Aloysius Attah, Onitsha
Who killed Ifeoma Abugu, an IMT Enugu graduate and bride-to-be who did her traditional wedding last month and is waiting to be joined in holy matrimony with her sweetheart in a white wedding in December 2020?
Police report claimed that she was found unconscious in bed after allegedly ingesting some narcotic substance and taken to hospital by some kindhearted Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) operatives who came to arrest her fiancé over an allegation of being a narcotics peddler. Unfortunately, she could not make it the report said.
But preliminary findings showed that she was physically abused and sexually assaulted before being allegedly despatched to the world beyond in a most gruesome manner.
The questions now being asked are: who, in their right senses, would take turns to rape a woman who the police reportedly found in such a poor state of health: the operatives, the doctors that attended to her in her sorry state or ghosts from the hospital where she was said to have been rushed to? What quantity of substance abuse could make make a woman who the police claimed they found unconscious in bed die before the dawn of the following day? What hospital was she taken to? Which doctors and nurses handled her case?
And, what Nigerian law authorizes law enforcement agents to arrest a person in place of a suspect, contrary to Section 7 of Nigeria’s Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015? Those are the questions that family members and friends are waiting to be answered in court as parties involved wait with bated breath for the result of the autopsy carried out on her dead body.
It was a murder so callous. Family and friends who knew Miss Stella Ifeoma Abugu, 28, before her death have become distraught and inconsolable since the sad news of her death while in the custody of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, SARS custody in Abuja broke.
The road to her painful death
Before her painful death, Ifeoma, a graduate of the Institute of Management and Technology, IMT, Enugu, just finished her mandatory one year National Youth Service Corps, NYSC assignment.
From Ugbaike community, Enugu-Ezike, Igbo-Eze North Local Government Area, Enugu State and described as a jolly good fellow by those who knew her, she was already looking forward to her white wedding in December 2020 before the tragedy struck. Her fiancé, Afam Ugwunwa from Anambra State was said to have performed her customary introduction/mini traditional marriage on the 6th of September 2020.
But barely four days when she got to Abuja, the worst happened on 10th September, 2020 when she was arrested by three SARS operatives who invaded the home of her fiancé, Afam Ugwunwa, at Wumba village in the Lokogoma District of Abuja to arrest him.
The reporter learnt that initial efforts made by residents to know the police station where she was taken to, proved abortive. In fact, she was not found until Ugwunwa got a call the next day reporting that she had died and her corpse deposited in the morgue.
Now, Alex Abugu, her brother who lamented the callous manner his sister was murdered four days after her traditional wedding with Ugwunwa in Enugu State, is calling for justice.
He said: “I was in Lagos when one of my junior brothers called me that he learnt that SARS arrested our sister and that she died in detention. I had to rush to Abuja to ask some of my uncles what happened. They said they had been to the police station, and that the policemen alleged that they met my sister unconscious on the bed and carried her to hospital where she died.
“When I asked my sister’s fiancé what happened, he said he went out and someone called him on the telephone to report that SARS had arrested my sister. When he came back, he called someone he knew at the SARS office to help in facilitating her release but the person was unable to do it that night.
“The following morning, the woman called back to tell him that Ifeoma was dead. When my uncles saw the picture of her corpse, they saw signs that she was sexually assaulted. We’re waiting for the result of an autopsy to come out to ascertain what happened to her.”
The counsel to the family of the deceased, Barr. Ifeanyi Cosmas Mamah Esq in a chat with our reporter said the SARS operatives who took Ifeoma away introduced a curious angle to the story when they alleged that she was found unconscious after taking doses of substances suspected to be cocaine.
He said: “She (Ifeoma) finished cooking that day and served her fiancé and his friend who was visiting. But after they finished eating and the friend left, her fiancé went to see a friend in one of the neighbouring estates. It was while he was there that he received a call from a neighbour that the police had come to arrest his fiancée and to take her away. He also received another call from Ifeoma confirming that she had been taken away by SARS. Asked where she was and where they were taking her to, she replied that she didn’t know where they were taking her to.
“The case has been transferred from the Apo Police Division to the FCT Command and the Commissioner of Police, Bala Ciroma, has ordered for an autopsy to be done to ascertain the cause of her death. Meanwhile, the police have continued to say that they met her unconscious when they broke into her fiancé’s apartment and took her to the hospital. We have strong reasons to believe that she was sexually assaulted before she was killed. That is why we wrote a petition to the Inspector-General to transfer the case from the Apo Police Station to the Police Headquarters. They alleged that her fiancé was in possession of narcotics that is why they were looking for him.”
Mamah’s petition to the IG read in part: “The IPO, Inspector Bullus, and DPO Usman informed us at the police station on September 15, 2020, in explanation that the deceased was met in an unconscious state by the officers. This explanation is contrary to the information from residents and our clients are not confident with the way the matter is being handled at the Apo Police Station.
“The SARS operatives who did the arrest are freely walking the streets of Abuja. Our clients are not confident that the division will do justice in the matter, and the deceased body is still lying lifeless at Gwagwalada Specialist Hospital. Sir, we appeal that you use your highly esteemed office to ensure that proper investigation is carried out, that the culprits be brought to book and justice done.”
More petitions and demands for justice
Mamah, the family legal representative has also written to the Executive Secretary, National Human Rights Commission, Abuja, Transparency International Nigeria, Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre, CISLAC and International Federation of Women Lawyers Nigeria, FIDA to seek their intervention in ensuring that justice is done.
Part of the petition obtained by Saturday Sun reads: “Our office has been informed at the police station in explanation that the deceased was met in an unconscious state by the officers, and that she had cocaine in her before. This explanation is contrary to information from the residents and appears confabulated to clothe the officers with the apparel of humanitarian workers.
“According to the deceased’s family and those who know her, the deceased was not a type that drinks alcohol let alone abusing narcotic substances. The deceased’s family is not as infuriated by the alleged murder of their daughter as they are upon hearing the officer’s allegations that the deceased had a particular narcotic substance and unconscious at the time of her arrest.
“Sir, we appeal that your highly esteemed organisation to wade into this situation in full weight and ensure that thorough investigation is carried out, that the culprits be brought to book and justice done. It is trite position of the law that when one is found dead in this matter; it is either the last person seen with him/her is instrumental to the death or he knows how or what led to the death of the deceased.”
Enugu–Ezike Lawyers Forum have also condemned the murder of Ifeoma and also demanded justice. In a statement signed by the Chairman, Justice For Ifeoma Committee of the Lawyers Forum, Prof. Uwakwe Abugu, the forum called on the Inspector General of Police to ensure transparency and diligence in the investigation of Ifeoma’s death.
It also called on the National Human Rights Commission to exert requisite pressure on the police authorities to conduct credible investigation and ensure that no culprits are shielded from appropriate punishment.
“Section 7 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015 unequivocally abolished any form of “arrest in lieu” in the following words. “No person shall be arrested in place of a suspect.”
“Secondly, what manner of inhumane and degrading treatments were meted out to Ifeoma that she died before the break of dawn, with her corpse revealing suspected physical and sexual assaults can hardly be justified under any guise? This Forum is poised to get to the bottom of the matter through all legal and constitutional means available to us.”
Senate committee set to investigate incident
Vowing to leave no stone unturned towards finding justice for the late Ifeoma, the Nigerian Senate has mandated its committee on Police Affairs and Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters to investigate the alleged arrest, detention and murder of Ifeoma by the FCT Command SARS.
The senate action was sequel to motion/point of order raised by Senator Chuka Utazi representing Enugu North in the National Assembly where the late Ifeoma hailed from.
Utazi who is the Senate Committee Chairman of Primary Healthcare and Communicable Diseases, in his presentation during sitting at the National Assembly also faulted her arrest of Ifeoma in place of her fiancé. He described her death as cruel noting that there is an urgent need for the senate to investigate the incident in order to ensure that justice is done for the family of the deceased and to establish the status of SARS reform in the light of recent public outcry over their atrocities.
The Senate observed later observed one-minute silence in honour of the deceased and also commiserated with her family and the people of Enugu state.
Meanwhile, FCT Command Police Public Relations Officer, DSP Anjuguri Manzah, has confirmed that CP Ciroma has ordered a post-mortem as part of its discrete investigations to unravel the true cause of her death. As at the time of this report, the autopsy report is being awaited.