by IRT, Lagos branch, headed by a Chief Superintendent of Police (CSP), Philip Rieninwa. The investigation is led by Rieninwa. Although Kyari is the head of IRT Unit nationwide, his office is in Abuja. He can only be contacted on major decisions and if his expertise and strategy is needed to crack a case that was beginning to prove difficult. It was in the course of the investigation that the operatives found out that Ezenwa was obscenely rich.
They also discovered that he had fleet of cars, houses, hotel and money. His wife was invited and quizzed. IRT froze accounts belonging to Ezenwa, making it impossible for Gift to make withdrawals. Gift, incidentally is a nursing mother; life became too tough for her. The case took another twist after Gift went to human rights activists, including Amnesty International to alleged that IRT operatives were attempting to take over her late husband’s businesses and properties. She also claimed that Rieninwa and other Lagos detectives were withdrawing money from her husband’s account into their private pockets and collecting rent on her husband’s building in Enugu State.
A researcher with Amnesty Inter-national, Damian Ugwu, who worked on the case, alleged that IRT personnel started aiming for Ezenwa’s properties immediately they took over the case from the Imo State Police Command. Amnesty International disclosed that it was able to locate two bank accounts, with eastern names, where IRT operatives allegedly compelled Ezenwa’s tenants to be paying money into. Ugwu noted: “IRT dubiously took over the case from Imo State Command and started identifying possible assets of Ezenwa shortly after he was killed.
They threw his wife and infant son out of some of his properties, including his hotel, and started collecting rents from them. More than a year later, they have not approached any court for an order to confiscate the properties. Our findings showed that they were just collecting rents and putting the money in private accounts for their own use.” Ugwu explained that Gift was four months pregnant when her husband was killed. She gave birth on June 17.
She was arrested less than two months later on August 11 and taken to Lagos, where she was detained for two weeks. She spent two nights in police custody in Enugu before being moved to Lagos. According to Gift, IRT operatives ordered her release without charges on the grounds that she would bring all the original titles of the properties to them, a demand she found suspicious. But even without giving the documents to them, IRT ordered all identified properties confiscated. Ugwu further disclosed that Ezenwa’s hotel, De-Inglish Hotels and Resort in Enugu, estimated at N220m, had been taken over by the IRT, which allegedly had been receiving proceeds of lodging and other services to private bank accounts.
“Eight blocks of flats on 21, Edinburgh Road, New Layout, Enugu, which was also linked to Ezenwa, is now being managed by the police squad,” Ugwu alleged.The two Zenith Bank accounts bear names of Tochukwu Okeke and Ozougwu Stanislaus. Amnesty International warned IRT to cease further victimisation of Gift and demanded immediate return of her late husband’s properties to her until there was a court pronouncement on the matter. Ugwu added: “No one really knows how Ezenwa made his money. But for a police team that has long portrayed itself as being devoid of criminality to expropriate the properties he left behind without any court order is unfortunate.
Several family members and associates of Ezenwa were also arrested and victimised, triggering a slew of fundamental rights suit at various jurisdictions in the South East. All the cases about the matter in different courts have to do with police abuses and people begging the courts to save them from police harassment and confiscation of their properties without any evidence they were fully or partially-owned by Ezenwa. But there is no single case that was instituted by the police for the confiscation of any of Ezenwa’s property or those of others that the police have taken over illegally.” Gift said that all her bank accounts were frozen, leaving her in penury with her six-month-old baby. She accused IRT of seizing the only N50,000 she had on her when she was picked up in August 2017 and put through a harrowing experience with her infant in an unkempt detention facility. Gift and Amnesty International spoke with some online journalists and the story was published.
The story, however, alleged Kyari of rights violations and money diversion, even though the investigation was led by the Lagos State office, under supervision of Rienniwa. Kyari had since denied the allegations levelled against him and members of his Unit. Kyari had also threatened to press defamation charges against online journalists. Kyari explained that Gift was arrested and detained because she was a suspect in the alleged crimes of her late husband, and was granted tentative bail without charges as a nursing mother. But Barrister Nosa Uhumwangho, an Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP), said he had filed for forfeiture of the asset at a federal court, he admitted first hearing would come up in January 28.
Uhumwangho explained that IRT got a banker’s order to freeze the account containing the N100m, adding that they also recovered the buildings and vehicles belonging to the late suspected kidnapper before filing a motion for the temporarily forfeiture of funds, buildings and properties and cars belonging to the late suspect, in a suite marked FHC/OW/ CS/180/2018, before the Federal High Court Owerri. Uhumwangho, said that all the vehicles recovered are in police custody while the buildings are yet to be sealed as the police are yet to obtain a court order to that effect. He added that most of the buildings are currently being occupied by tenants and no one is taking rents from them pending an order from the court. He also added that a relative to Gift, had previously filed fundamental human right suit against the police over recovery of the properties and freezing of the bank accounts and the matter is before High Court of Okigwe on suit number HO/4/2018. Reacting to allegations levelled against him, Kyari said: “We have nothing to do with a private account carrying names of people from the South East, flaunted by late suspect’s wife; in this BVN era bank accounts can easily be investigated and cash movements and owners can easily be traced for questioning. These are all lies from the wife of Ezenwa whom we refused to negotiate with.
The family of Ezenwa was begging to settle with us, but we refused and they vowed to spend money to destroy our names. Ezenwa’s wife, who jumped bail given to her because of her baby and is on the run, she is vowing to enjoy the proceeds of Ezenwa’s crime as if there’s no law in this country.” Kyari, who said his name was linked to unknown accounts carrying names of people from South East, has threatened to sue those that defamed him. “Moreover, all the exhibits, including houses and vehicles and the N100ma cash we froze in the late kidnap kingpin’s bank account using court order are intact as motion for the forfeiture of the properties and money frozen in the bank account to the Federal Government is before Owerri High Court,” said Kyari. He added: “We are not relenting; we are used to this type of baseless accusations coming when uncompromising officers are handling cases of big and billionaire kidnappers like this. Everybody saw the lies from Evans, the billionaire kidnapper, his lawyers and wife.
The moment you refused to negotiate with them, they will sponsor lies against you. Had it been we agreed to negotiate with the family of Ezenwa and collected N50m, 50 percent of what we froze in the kidnapper’s account, nobody would have heard of this case. We have nothing to hide, we want anybody or organisation to investigate this matter and see the truth.”
Kidnap victim: Why I took over collection of rent from Ezenwa’s tenants
Honourable Tochukwu Okeke is an Enugu State-based politician, who was kidnapped by Ezenwa and his gang. He disclosed that he had to sell his landed property in order to pay for his freedom. He said: “My name is Honorable Tochukwu Okeke, I reside in Enugu State. I work with the government. I am the Senior Special Adviser (SSA) on security to the government. I was kidnapped about two years ago. After I was released, I reported to IRT. I had heard about their achievement with Evans. E-Money and his men took my money, which was part of what I wanted to use to pay my children school fees in Canada. I kept record of the ransom I paid. After that, I checked the phone number, the kidnappers used in collecting ransom from me.
IRT started tracking the number. When he was killed, I checked his picture and identified him. He was among those that used to come to see us in the bush where we were held hostage. I had earlier been kidnapped in 2013 in Enugu here. “After my abduction by E-Money, I went to IRT and wrote my statement. During investigations, IRT men discovered some of E-Money property in Enugu State. About four properties were discovered; one hotel and three other buildings. He was staying in two duplexes; the two duplexes are empty, nobody lives there for now. He bought the hotel after I paid my ransom.
Two of his buildings in Enugu are empty. The third building is the only that has tenants. “I went to the house and discovered that the people had been living there without paying rent. I met one of tenants, who introduced himself as the caretaker; he said that their rent had expired. I told him that the house is from proceeds of crime; and that it belonged to a criminal. I also told him that issue of the house was in court. They said they were aware of the case. I told them they have to pay rent to government. Later the man called and told me that other tenants said they would rather pay rent before a lawyer and would also like to collect receipt. Before them, one of them had paid into my account.