Today, history remembers Iwuchukwu Amara Tochi, a 21-year-old Nigerian who was executed in Singapore in 2007 for drug trafficking.
Tochi’s story tickles my fancy because of the dynamics and mysteries that surround it. Tochi was 18 and naive, he believed that he was carrying “African herb” to be delivered to someone else and would be compensated for it.
Iwuchukwu Amara Tochi was arrested on November 2, 2004, in Changi Airport, Singapore while in transit. Tochi was just 18 when he was arrested. According to his lawyer, he was looking to advance his football career abroad but was in possession of African herbs meant for a sick man — not diamorphine.
Security operatives at the airport became suspicious after discovering that he had spent more than 24 hours in transit. One hundred capsules of diamorphine were found on him, with a total weight of 727.02 grammes (a bit over a pound and a half). The substance was estimated by authorities to be worth S$1.5m (US$970,000).
But Tochi claimed that the capsules he carried were for a friend and insisted they were African herbs that tasted like chocolate. He swallowed a capsule to prove this, and police took him to a local hospital where he was given a laxative to flush the capsule out of his system.
As gathered by Daily Times, drug trafficking carries a mandatory death sentence under Singapore’s Misuse of Drugs Act, and despite pleas for clemency from Amnesty International, the United Nations, the then Nigeria President Olusegun Obasanjo, he was executed by hanging on January 26, 2007, in Changi Prison.
His execution, despite pleas from the international community, stirred global outrage against the Singaporean government. A lot of people believed that Tochi did not deserve to die.
Adding to Tochi’s calamities was the disappearance of Mr Smith, the man Tochi claimed gave him the drugs to deliver to another person, Okeke Nelson Malachy.
However, the judge that presided over Tochi’s case vehemently debunked claims of naivety by Tochi’s lawyers.
In his judgement, Justice Kan Ting Chiu noted that Tochi might not have known that the capsules contained diamorphine. He wrote that “There was no direct evidence that [Amara Tochi] knew the capsules contained diamorphine. There was nothing to suggest that Smith had told him they contained diamorphine, or that he had found that out of his own.” paragraph 42 SGHC 233. However, Kan found that the large sum promised should have raised suspicion. Smith was not a rich man. He did not have enough money to buy an air ticket for himself to go from Dubai to Indonesia to visit his sick friend. There must be a reason for Smith to offer him the large sum of US$2000 to deliver the capsules of herbs when he was already funding his passages to Dubai and to Singapore.
Kan found that Tochi knew that Smith was a man who would break the law as Smith had arranged for false visas and endorsements to be entered into Tochi’s passport to facilitate his travels. He must have realised that Smith was offering him much more than was reasonable for putting him through the minor inconvenience of meeting up with Malachy at the airport terminal and handing the capsules to him.
He should have asked to be shown and be assured of the contents before agreeing to deliver them, and he could have used the ample opportunities he had when he was in possession of the capsules to check them himself, but he did nothing.
Hence, the reason Iwuchukwu Amara Tochi was sentenced to death by hanging.
In the midst of all these, I have decided to view the issues surrounding Tochi and his execution from an empathetic lens and the reasons are not far fetched.
Tochi was 18, a teenager who had played for Nigeria in Senegal at the age of 11. He was prone to be driven by emotions than he would have been driven by logic. Teenagers deal with a rush of adrenaline every now and then.
I will not be mistaken if I say that Tochi was at an impressionable age at the time of the crime and could have been manipulated because of his disadvantaged state. He was stranded in an unknown country and was from a home where his brother had to drop out of school to support his father.
Don’t you think that other things could have been done to Tochi asides execute him?
Did Tochi deserve to die?