Pro-Women Group Pays Enugu Assaulted Widow’s Hospital Bill

By Tony Adibe

A famous pro-women group, WomenAid Collective (WACOL), said it has visited a female victim recently dehumanized and assaulted by some youths of Agunese Affam Mmaku Community in Awgu Local Government Area of Enugu State.

NewsBits learnt that the fact-finding visit by WACOL, a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) was to ascertain what actually happened and also to lend a helping hand to the survivor of the reported brutality – a helpless widow. 

Also, NewsBits was informed that WACOL has one of its key objectives or mandate – which is to protect the rights of women and girls in the society. Recall that just last week, the victim was reportedly stripped and subjected to all manner of degrading inhuman treatment by the youths of the Community who accused her of harvesting snail from a shrine in the locality. The video of the incident went viral.

But on Friday, six persons said to be involved in the de-humanising act were arrested by the operatives of Enugu State police command. Following their arrest, the Commissioner of Police, in the state, CP Ahmed Ammani, ordered the State CID Enugu to conduct a full-scale investigation into the matter which took place on the 27th of October.

In a statement signed by DSP Daniel Ndukwe, the Command’s Public Relations Officer, the CP said such acts won’t be tolerated by the command. WACOL specifically stated that the visit was a follow-up on an earlier statement issued by the South East Human Rights Situation Room about a woman abused, dehumanized and violated by purported youths-custodians of culture in Agunese Affam- Mmaku community in Awgu LGA, Enugu state Nigeria.

The NGO said: “A team from WomenAid Collective (WACOL) in continuation of the critical aspect of the organizations mandate which is protecting the rights of the Women and Girls in our society, led by the Executive Director/Founder Tamar SARC, Prof. Joy Ezeilo, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) went on a fact-finding mission/survivors support visit to the victim.

“During the mission WACOL team interacted with the visibly traumatized victim/survivor who is currently hospitalized at St. Ann Hospital Awgu, to commiserate with her, offer a sisterhood shoulder, reaffirm her confidence, restore her positive self-image and present to her additional opportunity to get justice for herself, children, family, women in Afam Mmaku community, Enugu state and Nigeria.”

The WACOL Spokesperson, Mrs. Blessing Igwe, in a statement, also said: “This solidarity visit was not just on behalf of WACOL, Southeast Human Rights Situation Room but, also on behalf of the Action Aid Nigeria, Nigerian Women and women across the globe that have expressed condemnation against this degrading inhuman treatment meted out to Mrs. Anthonia Ugwu (not real name), under guise of preserving culture.

“Due to this dastardly act, the victim/survivor who is in her 40s, widowed since 2009 (13 years), with four (4) children, battling to eke out a living for herself and her children; had her rights to dignity of human persons, right to privacy, rights to physical integrity, and bodily integrity all violated.

“In addition, she was debased, dehumanized, tortured and her nakedness exposed to her children and the entire world. WACOL is dismayed by the silence of the traditional Ruler of the community, HRH Igwe, Cyprian Nevo Obasi popularly known as (Ogilishi). We are disappointed that up till now, the traditional ruler of the community is yet to make a statement or visit the victim/survivor in question.

“In course of the interaction with the victim/survivor, she narrated to WACOL team the ordeal she underwent in hands of the perpetrators. According to her, she harvests and sells snails as part of a living and on that day she was violated, she harvested and sold snails to her usual customer at home.

“She continued that while still home she heard noise outside and in one swoop youths invaded her home, dragged her out, without any opportunity to defend herself, they started beating her with weapons, clubs including iron rod.

“They stripped her naked, tied-fresh palm fronds around her waist and neck (which symbolized complete debasement, worthlessness, total suppression, taboo and shame in Igboland).

“A relation of hers who intervened to rescue her was also beaten and stabbed. It was later that she observed her snail customer was in their mist and subsequently learnt the women while on motorbike out of the community was accosted, her bag searched and the result of quizzing the woman led the youths to her home and the outcome is her current predicament.

“She gave names of the perpetrators to include: Sunday Nwangene, Jonathan Nwangene, Obi Nwangene, Chigazu Okpala, Okechukwu Okeke, Chukwudi Anikene, Chukwuebuka Agu, Maduabuchi and the father, A girl who took the video {name not known}.

“Mrs. Anthonia Ugwu (victim/survivor) maintained that she did not harvest snails from any forbidden forest, has been in snail business for a longtime, from the community, abreast with the traditions and culture and could not have and did not harvest snails in the forbidden forest.

“Reacting to the victims/survivors account, Prof. Joy Ezeilo (SAN), emphasized that the act of the youths is beyond harmful cultural practice.

“It is physical violence and the worst form of degrading treatment to strip her naked by children, some much younger than her son.

“As we speak the entire family is traumatized, she is traumatized, her son that saw her in that dehumanizing state is also traumatized, locked himself physically in a the room for days and psychologically since he has refused to talk to anybody or attend school because of the shame and fear of stigmatization.

“They all need immediate help to regain their self-esteem. The woman is still in distress, she needs comprehensive medical help.

“WACOL has undertaken to move her from her current hospital which does not have adequate equipment to provide the requisite Medicare and support she needs considering the grave physical assault and battery suffered, she continued to hold her head indicating she needs a comprehensive medical examination especially an MRI to establish she does not have internal injuries not visible to the human eyes.

“Though her siblings were at the hospital to support her because they are quite disturbed, but she is quite very demoralized because she knows that her nakedness is in the public domain across the globe.”

Prof Ezeilo, however, reportedly encouraged the victim/survivor and assured her that she and WACOL will do everything possible for her to obtain justice.

According to Prof Ezeilo, she will link stakeholders, the governor, Inspector General of Police IGP, and all the good, spirited Nigerians to the case. She also, promised to cater for her hospital bills, relocate her to a secure and safe place to access medicare and counseling.

Prof. Joy Ezeilo thereafter advanced her some finances to help with her medical bills and general upkeep.

“The support was appreciated by the survivor and her siblings who were there at the time of the visit.

Meanwhile, WACOL called on the government of Enugu State to immediately intervene to ensure a complete eradication of such harmful practices which continues to enable violence against women in the communities, especially in light of existing Enugu State Violence Against Persons Prohibition (VAPP)Law (YEAR) which WACOL was at center of its domestication.

“As a hub for advancing Human/Women Rights, we demand for activation, implementation, and accountability of the VAPP Law; and just as the woman expressed, she wants justice, which will lighten the burden of shame meted out on her and contribute to expunge her pains.

“We are calling on all the women in Agunese Affam Mmaku community to immediately rally around this woman, whose ordeal is a manifest-representation of the reality of the woman in our society relationship between men and women is governed by patriarchy.

“On the part of WACOL, we will ensure that justice is done, people cannot be allowed to take laws into their own hands, we live in a civilized society, we cannot encourage jungle justice.

“We believe in rule of law and if she contravened any customary laws of the community, they should have appropriate channels for reporting, and decently penalized her; besides there is no known customary criminal law under which a person could be persecuted in this manner or enabling others to commit crimes in the name of enforcing a custom.

“So, we want justice for her. We would want this matter to receive the urgent attention that it deserved. This is one violence too many, and we cannot keep quiet about it. We call on the government and the traditional ruler to take urgent steps to eradicate this obnoxious custom.

Prof. Ezeilo reiterated that it is important to note that a case of women human rights abuse have been reported in WACOL from this same community a while-ago.

She said there was an earlier complaint from a highly educated woman in the community who was made to pass through some heinous and obnoxious practices in the community.

Ezeilo said: “It is right, therefore, to assert that a lot of impunity is going on in this community, and government should look into it, and if they are not satisfied with the way the affairs of the community are being conducted, they should take action, and take over by bringing a new leadership.

“It is gratifying to know that seven 7 suspects have been arrested, and the case transferred to the Enugu State CID for further investigation. On behalf of women, we fight for, WACOL calls for justice, we will stand by the victim in solidarity, and we will ensure that she gets the justice that she deserved.”

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