A woman, Mrs. Ruth Orji, brutalised by some beastly soldiers in Ikorodu area of Lagos State, narrates the incident to Motunrayo Joel.
It was unmistaken over the telephone that Mrs. Ruth Orji’s had been crying all day. Her voice clearly conveyed misery.
One could not also miss the fact that her grief was both physical and emotional.
In a grave, broken voice, Orji, a mother of three, said she thought she was going to die the night she was flogged like a hapless animal by military officials attached to 174 Battalion, Ikorodu, Lagos.
Amid her sorry state, she managed to narrate how it all happened, “I still remember all that happened that day; my two brothers and I had attended a birthday party at a hotel, Sheriff Hotel, along Sagamu Road, Ikorodu. Apparently, a fight had broken out in the neighbourhood which we knew nothing about; there were policemen around – I believe to calm the situation. It was about 8:30pm at night; my brothers and I had packed our vehicle outside the hotel.
On getting to the gate of the hotel, we asked the gateman to kindly open the gate so we could leave. Just as he opened, a military officer approached us and began to flog my brother and other persons waiting at the gate.
I pleaded with him to stop flogging while explaining to him that we were innocent and knew nothing about the fight that broke out. Then he slapped me on the face; I was shocked. I asked him why he slapped me and he slapped me again on the face.’’
She took few minutes to relax her nerves before continuing: “I told him that on Monday (the following day), I would be at his barracks to report his action. Then another military official dragged me from my brothers and pushed me into one of the two patrol vans parked.
One of my brothers succeeded in escaping. I and my brother, together with other persons, were taken to their barracks. That was the beginning of my sorrow. I was flogged mercilessly by three soldiers.
I kept pleading with them to have mercy on me. I begged and begged for forgiveness but they turned a deaf ear to my cries. I can still feel the strike of each stick and belt used to beat me. They used their belts to flog me for an hour. I’m in serious pains.
“They also lied against me. The military officials said I told the officer who slapped me that I was going to ensure his removal from the military; but I never said that. There were policemen at the scene, if I had committed any offence, the military officials should have taken me to them rather than slap me. In fact, at the barracks, I almost died from the lashes I received.”
Aside the severe lashes, Orji said her phone, slippers and jewelry were seized from her. SUNDAY PUNCH gathered that when her phone was eventually returned to her, it had been switched off. At the time, her family members were trying to reach her.
“I’m sure I may have passed out that night because the next thing I remember after the flogging was that I was on a hospital bed. When I inquired from the medical officers where I was, they said it was a military hospital in 174 Battalion. On Tuesday, the following day, I was able call my family members on phone to inform them about my whereabouts,” she said.
Despite the unimaginable pain she is facing on her hospital bed, Orji, like any true mother, said her only wish is to see her children.
“I’ve not seen my children since Sunday, March 12. My children are very young; aged 9, 6 and 4. I can only imagine what they are passing through. My children don’t even know where I am. We have never been apart for this long.
I pleaded with the military doctor and other officials to allow me see my children but they said no. I see myself as a single mother, my children need me. They should please allow me to see my children,” she pleaded.
She added that only her phone and a pair of slippers were returned to her with her jewelry still missing. Also, Orji said that at the military hospital, her visitors were barred from seeing her.
“Luckily, one of my sisters managed to sneak into the hospital. She was able to take pictures of my body to show Nigerians my bruises. She helped me spread the news about how I was unfairly brutalised.
I think the leaked pictures spurred the visit of a brigadier general from Ikeja – I didn’t get his name; he visited me this morning (Wednesday morning). He was not happy about what happened to me. He said the soldiers involved would be dealt with; he left afterwards,” Orji stated.
Orji’s narration was interrupted by a doctor treating her who sounded uncomfortable with her long conversation on phone. He uttered a few words to her and her response was, “Doctor, please just give me five minutes to finish this conversation.”
She later added that the treatment she was receiving at the military hospital was poor, noting that between Sunday night and Wednesday, she was only given one injection.
Orji stated, “I’m in serious pains; no one can imagine what I’m passing through. The drugs I’m being given too are poor. I told the doctor that they should please take me to a general hospital where I can receive proper treatment. I’m feeling sick; my temperature is high. I told him I don’t want to die here. But the doctor said it was one ‘madam’ that ordered that I should be treated there and he cannot discharge me,” she said.
Meanwhile, as of Wednesday, the 81 Division of the Nigerian Army said it had inaugurated a Board of Inquiry and detained six soldiers in connection with Orji’s brutality.
Our correspondent also learnt that Orji was later transferred to a hospital in Ikeja Military Cantonment.
Orji’s case not the first
The high-handedness of military officers against civilians in recent has called for concern. There was also the story of a Nollywood actress and movie producer, Ms Ebere Ohakwe (Jewel Infinity), who was allegedly assaulted by a soldier, Sulaiman Olamilekan, while travelling from Port Harcourt to Onitsha.
Ohakwe was reportedly beaten with a stick and an iron rod. Her phone was also seized from her and damaged in order to prevent her from taking any picture.
According to reports, Olamilekan was allegedly jailed 28 days with hard labour for assaulting Ohakwe.
But Ohakwe told SUNDAY PUNCH that a week after she was discharged from the hospital, she visited the barracks where Olamilekan is based and was shocked by his physical looks.
“I saw him looking clean in his uniform; he was on duty. He was neither discharged from his duty nor looked like he was undergoing hard labour. The military also claimed to have sought about my welfare which isn’t true; no one contacted me or cared about my health which is why I decided to institute a law suit.
I gathered enough evidence against the military officers who assaulted me. What people don’t know is that they were many that assaulted me, but they (military) singled out Olamilekan, because he was the one that led the act and being a junior officer, they felt he doesn’t know much which is why he was singled out,” she said.
Ohakwe also helped Orji to get legal help after she reached out to her on phone when she heard that the military was trying to pressurise her to drop the case against them.
“As of yesterday (Wednesday), Orji told them she wanted to leave the hospital but they refused. Instead she was taken to another hospital in Ikeja. When I saw the military press statement about the six soldiers who were arrested over her assault, I wasn’t surprised because that was exactly what they said about my case. I also learnt today (Thursday) that the military asked her to withdraw the case but she told them she wouldn’t because her lawyers and family had taken up the case.
She also told them she would not withdraw the case. The lawyer even visited her but he was prevented from seeing her. Instead, he was taken to their office. I’m sure they tried to talk him into dropping the case. I’m determined to pursue justice; my career has been affected. Justice must be served,” she said.
Last month, a video showing soldiers brutalising a physically-challenged man for wearing camouflage clothing sparked outrage.
The video recorded on the New Market Road in Onitsha, Anambra State, according to social media users, showed two soldiers flogging the man who writhed in pain, while trying unsuccessfully to beg them or escape the assault.
The soldiers eventually abandoned the man by the road side and left in a Military Police Pickup van.
When contacted, the Acting Deputy Director, Army Public Relations, 81 Division, Lt.Col. Olaolu Daudu, referred our correspondent to an earlier press statement issued by the Nigerian Army on Orji’s case.