By PATIENCE EGWUWA
CHIOMA Uka, a native of Ohafia in Abia State, whose name means good luck has seen nothing but the cruel side of life. Chioma’s promising young life took a downturn when she was allegedly raped and impregnated at just 15 years by a rich man who was old enough to be her grand father.
Denied and abandoned by her family, Chioma bore the discomfort of pregnancy alongside the pain of neglect all by herself. After her baby was born, she had to take on menial jobs in order to fend for her little one. But instead of surviving it all, Chioma contracted a disease and died late last year. Her aged mother on sighting her grave had a stroke and died last January.
All the while, Chioma’s relatives have tried to get the man, their kinsman who allegedly impregnated their sister to accept responsibility for the child, all to no avail. Instead, they claim, the man popularly known as Benbela in their community has gone around wielding his wealth and influence.
A concerned relative who feels very pained about how Chioma’s life was cut short explained to our reporter how it happened. “It all started in 2003 when Chioma was sent home for the Christmas holidays. She was living in Aba at the time with one of our brothers. They all came down to the village for the Christmas celebration.
“After the holidays, we wanted her to stay and support our mother who was then too old to be alone. Nobody was staying with our mother at the time. The arrangement was that Chioma would return to Aba by February of the New Year.
“When she returned, we noticed that she was looking somehow different. Someone had called our brother’s attention to the fact that Chioma might be pregnant. When she was confronted, she denied it. Then they took her to a laboratory at Aba. There at the lab, she was confirmed pregnant. So after she was queried seriously for some time, she said that it was Benbela. His real name is Onyearu Torty and he is a very wealthy man in our village and our next-door neighbour. He lives at Enugu, but is almost always around the village because he is a well-to-do man in our place.”
That was the beginning of the travails of a young girl whose life held so much hope. Then began the accusations, denials and all the drama that made Chioma’s life a living hell.
“Around July when Benbela came home, we took him to Women in Council because such cases are always treated by women in our place. When the leader of the women group asked her who was responsible for the pregnancy, she said it was Benbela. The man denied the pregnancy, even though he accepted having carnal knowledge of the small girl. He claimed that he was giving her drugs.
“The women asked the girl if she took any of the drugs that the man gave her, she said she was not taking the medicine because the first time the man slept with her, he forced her. She explained that the man had asked her to fetch water for him from their well and that he later took her into the house and raped her. The next time, they had it, she said Benbela asked her to go and buy him some eggs, which they fried and ate together.
“When they asked the girl the kind of medicine the man gave to her, she explained that it was yellow and black ( ie. Tetracycline capsules), but that she refused to take them.”
Our source even claimed that Benbela was fond of impregnating young girls. He said that the man who is now in his 70s has several love children outside his marriage.
“That day we took him to the council, he vowed that there was no man in my family that would make him accept another pregnancy. I told him that I might be a small boy to him but that he should pray that the baby doesn’t resemble him.
“Later, I heard that Chioma had mentioned another man. When I asked her, she told me that the man threatened to kill her with his gun, if she ever called his name again. The wife of this man who is a Ph.D holder in education later came back and called Chioma, without the knowledge of any of us and asked her who was responsible for the pregnancy.
“After everything, Benbela refused to care for the child. Chioma later went to Onitsha to serve as a maid to somebody. We were angry with her for allowing that man to destroy her life like that. So, everybody left her and she slugged it out all by herself. Now, I feel very bad about the whole thing.”
From struggling to live, Chioma contracted a disease that eventually took her life. So, she died, leaving behind her 11-year child and an aged mother, who on seeing her daughter’s final resting place, had a stroke and later died last January.
When Sunday Sun contacted Benbela over the telephone, he said he has always maintained that he had a sexual relationship with the late girl, but that he was not responsible for the baby that was born.
“When we went to the women in council, after listening to the whole story, they exonerated me. That was about 13 years ago. Now again, they took up the case and took me to social welfare.
When we went to welfare, they listened to our story. The welfare people said they don’t believe or that they are not sure that I am responsible for the child, but for the benefit of doubt, that we should undergo a DNA test; that the family should organize it. If the result comes out positive, then I will have to refund the money. They have not done it.
“When the mother was still alive, she mentioned about three people, but they instigated her to keep to me because they have ulterior motives. They had told me to make an allotment to her. They want me to give her some plots of land and make a will for her. It is funny.
“I am not less than 73 years old and if I die today, I don’t think that it is too early. At my age, if I am a government worker I should be retired by now. I have no means of income. I live by the benevolence of my children.”
Just then, his wife who had obviously been listening to the conversation took the phone to speak with our reporter. She explained how she had traveled to the village while the pregnancy saga was still ongoing and personally interviewed the late girl. She claimed that the girl confessed to her that it was her brothers that asked her to maintain that Benbela impregnated her.
However, when their community leader, Eze Mmecha Ndukwe, Eze Ogo of Asaga Ohafia, was contacted, he told our reporter that the child in contention is a carbon copy of Benbela. “When this thing was on, I entered Benbela’s house and told him and his wife that it was wrong for him to deny what he did.”
The chief further explained that the family of the girl played their luck too far when they refused the man from naming the child when he sent emissaries to them. “He came to collect the child to go and name her, as is his tradition, but the family of the girl refused. They were angry that he has not been asking after the girl and insisted that he must give them wine before they can take the child. I advised them to allow the people he sent to take the girl, but they refused. When you see the girl, you have seen Benbela. She is his carbon copy.”
Sunday Sun had called the chief to ascertain in whose favour the women council ruled; as both parties claimed a favourable judgment from the same body.
This was his response: “The women group told him that no matter what he says that the child is his. ‘Whether you train her or not, it is not our business. Not all men that have children train them. So, if you like, you train. You don’t want, leave, but she is your child.”