Geoffrey Anyanwu, Enugu
Whenin January this year, Mrs. Nnedinso Nnadi, a widow from Aku community in Igbo Etiti Local Government Area of Enugu State gave her 10-year-old daughter, Nneoma, to Mrs. Ifeoma Ozougwu and husband, Jude, on request to assist them take care of their kids, she did that with the understanding that they would help in training her in school.
But six months after she did so, she was confronted with a shocking experience that will remain indelible in her life and family, as her child, Nneoma, was tortured to the point of death by her guardians but for the saving grace of God.
Barbaric torture and police arrest
Residents of Enugu were thrown into a rude shock when on July 1, 2020, men of the Police Area Command Urban, following reliable information, said to have been given by a lawyer and human rights advocate, Ikechukwu Maximus, stormed No. 3 Akonameze Street, Thinkers Corner, Enugu and rescued Nneoma from a toilet in the apartment of the Ozougwus. She was said to have been locked up in the place by her mistress who, after driving six-inch nail into her skull, inserted ground pepper into her private parts.
On rescuing her, they found the poor girl’s body filled with patches of gaping wounds all over as the couple had, before this time, used electric iron on her stomach, back, buttocks, feet and hands. The wounds were so sore and grating that she found it extremely difficult to sit or to lie down.
The police swiftly arrested her mistress, Ifeoma, took her, along with her two kids and the victim to Enugu State University of Technology (ESUT) Teaching Hospital, Parklane where the mob, incensed by the sight that assaulted their view and the sordid story behind it, bayed for her life. When they couldn’t lay hands on her because the police, fearing for her life, quickly took her out of the hospital premises to the command headquarters, they rained curses upon curses on her for treating the child of a fellow woman with such sense of savagery. The husband, Jude, was later arrested the same day.
News, especially bad one like that of the treatment meted to this poor girl, travels fast. It was not surprising therefore when it spread and attracted the attention of human right bodies and non-governmental organizations. Among them were: Women’s Aid Collectives (WACOL) and Hope Givers Initiative (HOG-I), who, today, are in the lead in the quest to ensure that justice is done in Nneoma’s case.
The charges against the couple
The police, after concluding its investigations, on Monday arraigned the couple in Enugu North Magistrate Court I on three count charge of unlawful attempt to kill, intent to harm and engaging a little girl in hazardous, injurious and exploitative work against her physical and socio-psychological development.
The three count charge reads: “That you Ozougwu Ifeoma (‘f’) and Ozougwu Jude (‘m’) between the month of April and July, 2020 at No. 3 Akonameze Street, Thinkers Corner Enugu within the jurisdiction of this Honourable Court did attempt unlawfully to kill one Miss Nneoma Nnadi ‘f’ aged 10 years, your house help by burning her belly, back and buttocks with hot electric pressing iron, nailing nails on several points on her head, which is capable of endangering her life and thereby committed an offence punishable under Section 275 of the Criminal Code, Cap 30, Vol. II, Revised Laws of Enugu State of Nigeria 2004.
“That you Ozougwu Ifeoma ‘f’ and Ozougwu Jude ‘m’ on the same date, place and in the aforementioned Magisterial District did unlawfully and with intent to injure or harm Miss Nneoma Nnadi ‘f’ aged 10 years administered peppery substance in her private parts which is noxious, poisonous and harmful and thereby committed an offence punishable under Section 292 of the Criminal Code, Cap 30, Vol. II, Revised Laws of Enugu State of Nigeria 2004.
“That you, Ozougwu Ifeoma ‘f’ and Ozougwu Jude ‘m’ on the same date, place and in the aforementioned Magisterial District being guardians of Nneoma Nnadi ‘f’ aged 10 years did engage her in hazardous, injurious and exploitative work which is hazardous to her physical, social and psychological development and thereby committed an offence punishable under Section 23(i) (b) of the Trafficking in Persons (Prohibition) Enforcement and Administration Act 2015, Law of the Federation of Nigeria as applicable in Enugu State.”
Trading of blames rock the family
Amid the hullabaloo, one question that has been begging for an answer is: what evil did the poor girl do to merit such callous treatment from her cousin and her husband? According to Nneoma’s mother, Ifeoma’s mother is her late husband’s sister.
Since after the incident, the couple has not been able to say what Nneoma did wrong. Instead, they have been busy trading blames on who actually carried the greatest physical assault on the little girl. The only evil Ifeoma could say she did was dozing off while carrying her little baby in her arms, apparently due to tiredness occasioned by too much domestic work. In the process, it slipped from her hand and fell down. This was what allegedly led her to drive a six-inch nail into her head and to also insert pepper into her private parts.
Initially, she had claimed responsibility for the bodily injuries discovered on the girl, But when confronted again with the allegations, she exonerated herself and blamed it all on her husband’s cruelty. Asked why she claimed responsibility at the start, when she was sure she had no hand in it, she replied: “Why I said that I was responsible is because I didn’t want him to be sacked from his place of work or sent to prison. That was why I accepted that I was responsible for the harm on her.
“He did the same thing to our last born (her younger brother) before I brought this girl. I only flogged the girl but all the wounds it is this man (pointing to her husband) that did it.” When asked who applied pepper in her private parts, she also denied responsibility. “It is not me, it is not me,” she said. Asked to confirm or deny his wife’s allegations against him, Jude said that he had always rejected the idea of bringing a maid to live with them, right after their wedding. “Right from the time we wedded, I told my wife that I don’t need a maid in my house. But despite my objection, she and her siblings cunningly brought her younger brother to live with us.
“On this issue, in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, she (pointing at his wife) is the one that caused every injury because when I came back from work and saw the injuries on her stomach and on her back, I asked her what happened and she said she used hot pressing iron on her. Any injury that you saw on that girl’s body, it is my woman that did it. I did not inflict any injury on her.” He admitted using the pressing iron once, though, but only to threaten her. “I used it to threaten her, not to inflict injuries on her body,” he claimed.
Girl’s mother punctures claims
But a brief account given by Nneoma’s mother, Mrs. Nnadi, rubbished the couple’s claims. Her daughter, she said, told her that it was the couple that inflicted her with the injuries as they took turns to torture her.
Her story: “I was in our market in Aku doing my trading when my phone rang and I was asked to rush to Parklane, Enugu. I asked what was wrong. They said my daughter was dying and that I should rush to Enugu. It was from there that I came to this place. When I arrived the hospital and saw her in serious trauma, I couldn’t believe my eyes. I broke down in tears and started crying. I asked my daughter what happened to her. She said it was her mummy (Ifeoma) and her husband (Jude) that did all that to her.
“Ifeoma’s mother is my husband’s sister and she requested that I give her Nneoma to help her look after her children. And, that was how we gave her Nneoma. It is six months now that she took her to Enugu. I have four children.”
Medical director gives update on girl’s health
Though Saturday Sun could not speak to Nneoma because security personnel cordoned off her bed space at the hospital, the Chief Medical Director of ESUT Teaching Hospital, Parklane, Enugu, Prof. Hyacinth Onah, explained that the victim is responding to treatment and being taken adequate care of, adding that “her chances of full recovery are high.”
Neighbours speak on the incident
A teenager in the neighbourhood where the Ozougwus live at Akonameze Street, Thinkers Corner, who gave his name as Chinemerem, said people in the neighbourhood were not aware of the incarceration of Nneoma because their compound was always under lock. He said: “You hardly see her outside. I only saw her once when they were building this shop here (pointing at a shop close to them) and I have seen the woman beat her once but it was not in this barbaric manner.”
A furniture maker and owner of Quality Furniture, located opposite the residence of the Ozougwus, told Saturday Sun that they were not aware of the sufferings that the little girl was going through because of the way their compound is built.
His words: “You can see that the gate is locked and it is always like that; you don’t know when someone is in or when he is not. In that house, they live there alone with the landlady and her husband. The landlady lives upstairs while they occupy the downstairs with one lady who stays at the Boys Quarters. The owner of the house goes to work every day. So you can see it might not even be easy for the landlord to know what is happening in their (Ozougwus) apartment. So, we were all surprised when the police came that day to take them and the little girl away. I saw the girl and it was a terrible sight. The incident is very unfortunate but I feel very much for their little kids; you know, she is still breastfeeding the last one.”
Police explains their roles in the case
Explaining the role of the police in the matter and how the Command got the information of Nneoma’s condition, the State Commissioner of Police, CP Ahmad AbdurRahman confirmed that it was a lawyer and human rights advocate, Ikechukwu Maximus, that informed them. “He brought the information about this dastardly act that this couple committed and we waded into the case because the information reached my Area Commander Metro, who quickly went and rescued the child, Nneoma,” he said. “When he saw her body, he rushed her to my office and anybody who saw my briefing will see that I had to rush. I even forgot to take along my face mask because of the description the Area Commander and his woman Inspector, Chinyere, gave me.
“After arresting this woman, Ifeoma and her husband, Jude, I promised everybody that we are going to charge her and her husband to court. But unfortunately some sceptics went and started misinforming the public that the Area Command policemen were trying to cover up the matter.
“How could any sensible person who is God-fearing cover this kind of crime? Why would these people ungodly maltreat this child, use nail on her head, put pepper in her private parts, use hot pressing iron all over her body? In fact, let me tell you, the husband is equally culpable because he has been found to have used hot pressing iron all over the body of that child while his wife, after beating the girl with iron rod, broke her limb. I had taken it upon myself to take them to court. We rounded off our investigation Sunday night and took them to court so that the court can decide their fate.”
Girl’s kinsmen express shock, call for justice
Also in shock like the Police Commissioner is Nneoma’s uncle, Mr. Sampson Nnadi, who thanked police for coming to the rescue of the poor girl and urged them to ensure that justice is done on the matter.
On how he got the information, he said: “I was in my house when they called me on the phone and said that my brother’s daughter is at Parklane hospital. They said that the people she was living with, injured her with hot pressing iron. They asked me to come to the hospital. When I got there and saw my niece in such a horrible condition, I lost balance. I am still at a loss as to what could make any human being to do this kind of thing to his fellow human. But I want to thank the Area Commander of the Police and Inspector Chinyere who took care of the girl initially.”
In the meantime, Nneoma’s kinsmen from Aku community have vowed to ensure that justice is done to their child. To this end, they have delegated the Aku Diawa Lawyers Forum to follow up the matter. Ochiagha Ozo, the chairman of the Forum who led a delegation to the court and to WACOL office, thanked WACOL for its efforts and said they were gathering facts behind the matter and would go to any length to get justice.
He said: “When we heard about this, it was a big shock to the marrow. What happened is not in Aku character. It is very, very alien to us; we are very hospitable people and we are peace-loving. Aku is a very highly literate community. This is an exception to what we know as normal in our place. So we are out to show the entire world that this is not like us.”
NGOs call for speedy prosecution of couple
Nneoma’s travail has generated a lot of interests. Right now, about six NGOs, Hope Givers Initiative (HOG-I), Women for Women, Enugu State, Enugu State Coalition for Justice, Igboezue International, Enugu State Chapter, Young Women Christian Association (YWCA) and Voice to the People Project (V2P), have, in joint protest, called for speedy prosecution of the couple.
Speaking on their behalf, the Executive Director, Hope Givers Initiative (HOG-I), Mrs. Onyeka Okey Udegbunam said: “We have come together because of the terrible thing that happened on Thursday in Enugu. Before now we’ve been screaming about rape but on Thursday in Enugu we saw a situation whereby one Ifeoma Omaga Ozougwu drove a six-inch nail into the head of her house help. This is the height of wickedness. This is barbaric.
“We are saying that Ifeoma Ozougwu does not deserve to be called a mother. If she can drive a six-inch nail into the head of a child, this girl is barely 10-years-old and insert pepper in her private parts, then she is not worthy to be called a mother. If you saw this girl, she could not urinate; you would have cried for her. The time has come for government and individuals to stand up to people who are wicked, people who think this world belongs to them, people who think that because of money they can do anything and get away with it.”
State government wades into the matter
The Enugu State government seemed to have heeded their call to do something about the case. Worried about the situation, Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi is said to have sent his senior aides on several visits to the hospital, to ensure that Nneoma is given the best of treatment and care.
In addition to his directive to the State Ministry of Gender Affairs and Social Development to provide full care and pay for the best available medical care for the child, he is also said to have approved scholarship award, up to university level, for the little girl. In addition, he has directed the immediate release of financial support for her family, to help in their upkeep.