For most parents, the joy of seeing their children through university education cannot be described because it is indeed a milestone achievement. It is also the moment most graduates of Nigeria’s tertiary institutions look forward to, as those who are eligible for the mandatory one year National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) are called up for posting while those who are not, immediately look forward to being employed or set-up their own businesses.
It was with that same enthusiasm and sense of nationalism that 23-year old Amarachi Winifred Okey, a graduate of Home Economics from the Michael Okpara University of Agriculture, Umudike, Abia State, set out to Rivers State for her NYSC as a member of Batch C, in November, 2012.
It was supposed to be for a year. Winifred, as she was popularly called, never anticipated that her life which was beginning to unravel before her, would be cut short so soon and in one of the most brutal ways one could imagine.
The first child of her mother’s two children, Winifred, who was doing her Primary Assignment at the Community Secondary School in Iddo, Asari-Toru Local Government Area of Rivers State where she taught the junior students Home Economics, was set ablaze in her room, alongside a fellow 2013 Batch B NYSC member simply identified as Atinuke, at the ‘Corpers’ Lodge’ on the night of July 17th, 2013, while they were asleep.
According to a very close family member and confidant of Winifred who spoke to Information Nigeria on the condition of anonymity, “while they were sleeping, someone poured petrol into their room through the window after bolting the door from outside and threw a lighted match inside.”
The girls’ screams and cries for help immediately woke up other members of the lodge and other people around, who helped to put out the fire and transport the burnt victims to the University of Port Harcourt Teaching Hospital where they were admitted at the Intensive Care Unit.
The source explains that initially there was no suspect as the attacker was not sighted nor Winifred, described as easy-going, friendly and unassuming, known to have any enemies until it came to light that her ex-boyfriend, Chinedu Ogbonna, a Mechanical Engineering graduate from the same institution as the victim but was yet to go for service, had sent text messages threatening to deal with her for calling off their relationship. He was also said to have sent similar sms to Winifred’s new lover.
Not much is known about what made the relationship between the deceased and Chinedu go sour, but the family member revealed that as a confidant, she knew the deceased was in an abusive relationship and probably had enough to decide to finally call it quits.
She said: “When the incident happened, Winifred’s current lover (name withheld), showed her family the several text messages Chinedu sent to his phone as well as Winifred’s but the messages couldn’t be retrieved from her phone as it was damaged in the fire.
“The family then called Chinedu, who resides with his parents in Port Harcourt on his phone number to inform him of what had happened to Winifred.”
The source added that Chinedu rained curses on the perpetrators of the dastardly act and promised to come and visit her in the ICU of UNIPORT’s Teaching Hospital.
True to his word, Chinedu showed up at the hospital the following day after the incident and was immediately apprehended by some members of Winifred’s family with the help of security.
The source noted that “When he was caught, it was observed that Chinedu was wearing hand gloves which was odd and upon removal, fresh burns were seen on both of his hands which made the family to believe that he was the one that committed the crime as he could not give satisfactory explanation as to how he sustained the burns.”
Chinedu was subsequently handed over to the police as a suspect.
Unfortunately, Miss Winifred passed on early hours of Wednesday, 31 July, after she underwent surgery.
Efforts to contact the state NYSC was unsuccessful as at the time of publishing this report.
However, when contacted, Principal of CSS Iddo confirmed the incident but refused to go into further details as he was not authorized to speak to the press.
Confirming the incident, State Police Public Relations Officer, DSP Angela Agabe said the suspect has been handed over to the State Criminal Investigation Department (SCID) for further investigations.
Meanwhile, Information Nigeria learnt that Atinuke is still at the hospital and responding well to treatment.