A woman falsely accused of stealing money at Akwa Ibom wedding has opened up on her traumatic ordeal.
Iniubong …after mob action
Her voice cracked and tears welled up in her eyes amid sobbing while recounting her ordeal on that fateful day, Monday, November 5, 2018 at Usenten village in Ibiono Ibom Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom State.
The victim, Iniubong Essien, had been allegedly abducted by one Uduak Godwin Nseobot, alias King Pele, a Councillor representing Southern II, Ward 6 in Ibiono Ibom LGA, and his wife, Aniedi, and taken to the community square where she was accused of stealing some of the money sprayed on them during their marriage which took place that weekend.
The allegation jostled her as, according to her, she never suspected her friend and the husband could be up to any claim that could be so detrimental to her person. Apparently, she was helpless and death stared her in the face as the villagers, allegedly at the prompting of the Council lawmaker, stripped her naked, tied a rope around her waist, battered her with sticks and stones and paraded her round the village.
This, she narrated, was the worst nightmare of her life as the incident left her traumatized and deeply depressed. For several weeks thereafter, she could not go to public places as she did not know who may have seen her naked body as posted by her attackers on the social media while she was being falsely paraded as a thief.
Iniubong said: “Being a friend of the bride, I helped her to sell the uniforms (aso-ebi) to our fellow friends and I attended the wedding and assisted in serving food while one of the friends of the bride, Gloria, assisted the couple in picking money sprayed on them during the nuptial dance. The service point was at the back of the hall. And I left in the company of other friends when they were giving the vote of thanks, because I had another traditional wedding to attend in the same neighbourhood.
‘’The day after the event, I was invited to the couple’s home at Ewet Housing Estate, Uyo, and I informed them that I would not be able to visit them and jokingly told them to continue to enjoy their honey moon and that I would see them later and render account of the wedding uniforms I handled for them. I was still resting on the bed when Aniedi came and knocked and I opened the door for her and she came in and thanked me for my support during their wedding. She then invited me to come and meet the husband who was in the car with Gloria and one other person.
‘’When I got to the car, they asked me to enter and I said it was an opportunity for me to go the ATM so that I could withdraw the money and give to them, which I did. But instead of taking me back to my house, Pele (friend’s husband) took me to the village and he started calling people and, immediately, a crowd gathered and they started asking me to confess where I kept the money. And I asked them which money? At this point he (Nseobot) was grinding charcoal to rub on my body and he ordered his boys to strip me. And his PA told him, ‘Where is your gun? Let us finish this woman, whether she has not heard about Pele in Eket’. The PA added that nothing would happen if l was killed as his boss had the backing of prominent politicians in the state. I kept pleading with them all this while to let me go, but they refused.
‘He (Councillor) told me that he would kill, bury me and nobody would know. And I told them that if they killed me, the truth would one day come out and my innocent blood would not dry in Ibiono. They broke bottles on my head and assaulted me. And my nude pictures were taken by the Councillor and the people and shared on social media”.
Iniubong said after much pleading, they agreed to take her to a herbalist for what she described as ‘’native finding”, and the villagers boarded four mini buses and other cars, and, as they were going, a friend of the Councillor called and warned him of the dire consequence of his unholy acts and he immediately disengaged the villagers and made a detour to Uyo to the Police Headquarters at Ikot Akpan Abia and handed her over to the police.
The police, moved by the bruises and injuries she sustained, immediately sent her to a clinic for medical treatment, while one of the suspects (Councillor Nseobot) was arrested and granted bail.
Meanwhile, Iniubong’s lawyers, Bailey Chambers, raised a strongly worded petition to the Deputy Commissioner of Police, Akwa Ibom State CID, alleging assault, battery and threat to life as well as attempted murder of their client by Nseobot and his wife.
The petition read in part: “Our client was stripped naked and pictures of her nudity were taken by Uduak Godwin Nseobot and members of the mob with mobile phones. Our client was beaten almost to the point of death by the mob and she would have been killed but for the intervention of outsiders who demanded that she be taken to the police station.
‘’It is at this point that our client was taken to the State Police Headquarters at Ikot Akpan Abia. There, pictures evidencing the bruises and cuts on our client’s body were taken and our client was asked by the police to visit a clinic where a medical examination was conducted. Pictures of our client after the incident and a copy of the medical report are herewith attached.
‘’A great wrong and injustice has been done to our client. It is for this reason that we implore that your office should intervene in this matter by causing a proper and effective investigation of this issue so that the culprits responsible may be brought to justice”. Akwa Ibom State Branch of the International Federation of Women Lawyers also stepped into the matter. The body equally petition the state Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice and the police and urged them to use their good offices to ensure the case was not swept under the carpet.
The women lawyers, in the petition signed by their Vice Chairperson, Emem Ette, condemned the incident in its entirety, and urged the Attorney General to take over the matter from the police to ensure that the suspects are prosecuted as, according to them, no man is above the law.
‘’We wish to state that the action of the suspect, Hon. Uduak Godwin Nseobot, and that of his newly wedded wife, Ms. Aniedi Matthew, in taking laws into their hands by abducting, stripping naked, tying a rope around the waist and grievously battering the complainant in the full glare of over 30 persons in their village in Ibiono Ibom local government area is barbaric, bizarre and a violent contravention of the right of the complainant to human dignity and self-worth”, they said.
‘’These acts are those the law, the police and indeed our law enforcement agencies are against and it is unfortunate and disheartening that one, as exposed as a sitting Councillor in the Ibiono Ibom local government area, who should know better, would lend himself to such acts. These acts are condemnable. We cannot fold our hands and look on whilst a power drunk person uses his position, powers and connections to oppress a citizen of the Federal Republic of Nigeria”.
They maintained that the association would follow the case to its logical conclusion with a view to making sure that justice was done or seen to be done in the matter.
A traditional dimension has been added to the matter because of the fetish angle the suspect and his alleged accomplices were said to have taken on the victim, prompting the traditional institution in Nsit Ubium to send a message to her counterpart in Ibiono Ibom.
Two months after the incident, Iniubong is yet to come to terms with what happened as she still could not understand why her friend, her husband and their friends allegedly gave her such a raw deal, despite their cordial relationship which, according to her, spanned over 8-years and which, she said, necessitated her involvement during their marriage arrangement.
The victim has, however, approached the court in a bid to get justice. In a suit, HU/412/2018, filed against the Councillor at the High Court in Uyo over alleged assault, she is demanding N10 million as damages for the torture, assault and defamation of character.
In a writ of summons by her counsel, Ndifreke Akpan of Star Attorneys, the claimant is seeking a declaration that the torture, maltreatment and battering by the defendants, Uduak Godwin Nseobot and Aniedi Uduak Nseobot, for no wrong committed by her was unlawful and unconstitutional.
She is also requesting for a declaration that the act of the defendants in publishing allegations of theft against her to third parties was unlawful and defamatory of her person.
Similarly, the police have instituted a legal action against the suspect at a Magistrate Court sitting at Oko Ita, headquarters of Ibiono Ibom local government area, on alleged abduction, battering and attempted murder and hearing on the matter is billed for Monday (tomorrow), January 14, 2019.
‘’I want the right thing to be done. I want him (Councillor) to clear my name. He should go to the same village and call the same people on the day he disgraced me and apologize. He should also tender unreserved apology in national, local papers as well as radio. It is only then that I can let the matter to die permanently”, Iniubong said.