Knight of St. John Catholic Church, Okpaugwu, located at Low Cost Housing Estate, Abakaliki, shares a boundary at the back with St. John De Evangelist Catholic Church, Udemezue Street. But, as Uchenna Inya, discovered, the place has gradually metamorphosed into drinking spot and chalet for prostitutes
Knight of St. John Catholic Church, Okpaugwu, is located at Low Cost Housing Estate, Abakaliki. It shares a boundary at the back with St. John De Evangelist Catholic Church, Udemezue Street. Beside it is a police station. It has a very large compound with storey buildings, solely built for church purposes, scattered in its serene environment.
At night fall, the compound metamorphoses into something else. Open air drinking, suya spots, food vendors and commercial sex workers, all compete for space at this hitherto ‘holy’ place. There are no marble floors, well decorated settees or cushioned chairs. But, those who patronise the ‘joint’ are sure to listen to tunes from quadraphonic sound systems while they consume their liquor. This trend of acquaintance with crimson sisters, no doubt, leaves a big impression on the minds of the visiting wolves.
Mrs. Ann Udu is the caretaker of the place. She was given the premises by the Catholic authority through Mrs. Chinwe Muoneke to be taking care of. She lives there with her husband and children, and operates a restaurant. She also sells drinks, pepper soup and other edibles. Udu is said to be the one in charge of all the halls and rooms on the premises. The place is usually very busy in the night starting from 7pm.
A customer, who wants an accommodation for short time rest, pays N1,000 for one hour. While selling of drinks and foods are made open in the area, getting a room on the premises for love making is secretly and solely done by the caretaker. Our reporter visited the place as an undercover and pretended to be a customer. He interacted with other guests and Udu, who was so lively with customers on this particular day. She was sipping a bottle of beer, which some said has become her usual pastime.
One of the buildings on the premises is housing the restaurant. Inside the restaurant is a door that leads upstairs where short time rooms are. Ogechi Nwete, a 14-year-old orphan, works as a maid to Udu. Saturday Telegraph gathered that Nwete was chased out of the house following the escape of her master’s goat from the premises. Nwete, a native of Nsokkara Effium, in Ohaukwu Local Government Area of Ebonyi State was asked by Udu not to return home without the goat. She had no place to go than to wander aimlessly until a Good Samaritan picked her up and handed her over to the state Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development. She was before the goat issue already nursing ear injuries allegedly inflicted on her by her madam.
Nwete was also having eye problem following a slap she received for alleged misconduct which makes her not to see properly.
She said: “My madam chased me out of the house because her goat escaped through the compound. She asked me not to return until the goat is found. This happened on July 18.
“This premises belongs to the Catholic Church but was handed over to my madam to be taking care of. The church wanted to use where we are now for an event centre and other church purposes. Unfortunately, my madam turned it to a place where all manners come for short time lodging with their mistresses. She usually asked me to quickly lock up the rooms whenever the woman who gave her the place comes around.
“What happened to me in my eyes was that her son beat me up one night I was resting after attending to customers. He asked me what I was waiting for before packing chairs and tables used by customers and immediately gave me slap and started kicking me. My madam was watching and couldn’t do anything to save me from her bully son. It was during the process that I lost my eye. I also lost my hearing due to the slap he gave me. I bled through one of my ears as a result of the slap and now I can’t hear properly. I can’t also see well.”
Nwete, who alleged that her madam usually asked her to prepare the rooms for customers, compelled her to pick condoms used and disposed them to pick remnants of Indian hemps to ensure that the place is kept clean at all times. “One of the customers usually takes advantage of this to pounce on me. He had sex with me while preparing the rooms.
“Other customers later joined the wicked man and at different times would force me to have sex with them. While this was going on, my madam would look the other way making me to start suspecting she was the one behind this wicked act. In one of the days I was dressing a room, a customer barged in, held me down and had sex with me. I complained to my madam and she told me to leave the person that he was drunk. At a point it became a daily routine.
“They also touch my breast and bumbum. They smoke hemps at will. Men of State Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) of the state Police Command usually raid our place. They sometimes arrest some of the customers who smoke Ganga. My parents are dead. It was my step-brother, Cornelius Nkwede, who gave me to the woman for adoption.”
Head of Department, Child Development of the state Ministry of Women Affairs, Godwin Igwe, confirmed that Nwete’s case was reported to the Commissioner for Women Affairs, Mrs. Rebecca Ogbuewu, for necessary action. He claimed that Nwete was taken to hospital but medical reports sighted by this reporter showed otherwise. She has serious eye and ear injuries that may impair her sight if urgent measures are not taken.
Igwe admitted that the medical report indicated that the girl was sexually abused. He said: “The letter was minuted to me to treat the matter and then I had to minute the letter back to the Child Abuse Desk Officer, Mrs. Cecilia Elom, and it is a convention that when a matter is reported to the ministry, we will like to hear from both parties. So, the child abuse desk officer wrote an invitation to the accused person but she came back to tell the ministry that the suspect refused the invitation. She rather gave a condition without which she wouldn’t receive the invitation letter. She insisted that she should produce the victim otherwise she wouldn’t accept the letter. That was observed for sake of peace and justice.
“Surprisingly to me, when I went to Imo State to recover a child sold in the area, I heard that instead of the woman coming to the ministry to tell her own side of the story, she brought six men to terrorise the ministry and harass the schedule officer into fear so that she will not carry out her duty diligently. This case has both criminal and health aspects and our duty is to ensure the survival of the victim and that is why we have referred the case to Federal Teaching Hospital Abakaliki 1(FETHA1). We wrote to the Chief Medical Director to direct that doctors should conduct medical examination on the girl.
“She will also go to FETHA 2 to see a consultant ophthalmologist for her eyes because she has hearing and visual impairment. At a glance, you will see that one of the eyes is small, reduced to a large extent and you don’t need to go to Lab before you will see that one of the eyes is so small. It is only by Divine grace that she is seeing with it. This act of child abuse, maltreatment and dehumanisation shouldn’t be seen in a civilised society like this because Ebonyi State is not a banana republic. This girl has been subjected to modern day profligacy and moral laxity which to a large extent will affect her future.
“The worse part of it is that the accused person doesn’t even take the matter seriously. She has choosen to treat it with high level of levity. She should have been coming here to ask: where is this child? Is she still alive? Is she responding to treatment? But to my greatest surprise, she has never come here for the past three weeks.”
On her part, Elom, said: “The matter concerning Nwete was brought to the ministry by one lawyer who wrote to the ministry about the abuse on the child. We only invited the suspect for questioning. I went to deliver the invitation letter to her which she refused to receive from me. She told me that she doesn’t have any maid, that I should go and bring the person she was maltreating.
“I went back the second day with the lawyer that wrote to us together with the child. On seeing her, the daughter we met confirmed her status and even called her name. Along the line, Udu came the next day to the ministry with an unknown man, who came and said he would slap me. The man told me that I shouldn’t have invited Udu, that Nwete is not a good girl. They went back after that day and came back few days later with few men. After narrating the whole thing to the men Udu brought back to the ministry, they saw that the woman did not behave well; they blamed her for not honouring our invitation.
“I told them that we are still investigating and the child herself sustained so many injuries and we should take her to the hospital to certify her health before any other thing. The peopleleft and said they would get back to us. But up till now, I have not seen the woman again. In the hospital where we took this girl to. It is confirmed that she is sexually abused and physically abused, you can see her ear and eye.The action we are going to take is first to take care of her health; she has been undergoing series of tests after which we refer the matter to the police because it is the police that investigate criminal matter. But for now, she is in our custody and we have been taking care of her.”