Gyang Bere, Jos
The story of Choji Wang is not for the faint-hearted. It is a sad one, a chilling narrative, an inexplicable account of an innocent, helpless infant who became a victim of a great tragedy. The child was barely five weeks old when an unknown person tried to “roast” his face alive inside his mother’s room at Zat village in Ropp District of Barkin-Ladi Local Government Council in Plateau State. The incident left the infant with an extensive burn that disfigures half of his face and also cost him an eye.
Recounting the horrific episode, Patience Wang, the child’s mother, shuddered visibly. Any human being with blood flowing in his veins could hardly hear the full details without sympathizing with the now nine months old baby, who, very early in his life, has been a victim of man’s gross cruelty. Worse still, there was no one to hold accountable for the calamity that befell the child.
The distraught mother had a straight account of what happened. On that fateful morning of August 23, 2019, Choji, a five-week-old baby was wrapped in a blanket, and put to sleep on the bed after she had breastfed him. Because the room was cold, Patience Wang had fetched a brazier of hot charcoal, to warm the room for the baby. She went out to attend to her chores. To cut a long story short, a few minutes later, drawn by the acrid smell of burning flesh, the mother entered the room and met her son’s face buried in hot charcoal.
Agony of a mother
Patience Wang further gave a blow-by-blow account of how the tragedy happened in an exclusive interview with Saturday Sun.
Her story: “It’s only God that knows what happened to this baby,” she began. “I gave birth to him on July 22, 2019, at the General Hospital Barkin-Ladi and after some few days, the hospital discharged us to go home. Five weeks later was when the incident happened. On that day, we were at home, my mother-in-law and I. My husband’s younger brother who was staying with us had gone for a church programme and would be away for two days. My mother-in-law usually bathed the child, but on this day, she refused, insisting that I should start learning how to bathe a baby.
“I pleaded with her to carry the baby to enable me to do some domestic chores. She refused. She told me she wasn’t feeling fine. I decided not to bother her again. Since there was nobody I could give the child to, I put him on my back and began to do some of the work I could manage. I got somebody to help me with the firewood, which I needed to make a fire to boil the child’s bathing water. Having done that, I had to go into the kitchen to kindle the fire. At this point, I unstrapped the baby from my back and laid him gently on the bed carefully so as not to wake him. I covered him with a blanket. The day was cold because it was during the raining season. We usually brought some charcoal indoor to warm the room because of the baby. This I did.”
Thereafter, she went outside into the kitchen to pour boiling water into a bucket of cold water. She was doing this when her nose picked the pungent smell of burning flesh.
“I knew I did not put anything on fire,” she said. “And I felt the baby was sleeping safely on the bed wrapped in his blanket. Yet, I felt uneasy, moreso, the smell was coming from the direction of the bedroom.”
She hastened into the room and the sight she beheld was more terrifying than her worst nightmare. The room was filled with smoke. The child had been dragged halfway out of the bed; he was lying with his face in the brazier of charcoal. What surprised her most: “The baby did not cry. So it was difficult for anyone to realize that something unusual was happening inside the house.”
She recalled that horror moment: “The blanket that the baby was wrapped in did not burn; the cap he was wearing also did not burn. Moreover, the (brazier of) charcoal was not close to the bed and the baby was not lying down in a way that indicated that he rolled off the bed and mistakenly fell. Someone went into the room and deliberately positioned the child.”
Disharmony in the household
Unfortunately, it was impossible to find a culprit for the incident. There were only two women in the house the day the baby suffered the misfortune. His mother and his grandmother. The two women, however, had a frosty relationship. The animosity between the two ran deep, long-existing before Choji was conceived.
Patience Wang gave a further disturbing testimony. For the first three weeks after the birth of Choji, her stepmother-in-law bathed the baby on a daily basis. “But my mother-in-law stopped her from coming here under the pretext that she would take up the responsibility. She only did that for a few days before she insisted that I should take over and start to learn how to bathe a newborn baby.”
She continued: “It was just me and my mother-in-law that were in the house that morning. There was no any other person in the house. She only came out of her room when she heard my scream. I temporarily lost my senses when I saw my child’s badly burnt face. For some minutes, I didn’t know what was happening. I thought he was dead. But a man came into the house and insisted that he was still alive and should be promptly taken to the hospital.”
At Barkin-Ladi General Hospital, doctors directed them to Plateau Specialist Hospital, Jos. They were, in turn, asked to go to Bingham University Teaching Hospital, Jos where they were eventually admitted. Wang complained about her mother in-law’s cold behaviour.
“She did not come to see us in the hospital for four months. She came around once in the fifth month. After then, we did not see her again. As we speak now, she doesn’t know how the baby looks like,” she said. Only her mother and her husband visited them, she claimed.
Patience, from Fan District of Barkin-Ladi Local Government Area, married 29-year-old Wang in October 2018. And the baby in question is their first child.
She described her marriage into the family as controversial, because her mother-in-law did not approve of the union.
According to her, “She did not want me to marry her son. She said she would not forgive anybody who facilitated the marriage.”
She felt she had done everything to please her mother-in-law. “But she seems not to understand me. When she was sick, I took care of her at the Jos University Teaching Hospital (JUTH) until she recovered. I love my husband and he loves me, I don’t know why his mother wouldn’t want us to be married. I have suffered a lot of humiliations,” she lamented.
The present travail has further rocked the family boat. “My husband was angry with me because I complained about his mother not visiting us in the hospital. He said for the union to continue, I must learn how to live with his mother but I have done everything possible and it is evident she doesn’t want me in the house, I don’t know what to do,” she cried.
Encountering the Good Samaritans
At the end of seven months, the family had a huge medical bill to settle. Wang was forthright with the hospital management: “We had no money to settle the bill. When the accountant asked me how we intended to pay the bill, I told him that my husband cannot afford N700, 035 because he doesn’t have any serious means of livelihood.”
Since the hospital was reluctant to discharge them unless they settle their full account, Patience Wang resorted to begging for alms in the hospital premises.
“With my child strapped on my bag, I’d stand by the pathway, begging for assistance from people who came into the hospital.”
One day, she met a godsend; a White lady named Josie Camiola saw the scarred face of the baby, she was interested in knowing what happened to the baby.
She recalled the encounter: “Because I couldn’t speak English very well, somebody narrated the story to her. She asked us to return to the ward and promised that she would come back the following day with her father.
“Indeed, she returned the following morning with her father, Mr John Camiola. They requested for the bill which was subsequently cleared in the name of John and Melissa Camiola, both directors of Grace Gardens of Hope Initiative.”
At last, the Wangs were free to go home and the Camiolas offered to take them home, but when they arrived at Zat village, the white family was not too pleased with the hovel the Wangs called home.
“They realized that the house was not conducive for the baby to live. They brought us back to Jos and rented an apartment for us at No. 11 Ibrahim Taiwo Way, where I currently live with the baby.”
Patience Wang and her son had the Good Samaritans to thank for their feeding and upkeep. “If not for them, I don’t know what would have happened to my baby,” she said. “I appreciate all the people that have helped us and are still helping us, especially Josie, John and Melissa Camiola,” she said.
Plea to government
In November 2019, the child was referred to the National Hospital Abuja where he underwent MRS scanning and other medical examinations to determine whether surgery can restore his face and sight. Sadly, doctors affirmed that only one of the eyes can be saved.
“The white man also contacted a hospital abroad to see if they would carry out the operation,” she disclosed. “The hospital gave us assurance they could improve his face, but we don’t have the required resources.”
Patience Wang is presently seeking financial assistance from all quarters. She hoped someone will assist her with the needed resources that will allow her to take Choji abroad for treatment.
She had appealed directly to Plateau State Government and the Senator representing Plateau North in the National Assembly, Sen. Istifanus Gyang, and Member representing Barkin-Ladi/Riyom Constituency in the House of Representatives, Dr Simon Mwankon to help her so that her child will not die in his condition.
Her parting shot: “I need help at the moment to rehabilitate my child. Someone should help me to restore my child’s sight. He was not born blind, someone deliberately tried to kill him.”