© 2019 - International Centre for Investigative Reporting
Married in January, murdered in March: Family of late Rita accuses Police of cover-up, seeks justice over daughter’s death
LATE Rita Onyemauchechukwu Onyebuchi was married to Ikechukwu Atansi early this year.
Precisely on 10 January, 2020, she had her traditional marriage with the usual bridal rites that accompany such pleasing occasions. The event was blissful, with so much family expectation, but little did she know of the doom ahead.
She never had a premonition neither did she believed her death will come so untimely. Sadly, the marriage did not scale through the first quarter of the year she had her union.
Rita was allegedly murdered by her husband in the middle of the global COVID-19 pandemic.
While Onyemauchechukwu hails from Achalla village, Enugu-Agidi town in Njikoka Local Government Area (LGA), Anambra State, her husband, Atansi is popularly known as ‘Agbada’ hails from Umudum village in Isu-Aniocha, also in the state.
After the union, they both decided to live at Chima’s compound in Ezimezi village, Amawbia town, Awka South LGA, until the incident happened.
How it began
In January, 2018, the deceased commenced work as an entry guard at Philip Smith Security Limited in Awka. She worked in the same organisation with her younger sibling, Johnpaul Onyebuchi for more than two years.
But on Tuesday, March 24, Onyebuchi suddenly noticed his sister failed to resume work, an occurrence he found strange.
It remained unclear if the deceased had a prior misunderstanding with her spouse. But the brother noted she was always punctual. “It has never happened before because she is always at work and dedicated to the company.”
As a result, Onyebuchi decided to put a call through to her phone. It rang, all through but no one answered, not even her husband who she lived with.
“She never responded to those calls and never returned the calls which were unusual,” says Onyebuchi. “After work hours, I made way to her house where she lived with her husband.”
“On reaching there, I saw that the house was locked and the husband’s car was not in the compound, after several knocks and banging at the door no responds too. I decided to head home and requested that the husband’s number should be sent to me by my mother.”
On Wednesday, March 25, Onyebuchi eventually got Atansi’s mobile number. He called repeatedly but it was switched off. The deceased’s mother also called, it was the same message from the telecom operator- the line was ‘switched off’.
Onyebuchi then proceeded to his office as usual, believing everything would be fine while trying his sister’s line.
But still, it rang, no one answered. Yet, she was away from work.
By Thursday, 26 March, the deceased’s body was already decomposing. The police had visited to forcefully open the door and saw the late Rita covered with blood with a fractured head.
“When the special crime unit of the police arrived I was taken to the room to find the dead body of my sister lying in a pool of blood. And the body has started to decompose.”
“The whole place was smelly and blood all over the bedroom. I was shocked I couldn’t tell my mum at that point….”
Unfortunately, the deceased mother is battling with high blood pressure, which makes informing her about the daughter’s death more challenging.
“I couldn’t tell her,” Onyebuchi said.
That same Thursday, the suspect, Atansi was arrested by the police operatives from the Central Police Station, Awka Division.
Findings by The ICIR also revealed that the accused had a cut behind his head. A police source attributed this to why the suspect was immediately taken to the police clinic for treatment before obtaining his statement.
Women abuse – a sad but reoccurring incident
Though, Onyebuchi told The ICIR the matter was already being handled by the police authority and the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), he wanted justice. He is also seeking actions from the Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) on human rights to ensure the matter is sustained until justice his served.
Aside, the deceased’s case, there is a number of few reported cases of women abuse and several undocumented similar incidents happening across the country. The Federal Government strives to create enabling laws as part of measures to check the reoccurring menace of women right abuses, but again, very few numbers of states have domesticated the enabling law on women and child protection.
Beyond Nigeria, women are being beaten, trafficked, raped even killed in other countries, including developed countries.
As a result, in 2008, the United Nations through the UNiTE project launched a multi-year global effort to end violence against women.
It particularly worked to ensure by 2015, every nation has developed a national legal framework that would punish all forms of violence against women in line with global human rights standards.
“But significant gaps in legal frameworks remain,” Asha-Rose Migiro, ex-Deputy Secretary-General of the UN stated in a document on violence against women.
“States throughout the world are still failing to live up to their expectations….Too many perpetrators are not held accountable. Impunity persists.”
Unfortunately, both state and non-state actors are guilty of these offences against women which caused Non-Governmental Organsations (NGOs) in Nigeria, for instance, to demand a review of the Violence Against Persons Prohibition (VAPP) Act signed into law in 2015 by former President Goodluck Jonathan.
Sadly, among the 36 states, only 10 have domesticated the law, according to an online tracker created by Partners West Africa Nigeria a Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO). Anambra, for instance, signed the law in March 2018.
The remaining nine states which have ratified the law are Oyo, Benue, Federal Capital Territory, Kaduna, Ebonyi, Edo, Ekiti, Enugu and Osun States.
Deceased was two month pregnant
The police are yet to make public outcome of their investigation. As of Tuesday, March 7, Inspector Ogechi Onwa told The ICIR that post-mortem test was yet to be conducted but the deceased’s family claimed their daughter was two months pregnant before her death.
“My sister was two months pregnant,” Onyebuchi stated. “She told us when I started noticing her behaviour because we work in the same place….”
The immediate sibling noted he had to plead that her corpse should hurriedly be taken away to avoid much public attention, especially keeping their mother from seeing the gory sight.
“Please I want the human right activists and lawyers to come into this matter and make sure that the suspect is brought to book to face the law,” he shared in his tweet. “Please I am begging for this message to be retweeted and shared so that justice will be served for Mrs. Rita Onyemauchechkwu Onyebuchi. Justice for Rita.” he tweeted.
“My sister needs justice.”
Suspected betrayal of justice
While The ICIR was able to get video footage of Atansi’s statements during interrogation, there are claims of attempted moves to upturn the investigation.
At the State Criminal Investigation Department, Amawbia where Atansi is held custody, the officer in charge, on Monday, March 30, told the deceased’s relatives of the need for the homicide department to visit the crime scene and possibly get more evidence. But unknown to the family, the room was already mopped clean.
Prior to the visit, it was gathered that Inspector Ogechi Onwa, who was earlier assigned to the case and also in custody of the key to the deceased’s apartment, allegedly connived with the suspect’s relative and caretaker to the building – a barrister to clean the room following alleged complaints from other neighbours over unpleasant smells.
Eventually, Onwa presented the key to the suspect, who then gave it to the sister for cleanup. The clean-up action, however, altered the crime scene and compromised the evidence.
“Reaching the crime scene with the CID homicide department and a counsel, it was found out that the crime scene has been totally cleaned up,” Onyebuchi said.
“Further investigation shows that the IPO Mr. Onwa who is the DSO III at the central police station, Awka who was handling the case before it was transferred to the state CID handed the keys of the house to Ikechukwu Atansi the husband who in turn now gave the keys to his sister who now went and clean up the crime scene and removed every implicative exhibit in the house and she also took away the mobile phone of Mrs. Rita Onyemauchechkwu Atansi.”
But when the suspect was arrested, the crime scene was locked up by the police and the key was handed over to Onwa of the central police station.
Meanwhile, Onwa was also accused to have demanded N5,000 bribe from the victim’s family before the case could be transferred to the CID. He had reportedly and unnecessarily delayed the case insisting on his demand until Onyebuchi resolved to push the matter to public space and petition the NHRC.
“After writing my statement, i asked Onwa when the suspect will be transferred to the state CID but he was telling me that I need to pay N5, 000 for registration of statement, and if possible, I might need to pay extra money before the statement will be signed. So, I left with annoyance…”
“I later called to find out if he was being transferred but he told me if I’m not ready to come with my people and do the needful, he has nothing to say.”
That’s not true, I didn’t demand bribe – indicted Police officer says
It is common knowledge that the Nigerian police often demand bribes from those they should protect and help secure justice. Several reports have also attested to the illegalities and criminal activities committed by the police to deliberately frustrate prosecution processes.
But The ICIR reached out to inspector Onwa, who is at the centre of the allegation yet he denied ever demanding for bribes. He felt Onyebuchi and his family had a personal grudge against him, as he claimed to be performing his duty.
“I didn’t do it, as a senior officer i can’t do that. That boy created this problem,” Onwa said. “It appears that boy has something in mind against the Police because we both carry the corpse to the mortuary but God is my witness,” he stated in a phone interview on Tuesday evening.
However, the accused officer admitted being queried and detained at the state CID for his ‘mistake’. He also agreed the key to the deceased’s apartment was released by the Divisional Police Officer (DPO) to the suspect while the case is yet to be concluded.
“The caretaker was demanding for the key because the corpse was about four days, so other residents were complaining. So the man in charge of the station gave the keys to the victim who happens to be the suspect in the hospital…”
Onwa further told The ICIR, he has been freed after he presented his case.
Repeated calls to Haruna Mohammed, Anambra State Police Spokesperson on the issue were unanswered.
Mohammed did not also return the calls. But, after sending a text message, he tersely responded, ‘case is under investigation please.’
Meanwhile, Nkechi Ngwanyi, Anambra State Coordinator, (NHRC) and Mr. Barnabas Obinigwe, Deputy Director from the commission have intervened in the matter and awaiting the outcome of Police investigation.
An expert, Titilola Vivour-Adeniyi, Co-ordinator, Domestic and Sexual Violence Response Team advised females who feel threatened or abused to seek temporary residence with relatives. Speaking on Law Weekly, a television programme on Channels, she observed an increase in reported cases of sexual and violence against women.
According to her, the organisation had been receiving eight new cases daily via its hotline and on average seven cases on social media.
“We have seen people reaching out through social media handles, some are panicking, some don’t know what to do and wants someone to talk to, while others are experiencing abuse during this period,” Vivour-Adeniyi stated while reacting on the increase in domestic violence during the pandemic.
“It is a sad reality, but we are experiencing that now because survivals of domestic violence are now basically stuck with their abusers.”
However, she advised that though it was becoming worrisome, it is important to keep safe.
“If you have a relative you can stay with, trusted family member or a friend during this lockdown, we encourage survivors to take that option. If they feel their lives is in danger. But those who don’t have that option, we encourage them to develop a safety plan – a small bag containing your essentials, important documentations, little money for transport, telephone numbers of relatives among other resources you can take advantage of.”