Mrs Rita Onyebuchi, 31, was recently found dead in her home with deep cuts and bruises on her body after being absent from work for a couple of days. Her husband of two months, Ikechukwu Atansi, popularly called Agbada, has been arrested by the police. The deceased’s younger brother, Johnpaul Onyebuchi, from Achalla village, Enugu-Agidi town, Njikoka Local Government Area of Anambra State, tells GBENRO ADEOYE about the pain of losing his sister
You recently posted on Twitter how your sister was found dead in her house after failing to show up at work for two days, how did it happen?
My sister and I worked for the same company – a security firm in Awka, Anambra State. She didn’t come to work on Tuesday, March 24, 2020 and that had never happened before. She was always at work; she was a dedicated employee of the company. And because she was not at work, I called her on her mobile line. It rang but no one picked up. She never returned the calls, which was also unusual.
After the day’s work, I went to her place at Chima’s compound in Ezimezi village, Amawbia. When I got there, the house was locked and her husband’s car was not in the compound. I knocked on the door several times but there was no response.
Later, I called her husband’s mobine line but it was switched off. That was on Wednesday, March 25, 2020. I went to work that day but still didn’t see my sister there. Meanwhile, she was always punctual at work. I called her several times again but no one picked up.
You must have been worried…
Yes, I was really worried. Her husband’s line was still switched off. But I could not go to her place that Wednesday because I left work very late. Incidentally, my mum said she had also been trying to reach her. She said she could not reach her and her husband on the phone.
On Thursday, I went to her place before going to work. I saw a policeman in the compound and a crowd that had gathered. A special crime unit of the police arrived and I was taken inside to see my sister’s dead body. The body had started to decompose and there was a lot of blood.
There was blood all over the bedroom and the place was smelling because of the body that had started to decompose. I was shocked.
But I couldn’t tell my mum. My mum was also there to see why her daughter had not been reachable for some days but I had to convince her to leave the compound because I didn’t want her to see her daughter like that. I told her to return home and that the police were still trying to find her. I also didn’t want my mother to know at that time because she was suffering from high blood pressure. Sadly, my sister was two months pregnant.
What about her husband?
He was arrested in the house on Thursday, March 26, 2020. He was arrested by the police from Central Police Station in Awka. They got married on January 10, 2020, less than three months before she was killed.
So where was your brother-in-law during the period that you couldn’t reach him and your sister?
He was in the house; their neighbours saw him. It was the neighbours that alerted the police. All the while, he was in the house with the body as it was decomposing. He is the prime suspect and is at the state Criminal Investigation Department, Amawbia, Awka.
How many people have been arrested by the police in connection with the case?
Three people, including my sister’s husband and his sister. Something happened after he (brother-in-law) was arrested. The Officer-in-Charge at the state CID said members of its homicide department and members of our family would visit the crime scene to see if we could find more evidence. Meanwhile, the place was locked up by the police when Atansi was arrested and the keys were handed over to the investigating police officer of the case at the Central Police Station.
But surprisingly, the IPO gave the keys to Atansi who then gave them to his sister. So by the time we got to the crime scene with the state CID’s homicide team and a lawyer, we found out that the place had been cleaned up. Investigation showed that it was the IPO at the Central Police Station who gave the house keys to Atansi. Atansi gave the keys to his sister who cleaned up the crime scene and removed the evidence in the house. She also took away my sister’s mobile phone.
What is the situation now?
The case is still at the state CID, Awka and the police are conducting their investigation very well. We went there on Wednesday. So the people in police custody are my sister’s husband and the two people who cleaned up the crime scene. They were interrogated because of that action. Recently, we met with the Deputy Commissioner of Police and he told us they were making headway with the investigation but he didn’t disclose more than that. He told us that they were getting more witnesses and things were becoming clearer. Everything is now unfolding gradually.
At the state CID, they told us that they had got everything they needed to nail the culprits and that what was left to be done was the autopsy. So I will like to commend them for their swift action.
In your post, you seem so sure it was your brother-in-law that did it, why?
He was the one who opened the door for the police after their neighbours alerted the police. According to their neighbours, they saw him in the house during the period that we were looking for my sister. The neighbours could perceive the smell coming from her decomposed body and he was in the house. They saw him at the backyard of the house. That was when they started knocking on the door. Initially, they thought there was no one at home.
Her body had started to decompose. When they knocked on the door, he came to open to the door for them and came out. That was when they called the police and he was arrested. Then I was called to come and identify the body.
That convinced me that he had something to do with it. He was in the room with her so he must been the one who murdered her, coupled with how his people tried to clean up the crime scene. He also switched off his mobile phone.
Was there anyone living with them?
No! Nobody was living with them.
Did the neighbours hear them fighting or quarrelling before her dead body was found in the house?
No, the neighbours said they never heard any noise in the house. And all the while that we were trying to reach my sister, his (brother-in-law) phone was switched off while my sister’s phone was not switched off but she didn’t pick up. She was two months pregnant. After the neighbours called the police, they were able to get him there. So he was with the body all the while that we were having difficulty reaching my sister.
What does he (brother-in-law) do?
They say he sells land. He is a land agent.
Did your sister ever tell you they were having any problems?
No. she never reported anything and he also never reported anything. I asked their neighbours and they said they also didn’t know about any problems between them.
How long were they together before they got married?
They started dating in 2018 and this March made it two years that they knew each other.
What kind of person is your brother-in-law?
I recently relocated to Anambra State; I relocated last year so I don’t really know him. We never really had any serious conversation.
What do you miss about your sister?
I will miss her a lot. Anywhere she saw problems, she tried to solve them. She was very generous to her family, relations and others. Even at work, they will really miss her generosity. She was my sister and also my colleague. I really miss her. She always advised me to be a better person. She helped me get a job where she worked.
What was the last conversation you had with her?
That was on Monday, March 23, 2020. She told me she would need me to teach her how to drive a car. She said her husband promised to buy her a car.
Are both your parents alive?
Yes, both of them are still alive. Our parents had 10 children – seven girls and three boys. I am the first son.
So, how difficult was it to break the news to them?
It was difficult. We all grew up in the North but she, my mum and another sister relocated to the South-East from Bauchi after the post-2011 general elections’ violence. So she and our mum were very close. The rest of us stayed behind with our dad because of our schooling. She was taking care of my mum. That was why I lured my mum away from the crime scene. I had to tell her the police were trying to find my sister. I didn’t want her to see how her daughter had been gruesomely murdered. When we broke the news to her eventually, I believe the impact was minimal. It would have been worse if she had seen her body the way I found her.
What about you? How are you dealing with it, particularly as you were the one who identified her body?
It has been very devastating for me.
Where did you get the courage to look at her and quickly get your mum away from there?
I had the courage because I knew her death was not natural. The pain that should have made me cry and shout was what I channelled into my anger. That was what I channelled into fighting for justice for her, to ensure that her killers are brought to justice.
Could you tell how she died?
She was strangled because her tongue was out. Her face was bruised and there was a lot of blood there. There were some deep cuts on her laps. I could see that blood came out of her ears; that is to show you how terrible it was.
What dreams did she passionately nurse?
She always wanted to have a foundation for aged people because of how she was able to take care of our grandma before she passed on. So she said she would like to have a foundation to take care of the poor and aged persons. She also wanted to have a school for the underprivileged because she loved education.
That was why despite only having a national diploma, she sponsored my university education. She had to stop at that level and start working because of financial challenges. That was how she was able to sponsor my education – from Year 1 till I graduated. I graduated from Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University, Bauchi. I studied building technology.
She often called to encourage me and tell me to be focused on my education and put in my best. While I was still in school, she said even though she was not a graduate, it would be her joy for me to be a graduate. When I graduated, she was very happy. She also helped me to get a job where she worked. That is to show you the kind of person she was.
Are you able to sleep or do you sometimes wake up in the night from nightmares about it?
Frankly, I have not really slept since she died. It has been very hard. Even last (Tuesday) night, I slept around 10pm and woke up before 1am. I keep thinking of what I can do to make sure that she gets justice. That was even why I posted it on social media and since then, people have been following up on it. I have been receiving many calls. And many people are interested and really want to help so I have been trying to keep them updated. Some people wanted to come down to see me but because of the COVID-19 pandemic, that has not been possible.
It was someone that suggested that I should put it on Twitter and tag some people. And I have received so much support from @citizen_gavel and they have been following up on it. They contacted one of their lawyers in Anambra who went to the state CID with us.
But I don’t have nightmares. The major reason why I am unable to sleep is because when I think about all that has happened, I feel that I shouldn’t sleep or relax. I feel it is unfair for me to relax when my sister has not got justice. I feel I have to be online; I have to be on the case. I always think of what else to do to ensure we get justice and that she doesn’t die in vain.
What effect has the COVID-19 lockdown had on investigation?
But in Anambra, it is partial lockdown. I can say it has had a positive impact because people have been at home and online, so they could see my messages and respond positively to them but it has not been easy. This is something we never expected. We just pray that everything goes well. And that is why the help of the media is very vital. I will like to reach out to other families going through this and may not be able to speak out. They should feel free and seek justice.
If there is one thing you won’t forget about your late sister, what will it be?
That is her generous attitude. She always tried to make sure that everyone around her was fine and doing okay. That was something I learnt from her.
I pray for justice. If someone is tried and found guilty, then that person should be brought to justice. I don’t believe in jungle justice. There could have been jungle justice if we had engaged community youths but they would have done something worse. I believe in fair hearing and I believe the authorities should do the needful and not compromise their ideals. But the state CID has been doing very well.
Source: Sunday PUNCH