An Abuja-based businesswoman, Suzy Ochije, tells GODFREY GEORGE that losing a cousin to violence by masqueraders in Imo State and the death of her younger sister in an auto crash on her way to the National Youth Service Corps orientation camp made her conclude that there is no justice in Nigeria
Tell us about yourself.
My name is Suzy Udoka Ochije. I am an indigenous of Oguta Local Government Area of Imo State. I am a businesswoman and I am in my early 30s.
You mentioned in a post on social media how you lost a cousin to gun violence and how you struggled in vain to get justice. Would you like to recount what exactly happened then?
Issue is even much bigger than that. It happened in 2018. That year was the most turbulent and traumatizing year for my family as we lost two people to the failed Nigerian system. The first case was that of my cousin who was shot dead by a band of masqueraders in our town, Imo State, for no reason. This happened on January 6, 2018, when there was a kind of communal crisis in my place, and somehow, he (my cousin) got caught up in the middle of the fracas and was shot alongside my younger brother. He died on the spot but my brother managed to survive after bleeding for about four hours.
My cousin, Onyeka, had just come back from work and was told that his mother had been hit by a stray bullet by the protesting youths. He quickly rushed out to see what was happening and was shot just like that. His wife was about six months pregnant at that time. I was with him some minutes before his death. When I heard people shouting, I quickly ran in and locked myself in before I heard someone waiting from outside that they had killed Onyeka.
What was your reacting on learning that?
I couldn’t even place my hands on it. This was someone who was with me only minutes before and then they said he was dead just like that. It was like a dream to me. His mother was rushed to the hospital. My own brother, who was 21 years old at that time, was also rushed to the hospital. I know how we suffered to get justice but they treated it as a community matter.
How do you mean? Did you not report the matter to the police?
My family wanted justice so badly. We reported to the police and the community members came out in solidarity to fight for justice but the powers that be did not let the case see the light of day. One of my uncles even came from Abuja over the case, but when he was attacked, he quickly went back to Abuja. They threatened his life and tried to kidnap him because of his temerity and insistence on justice. Out of fear, the family decided to let the matter slide.
What steps did the police take?
The police investigation was a major factor of frustration. We went to every length to get justice but how do you get justice in Nigeria without money and influence? We paid over N300,000 for the autopsy alone; we paid for investigation; we paid for all manner of things yet the matter just couldn’t fly. It didn’t even get to go to court. In fact, the police were even suggesting that it was a family affair. The matter just died a natural death after we stopped going to the station to ask for update. We buried my cousin and moved on, but it’s painful.
Did Onyeka’s mother survive?
She survived the gunshot but died from the trauma of managing Onyeka’s death months later. She couldn’t cope with the loss. She just gave up on life.
What about your brother who survived the gunshot?
We thank God that he survived the gunshot, but his life has not been the same again. He slipped into depression for years. He couldn’t get hold of his life after the incident but we are still grateful to God for his life. He has a deformed limb because of the impact of the gunshot. He stopped schooling. He does not do anything at the moment. His mental health has been deeply impacted. My brother bled for close to four hours.
Was he not taken to the hospital on time?
They took him to the hospital but the hospital refused to attend to him without a police report. We went to the police and they were dilly-dallying. We were in the police station for almost four hours. My uncle who traveled from Port Harcourt got to Oguta before the report was given. We even had to pay (money) at some point. You can imagine the time wasted! I don’t even want to begin to imagine the pain that boy went through fighting for his life. That boy saw hell! At one point he lost so much blood that he was convulsing. We had to do a lot of blood transfusions. The entire family was traumatized.
Who handled the hospital bills?
We handled everything on our own. We paid all the medical bills. We spent over N600,000 just for my brother to get back on his feet even though his limb was deformed. Speaking of this now shakes me up to my bones because it was that same year we lost Lilian.
Who is Lilian?
Lilian is my younger sister, who died in an auto crash in 2018, on her way to the National Youth Service orientation camp in Oyo State.
How did it happen?
It happened on November 15, 2018. My sister was a very brilliant girl. She was the best graduating student in her set at the University of Port Harcourt, Rivers State. She graduated with first class honors from the Department of Business Management. She was posted to serve in Ogun State but she had to do her orientation course in Oyo State. She had never been to the South-West before and I was not around to help her find her way. But my uncle, whom she lived with in Port Harcourt, followed her to board a bus. After paying for the ticket, they had to make them wait for many hours before a bus came. It was after her death that we found out that the bus she booked for was not filled so they had to pay a private car owner, who had worked over the night to drive them to Oyo.
Did you speak to her while she was on her way?
On their way, I called her and she told me that the driver said they would leave at 7am. I told her to call me when she got there. That was the last time I spoke to my sister. The driver was said to have slept off behind the steering and rammed into a stationary fuel tanker. The five persons in the car, including the driver, died on the spot.
How did you receive this news?
My younger brother called me when he got a call from a policeman to come to a police station in Edo State to see my sister. I asked if she was okay and they said yes. The pictures we got when my uncle and younger brother got to Edo State showed that she died on the spot and part of the car was burnt. My sister sat behind the driver so there was no way she was going to survive.
What did the park management say about the case?
My uncle went to the bus park to make a case but they said since the driver died, he should leave the matter. They said they were sorry, but that sounded so stupid to all of us. It was then we found out that it was a private driver who drove my sister and three others to their death. We couldn’t even fight the transport company because the ticket that was issued didn’t bear their name. The matter was just swept under the carpet.
What the NYSC notified?
We reached out to UNIPORT which, in turn, directed us to the NYSC. We were eventually able to get compensation after one year but it can never be compared to life.
How are you coping after these losses?
The truth is that when you don’t have money in this country I wonder how one is going to get justice. Even with the money, it is difficult to get justice. In fact, it is messed up. We are just hoping for God’s intervention. Do you know my sister’s certificates, phone and handbag were not given to us to date? The police claimed the family of one of the accident victims took them whereas my sister was the only female amongst the dead. The other four people that died were males. For them to release their corpse to us, we had to pay. I haven’t seen a system so corrupt.