Mr Thomas Onabe, a commissioner in the Cross River State civil service, is one of the victims of the terror acts of the slain Gen. Iron. He narrated his ordeal in the hands of the terrorist to TNN.
Can you paint a picture of what happened between you and the late General Iron?
As a matter of fact, we were talking before the 30th of December, 2020, because we are from the same political ward; I am commission two Cross River State Civil Service Commission. Incidentally, he is(sic) the special adviser security. We’ve been doing our political things together. He was having some grievances about some distribution of items in the ward, so they had given rice for the ward and he was not comfortable with the source of the rice, because they have their own differences with one Hon. Hillary Bisong. So I told him, if you have an issue with Hillary, that does not mean the entire ward should be lured into it, but whatever be it, the people of the ward should get the rice. Because of his continuous pressure and whatever, people are(sic) scared of him, they declined taking. So I instructed the ward chairman who is loyal to me, to go and get the rice. So the ward chairman went and got the rice and I instructed him not to share till I come. When I went there eventually, I called him and booked a meeting with him, he now gave me that same 30th because I got home on the 27th of December last year, so that 30th he kept calling me whether I was coming for the meeting. I said I’m coming.
(Cuts in) Who is the ‘he’?
The General Iron, late. I said I was going to come. So he now asked me the time that will be okay for me because I was supposed to sponsor a wedding, I told him well, I will be sponsoring a wedding and all things being equal I will be done by 2 o’clock. So, from my village Boru to his own village in Oku is just like 35, 40 minutes’ drive because of the bad road. When I got there, I called him, they said he was in his new house. I drove there. Some of his lieutenants said he was not there. I kept calling him. About 30 minutes later, he responded and asked me to go to his house, his first house. So when I got there, I drove into the compound, I saw that everywhere was calm, nobody was in the compound. Upon stopping, I sighted him by my side mirror on a bike with one of his very close boys who also doubles as our ward secretary. So when we got there, I was in the car with my PA and the ward chairman, we now stopped. I greeted him, he responded; ‘commissioner how are you’? I said General fine. Normally, he doesn’t greet, he doesn’t shake when you go to his house. He goes inside first, he will stay for like 10, 15 minutes, it’s a system we are used to. So he went there and stayed about that time and came out. When he came out, he went straight to the ward chairman and said ‘what brought you to my compound, what brought you to my compound? You are disrespecting me because of Igwe’. I am popularly called Igwe. ‘You are disrespecting me because of Igwe who is a commissioner ba! But let me tell you, today is your last day on earth.’ So when he said so, I said ‘no, General you cannot be saying this na’. We know he is deadly. So when you are talking to him at all times, we are polite so that you will not be hurt. I said ‘General, you cannot say this, please, stop saying this you are a special adviser to the governor, this ward chairman is a ward chairman of PDP’. As at then, we were still in PDP. ‘This is the ward chairman of PDP, whatever be, I have come so that we can sort our differences out.’ So he said ‘sort what, sort what, even you as you are standing here, you are not leaving this compound today, I am going to kill you.’ So when he said so, I said ‘no, General. There are some things you don’t say, stop saying this.’ As I was talking, he grabbed my shirt, he grabbed me and started pulling me. His wife came out with a small child and stood and was watching what was happening. His wife was shouting in our dialect, that ‘what are you doing, you’ve started having children stop doing’. He was dragging me. As at that time, he didn’t give me any punch, he was pulling me out of the frontage. Then my PA and the ward chairman now ran to separate. As they were trying to separate, his boy who came with him, I sighted a locally made pistol on his waist. So I now scream, I said Paul, Paul allow him because I felt they may misinterpret it and they will use the gun on us. So everybody now ran backward and I told him, ‘well General, I am in your compound, if you want to kill me you can go ahead. If I had any ill intentions, I will not come to your compound for settlement. So, he started punching me, his ring eventually gave me a cut on my face. I was bleeding, he was still pulling me behind his house. I was not resisting. In fairness, the guy that came with him never laid his hand on me but I also couldn’t react because we know him, if you react it will go bad. When he pulled me close to where he parked his cars, I sighted another boy there, another of his boys, who stood there with an AK47. But in fairness too, that boy never left that spot, he was just standing there and was watching what was happening. So when I saw that, I was not reacting and he was pulling me. I started struggling, trying to resist and I fell with him.
(Cuts in) Two of you fell down?
Yes, two of us fell. So when we fell, it’s very unusual for people to resist him, it’s also very unusual because he is like a demi god around our area, people were shouting ‘he has made General to fall.’ So he became very angry and was giving me punches everywhere, then, as I started struggling, I was bleeding and they’ve been telling us that his juju does not allow his victims’ blood to touch him. So as my blood was spilling out, I was trying to see how the blood would touch him. He was like avoiding the blood, upon that, his grip on my right hand I felt it was weak. So I now pulled and ran to my car, the car was steaming and my PA was inside. So the period I was running to the car, he now ran and picked an iron rod, he was coming after me. I now screamed, ‘Paul move the car.’ So when Paul moved, he now flung the iron rod, the iron rod landed on my wind screen, the back and the thing got broken and fell inside the car. So, you have to drive from his car like four, five minutes to the junction where his boys- because his boys were perpetually waiting for any new car or strange vehicle that comes into the community, they call him and inform him so that he keeps himself alert. So they now called them, as they were coming on bike they didn’t know I was the one that was in his house, that was the saving grace. So I now zoomed out, they passed me they didn’t know I was the one and I eventually escaped. While I rushed to the neighbouring community, to treat myself, calls were coming that he has blocked the road to my village because you must pass through his village to my village. I had no option than to go to Ogoja. I went and used another bush track that is like two hours before you get to my village, because there was tension, agitations were high. So I said if anything should happen let it not start through me. I eventually got home, the thing happened around after four, I got to my village around after eleven in the night and I spoke with my people and I explained the ordeal and what I am just telling you, that was actually what happened between us.
And between that time and when he died did you encounter him again?
No, no, no, no, no. Between that time and when he died, if it were possible not to go to the village again, I think I wouldn’t have because the incident happened I was with my wife. My wife had just left me to the neighbouring community who is like a sub-urban to buy things for New Year because it was 30th. So you know for a man of my age and level being disgraced before your wife it was a kind of torture that as I am talking to you I have the mental pictures of my humiliation. So I just decided to avoid the village as at that time. I was not talking to him, the only thing I went, that same day I went to our police station, I incidented the matter. The DPO asked me to put it in writing, I did and he told me point blank that from 2016 to now, that even when he came as a new DPO this is about the 139th report against him and he asked me to write my own, that even calls Calabar that nobody responds. So when I came to Calabar, I made a report to the state security adviser and he asked me to report to SA, special adviser security central, I did, no response. I became more curious. I went to commissioner of police myself, he is late now. I went to him, they gave me audience and he merely told me that we are from the same father, our father will sort us out.
What is that supposed to mean?
He casually told me so, that we are from the same father, our father will sort us out.
That’s what I am saying, what is that supposed to mean, who is the father?
That was what he meant. So, I left. Of course I cannot see the governor directly. Text messages were sent. I forwarded my pictures that are still in my phone till date.
Nothing was done till date, I had no option than to take my fate, I even consulted a legal firm and the lawyer then gave me an advice, that the said Iron is a special adviser of government, he’s a leader of a gang, he’s from Boki where I come from, that he will advise me to decline, not to put my life and my family life at risk if I have made several complaints and there is no response to this effect. So I carried my misery upon myself.
Can you remember a few incidence of terrorism, incidents of harassments, intimidation perpetuated by General Iron while he was still alive that you are aware of?
They are too numerous to mention, they are uncountable. People from the neighbouring community Borum were passing through Oku on bikes. He brought them down beat all of them, young men, in stagnant water, muds. They complained, nothing happened. We had those pictures, after that one, after my own, there is another chief called Chief John Obi, who was even partnering with the soldiers to show their hideout. He said they picked a chief form their community without his knowledge. He machete him, his intestines were exposed, chopped one of his fingers off, nothing happened. A whole lot of all that. The other one, he said he dreamt that he saw some women in the community, that they were staring at him in the dream, it means they have something ill. He burnt about 13 persons in Oku community, four died. Prominent amongst them was a retired manager, Mr Kekong, popularly known in Boki. They are facts, verifiable, nothing happened. So that has been our predicament.
How did you feel when you learnt of the fact that he has been killed?
If there is a word before excitement, I will use it and I’m not alone in the opinion. It was a kind of jubilation in Boki local government, in Oku, where he comes from. Since I grew up, October 27 I will be 45 years, I have never seen people celebrating somebody’s death, I’ve been hearing but I’ve not witnessed but I saw this one. The whole of our platform, we have Boki, like nine Boki platforms; Boki Integrity, Boki family, Boki new generation, Boki APC that we just defected, people were celebrating because it’s like we are out of bondage. What propelled his death, he killed a chief that same day, the chief was coronated on the 19th of August, from Borum community and we heard he killed him. everybody said he must kill all of us.
How did the people succeed in getting close to him to the point of killing him, to the point of sharing his body parts?
I was not in the village, I like speaking with facts, but hearsay has it that since the soldiers chased him, because after the Mark Obi incident, Mark’s elder brother is a retired Army General, we heard that Mark’s elder brother sent soldiers to Oku where they incidentally come from, Iron and Mark. So soldiers have been parading there. So, they blocked the entrance to the other neighbouring community, his boys were extorting from passersby. So, the community people were already complaining of the act. This chief also farms in the estate. They said he went to farm with his child, he now asked the chief to walk out of the estate. It appears the man resisted and he shot him. So his children ran to the community and told the community that their father has been killed by Iron. So it aggravated anger so people went to the estate en masse, they reported to the soldiers and the soldiers, everybody, the community all were in search of him in the estate. Hours later, they succeeded, they said he started shooting at the soldiers, upon gun battle they were lucky and he was brought down, that’s the information, I was not there.
So what does this mean for the Boki nation?
We are liberated. In a random pick of 90 Boki persons, I tell you sincerely, 88 will sound same, will sound as I’m sounding. People are excited, it’s a celebration of death, meanwhile Iron was just 36 or 37 or thereabout.