Tuesday Column By VICTORIA NGOZI IKEANO
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It is the stuff of which ‘Telemundo’ is made except that a warning would have been put out stating that it is not suitable for viewers younger than 18 because it contained strong language and violence. Apart from the outrage that the video elicited from Nigerians (as it expectedly trended in social media) what surprised most people was the swiftness with which the police acted; such that within two working days, the suspects were fished out from their hiding places, taken to court to appear before Justice Aisha Bashir-Aliyu (who happens to be the state’s Chief Justice) and remanded in prison pending a formal arraignment. This rather ‘unprecedented’ speed by the police was applauded by both individuals and organisations. What was the video all about? In the first brief video, a girl could be seen hitting another with her hands; an apparently mutual friend of the two is seen trying to intervene, pleading with her to stop but she warns her to steer clear and continues with her beating. Then we see the young lady that was beating someone earlier, at the back of a car, her top being torn; she in shame tries to cover herself up by crossing her bare chest with her hands, she is told to remove her trouser, she naturally hesitates and she is asked to come out; next we see her on the ground being beaten by some people while crying and begging. One of those who forwarded the video, Ndila Mary summarised it thus, ‘’After the lady beat her friend up for having same sugar daddy’s number in her phone, the lady that was beaten went ahead to inform her family members and then they took matters into their hands by stripping her naked and beating her up even with wood’’. The ‘family members’ are identified as Dr. Fred Ayokhai of the Federal University of Lafia and his children. From the video some online media wrote a story titled, ‘Professor strips lady for dragging boyfriend with her daughter’. He is said to be an associate professor and a former secretary of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Federal University Lafia chapter.
The video which many described as barbaric, trended on Friday and in response to enquiries, the Police reacted to it. Nasarawa State Police Command’s Spokesman, DSP Ramhan Nansel wrote at 06.30 a.m. on Saturday morning, ‘’Since last night I haven’t slept because of that video and calls kept coming in. I responded on Twitter that we have established a contact and effort is ongoing to get across to the victim’’. At 10.42 am of same day, he posted, “Sequel to the viral tweet of assault on a female teenager in Lafia, Nasarawa state, the Command swiftly commenced an investigation into the case. It is gratifying to state that two suspects have been arrested in connection with the case while the vehicle used in conveying the victim to an undisclosed location where she was assaulted has been recovered. Effort is ongoing to arrest the remaining suspects still at-large”.
He followed it up a few hours later, at 13.44 p.m. with a formal Police Press Release. With reference number AZ:5250/NAS/PRD/VOL.2/006, the release read in full: ‘’Sequel to the viral tweet of assault on a female teenager in Lafia, Nasarawa state, the command swiftly commenced investigation into the case. It is gratifying to state that two suspects namely, Dr. Fred Ekpa Ayokhai, an associate professor with the Department of History and International Studies, Federal University of Lafia and one Emmanuela Ekpa Ayokhai have been arrested in connection with the case while the vehicle belonging to Dr, Fred which was used in conveying the victim to a location along Kwandere road, Lafia where she was assaulted has been recovered. Preliminary investigation revealed that Emmanuela Ekpa Ayokhai and the victim had a misunderstanding over a man named IG. The victim accused Emmanuela of snatching her supposed boyfriend and assaulted her. In retaliation, Emmanuela mobilised her family, went after the victim and got her assaulted as well. The Commissioner of Police, AIG Adesina Soyemi has ordered an intensive man hunt for the other fleeing suspects and further directed that those arrested should be charged to court for prosecution upon conclusion of investigation at the State Criminal Department, Lafia’’. He attached pictures of the arrested suspects photographed beside the ‘recovered’ car.
Still on that same day at 18.48 p.m., the Command’s spokesman again released another official statement with reference number, AZ:5250/NAS/PRD/VOL. 2/007 which read: ‘’In continuation of the relentless pursuit of all suspects connected to the case of assault that was captured in a video that has gone viral, be informed that the duo of Bob Praise Ayokhai 23 years, a 300 level student of the Department of Microbiology, Federal University of Lafia and Saint-Dan Ayokhai, 21 years old both males have been arrested for being parties to the commission of the dastardly act. The Command wishes to assure members of the public that no stone will be left unturned in the course of the investigation as all outcome will be made public’’. All these happened on a weekend, Saturday, October, 22.
On the first working day of the week, Monday, October 24, 2022, the Federal University of Lafia authorities acknowledged that, ‘’reports on the physical assault of a young girl named Blessing Mathias allegedly by Dr. Fred Ekpa Ayokhai, a lecturer in the History and International Studies Department, Federal University of Lafia (FULAFIA), have on Monday, October 24, officially reached the attention of Management of the University’’. A statement by Abubakar Ibrahim, head of the institution’s Directorate of Information and Public Relations, disassociated the university from Dr. Ayokhai’s action, describing it as ‘’unpardonable, shameful and condemnable’’. It said that the university has laid down rules, procedures and regulations for dealing with staff whose behaviour run foul of laws and rules that govern their conducts. Mallam Abubakar Ibrahim confirmed to this columnist as I was about writing this piece, that the university has not suspended Dr. Fred Ayokhai. Answering a question from me, the institution’s spokesperson said, ‘’The University can only start taking disciplinary action against Dr. Fred after investigations have been conducted by the investigation authorities and his case is determined by the court of law”.
By the morning of midweek on October 26, 2022, all four suspects, viz, Dr. Fred Ayokhai aged 53 and his three children (Emmanuela Ayokhai 18 years old, Bob Praise Ayokhai and Saint-Dan Ayokhai, both 23 and 21 years respectively) were brought before Justice Aisha Bashir-Aliyu at High Court 1, Lafia, by the Police. Altogether six charges were slammed on them They are, ‘’Criminal conspiracy, house breaking and criminal force or assault to woman with intent to outrage modesty, kidnapping and inflicting physical injury on another’’. At end of their court appearance, the case was assigned to Obi High Court for trial while they were remanded in prison custody pending their formal arraignment.
The Nasarawa state government through its Commissioner of Women Affairs and Social Development, Hajia Aisha Rufai-Ibrahim wants justice to take its course in the case. ‘’Our gender-based violence response team and justice-based groups are monitoring the case with a view to ensuring that no stone is left unturned in the bid to get a fair hearing and justice for the victim”, she said. Also, the National Association of Women Journalists (NAWOJ), Nasarawa state chapter led by Hadiza Umar equally voiced its anger at the assault. On the puzzling question of who videoed the incident, the police state that Dr. Ayokhai did the filming and also uploaded it to the social media!