By Gloria Mabeiam Ballason Esq
It feels like a scene in a horror movie except that this is no fiction but a real account of the brutal suffering inflicted on 14-year Princess Michael from Kajuru, a community in Kaduna where thousands have been internally displaced due to persistent attacks by herdsmen terrorists.
Princess was acquired by Mrs. Yemi Awolola as a house help. The sole condition given by Princess’ father, Mr. Michael, was that his daughter Princess be enrolled in school. Awolola,a Deaconess at the Living Faith Church and staff of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Kaduna accepted the terms of the offer.
The months Princess lived at the Awolola’s would go on to become hellish and life altering. Her Mistress stopped her from going to school on the day a piece of carrot was found in her bag. Princess bedroom was the toilet. She was given a cup from which she would drink water from the toilet faucet. She would be asked to split the portion of food given to her to stretch across meals.
Two of the Awolola kids took franchise in the dehumanization of Princess. They would punish her under the rain, hold her down as their mother pulled a red hot knife off a stove to sear her face as punishment. Whenever Princess’ father asked to speak with his daughter, Mrs. Awolola would insist he could only speak to his daughter in English- a language he was barely familiar with. How a language legislation could be made on how he communicated to his daughter worried him.
One day Princess’s Mother arrived with grains to see her daughter but Mrs. Awolola would not have her bring her ‘Corona infected body’ into her exotic home. Princess was only allowed to catch a glimpse of her mother who was eventually ordered back to the village she came from while her gift of grains for her daughter was given to the guards.
Although Mrs. Awolola held a title culled from forerunners of the Christian order who ministered to the community of believers as deacons, she was ill-fitting of the role. Her subsequent attempt to invite Princess to partake in the holy communion they shared in her house was turned down. Little Princess would not partake in a communion of wickedness.In her words ‘ You are mean to me.I will not take your communion.’
One day the Devil wore Prada. Mrs. Awolola got her children to hold down Princess while she used a lighter to burn the buttocks and vagina of the teenager. Not yet done, she got a stick and forced it into Princess’ vagina and sprinkled pepper at the point of the vicious enucleation.
We may never know the grisly details of what happened to her 14-year body from then on. The cringe worthy details forces the human mind to bear witness to her journey in suffering: Did she cry herself hoarse until her body blank out in revolt? Did she feel her soul wrack up towards its threshold of endurance or hang on the agony of pain? Did her mind take in the moments that led her to the theatre of cruelty or did she in sweltering tongue surrender to the affliction in a longing for a place with the dead?
We may never know. Princess can only tell the story of what she lucidly felt. What we do know is after her relatives became persistent about having her back home, her mistress who claimed the girl was in Abuja had to check her to a hospital to couple her enough for a handover to her parents. A private guard was hired to stave off any visitors to the hospital where Princess laid so the details of how badly she was would not get out. We should be grateful to the Good Samaritan in the hospital who put out a word against the indignity he saw.
Stitching together the emerging facts, I have asked a few questions: What could have happened if someone did not get in the way to call for a wider consideration beyond a domestic affair between the Michaels and the Awololas? What made him feel so affected? Did he think about his child or niece or neighbor? Did he weigh the risk of what his involvement might cause him if help didn’t come as he imagined? Did he place his humanity along with the victim and imagine that his work as practitioner was more than treating a body?
Why did Mrs. Yemi Awolola act the way she did? Princess is only 14. As one from a community of the internally displaced, her victim’s fortune couldn’t be more dire. There was nothing about the child capable of intimidating. She was right at her lowest. Did the girl’s pain excite her? How exhilarating did she find her victim’s blanking in and out of pain and consciousness? Was Princess’ tears an impetus to inflict more pain?
Let’s put the facts squarely on the table: at a different time and in separate circumstances, Princess would never have had to live with another.She belongs to a community whose chief has been murdered, whose identity is stripped off, who have no assurance of another day because her community has become a venue for constant deaths, maiming and pillaging. Her parents may have felt so stripped of capacity that sending a child to labour in exchange for education seemed like a way out. So while state actors and the wife of the Kaduna state Governor have waged into her case, the real resolution can only take place at the roots of her woes.
People are constantly being killed in Southern Kaduna and those who aggitate and aggravate for accountability and an end to the killings are hounded. Where is the honour in this? This is not a vestige of a different time. The pretentious manner in which state actors can rise quickly to deal with an outcome and then fly off tangent to enable the immoral compromises and political decisions that enable exploitation and dehumanization is quite troubling.
The structural neglect of her community, the reveling by a ‘benevolent majority’ who enable a life of scraping and scrounging from a loss of identity, political emasculation, social ostracization and weaponization of poverty are fundamental concerns that are evidential in the travails of Princess.
On 13 July,2020, Mrs. Yemi Awolola pleaded guilty to the charges preferred against her at the Magistrate court. Despite her plea of guilt, the case was adjourned for hearing while the accused was remanded in prison custody. What will justice look like for Princess? Will she return to wholeness again? Will her psychological injury and outlook on life remain the same? The real pain of this girl is best acknowledged by addressing the issues and holding to account those whose actions added momentum to the legacy of injustice and inequities that have become her lot .
While we speak of war in terms of the dead and survivors, we rarely stop to access how communities are broken, how family life is destroyed and just how in watching a system that defends the right to immaculate, annihilate and subdue, more Princesses are thrown into horrific situations and left to nurse the wounds that sear in places that defy healing. As it stands, redress for Princess through the justice system may be limited and could only mitigate our collective rage against the dehumanizing manner the child was treated by her mistress. The real healing would come when our leaders learn to live in bodies not their own. That essentially entails preventing and pulling down the situations that dehumanize us.
As citizens of our great country we see how in nooks and crannies, insecurity has brought suffering on our fellow citizens-men, women or children who do not have to suffer. Who is keeping score of the living conditions of IDPs? Who are their therapists? How do they feed? Clothe? Sleep? Who is bringing those responsible for their displacement to justice? What are the resettlement plans? How can a solution be adequate when we don’t deal with the core issues?
We have a duty to insist on sanity in our nation by speaking up and acting against everything that challenges the dignity in the human spirit.
Ballason is the C.E.O. House of Justice and Principal Partner MIVE Legals. She writes from Kaduna.