EJIGBO 3 UPDATE: Visit to the Graveside of torture victim Juliana in Ajase, Benin Republic
Story By: Betty Abah
On this day nature took mercy on Lagos and the sun did not pound down on the helpless inhabitants. The go-slow also took a retreat. Activist Joe Odumakin and I in the company of four others accompanied Feemah Agonman, father and husband of the victims of the now famous Ejigbo torture victims saga to his ancestral home, Ajase in Porto Novo, Benin Republic after over a month in the custody of the Lagos State Office of Public Defenders (OPD).
It was also two days after 10 of the torture suspects were paraded at the office of the Federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) in Lagos. Justice was crawling slowly home and Agonman now popularly known as the ‘Palm Wine Tapper’ needed to see his family in the rustic village off the sizzling Nigerian Idiroko border town famous for poverty-induced child trafficking.
We arrived to a calm but relieved welcome by his wife Elizabeth and six surviving children, Christiana, Mariann, Kehinde, Taiwo, Idowu and David. Emotions were obviously held down with both hands. Juliana’s children, Zita (10), Clautilde (8) and Rhuite wept almost throughout the almost two-hour visit.
His second wife, Ajoke (‘Iya Nike’) with whom he lived in Lagos and step-daughter 12-year-old Nike (second and third victims in the video) have now gone to Kwara State after the SARS event in which they gave evidence, with that marriage apparently tottering on a torture-induced collapse. Iya Nike’s two children Gaston and Michel, age 8 and 6 respectively are also now in Ajase, and like everyone else, are in the care of wife Elisabeth.
Mr. Freemah led our group and the family to Juliana’s graveside. It was the most emotional moment for the family since they had in the last one year lived under the illusion that she had been buried in the village cemetery.
After she died at the herbal home (where she was taken for two weeks prior to her demise because the family ran out of fund to foot medical bill at the General Hospital in Porto Novo where they took her immediately after she was brought home following the February 2013 torture by the O’odua People’s Congress (OPC) vigilante in Lagos.
She had sustained major injuries to her private part and womb as a result of the gruesome sodomy as well as deep wounds to her eyes and breasts (for allegedly stealing pepper in Iyana-Ejigbo market), her father alongside a few relatives had secretly buried her in a corner of the house and covered the grave with palm fronds while the wailing siblings were locked in their dilapidated, earth-brown house surrounded by a grove of young palm trees.
To prevent fresh agony, he deceived inquisitive family members that inside the mysterious mound adjacent the grave of his grandfather Houkain Agonmah, were some stubborn crops he had planted and which wouldn’t germinate.
Our group gathered at the graveyard, we spoke briefly—a promise that we, working with men and women of conscience, journalists, human rights advocates and others would fight on to ensure she finds ultimate justice in a world where the powerful stifle the poor and powerless, where the poor are continually rendered voiceless or out rightly killed; that we will ensure her kids and family live to be happy that indeed, somehow the poor could still obtain justice…’The God who exposed your killers in a most mysterious ways is One who recompenses. He will grant you justice wherever you are,’ I said.
We also gave to the family, particularly Juliana’s kids the fund sent by Nigerians in the United Kingdom and coordinated by Debbie Ariyo of the Africans Unite against Child Abuse (AFRUCA-UK) following the outcry accruing from the surfacing of the video online last December.
It is hoped that the consequent arraignment in court of the 10 culprits and the three other fleeing men will end in ultimate justice for the surviving victims. And resettlement for the family as Mr. Agonmah and his children, following the eviction from Ejigbo same day of the torture, ended his 35-year sojourn in Lagos/Nigeria and they all are economically dislocated, trying to find their feet in their ancestral yet unfamiliar terrain. His photographer son Taiwo (with Ondo State-born wife and seven-month old son Segun) and his twin Kehinde, a mechanic now stay home all day.
The palm wine market in Benin of course like those other items, thrives at a snail speed. All now depend on the meager income from their mother’s local soap making business. But most of all, Juliana’s children emotional, unkempt and obviously undernourished (said to be attending a street-side school), will need the greatest helping hands.