The tears were streaming down the face of Martha Ogbonna as she narrated how the innocence of her seven-year-old-daughter was allegedly taken away by a randy 26-year -old neighbour on May 14.
The single mother had gone out, as usual, to seek for daily sustenance for her three-member family, when she came back to meet a visibly shaken daughter.
Since she separated from her husband after some ‘irreconcilable’ differences, she has been the one taking care of her two daughters, she told PREMIUM TIMES.
But the pain her youngest daughter was undergoing after being raped at least four times by a neighbour was uppermost on her mind as she recounted what transpired on May 14 in Apo Wumba, where she resides. Wumba is a little community about 20 minutes drive from the area one section of the capital city.
Martha said she came back from home to meet her daughter, who had been sent home earlier in the day for wearing a dirty uniform.
‘‘I came back and saw the way she was walking as if she was in pain. I asked her what the matter was, but she said nothing. She later sat down, and I noticed the way she sat down was not the normal way, and I asked her again what the problem was. She said nothing. Then she started crying.
‘‘I took her inside the room and told her to lie on the bed so I could take a look at her legs. Her sister, who was beside me, then told me she had been sent home earlier because she wore a dirty uniform. As I opened her legs and checked her pants, what I saw at first, I did not understand. I felt the thing, and I saw it was whitish mixed with blood. We both started crying.
PREMIUM TIMES sought the reaction of the school the victim attends, especially on why she was let out of school on that day of the assault.
”I asked her, who did this to you? Where did you follow when you were coming back? She told me it was one man who works at a barbing saloon (barbershop), which also serves as a dry-cleaning shop, near our house.
‘‘I immediately told one of my neighbours to follow me to the said shop to verify. I had to be dragging her, as she did not want to follow me. Immediately we got there, she again pointed to the barbing saloon, when I asked her, ‘who did this to you?’ She also mentioned the name of the barber as the one ‘who did this to her’.”
She said it was after she pressed her for more information, that the girl said, ”this is the fourth time, he (suspect) did this to me”.
‘’I asked her where and when? She said it was anytime I was not around and that he usually did it to her (have sex with her) inside his shop.’’
She said because it was already late in the day, she had to wait till early the next morning to take her to the hospital.
She said after the victim was made to pass through some tests at the Asokoro General Hospital, the first two questions the nurse asked her were: ‘’Who did this to your daughter and had you reported to the police?’’
This confirmed her worst fears that her daughter had indeed been raped.
The hospital staff urged her to make a formal report, but she resisted this saying she feared for her safety and that of her kids.
Perhaps fearing that she may allow the matter slide through fear, the doctors on duty quietly asked for her phone number, then alerted the police and a human rights activist, who took up the matter promptly.
Martha would soon get a call from the police, who were alerted without her knowledge by concerned hospital staff.
A police operative from the Apo division called her later in the day after she left the hospital asking her to report to the station.
At the police station, after a brief interrogation, she was told that she would have to bring her daughter to a police clinic for independent medical tests.
‘‘I told them I don’t have money to make a case. They said I should go to the police hospital with an officer. It was even the DPO (Divisional Police Officer) who gave me N5000 to go and do the tests (at the police clinic). As I was going, the human rights people were also calling me but I told them I was with the police,’’ she recalled.
The police later arrested the suspect, Smart ‘Emma’ Imo, who is reportedly still in custody.
But weeks after, Martha said the case was still dragging even after the victim was tested at the police hospital. She said she was told to pay N3000 for a ‘case file’ that would be developed before the suspect can be taken to court.
It has not all been roses for her, Martha said. She said she had since been threatened by some members of the suspect’s family who want her to withdraw her allegations. She mentioned the wife of the suspect, who she said visited her to warn her against going ahead with the case. The unnamed persons also reportedly told her they had friends in high places that could influence the case.
‘’I am pleading with Nigerians to help me and my children so they will not attack us. They said they would attack us if we do not drop the case. I want Nigerians to help protect my girls. The older one was also once sexually assaulted, and now this. I don’t want anything to happen to my girls,’’ she told PREMIUM TIMES tearfully.
PREMIUM TIMES learnt from the divisional police officer in Apo, John Emegah, the police arrested the suspect’s wife and detained her shortly. She was released after she signed a statement that she would no longer bother the victim’s family.
The victim said her assailant threatened to kill her if told anybody.
PREMIUM TIMES sought the reaction of the school where Jennifer attends, especially why she was let out of school on that day she was assaulted.
The proprietor of the school, Great and Mighty Minds, Wumba, Elizabeth Martins, in a telephone interview said the victim was sent back home that day because she was ‘improperly’ dressed.
When asked why she was allowed to home alone, she said the victim’s elder sister was allowed to go home with her.
‘’Her elder sister followed her home that day. The next thing we heard was that she had been raped. Since that day, she has not been coming regularly to school,’’ she said.
She declined further comments.
However, Martha disputed this. According to her, the girl was allowed to go home unchaperoned by her elder sister, who attends the same school and is nine years old. She said the teacher only asked the elder sister to give the victim the key to their room and went unaccompanied.
When PREMIUM TIMES visited the school to ascertain the facts, the school proprietor, who asked the reporter to wait, did not return.
Scant information on suspect
PREMIUM TIMES also visited the barber/laundry shop where the suspect worked before his arrest. Only a wall separates the shop the victim’s home.
The family lives on proceeds made from the sale of ingredients and light provisions.
The manager of the shop, Grace Pinenen, said the suspect only worked at the shop for three weeks before the incident.
According to her, the suspect was allowed to operate his barbing business alongside the laundry business for a weekly fee.
When asked if she had any information about the background of the suspect, Ms Pinenen said there was no signed agreement between the shop owner and the suspect.
”As you can see, the shop is mainly for a laundry business. He was only allowed to work as a barber and he ‘delivered’ every week. We only knew him as Smart. I don’t know his surname, but I know he is Igbo. He worked with us for about three weeks before the incident. I know he is married, but I do not know where he lives.
‘’There was no signed agreement with him, so I don’t know much about him. All I know is that he did his business, and we did ours. We were surprised when we learnt about what he did,’’ Ms Pinenen said.
Maryam Yakubu, a rights activist, recollects how she came to know about the plight of the under-aged victim.
‘‘About three weeks ago, in the midnight, because of the kind of community activity my NGO (Be the Change Organisation) is known for (our phone lines are with the police, hospitals), a nurse called me from the Asokoro hospital to tell me about the case. I was so tired when the calls came in, and it was during fasting. I was reluctant because I had other cases I am handling, but they called me more than four times. On the fifth time, I asked them how old this victim is? When they told me her age, the sleep and tiredness cleared immediately.
‘’I started working on the case. The following day, I called the mother and also visited the community. I spoke with most of her neighbours; I visited the barber shop, it was locked, nobody was there. We were taken to a young lady who said she was the last manager there and we interviewed her and even recorded it. She told us the owner of the shop had travelled. I visited the community chief but met the prince and even a pastor in the community. We did extensive investigations.
‘’We have handled a lot of this rape cases. The problem is at times, they pressure the victims’ families, and after some time, they (victims) start to withdraw from the case. Once they withdraw, we cannot get access to them anymore, and we will not be able to move on with the case. So, for us to have a strong case, we went around to all the stakeholders to talk to them,’’ she said.
She said from findings from the police and the hospital; she found out that the girl was ‘brutally raped’ several times.
‘’The alleged victim was their next-door neighbour. Only a wall separates the two rooms: the victim’s shop, which also serves as a bedroom and the alleged suspect’s shop. We spoke to the girl, and she told us the suspect had slept with her several times. The case is still with the police. The police said they had arrested the suspect and they are still investigating the matter,’’ she said.
She said in her last interaction with the police; they said they had many such cases involving rape of underaged victims hence the slow pace the particular case is taking.
‘’They (police) said the case will still go to about three other tables and then the legal department before it can be charged to court.
‘’But the problem is that when a case is taking long like this, the victim begins to lose patience, the people in the neighbourhood, who are waiting to see justice take place and who are suspicious of the system that has failed them many times, also lose hope. When this happens, the victim and the family become withdrawn, and some of the information they gave in the past, they will begin to deny these.’’
She believes the police could have done better in handling the case. She said it took the police three weeks before they could send officials to the alleged crime scene and also arrest the suspect.
She said the police complained of lack of adequate resources to carry out the investigation.
‘’They have to rely on victims to pay for some of these activities. You can see she lives in one room, which also doubles as her shop. How do you expect her to have funds? At the hospital, she had to pay for at least three tests carried out on the victim and also for drugs. How much does she have to pay for all of these?’’
The activist said she expected justice nonetheless. ‘’I expect the police to conclude investigations, I expect the medical records of the tests to come out to see if it matches the suspect. But I tell you this is a clear case. This is a seven-year-old girl that recognised her assailant who traumatised (raped) her four times. She will be able to recognise the person. That is why I believe we are on the right track. We have failed her that she was raped. We should not fail her by denying her justice.’’
A member of the ‘cabinet’ of the community leader, Terry Ten, also spoke on behalf of the community leadership.
He said the case was just one of the numerous cases of child molestation and rape that the committee was handling.
He said to check the problem, the community had set up a committee to interface with NAPTIP and the police to tackle the rape and other inhumane acts in the committee.
He said for the seven-year-old’s case, the community was following the investigation closely and waiting for the police to carry out its findings and release a report before taking a position.
He said for now, even though the suspect had been arrested, the community was keeping an open mind over his (suspect’s) innocence or guilt.
Mr Terry, who heads the Community Child Protection Initiative (Wumba) said: ‘’We don’t jump into the conclusion in such cases. It is an allegation. For one, we found out that it was difficult for the victim to talk without being prompted by the mother. When I spoke with the girl, she said she could not talk because she is scared. Scared of who, I asked her, she said, her mother.
‘‘For this case, I realise that we cannot jump into conclusion. I spoke with the police doctor in Area One who carried out the tests on the girl, and he said there were penetration and traces of sperm. But you know penetration can be through one or more ways. I also spoke with a neighbour, who said the child is being ‘forced’ to say what she is saying.
‘’I am praying that the police do proper investigation to ensure justice is done if the suspect is guilty or if it’s the other way round to ensure that an ‘innocent’ person is not sent to jail.’’
Meanwhile, the Apo Divisional Police Officer, Mr Emegah, confirmed the report saying the suspect was initially detained at the police station before the matter was referred to the state CID. He referred the reporter to the command PRO saying he was the one authorised to speak.
”The case has been transferred to the state CID. The preliminary medical report (at the clinic) shows the girl’s hymen was ruptured (broken). Investigations, however, are ongoing. The case is beyond us now, but I know justice will be done,” he said briefly on the phone.
Anjuguri Manza, the FCT command spokesperson, said the suspect was in custody and would be charged to court as soon as investigations are concluded.
‘’The police are nearly through with investigations — the result of the medical examination on the victim is out. The suspect has left the division and is in the custody of the state Criminal Investigation Department (CID), which is empowered to handle such cases.
”As at today, the case file is in the hands of our legal department who will carry out the final processes before the suspect is charged to court. I can assure you that justice will prevail in this matter,” Mr Manzah told PREMIUM TIMES in a phone interview.
For now as justice is awaited, the victim rarely goes to school due to fear, her mother said. ”She only goes to school once in a while and always with fear. I pray that justice is done in this matter and she becomes normal,” Martha said.