The case of dehumanization of 10 years old Nneoma, a house help in Enugu has saturated the media with different versions of the story reported in different fronts. In a press briefing on the incident granted by Ikechukwu Maximus Ugwuoke Esq, principal counsel of El-Maximus Ugwuoke & Co, Hakuna Matata Chambers, who is the human rights advocate that actually lodged the complainant that led to the rescue of the girl, he gave a blow by blow account of the true story, debunks the allegation of police recklessness in the case, and rather called for reward of the Police officers in the roles they played. Ugwuoke is currently the Enugu State Support Lawyer for Avocats Sans Frontiers, (ASF) France also known as Lawyers without Borders, on their SAFE project being implemented in Nigeria in partnership with CAPIO and NBA. He is also legal adviser to other humanitarian bodies including the Multi life Savers for the Less Privileged, founded by Rev Fr Ejike Mbaka of Adoration Ministry Enugu Nigeria, where he also doubles as media aide to the ministry.
Here is an excerpt of his briefing:
“About 8am on 1st July 2020, I received a call from an informant who told me that someone gave him my line to report a case of abuse of a girl child who is a house help living with a family at Thinkers Corner Enugu. Upon further inquiry, the caller painted a gory picture of the kind of dehumanization the said girl was subjected to and sought my intervention. I imagined if it were my own daughter, would I pay a deaf ear to it? My conscience and spirit was greatly troubled. I thought of how best to handle the situation. What if the report was not true after all? I also reasoned.
“I thought of referring the incident to the Zonal office of National Human Right Commission since according to the caller, he had sought the intervention of certain NGOs in the State without success. I put a call cross to, Nnamdi, a staff friend at National Human Right Commission in Enugu who expressed their readiness to handle the case and told me to send the details. But on a second thought I reasoned that the best option was to involve the police since the commission does not suo motu have the power of arrest and detention of the suspects if the need arises in the incident. So I went to Area Command Enugu where I saw and spoke with one Inspector Chinyere Apadhini, a police officer at the Command. After narrating the report to her, the Inspector told me that she was to take her sick relation to hospital that morning but that she would leave everything to follow up the case. True to her words after we reviewed the story, she called a male colleague of hers one Inspector Michael Oliji to accompany her and I drove them to the address supplied by the informant for their surveillance. This done, the officers told me there was need for a formal petition to the Command to enable them proceed with the investigations. So I took them back to the station and headed to my law firm where I drafted a formal petition and drove back to the station and submitted it for the approval of the Area Commander, ACP Okenla Seyi. By then the day was far spent so Inspector Chinyere advised that since it was already late we should leave everything till the following day since the police doctor who should treat the girl if she had injuries as related to us by the informant, may have closed work by that time of the day.
“The following day being July 2nd, I had a case at the Court of Appeal Enugu and went for the case while Inspector Chinyere took the case upon herself. She kept updating me on the progress of the case and told me that when she led her team to the address, the woman hid the abused girl in the toilet on sensing the presence of the police. Inspite of this ploy, the officers were able to rescue the girl and arrest the woman and took them to their station at Area Command. The Area commander on seeing the degree of injury and bodily harm inflicted on the girl, promptly directed the Inspector to take the girl to the Office of Enugu State Commissioner for police. It was the police that rushed the girl to Parklane hospital Enugu on their own and provided the initial finances needed for her admission at the hospital.
“It didn’t take long when the news went viral and the hospital was besieged by people and NGOs wanting to take snap shots of the girl and report their versions of the story.
“By the time I was done from court, I contacted the Inspector and she told me to come to the Area command where for the first time I saw the culprit with three of her little children and her husband. They were writing statement. I questioned the woman on why she had to maltreat the girl and she blamed it on the devil. I asked after the rescued girl and the Inspector Chinyere took me to the Parklane Hospital where I saw the poor girl in a very pitiable state. Her body was lacerated with different degrees of injury and scars. One of her ankles was visibly broken and swollen, her head was bandaged, she looked pale, and her eyes were swollen with some liquid substance running down her cheeks. She was weak as she managed to speak. It was indeed an eyesore. Her relatives were there. Her widowed mother was beside her bed shedding tears. It was such an emotional scene. I could not control my tears either.
“The social media report that the police just dumped the girl in the hospital and that she is not being treated is a contumacious lie. Let’s be fair to Nigerian police for once. It was the police that took the child to the hospital in the first place. It was the police that provided the money for the blood transfusion administered on her. The Area Commander himself has been spending his money and time to see to the survival of the child. Yes the police is right in controlling access to the child for her own safety as a girl child and more so the case is still under their investigation. I was so disappointed with the version of the story I read in the media where certain organization published report taking the credit of the child’s rescue and another version of report accusing the police of trying to cover the case. Cover which case? If anyone should be commended in this case, it is the informant that reported the case to me and the Police Officers that handled it. I was so impressed with their professionalism and swift action in handling the case. I will write the Inspector General of Police to recommend them for promotion for their selfless service and dedication and as a good ambassador of Nigerian police. I saw so much commitment in them to ensure that the life of the poor girl is saved without requesting for any inducement of any kind to perform their duties. Inspector Chinyere guards the girl in the hospital like her own daughter from intruders. She is a rare breed of police officer. It is also not true that the police drove the girls’ relatives out of the hospital. Assuming but not conceding that they did that, I would still not blame them, after all, the woman in question who abused the girl child is she not the girl’s relative too? In the hospital, I saw the girls’ relatives around. Her mother was seated right there at her hospital bedside. So I wonder who was giving such mendacious report.
“I was elated to read the news report of the promises made by the Igboetiti Local chairman being the girls Local Government of origin and the Executive Governor of Enugu State, His Excellency Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi where they promised to take care of the welfare of the rescued girl. I pray that such promises come to fruition; handsome rewards should be extended to the Officers and the informant too. Without them the story would have been something else. There are other house helps undergoing this kind of maltreatment in different corners of the country. Government should alleviate the plight of the poor in our society. If not for poverty, why this girl child should be made to undergo this kind of inhuman treatment. I understand her father is late and the poor mother had no option than to give the fatherless girl away, not to a stranger, but to a relative as a house help. That was the only crime of this innocent poor girl.
“For now, the the police and everyone is battling to save the girl’s life. I spoke with the Doctor on duty the day I went to see her and he assured me they will do their best to save the child. I also spoke with Dr Edeoga, the President of Association of Resident Doctors Association (ARD) ESUT Hospital, fortunate enough, I am the Association’s Lawyer, and he assured me they will do their best to save the girl’s life. I was made to understand that the Chief Medical Director of the Hospital is also on the situation. So the paramount thing now is the survival of the child.”