Residents storm court as magistrate remands Enugu couple over abuse of 10-year-old maid
•I want my daughter alive, says distraught mother
It was a Mecca of sorts yesterday at the Magistrates’ Court, Enugu, as many residents stormed the court premises to catch a glimpse of the couple, Mr. Jude and Mrs. Ifeoma Ozougwu, who allegedly drilled a six-inch nail into the skull of their 10-year old maid, Nneoma Nnadi, and administered hot electric iron and pepper in different body parts of the maid.
The couple, who were arraigned in court for allegedly causing grievous harm on the little girl, will have to spend one month in a correctional facility as they were remanded yesterday by Chief Magistrate, Joseph I. Agu, who rejected their bail application. The magistrate adjourned further hearing till August 10, pending legal advice.
The police had charged the Ozougwus with unlawful attempt to kill, harm and engaging the little girl in hazardous, injurious and exploitative work against her physical and socio-psychological development.
The crime was committed between January and July 2020 at No. 3, Akonameze Street, Thinkers Corner, Enugu.
Agu, who presided over the matter, refused to admit the defendants to bail. He said: “In exercise of my discretion, the offence is grievous going by count one and count three of the charges. Even as the girl is still hospitalized as with the overwhelming public outcry, I reject the application for bail.
“I hereby remand the couple in Nsukka Correctional Facility pending further advice by the state’s Directorate of Public Prosecution (DPP).”
Earlier, the prosecutor, CSP Paschal Nwachukwu, said that the court had no jurisdiction to entertain the matter going with the gravity of the offence, especially count one and count three of the charge sheet.
“The evidence of this matter is grievous and weighty. How can one explain nailing a child as was done to Jesus Christ, using hot pressing iron, sharp and dangerous objects on her even to her private part?’’ Nwachukwu, who is the officer-in-charge, Legal Services of the Enugu State Police Command, told the court.
The defence counsel, Mr Emeka Orji, however, prayed the court to discountenance the various public sentiments on the matter and grant bail to his clients. Orji added that the offence was bailable and the court should use its discretion to grant the Ozougwus bail.
“This couple runs a responsible family and I believe if they are granted bail, they will attend to the court processes religiously,’’ he said.
Part of the charges against the couple are: “That you, Ozougwu Ifeoma and Ozougwu Jude, between the month of April and July 2020, at No. 3, Akonameze Street, Thinkers Corner, Enugu, within the jurisdiction of this court, did attempt unlawfully to kill one Miss Nneoma Nnadi, aged 10, your house help by burning her belly, back and buttocks with hot electric pressing iron, nailing nails on several points on her head, which is capable of endangering her life and thereby committed an offence punishable under section 275 of the criminal code.”
The WomenAids Collective (WACOL) has commended the police intervention in the arrest and prosecution of the couple. The founder of WACOL, Prof. Joy Ezeilo, also disclosed that many lawyers had indicated interest in giving free legal services for diligent prosecution of the matter.
In a news conference after the court session, Ezeilo described Ozougwu’s home as a “house of horror,” adding that the couple deserves psychiatric attention.
Meanwhile, the distraught mother of the tortured house help, Mrs Nnedinso Nnadi, said on Sunday that she almost fainted at the sight of her daughter last Thursday at the Intensive Care Unit of the Enugu State University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital (ESUT–Parklane).
She said she was held by hospital workers and sympathisers who gathered to witness the horrific sight of the girl, who was given out to her late husband’s brother and wife on request.
Amid tears, she said: “I want my daughter to live. I need my daughter alive. That is all I want at the moment.”
It took the intervention of the police for the girl to be rescued following an alert raised by neighbours who were woken up by the maid’s shrieking screams. At the point of rescue, it was discovered that hot pressing iron had been used all over her body, while grounded red pepper had been used on her private part. The police team that rescued her rushed her to the ESUT hospital, where she is recuperating.
Her mother, Nnedinso, a mother of four, said she decided to give Nneoma to her husband’s brother on request, adding that she was surprised “what my daughter has become.
“My husband’s brother came to me and said they wanted her to come and live with them and take care of their children. I agreed. I did not know that it will be this way,” she said.
Asked how she would want the matter to be treated, she said amid tears, “What can I do? What do I say? My interest is for my daughter to survive. I need to see my daughter live. That is what I am concerned with at the moment. The police are handling the matter and it is left for them to decide what to do with it.”
The Global Society for Anti-Corruption (GSAC) yesterday condemned the act. The Country Director of the organisation, Mrs Amaka Nweke, said: “There should be justice for the physically abused girl-child as a way of discouraging gender-based violence in the state. We are also calling on the state government to empower Nneoma’s mother to enable her care and give attention to her children.”