Who is luring girls to hotels in Rivers State and killing them? This is the mystery protesters yesterday urged the police to unravel, write PRECIOUS IGBONWELUNDU and ROSEMARY NWISI of The Nation Newspaper
ON August 14, the body of a hotel worker, Jenifer Nwokocha, was discovered in one of the rooms. She was suspected to have been drugged, chained, raped and thereafter strangled by her killer who left a white cloth around her neck.
Like Nwokocha, 23-year-old Maureen Ewusu was murdered in the same way at another hotel, still in Port Harcourt City, the Rivers State capital last month.
Theirs were not the first as a young woman was found at a hotel in Diobu Line with a white cloth tied on her neck and legs in July. Three days after, another young woman was discovered in another hotel at the Government Reserved Area (GRA), while another incident occurred at a hotel in Rumuola. There were also instances where women have been killed and dumped on roads, such as Trans-Amadi and Township areas of the state.
Yesterday, a minute and 56 seconds footage of a Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) camera from another hotel in the city showed another lady strangled and left on the bed in the same pattern. In this video that has set social media abuzz, the serial killer entered the hotel around 11:30 am with his guest.
Nothing in the appearance of the suspected killer raised suspicion when he arrived at the hotel. He had no bags with him and he wore a simple striped t-shirt, a pair of jeans, black footwear and had his phone on his hands as he climbed the stairs presumably to their allotted room while the victim, a slim lady with full wavy weaves, walked behind him. Hours later, the man was seen leaving the hotel premises alone with smiles as he walked out to the reception, leaving his victim gagged with a white handkerchief.
The last incident, which occurred on Monday afternoon, has, according to Police Commissioner Mustapha Dandaura, brought to eight the number of women killed in hotels mainly located in Obio/Akpor, Port Harcourt City and Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni Local Government Areas (LGAs) of Rivers State since last month.
But Civil Society Groups (CSOs) said at least 10 women have been killed in different hotels in the city in the last one month, adding that over 140 deaths have been recorded since January.
While many have insinuated the killings could have ritual undertones, others believe they were crimes perpetrated by women haters.
Disturbed by the killings, women in Rivers State took to the street to protest the gender-based crime, calling security agencies and hotel owners to rise to the occasion.
Deputy Commissioner of Police in charge of Administration Chuks Enwonwu was reported to have said: “In as much as societal values are disintegrating, we must go back to try to educate women and discourage them from going into prostitution because that is how they fall victim to these crimes.”
This position attracted wide condemnation from rights activists across the country who wondered whether the punishment for prostitution was murder.
Condemning the killings, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) called on the Rivers State Police Command to intensify efforts to stem the tide and apprehend all those involved in the dastardly act.
Secretary of the commission Tony Ojukwu, in a statement on Wednesday, said complaints of the attack on women in hotels alleged to be prostitutes were worrisome.
“Extermination of right to life is the mother of all human rights violations and cannot be tolerated by any decent society. At this stage of our development, some people still take laws into their hands by targeting women they term as prostitutes and killing them at will.
“Human life is sacred and the conditions under which human life can be taken are clearly stated under the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and other International Human Rights Instruments which Nigeria is a party. All these instruments prohibit the violation of the right to life and other forms of extra-judicial killings,” he said.
Ojukwu commended the efforts of the Nigeria Police so far in apprehending some of the violators saying that the Commission is worried over these unfortunate incidents and is requesting every member of the public who has information to bring this to the attention of the police or the commission in order to put an end to these incidents and forestall future occurrences.
The attacks were not restricted to hotels in Port Harcourt alone, last week such was also heard of in a hotel in Omoku area of Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni local government area(ONELGA), with the same feature of white cloths being tied around their necks and waists.
A mother of three, who was known for selling different items in hotels and other places, was killed and her body was dumped in a street on Peter Odili Road close to the popular Market Square mall.
Over 75 women groups and associations yesterday protested in Port Harcourt. The groups include the Association of Federated Women Lawyers (FIDA), Nigerian Union of Women Journalists (NAWOJ) and women from all chapters of Rotary club in the state among others.
The women, who dressed in black attires, delivered their complaint/ appeal letters to the Government House, the Department of Security Services, the State Assembly Complex and Police Commissioner Mustapha Dandaura.
They bore placards with inscriptions, such as “stop killing women in hotels”; “Every life is important, even prostitutes have the right to live”, among others.
The women were addressed by Secretary to State Government Dr Tammy Danagogo.
“This is a very serious matter. Coming here and seeing the calibre of people, I want to whole heartily thank you for coming here to say what you have said.
“Your appeal is to the President, to the Governor and the Police. It is a very laudable endeavour that you have embarked on. It is a concern for everybody. I can assure you that the Governor is heavily concern, I am heavily concerned.
“This is a security matter and we didn’t want a situation where a lesser government official will come and address you. You know the governor is the chairman of the security committee in the state and I am the secretary.
“It is not a matter that any of us are allowing to lie low, we have held several security council meetings with all the security agencies in the state and discussed what should be done. This is to tell you that we are doing something on the killing issue. We are expecting that the police should ensure that there is CCTV in all the hotels in Rivers State to monitor whatever they are doing,” he said.
At the House of Assembly, the women urged lawmakers to make laws that would discourage all forms of heinous killings in the state, especially the killing of women.
The Vice-Chairman of the state chapter of FIDA, Nnenna Igbokwe, said: “We are here to call on lawmakers in the state to rise and fight the reckless killing of went in hotels in the state, by enacting very string by laws that will end these unprovoked killings and safeguard the lives of women in the state.”
The founder and executive Director of The Extra Step Initiative, a civil society group in Port Harcourt, Eugene Abels, said: “More than 10 women have been murdered in the state in the last two weeks; whether they were prostitutes or not it does not matter. We are aware that a hotel is a public place for everybody. Lawyers are also called up, invited to hotels to take briefs of their clients; nobody is immune to this kind of killings.
The Deputy Clerk of the House of Assembly, Dumnu Lekia, who represented the Speaker Ikuinyi Owaji-Ibani, lauded the women for the show of concern and assured that the lawmakers would respond to their demands.
Dandaura said the police would leave no stone unturned in ensuring the perpetrators of the act were apprehended and punished accordingly.
The CP said: “Three persons have already been arrested in connection with the hotel killings in the state. Two men were arrested earlier and another person in a hotel in a part of the state early hours of yesterday.
“The Divisional Officer of police (DPO), in Rumuokoro area of the state had a distress call from a hotel in the area about 2 am this morning (yesterday), that a lady’s voice was heard from one of the hotel rooms, when a team of policemen got to the hotel, it was discovered that a lady and a man were actually in there.
“When we knocked and ordered that the door be opened, after some time of resistance, the man finally opened the door and on interrogation, the lady said the man paid and took her to the room and while she was sleeping about 2 am, the man took a towel and was about to strangulate her when she woke up and began to struggle with him. It was at that time she raised the alarm that attracted both the operators of the hotel and other guests who alerted the police.”
He attributed the killings to cult-related activities of a particular cult group, stressing that all victims were killed in the same pattern.
“As CP of the state, I want to assure you that efforts are on to smoking them out as we ensure that all hotels in the state comply with the rules of operation.
“We have had two different meetings in the last two week with all hotel operators in the state, where we have stated the guidelines for their continued running of hotels and guest houses in the state.
“There is no way someone can come to a hotel to book a run, you do not have his identity, no name, no telephone number, no CCTV in the reception, no cameras at the corridors leading to the rooms, how then can somebody come to your hotel and commit a crime and you are able to trace him?
“We have told them that they must comply with all the conditions before they will be allowed to continue to do the business, they must instal cameras at the reception, and the corridors leading to all the rooms. Before anybody should be obliged a room in any hotel and Guesthouse, he/she must produce their Identity card, they must ensure that the name on the identity card tallies with the name they will fill in the booking form, he must also drop his contact number, which the booking officer must confirm by dialling the number there and then to ensure it rings on him before he can be cleared for accommodation in the hotel.”