by Shola O’Neil and Rosemary Nwisi
On a rainy Sunday afternoon in June, Obite, Etche Local Government Area of Rivers State wore an innocent look. Nothing gave it away as the scene where four men gang-raped a pregnant wife of their relative and indigene of the community.
Driving through the tranquil town on that soggy Sunday, it was hard to picture it as the setting for the sordid rape that travelled through and repulsed the world in 2011 and became erroneously known as ‘Abia rape’.
Mr Stanley Sunday (not his real name), husband of the victim, said Obite was where the crime took place. The police think so too.
Pointing to a nondescript bungalow in one of the suburbs, Mr. S (as he preferred to be known in this report) told Niger Delta Report in an emotion-laden voice: “That is where they raped my wife”.
The hapless woman was pregnant with a child, whose fate was sadly sealed by the rape.
Mr S refused to speak with us inside his house – a bungalow on the outskirts of the village – because of fear that we could be attacked by the rapists and ‘their sponsor’.
“We must talk quickly and you leave; I do not want to put your lives in danger,” he said.
When reports of the rape first surfaced on the internet in August 2011, it was said to have occurred at the Abia State University (ABSU). The rapists were thought to be students of ABSU. Governor Theodore Orji and his wife Mercy lent their voices to the gale of condemnation, with ABSU denying that”there was no such inglorious act and ugly incident in the institution.”
Mr. S said: “Some of the rapists did not even finish their secondary education; none of them is a student of the institution.”
The heartbroken man hinted of conspiracy between some powerful persons in the community, including a member of his extended family, and the rapists.
“They know what they did; the activities they and their boss are engaged in,” he added.
He said his wife told him that there were eight men in the room when she was molested.
“Four of them raped her, while the other four acted as bouncers, guard and commanders.”
Kept in the dark
Our checks revealed that the distraught husband found out about the sordid affair late. He had also lost a son to HIV/AIDS infection, which his wife is believed to have contacted from the rapists.
Attempts by our reporter to speak with the victim met brick walls. At her family’s home in Nazi, Owerri, where she moved in with her parents, we were told she had relocated to the village, ostensibly because of the stigma from the incident.
Her sibling, who was contacted on telephone, became suspicious and hung as soon as we told him we were trying to reach his sister.
Over one year after he found out, Mr S could not completely conceal the hurt and betrayal in his voice when he spoke.
He said he found out about the rape of his wife through his colleagues. He was working offshore when his colleagues started discussing the “evils going on in the society. They said I should see what evil people are doing. I was not interested until they started talking about a sad one that happened in Abia State. They said university students raped their colleague, videoed and posted it on the internet. I said they must be cultists to have done such things.
“When they started narrating it, I got interested and asked to see the video. When I saw it (video), I listened to what the woman was saying but it was her voice that struck me. I was shocked; I said within myself ‘am I dreaming?’ The woman in the video had my wife’s voice, face and the hair style?
“I couldn’t contain myself; I asked my colleague to transfer the video to my mobile phone. I did not tell him why I wanted the video, but I wanted to compare it with her (wife’s) photo I have on my laptop computer back at home.”
After some time, he got time-off from work in an offshore location and went home to confront his wife and his worst nightmare. He said the woman initially denied she was the woman in the video before he pressured her into confessing.
Obite’s indigenes, who asked not to be named, said the husband was so angry that he summoned a family meeting and threatened to divorce his wife, if she did not open up.
“It was then that the woman narrated that she was going to visit her husband’s relative when she was lured into the house by the suspects, some of whom are her husband’s relatives,” said a source.
Confirming this, Mr S said: “She said she hid it from me because of the threat to her life, my own life and those of our family members.”
More intriguing, according to our checks, was that most of the man’s relatives in the town reportedly knew about it before he was aware. More perplexing, Mr S said, was that one of his relatives, a very influential member of the community, was fingered as the godfather of the boys, who raped his wife.
“I didn’t know what she was going through, what had happened to my wife. She was living with me and cooking for me while living this horror and fear that they would kill her if she told me or go to the police.
“The worst aspect of the case is that they infected her with the deadly disease (HIV). When this incident happened, my wife was pregnant (about two months).”
Yet his feeling of sorrow and empathy failed to save the marriage. Although he would not confirm or deny report that he was separated from his wife, yet he said he had not seen her for over two months when we met him in Obite.
“She is living with her parents in Owerri. I do call her and we talk once in a while. I even took her to TB Joshua’s church in Lagos when we were finding solution to the case (her infection).”
Our investigations revealed that the husband’s anger was fuelled by a tragedy that earlier struck the couple in 2011 when their six-month-old son – the first child of the marriage – died of complications resulting from a mysterious HIV infection.
He said: “The child was taken to a children’s clinic located in GRA Phase 1, Port Harcourt after he fell ill with cough, about two months after his birth. He was coughing without stopping and we had to take the child to the specialist hospital.”
At the hospital, the child and mother were diagnosed with the deadly Human Immune Virus (HIV). The blood report from a Haematology Laboratory Request form dated August 5, 2011, (a copy is in Niger Delta Report’s possession), showed that the mother and child tested positive to HIV antibodies. The father’s result was negative.
The result struck a blow that shook the young marriage to its foundation.
The child was barely two months old and had just be dedicated at a Pentecostal church with fanfare and an elaborate celebration party in mid-June 2011.
Before the incident, Mr S was surprised when the doctors asked for his blood sample for a routine test.
“I told them that it was my child that was ill and not me. But they insisted and I had to allow them even though I didn’t know why.”
After the test, top management staff of the hospital (names withheld) invited the couple to a meeting where they broke the sad news to them. “They told me I am a lucky man; my wife and son had HIV but I don’t have. I was surprised. I didn’t know what to say. I asked ‘what is the luck in that when my wife and child were infected?’”
The hospital declined comment when contacted. An official politely cited the sensitive nature of the diagnosis and doctor/patient secrecy oath, stressing that the hospital should not be mentioned in this report.
A medical source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, confirmed the report.
It was gathered that the revelation rocked the foundation of the couple’s marriage with both family members getting involved in the effort to solve the mystery. Mrs S was accused of infidelity and almost sent packing when the child died two months later.
Yet, she refused to disclose the source of her anguish until her husband confronted her with the video.
It was while the couple was managing the crisis resulting from the child’s death that Mr. S stumbled on the rape video and possible answer to mystery of the HIV infection.
If his wife was cowed by the threat, the angry husband was unfazed and determined to bring the harbingers of his misfortune to justice. He immediately dragged his wife to the Rivers State Police Command’s Criminal Investigation Department. The case was assigned to an inspector of police identified as Mr. Eneje.
The victim was taken in by the police for interrogation after which she identified three suspects as part of the gang. A fourth suspect narrowly escaped and was still at large at the time of this report.
The suspects are: Uchenna Ukulor, Chizoba Nwosu, Nwazuo Nmezi and one person at large.
Mr S said as soon as the suspects were arrested, some prominent members of the community met and decided that he withdrew the case from the police and let bygone be bygone. When he refused, he said he was banished from the community.
However, it was gathered that weeks after the police began investigation, Mr S lost his job. He claimed that he was victimised because of his insistence on bringing his wife’s abusers to justice. He said some members of the society boasted after he lost his job that”let’s see how he is going to pursue the case now”.
He added: “Since I came to the knowledge of the incident and began the move to prosecute the suspects, my life has been under threat; the suspects are after me, their sponsor (names withheld), is after me. They have been making frantic efforts to eliminate me.”
He said the threats were so serious that he and his wife had to temporarily relocate to the Police Headquarters during the investigations.
Attempts to scuttle the case
Although scores of persons were either arrested or interrogated over the incident, the trial has dragged on for over a year amid reports of attempts to bribe the police and other agencies involved in the prosecution.
Police Inspector Eneje, who investigated the matter, refused to comment on reports that he was offered inducement to ‘close the case’. He said the police had concluded its investigation and arrested suspects who were charged to Magistrate’s Court 9, Port Harcourt.
Records obtained from the court indicated that the case file was transferred to the Department of Public Prosecution (DPP) for advice last year after the court declined jurisdiction on the ground that it was not competent to try the suspects.
At the DPP office, a source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the prosecution was delayed when certain key evidence disappeared from the file.
Our source said: “The photographs and other exhibits needed to prosecute the case disappeared but I think efforts are being made to retrieve them now.”
Solicitor-General of the State and Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Justice, Rufus Godwin, who was contacted, referred us to the chief registrar, insisting that he could not speak on the case without the charge sheet number.
‘Rapists’ on the loose
Nevertheless, while the case winds painfully through prosecution, the suspects, Ukulor, Nwosu and Nmezi, have returned to their normal lives, much to the angst of Mr S, his distraught wife and members of the human rights community.
It was gathered that the suspects were granted bail in late last year.
Mr S, who said the release of the suspects, has further heightened fear over his safety, said: “We don’t even know the position of the matter now; since last year we were told that the DPP advice was being awaited. The suspects are walking freely everywhere; even one of them just got wedded about two months ago.”
He said his family has been let down by the government, which allowed the case to drag on until it is almost forgotten.
He said: “Well, one thing I believe is that the crime, humiliation was not committed only against me, they did it to Nigeria, Nigerians in general and women all over the world in particular.”
The Director of Programmes, Centre for Environment, Human Rights Development (CEHRD), Steve Obodoekwe, agreed that the crime was against humanity, not just the family involved.
He expressed dissatisfaction with Ministry of Justice’s handling of the case, adding: “It is not one of such cases that should be swept under the carpet; it is unfortunate to hear that the matter is as good as dead.
“Right now, we learnt that the suspects earlier arraigned in a Magistrate’s Court in connection with the crime are no longer in custody, even when the DPP’s advice is yet being expected and the matter not yet before any High Court either in the state or country. This is, indeed, very appalling.”
He called for the conduct of a probe on how the suspects ‘escaped’ from custody.
Obodoekwe said: “They should be rearrested and detained, charged to court and tried accordingly. We are also recommending that those that let them off the hooks should be equally fished out and given the same treatment as the criminals.
“This is because, we are in Nigeria, and obviously nothing goes for nothing in this country. Those that released them from custody must have done deals with them, and so should be given even worse treatment than the suspects.
“A serious matter like ‘gang rape’ is what we are talking about here, you arrested some suspects took them to the Magistrate’s Court which we know have no powers to try capital offences. Now we are hearing that they are moving freely everywhere like free persons. It is unheard of; it is evil.
“One thing that is certain in this whole issue is that the incident is not a crime against the victim and her family; it is a crime, humiliation against the state, Federal Government and I want the ministry of justice to know this.”
It is uncertain when the family will get justice, but what is sure is that the last has not been heard of this gang rape, even though the video has been pulled from the internet.
– This article was culled from The Nation Newspaper