Ighomuaye Lucky, Benin
“I asked: who did I offend? Even if I offended anyone, I did not promise to pay for my offence with the life of my daughter.”
Those heart-rending words from the lips of Mrs. Joy Omozuwa, the 49-year-old mother of Miss Vera Uwaila Omozuwa, the University of Benin (UNIBEN)’s 22-year-old female student, who was allegedly gang-raped and clubbed to death by yet-to-be-apprehended rapists tugged at the hearts of sympathizers who had gathered in their family house to commiserate with her and her family over the gruesome murder.
Lamentation of a distraught mother
Not surprising, many of them, especially women, who felt touched by her heart-breaking lamentation brought out their handkerchiefs and began to wipe the tears that were beginning to well up in their tear ducts. Others sighed and shook their heads as they fixed their gaze on her, with understood pity.
Only God knows when those lamentations and tears would stop flowing from the lips and eyes of people. As for tears, even if others stop, it is doubtful whether hers will. Reason: although her name is Joy, those who committed the dastardly act by raping her daughter to death, had, by committing the heinous crime, taken away her only joy. Yes, the very presence of Uwaila was what gave her joy. And hope! Now, she has gone no more to return to this side of the world to continue to give joy to Joy.
Weeping may last through the night, says the Good Book, but joy comes in the morning. You should understand why hers may not end so soon. Mrs. Omozuwa is weeping not only because she lost a dear daughter, one in a million, but also because she witnessed it all – the gory sight, the swollen neck and face, the broken head, the bruised, battered and violated body scarified and sacrificed to the demon of lust, the gagged mouth, the blood dripping out from her daughter’s nose and ears, and, of course, the last gasps before she finally gave up the ghost.
She saw them all and, even if the weeping eventually stops, as it would, somewhere down the line, the memory may never leave her. So? Wherever you are, please, bow down your head and begin to pray earnestly for the fortitude and strength to enable her not only to bear the loss but to also survive the horrifying sight and shocking death, a death she never bargained for, never had inkling that it was lurking around the corner until it struck with a disarming blow.
Ordinarily, asking her to recount the scene she witnessed Wednesday, last week, and the emotional trauma she passed through, when some beasts in human skin sent her daughter to her untimely death would have been like asking her to walk through shards of broken glasses, but she had to pluck courage from somewhere to do that for her daughter and, perhaps, for the narration’s cathartic effect.
“I asked: who did I offend?” As Mrs. Omozuwa went down the memory lane on the death of her daughter, that question reverberated over and over again in the course of her painful narrative. And, you found yourself almost drawn to tears. But the manly steel in you kept you going. “What happened to my daughter pains me,” she said while looking into your eyes as if she searching in your pupils, the answers to her unasked questions. “It pains me very much because I did not expect that she will die in that horrible manner.”
Watching her daughter die
She then told you the much she knew about the matter. “We left home together on that fateful day. It was the Children’s Day. She was very voracious in reading. She has been going to that church to read in the past five years. And she had been reading there since the COVID-19 lockdown started. She said she did not want to have a carry-over in her exams, to avoid the extra expenses it will bring. She used to come back home early enough. At times, she could return around 2 pm to eat, and at times, she would read till about 5 pm. She used to return home latest by 6p.m. More so, she had bad sight problem, so she didn’t go out at night. She would always tell me not to panic if she did not come back home on time, that she would be fine.
“On that fateful day, a friend from my church (the same Redeemed Christian Church of God branch where she was raped and murdered) came to visit me and asked after her. While she was with me, I tried to put a call through to my daughter’s line around 5 pm, but it did not connect. But when I returned from seeing off the friend, I saw on my phone three missed calls from another church member. When I returned the call, she told me to come down immediately, that my daughter had been rushed to hospital.
“As I was running to the place, my husband asked where I was running to, I told him and kept on running. When I reached there, they told me that they met her in the church with her mouth gagged with a piece of cloth, her eyes blind-folded and her hands tied behind her back. My friend said as she was trying to untie her hands, she thought she was dead. But when she saw that Uwa was moving her fingers, she realised that she was still alive. And, that was how arrangements were made to rush her to a private clinic in our neighborhood.
“When I arrived at the clinic, the sight of my daughter that I saw was quite pathetic. She was bleeding from her ears and nose. Her eyes were swollen with blood and there was a big cut on her head. They also raped her. I couldn’t stand the sight. I stepped out of the clinic. She wore jeans skirt with a white top that morning. The white top turned red with blood. I cried bitterly. I asked: who did I offend? Even if I offended anyone, I did not promise to pay for my offence with the life of my daughter.
“The beating was too much. She probably resisted them with all vehemence. A fire extinguisher that was in the church was used to smash her head. When I finally summoned up courage, I took water in a bucket and a napkin and began to clean her up. Her breathing was faint. And, she was placed under infusion, to revive her. She struggled in agony at intervals. When my husband arrived at the clinic the following morning, he said the church where she was attacked looked like a place where cattle was slaughtered as blood was splattered everywhere. He asked that we take her away to the University of Benin Teaching Hospital (UBTH) for better treatment immediately.
“On arrival at UBTH, the doctors there tried their best to save her life. They conducted tests. Necessary treatment methods, including oxygen, were used on her. When I later confronted the doctor in charge, he told me frankly that the injuries were too much and she had lost much blood. He told me that her case is a 50-50 thing, but promised that they would do their best. And, indeed, they really tried their best, but I lost her on Saturday.”
Curiosity took the better of you. Although police has launched an investigation into the case, you could not help asking whether her daughter, at any time reported any threat of a sexual nature to her or her husband before she was murdered. She shook her head to indicate no.
“Uwa was not a troublesome person,” she explained. “She is my second daughter and she was the most gentle of my five children. She was always reading her book. Just last week, her elder brother jokingly asked her when she will show him her boyfriend. But she responded that this was a time to study and not to love. She said that husband will come at the appropriate time. She had a male friend, but they were not lovers.”
Police alleged belated visit to crime scene and IG’s takeover
This reporter later visited the church where the incident took place and found it lonely and deserted. The church, located in a quiet neighbourhood at 44, Osa-Amadasun Street, Ohovbhe Quarters, is about five minutes walk from the lady’s family house. Though it has no fence as it is still in the making, few residential buildings nevertheless surround it. As it had no security gate and with churches in Nigeria virtually on holiday because of the COVID-19 lockdown, whichever gang that carried out the operation must have monitored her movement and carefully planned it, taking full advantage of both the loneliness of the place and quietness of the area. By gagging her mouth with a piece of cloth, and tying her up, the criminal gang made it difficult for her to raise alarm that would have attracted attention from neighbours living around the church where she had gone to study. So, from all indications, it was a carefully planned operation executed with the precision of criminal minds. But thorough, diligent police forensic investigation may end up fishing out the perpetrators.
Already, the Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu had ordered immediate transfer of the investigations from the Edo State Police Command to the Force Headquarters in Abuja. Force spokesman Frank Mba (Deputy Commissioner of Police, DCP), in a statement on Tuesday, explained that the IGP’s directive was sequel to the preliminary report from the team of investigators and forensic experts earlier deployed to assist the Edo State Police Command in the investigations. “The DIG in charge of the Force Criminal Investigation Department (FCID), Anthony Ogbizi Michael, will henceforth provide direct supervision and ensure speedy and thorough investigation of the case,” he said.
Uwaila’s 64-year-old father, Elder Johnson Omozuwa is happy with the development. This followed his loss of faith and confidence in the ability of Edo State’s police command to successfully carry out a thorough investigation. His doubt started, he said, when men and officers of the nearest police station where the matter was reported that Wednesday, May 27, 2020, did not deem it fit to visit the crime scene until the following day.
“I was the one that went to report the matter to the police that night but they refused to go with me to the scene of the incident till the following day,” he told you. “I saw my daughter in a pool of blood and I ran to the police but they refused to go with me. Neutral team should be sent to investigate this matter.”
Father’s memory of his daughter
But that is not the only thing that Elder Johnson, a businessman, remembers about that ill-fated Wednesday. “On that Wednesday, she (meaning her daughter, now late) was the one that fetched water for me to bath with,” he said. “I woke up around 6:30am and said I would leave the house in 45 minutes time. She later called me and said that the water that I would use to bath was ready. She fetched water into the drums before I left the house. She was always calm and disciplined.”
When it comes to the issue of academic discipline and studiousness, he sees his daughter as peerless, at least among his children. “I will always remember her as a disciplined child,” he said. “She wrote UTME three times and she never scored below 240. She wanted to read medicine but at the third attempt she chose nursing but they now gave her microbiology. She did not want to go for it but I now advised her that you are a woman. Whatever course they offer to you, take it. I know you are brilliant. Just be serious with it and you will excel. So she has never been a bad child.” Pleading for thorough investigation that will lead to the uncovering, arrest and prosecution of the culprits, he called on the concerned security authorities to dig into the root of the murder. “I don’t want my daughter to die in vain,” he said.
An uncle and teacher’s reminiscences
Uwaila’s uncle, Victor Iyamu, spoke in similar vein as her father did. “Her death is a big loss to the family,” he argued. “So, we want justice to be done in this case because these criminals are still out there. And, if they are not brought to book, they will still commit other crimes. But by the grace of God, the God that my sister served till the day she was killed will not allow them go scot free. They committed this crime in the presence of God, in the house of God because she has been going to that church to read, to study for close to five years now.”
Pastor Enoch Adeboye, the General Overseer of the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG), said as much in his message to the family. Noting on his verified Twitter handle that he and members of his family are praying for the family even as the church is doing everything possible working with relevant authorities to bring the perpetrators to book, he urged all to join as they pray for the family and to ask that God brings the perpetrators to justice.
Uwaila’s uncle who claim a long-term relationship with her believes strongly that God will answer the prayer of the man of God to this end. “We stayed together for a long time,” he said. “She was born and she grew up under me because I was staying with them. It was her mother that took care of me so I am like an elder brother to her. She was a nice girl, very quiet and intelligent. It is a touching story.”
Her former teacher and Vice Principal, Mrs. Edith Otoibhi, agrees with Uwaila’s father’s and uncle’s observations about her academic brilliance, intelligence, self-discipline and morality. “She was my student,” she said. “I taught her home economics from JSS 1 to 3 in 2008, and I taught her CRS in SS 1 to 3 at Gloria Private School. She was the best student in my subjects. She was very disciplined, very intelligent. You cannot beat her in any subject in the class. She came first in most of the subjects. She was very nice and friendly. She hardly had problems with anyone in the class. She was also very honest and truthful.”
For wasting such a beauty and promising child on the altar of insatiable lust, everybody who heard about the news of her gruesome death is calling for justice. Mr. Osadolor Okpia, 59, a concerned citizen said that only that will assuage the feelings of people over her death. “The death of that girl in short, is very painful,” he said. “When I read about it on my Facebook, I was not happy. It pained me so much. All those who connived to carry out the act should be brought to book.”
Police situation report
Police said they are out to do just that. Speaking on the efforts they have made so far, the spokesman of the Edo State Police Command, DSP Chidi Nwabuzor, said some arrests have been made already in connection with her death. But checks by Saturday Sun, however, revealed that the only suspect arrested was the church’s security man who was said to have met Uwaila unconscious in her own pool of blood in the church, on that fateful Wednesday.