Lady allegedly bathed with acid at eight by uncle’s wife: Culprit disappeared after action 15 years ago
Frances Chizoba Obanye, a graduate of Biochemistry from Odumegwu Ojukwu University (formerly Anambra State University), was allegedly bathed with acid by her uncle’s wife fews days to her ninth birthday. She narrates her ordeal to GBENRO ADEOYE and TONY OKAFOR, from the time it happened through the 15 years that followed
You were bathed with acid when you were almost nine years old. How did it happen?
It happened very early on a Monday morning when my parents were about to get me ready for school. Normally, my elder brother used to sleep in our grandma’s bed but that morning, I was the one with her in bed that morning. My mum was up early that morning to prepare us for school and prepare herself for school too because she was a teacher.
That morning, she left for the backyard. There was a connecting door linking places in the house; it was a family house. My mum had to go outside to boil some water because our kitchen was outside. After that, she went to the restroom.
Then, my uncle’s wife was outside, waiting for my mum to finish up and open the door so that she would be able to come inside the house. When she saw that my mum was in the restroom, she quickly used the door. She came in from the corridor and locked my mum outside. Then she came into our room. Initially, I thought it was my mum as I was lying on the bed. I said, “Mummy,” but when nobody answered, I thought it might be someone else and I went back to sleep.
The next thing I felt was something very hot on my body. I was lying on the bed and when she poured the acid on me, it felt so hot on my skin. I began screaming and shouting, “Mummy! Mummy!” But my mum was outside in the backyard. My sister and others rushed to me and were crying. The smell was very strong. We didn’t even know it was acid because we had not seen anything like it before. When my mum heard me crying, she started banging on the door so that she could come in as my uncle’s wife had locked it to enable her carry out the deed unhindered.
Neighbours also rushed to our house.
Eventually, someone opened the door for my mum and she came in. When she saw me, she went back to the kitchen to get a keg of palm oil which she poured on me. That was the only first aid we could think of at that moment. One of our neighbours, who was a family friend, took me to the hospital. When we got there, they told my mum to get a police report. My mum had to return home to get what was left of the acid in the container as evidence to show to the police.
Why did your uncle’s wife do that?
They had issues with my family so she did it to get back at them.
What was it about?
It had to do with the family house.
Was your uncle’s wife apprehended after the incident?
After the incident, she ran away. She planned everything and executed it perfectly. She used a ladder to scale the fence. So, she escaped. We saw the bucket and a jerrycan of acid. When my mum returned home to get the container of acid for the police, she saw her (my uncle’s) children. It crossed her mind to bathe her children with the remaining acid to get her revenge but on second thoughts, she felt the children didn’t do anything bad to her. So she took the remaining acid to the police station.
I was treated at the hospital but unfortunately, it was not the right treatment. It was like we were at a wrong place – that was not the right hospital for me because they didn’t specialise in burns. After some time, people started trooping to the hospital to see me. They complained that I was not getting any better. Everything became complicated. The visitors were worried. They said I should be moved to another hospital because my condition was getting worse.
Eventually, my mum’s friend who was a matron in an orthopaedic hospital, told my mum to bring me to the orthopaedic hospital. I was in the first hospital for about three days before I was moved to the orthopaedic hospital in Enugu. I celebrated my nineth birthday at the first hospital. When we eventually went to the orthopaedic hospital, they were on strike but thanks to God, they were able to get me in because if I had not been treated on that day, it would have been very bad. The doctors there however complained that I was not brought there on time. They said I should have been brought there straight away.
How many surgeries have you had?
The first surgery I had was when I was in the orthopaedic hospital. The operation was carried out on my right eye. It was hollow. People could only see my eyeball; there was no flesh covering the lower area. That was the first surgery I had. I had a skin graft which was done to cover the hole.
I just returned from India where I had a reconstructive surgery. So maybe three to four surgeries.
Were they painful?
They were very painful. In fact, they were extremely painful. It was like bringing back the pain I felt when I was bathed with acid.
Did you say your parents were around when your uncle’s wife bathed you with the acid?
Yes, my mum was around but my dad was not there.
Who has borne the costs of the surgeries?
My parents bore the cost of the first surgery. But for the reconstructive surgery I had in India, it was funded through an online contribution initiative organised by KBK Foundation.
But what happened to the perpetrator of this crime? Did you get justice?
My uncle’s wife escaped. My parents asked the court to compel my uncle to produce his wife. But you know, this is Nigeria. I was in the hospital and my parents were spending so much money on me. They were also paying lawyers and there was the ‘come today, come tomorrow’ syndrome. They made everything difficult for my parents. So at the end of the day, they gave up.
Are you saying for 15 years, there has been no sign of your uncle’s wife?
Yeah. Me, I have not seen her.
But if you should see her now, what would be your reaction?
I don’t know what my reaction would be. But I don’t want to see her. No, I wouldn’t want to see her. I don’t want to see her.
Apart from the treatments, what have you been doing between then and now?
I have been in Onitsha, Anambra State. I attended schools in Anambra from primary to tertiary level. I underwent the National Youth Service Corps programme in Asaba, Delta State. That was the first time I travelled outside Anambra.
Have you been discriminated against because of your looks?
I do experience discrimination and stigmatisation. When people first see me, they are shocked. They are scared to see me. Secondly, to socialise with people was very very difficult for me.
Do you mean you used to be alone?
At first, I used to be alone- like if I changed my environment, it was very difficult socialising with people. But once I spent two, three days in the new environment, I would start having friends. I don’t like forcing myself on people or forcing people to be friends with me. I always want it to come naturally.
During your national service year, did you experience any discrimination?
I did at the first when I got to the camp. But after a while, people started getting used to me. Some would say they saw me on Instagram, Facebook and stuff like that. But at first, it was not easy. Like I said, whenever I move to a new environment, it’s like opening a new wound – trying to make people accept me and so on. It’s very difficult.
Did such discriminations affect your education?
No, it did not affect my schooling because I kept pushing on.
Apart from discrimination, what else has it cost you?
Like now, I’m a graduate and trying to get a job. If I tell anyone that I want to get a job, they look at me in a way that says, “Are you going to get a job looking like this? Are you sure they will employ you?” I face that kind of thing. It makes me feel very bad. But I trust God. I always believe that there is nothing impossible for God to do. I want to work. So, hearing people saying nobody will employ me makes me feel very sad.
What were your dreams and aspirations before the incident?
Like I said, I was only about nine years old when it happened. I was just a normal girl, trying to do my things. I never knew the scar would still be on my face because the doctors assured us then that if the right things were done, I would be okay. I never knew it would take this long. When I started to realise that my life had changed was when I started visiting several hospitals without getting any improvement. That was when I knew I was into a serious trouble.
How many surgeries are left to be done?
According to my doctors, I still have more surgeries to do. The kind of surgery I’m undergoing is reconstructive, to make my face look better.
What would you say is the worst thing this situation has brought you?
Looking very different from my peers is the worst situation. Also, people telling me things that would make me cry. You know, it hurts when you are with your friends or peers and look different. You are always the focus of attention wherever you go – everybody stares at you as if you are something else. That kind of thing hurts. Those are ugly experiences.
You read Biochemistry. What are your future plans?
I want to work. I would want to have a foundation here in Nigeria that will care for people who suffer burns – acid burns, fire burns and so on. Here in Nigeria, we don’t have a foundation that reaches out to people who suffer burns. We have a lot of people with burns that are suffering.
They are not able to come out or face life; they think their lives have ended because they suffered burns and have scars. I want to have a foundation that can reach out to them, talk to them, and make them understand that despite having scars, they are still okay and can lead a good life. It doesn’t stop anything. I want to have a foundation that will reach out to such people and supply some of their needs because as a survivor of burns, I know we have lots of needs.
I have only seen that kind of platform outside Nigeria. People like me don’t need to be shy. They need to come out and face the world. That’s my future plan.
Are you in a relationship?
I don’t like discussing my private life on public platforms.
What is your relationship with God?
He is the only one I have. He is the one I approach when I’m hurt. God and my mum are my comforters. My mum is the God I see.
What about your dad?
My dad is there; but I have a strong bond and relationship with my mum.