Acid attack: Suspect may live the rest of her life in jail

The victim of the acid attack
The victim of the acid attack

A legal practitioner, Ajuzie Osondu, has said that the housewife in Delta State, Mrs. Stella Ifeoma Agbo, who allegedly disfigured a 19-year-old girl, Judith Johnpaul, by pouring a substance suspected to be acid on her in Okpanam community in Oshimili North Local Government Area of the state may be jailed for life if found guilty under the provisions of the Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act, 2015.

Former President Goodluck Jonathan signed the law on May 25, 2017, in the last days of his tenure. The introduction to the law describes it as an “Act to eliminate violence in private and public life, prohibit all forms of violence against persons and to provide maximum protection and effective remedies for victims and punishment of offenders and for related matters.”

The specified offences covered by the law, include rape, inflicting physical injury on another, coercion, willfully placing a person in fear of physical injury, offensive conduct; prohibition of female circumcision, depriving a person of his or her liberty; damage to property with intent to cause distress, forced isolation or separation from family and friends; emotional, verbal and psychological abuse, violence by state actors; attack with harmful substance (such as acid or other chemicals); spousal battery; harmful traditional practices; administering substance with intent; incest; indecent exposure; intimidation; stalking; abandonment of children, spouse and other dependents without means of sustenance; forceful ejection from home; willfully making false statement; frustrating investigation; harmful widowhood practices and political violence.

The law which has six parts and 46 sections marked a milestone and the conclusion of the 14-year-long social and legislative advocacy championed by womens’ groups and gender activists, under the aegis of the Womens’ Aid Collective (WACOL), for the passage of the law that seeks to protect women and girls from all forms of violence.

With the law now in place, Judith, a once pretty girl, who has borne the agony of the horrific attack on her by the 31-year-old housewife who hounded her and her family on the spurious reason that she saw the teenage girl in her dream threatening to snatch her husband.

When the incident happened, Judith spent harrowing weeks in the orthopaedic ward of the Federal Medical Centre (FMC), Asaba, Delta State, where doctors battled to save her life and take her past the first stage of a long-drawn effort that would restore her to some degree of normalcy. The hapless teenage girl now has to undergo reconstructive surgery to rebuild her face.

Osondu, author of some law books, who took a keen interest in the unfortunate incident after reading about the teenager’s plight in the Sunday Sun expressed displeasure that several of the 36 states had not yet domesticated the Act of the National Assembly within their respective jurisdictions to make its provisions operational and binding in such states.

Giving insight to the law which contains provisions on effective remedies, including the rights of victims to assistance, he said: “According to section 38, every victim is entitled to receive the necessary materials, comprehensive medical, psychological, social and legal assistance through governmental agencies and/or non-governmental agencies providing such assistance.”

He noted that WACOL, which is a foundation member of the Legislative Advocacy Coalition on Violence Against Women, under the guidance of its founding director, Joy Ngozi Ezeilo, played a significant role in the drafting and follow up of the fundamental legislation.

He reeled off other key provisions of the law: “A person who uses chemical, biological or any other harmful liquid on another person commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a term of life imprisonment without an option of fine;

“A person who attempts to commit the act of violence described in subsection (1) of this section commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a term of imprisonment not exceeding 25 years without an option of fine;

“A person who incites, aids, abets, or counsels another person to commit the act of violence, as provided for in subsection (1) of this section, commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a term of imprisonment not exceeding 25 years without option of fine.

“A person who receives or assists another who, to his or her knowledge, committed the offence provided for in subsection (1) of this section is an accessory after the fact and is liable on conviction to a term of imprisonment not exceeding 25 years without option of fine.”

According to Osondu, bathing somebody with acid is utmost demonstration of wickedness. “That is why the new law prescribes very heavy sentence, intended to deter people from committing the act. There is absolutely no justification for someone to pour acid on another. No reason whatsoever. Attacking someone with acid as we recently witnessed in the case of the 19-year-old girl in Delta State is kind of manslaughter, that is why we have seen cases where persons alleged to have committed this kind of horrendous act have been charged for manslaughter.

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“Even in a case where somebody had bought the acid and was attempting to pour it on the targeted victim, but was overpowered and disarmed as it were, the person would still be liable on conviction to a term of imprisonment of up 25 years.”

Osondu said the most disturbing aspect of the situation is that most police prosecutors and even many lawyers are not aware of the existence of the law. His words: “That is why I believe that the Nigerian Bar Association as well as non-governmental organisations need to create massive public education on this law. The provisions cover all aspects of violence, including acts of violence by state actors, such as the DSS and Police.

“Another thing is that the law itself has a very restrictive application, because if you look at the section on the jurisdiction of courts concerning the law, it states that only the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory can handle such matters, because it is a federal law. In the rest of the 36 states in the federation, what happens?

Therefore, it is absolutely important that the state assemblies must move to domesticate the law in their states so that it would have nationwide application. Acts of violence of the various forms specified by the Act happen all over the country and alleged offenders are not being properly prosecuted.

“Clearly, the dastardly act alleged to have been committed by the woman who poured acid on the teenage girl in Delta State and permanently disfigured her falls under this Act.”

When the incident happened in Delta State, and while in the custody of the police as investigation was ongoiung, Agbo had told investigators that the victim and members of her family were a constant threat to her marriage, as she claimed that they were appearing in her dreams and threatening to kill her so as to snatch her husband.

As Sunday Sun learnt, the acid attack was the second time that the teenage girl, who passed her West Africa Senior Secondary Certificate Examination in flying colours two years ago, would allegedly incur the wrath of Agbo, the dreamer and her vicious attacks on the victim.

Sunday Sun gathered that Agbo allegedly attacked Johnpaul in April 2016 with a knife at the same spot where the suspect poured acid on her in June this year. She survived that first attack. But following the latest attack, her charming face is no more as it has been disfigured because of the severe acid burns. Her entire body was affected.

With great effort, Johnpaul who struggled to recount her ordeal in the hands of the assailant, said the suspect was a former neighbour, and that due to the constant trouble she was causing her family, they had relocated to another apartment.

Rather than have peace in the new abode, Agbo was alleged to have traced them to the new place, and kept harassing the family, who are Isoko natives of Ibrede in Ndokwa East Local Government Area of Delta State.

Her words: “She was our neighbour two years ago when we were in the same compound but due to the troubles she was giving to our family, we relocated, and she also relocated. But along the line, where we packed to, she normally came to disturb us and cause trouble.

“My father asked us to ignore her. He went to her husband to plead with him to prevail on her so that she could let us have peace. But the woman said she was seeing us in her dream and that we were chasing her.

“She always came to the place where I was learning a trade in fashion design to disturb me and the people around wanted to beat her up but I intervened and told them that my father asked us to ignore her.”

At the time the acid attack happened, Judith recalled it this way: “On June 4, when I was going to church in the morning, I saw her at the corner of a building. I passed her and ignored her. But on getting to the church premises, she appeared again and poured some liquid on me. I did not know it was acid until my body started reacting to it, and my face started swelling. I was shouting and ran to a nearby place but there was no one around until I ran into the church, where the church members helped me and brought me to the hospital.”

Following Agbo’s arrest, the Police Public Relations Officer of the command, Deputy Superintendent of Police Andrew Aniamaka, disclosed that the suspect was subsequently arraigned before a magistrate court in Asaba, where she pleaded not guilty and was remanded in prison custody.

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