"Your Excellency, could you please tell us what you think your responsibilities as representatives of our country are here in Manila? What do you think are the reasons for having a Nigerian embassy in the Philippines? Three of our people have been murdered in cold blood in less than six months with the embassy doing absolutely nothing! How many more Nigerians must be killed before you sit up and ask questions?"
John Igbokwe
Friday, November 16, 1995
To Charge d' Affaires a. i. Mr. Samuel Ajewole
during a meeting on the murder of Nigerian citizens;
inside the Chancery of the Embassy of Nigeria, Manila, Philippines

Book Excerpts

Although I had heard about Lewis, I did not know him personally and had not met him until one day at a motor repair shop. After he had introduced himself at the workshop, we exchanged business cards and I forgot all about him. As far as I cared, he became a new acquaintance, another compatriot working hard to make both ends meet. He was a car salesman and I owned a small car rental company. About a week before he was murdered, he had phoned me at my office and requested a favor. One of the companies he dealt with had promised to sell him a new Nissan Sentra without any cash outlay by him. Being a taxicab operator, he did not want to put the new car in the taxi line. He needed my advice on the marketability of the vehicle as a car for rent. He also wanted to know what colours were popular with renters. Akenzua requested me to help him put his vehicle in the lease line after it had been released. He obtained my promise to help. A few days later, Lewis called me again at work. This time he asked me to loan him some thirty thousand pesos (about USD1,500 at the time) to help tide him over a temporary cashflow difficulty. I told him I could not personally make the loan to him, but could recommend him to a friend who ran low-interest, short-term money-lending operations. Mr. Akenzua needed the funds for two months, but the lender was unwilling to lend to a first-time borrower for an initial period longer than thirty days. I had dedicated the best of that weekend working to bridge the respective positions of lender and borrower and had hoped a mutual benefit would emerge for both. Akenzua would be doing a planned visit to his diabetic father in-law over this weekend and wanted the loan deal to be finalized at his return from the visit. His last phone call came in to me on Monday, November 13, 1995. The following day, November 14, he was butchered in broad daylight in Muntinlupa. Lewis was killed on the day Mr. Ignatius Anagbogu became Dr. Anagbogu after a successful defense of his doctoral dissertation at the great University of Santo Tomas.

Although I did not know Lewis well, did not know anything about his background, I had treated him like every African I had ever met outside continental Africa - like a brother. I was always ready and willing to assist within reason and my capacity whenever requested to. A complete newbie in Manila, Lewis had impressed me with his drive and hard-work. He had achieved a feat that many old hands in Manila could only dream about - landing a job at a major car dealership. So I had made a decision to help him achieve even greater success. Coming a day after he had spoken to me, the news of his death, in the wake of other unjustified, brutal murders held far-reaching ramifications for the community. Nigerians were being killed one after another with nobody attempting to fight for justice. I was devastated. The reinforced realization of the clear and present danger facing the community took such hold over me that I resolved to fight to make a difference.

The call had come early that Wednesday November 15th morning. My friend, Dr. Pius Odigie, an Uromi, Esan native had phoned me at work to break the news. Without hesitation, I had asked Pius to travel with me to the Bulacan funeral parlor where Akenzua's remains had been deposited by the authorities. After a drive of three hours, we hit the parlor where Lewis' autopsied body laid in pitiful neglect inside the morgue. The body, dressed up in what I determined was borrowed Barong Tagalog (male Filipinos' national shirt), and brown pair of trousers had no shoes on his white-socked feet. The body laid on a bare wooden and dirty platform at the makeshift morgue adjoining the main building. It was a torturing sight to see! The widow of Lewis was nowhere in sight, still at the police station gathering more information on the circumstances surrounding her husband's murder. Of her few relatives present, none had the money to pay for a casket. As dusk gradually aged into night, Dr. Odigie placed some calls to Messrs. Rotimi, the Head of Chancery of the embassy, at his home. Failing to contact Rotimi, we still waited. Finally, Dr. Odigie and I decided to pay for a casket. As we negotiated with the funeral parlor, the widow of Lewis arrived from the police station. With very little contribution from her family, I paid eight thousand pesos (P8,000) out-of-pocket for a casket for Lewis. With a decision made by the widow to take her husband's remains to her home in deep Bulacan, Odigie and I decided to accompany the procession as unofficial representatives of our community. We reasoned it would be disgraceful to our community if it was not represented. We also decided we would call on the embassy's officials the following morning to brief them on our activities. By the time we had travelled the risky roads to Bulacan and returned to Manila, it was 2:00 A.M. of the second day after Lewis' murder.

With scarcely any sleep, Dr. Odigie and I reported at the embassy on the morning of November 16, 1995. Inside the Chancery's conference room, I yielded to Dr. Odigie to brief the two top officials. Seated to Ajewole's left, Mr. Rotimi took notes as the meeting got underway. "As you must be aware by now, another Nigerian citizen was murdered in broad daylight yesterday", Pius began. "The name of the victim was Lewis Akenzua, a businessman here in Manila. John and I were the first community members at the morgue where we found Akenzua's remains in pitiful condition, on a bare wooded plank at the back of the funeral home. I called Mr. Rotimi from the mortuary, but could not get through his phone line. Unable to talk with any officer of the embassy and seeing the poverty of Lewis' widow, John and I decided to purchase a coffin for Akenzua's remains".  Pius then paused as if to gauge his audience and allow the message to sink in. He concluded by informing both officials how much the coffin had cost us. Pius left no doubt about the expectation the Mission would reimburse the cost of the sarcophagus.

"We cannot interfere in the justice system of our host country", Ajewole started after listening to the briefing of Dr. Odigie. In a clear dodge of responsibility, he claimed the embassy had no budgeted funds for emergencies like Lewis' death. He went on to warn us to tell the community to refrain from criminal conduct to avert these kinds of murders. Ajewole was in essence telling us that Lewis had been murdered as a result of criminal conduct! This was at a time when even the authorities had not determined the cause of the assassination. While Ajewole spoke, Rotimi nodded agreement without uttering a word. As Ajewole rambled on and on nonsensically, I exploded. "Your Excellency" I interrupted him, my voice quickly rising and choking with passion, "could you please tell us what you think your responsibilities as representatives of our country are here in Manila? What do you think are the reasons for having a Nigerian embassy in the Philippines? Three of our people have been murdered in less than six months with the embassy doing absolutely nothing! How many more Nigerians must be killed before you sit up and ask questions?" As I spoke, I grew more impassioned so much so that Messrs. Ajewole and Rotimi rattled and quickly dashed to the exit and out of the room. No other compatriot had ever addressed them in the forceful and bold manner in which I did. My emotional speech had the twosome thinking a physical attack was imminent. Three minutes later, they returned to the meeting with a third officer, a big, imposing respect-inspiring man. Now resettled in his seat, Ajewole muttered, foolishly, "You think you're the only big man. I've brought you a big man just in case". Mr. Ajewole's "big man" turned out to be Mr. S.O. Braide, the Administrative Attache. This was my first time to meet Mr. Braide. The Administrative Attache  appealed for sobriety and suggested that another larger community meeting be scheduled at which further options on how the Mission could help would be explored. The calm, sober demeanor and the gently persuasive speech of Mr. Braide had helped to diffuse the tense situation. As the conference ended, Ajewole also offered to reimburse the eight thousand pesos I had incurred on the casket. 

From Ajewole claiming the Mission had no funds for emergencies to reimbursing the full costs incurred thus far on Lewis, the 360-degree about-face spoke volumes about the callousness of the Mission and the two top officials who hated their community. (...more on the murders, the embassy's response and the reaction of the Community in the book)

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