“My dad started sleeping with me in 2014. The day he started, my mother was not around that day”…Daniella recounted her sad story.
Fourteen-year-old Daniella wrung her hands nervously, looking down at the foot mat in the car in which she shared her story with a Punch correspondent.
The strange place became necessary because she was only willing to share her story away from the earshot of her step-father, 37-year-old Francis Okezie.
Few days before, a neighbour had alerted child rights activists to the plight of Daniella over a suspicious bleeding she once noticed on the girl. The neighbour was said to have asked Okezie about it but he simply explained it away as nothing.
When Daniella started speaking, the series of allegations she made were like bombs wrapped in words. Okezie lives in a one-bedroomed apartment with Daniella and his own six-year-old biological daughter, a girl he had with Daniella’s mother.
When she started speaking, her words came out with trepidation. Daniella refers to Okezie as “my dad” even though she told our correspondent that she knew that he was not her biological father.
She said, “My dad started sleeping with me in 2014. The day he started, my mother was not around that day. She was in church during a fasting and prayer programme. I was at home, so I was not in church with her.
“My mother was the one cooking for church members when they break their fast daily. I always told him I did not want to do that and he would leave me sometimes. Other times, he would still force me when I beg him to leave me alone. He said if I told anybody, I would die. I sleep on the bed while my dad and sister sleep on the floor.”
Asked if she thought her father was having the same s*xual contact with her younger sister, she said no. According to her, her mother, an Imo State indigene, has been away from home for about nine months even though she is not separated from her husband and neither are they divorced.
She was said to have left home for her village to take care of her mother. Daniella said, “I don’t want to stay there anymore; I would like to go and live with my aunt in Ondo State. It is because of my mother that I am still living with him. I was afraid to tell my mother what he was doing.
“He forces me to do it when my mother is not around. If my mother goes out or is playing with her friends outside, he would do it.”
But that was not the worst of Daniella’s story. In September 2016, Daniella allegedly got pregnant.
She explained that she did not know she was pregnant until her father took her to one Nurse Esther, whom a correspondent later found out is 32-year-old Esther Udoh, an auxiliary nurse who also works in a hairdressing salon.
Daniella said, “My dad just told me that day that he was taking me to Nurse Esther, who is a member of our church.
“When I got to Nurse Esther’s house, he went inside while I waited outside. When they were done talking, we left. When we got home, my dad gave me three white tablets at once.
“Some days after I took the tablet, we went for a Thursday service and I started having stomach pain. I told my mother about the pain. I told her I wanted to go to the toilet. I did but the pain was still there. Blood started coming out of me. My mother asked what happened and I told her I did not know why I was bleeding. My dad was with us in the church at the time.
“My mother then cleaned up the blood. My dad saw the blood but he did not say anything. Three days after the bleeding started in the church, I was still not feeling fine. He did not tell my mum that he had given me some tablets before. I could not stand up. He then took me back to the nurse’s house. When we got to the nurse’s house, she gave me drip.”
The anonymous neighbour, who reported what was happening in Okezie’s house, noticed Daniella’s bleeding nine months ago but she could not report the case to the authorities.
The neighbour said she blamed herself for keeping quiet every day until she summoned the courage to find child rights activists. She said she was afraid of being labelled a bad person in case she reported the case and Daniella denied it ever happened.
But when a correspondent confronted Okezie with the allegations of his step-daughter, he maintained a cool mien, simply shaking his head and denying every word.
“People are carrying these rumours because they don’t understand how my wife could travel for so long and the girls would be living with me. They are wondering if I am having affair with the girl,” he said.
Then our correspondent told him that he should be aware that Nurse Esther had already confirmed that he indeed brought Daniella for abortion.
At this point, Okezie started talking. According to him, he only took Daniella to “our family nurse” over “suspicion that she might be pregnant.”
First of all, Okezie insisted he did not rape Daniella, whom he claimed was his biological daughter. He said, “Esther used to come to this house to treat us. It is true the nurse gave her the drip and tablets, which she took at home
When he was asked what the tablets given to Daniella worked for, he went into a series of unrelated answers.
The rest of the conversation went like this:
Q: What do the tablets work for?
Okezie: The tablets? The tablet is…when she gave…I collected the tablets…
Q: Just say what they work for.
Okezie: It is like she missed her period…you understand?
Q: How did you know she missed her period?
Okezie: How I knew? As a grown-up girl…the mother was still around at the time sef. She said we should keep watch over the girl to know whether someone is already touching her as she is growing up.
Q: Who brought up that idea?
Okezie: My wife did. It was just a general advice.
Q: So, you wanted to know if people were touching her and that was why you took her to the nurse?
Q: So, what were the three tablets for?
Okezie: For her to use it because of her missed period
Q: How did you know she missed her period?
Okezie: It was the mother that suggested it.
Q: What did Esther tell you after she gave you the tablets?
Okezie: She did not say anything specific.
Q: She did not tell you anything about the drug?
Okezie: She did not tell me anything about the drug.
Q: The second time you took her there for the drip, what did Esther say?
Okezie: She gave her drip only once.
Q: But what did she say? You should remember.
Okezie: I cannot remember anything specific.
Q: Did your wife even know at all that you took her to Nurse Esther?
Okezie: See, my wife said that it was as if our daughter had not seen her period. I asked my daughter and she confirmed it. I then decided to take her to Esther.
Q: When you got to Esther, did any test show that she was pregnant?
Okezie: Esther did not run any test.
Q: So, there was no confirmation that she was pregnant?
Okezie: She said since the girl had not seen her period, that means she should be pregnant.
Q: When you heard that, what did you say?
Okezie: I asked if she could give her some tablets so the thing would ‘run well.’
Q: What did she say specifically that the drug would do?
Okezie: She said it would allow her period ‘to run (flow).’
Q: And you took the drug and gave your daughter without asking much question?
Okezie: All she said was that it would make the period run.
Q: When you heard your daughter might be pregnant, did you ask her who might be responsible since you are denying that you ever touched her?
Okezie: I did not.
Q: You did not ask your daughter who might have impregnated her?
Okezie: That was the mistake I made. I went to Esther because she comes here to treat us.
The rest of the conversation with Okezie was a series of incomprehensive question dodging. However, Daniella said she could still remember Nurse Esther’s house easily and she proceeded to take our correspondent there.
The room in which Nurse Esther was “consulted” for treatment was a dark and dank room with cracking walls. The dilapidated building itself is tucked in the corner of an unmotorable street in Egbeda, Lagos.
But the woman laughed when asked if that was where she was treating people.
“Once a nurse, always a nurse. A nurse can treat people anywhere once there are necessary tools and medical supplies,” she said.
When she was asked about Daniella and the kind of treatment she gave the girl, she simply feigned ignorance.
She said she could not recall who the girl and her father were.
But when she was told to dial Okezie’s number on her phone, it came up registered. She then admitted that she knew him.
Asked what kind of treatment she gave the girl last, she said she treated her only for malaria and typhoid.
A correspondent asked her to identify the three tablets she gave the girl “to allow her period to run” but she said she never did that.
“It is true I treated the girl. I gave her only injection and drip. The father said what I charged was too much. I charged N15,000. I later reduced it to N10,000 and gave the girl just one drip. I gave her chloroquine injection for three days. The third day of the injection, I gave her drip,” Nurse Esther said.
But Daniella said she was never given an injection at any point in time by the woman.
Few days after our correspondent spoke with Nurse Esther and Okezie, the Esther Child Rights Foundation, which was handling Daniella’s case, said the man had fled.
The organisation then started tracking him until he was nabbed in his place of work.
The Executive Director of the foundation, Mrs. Esther Ogwu, told a correspondent that when the company in which Okezie worked was approached to hand him over to the police, they were protective until they heard about the allegations against him.
Ogwu said, “He was not at work the first day we went there. But the company called us few days later to come for him. The company even helped us with a vehicle to convey him to the station.
“Without the neighbour who alerted us about the plight of the girl, nothing would have happened while the girl would have suffered silently. We asked the girl when his step-father stopped sleeping with her and she said it was shortly after we paid him a visit.
“Apparently, after the abortion, he still continued. It is possible the mother might have known what her husband was doing to their daughter but said nothing.
“We had to take both the girl and her younger sister, who is six years old for test at Mirabel Sexual Assault Referral Centre at the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, Ikeja. We are still awaiting the result of the test. We don’t want to rule out the possibility of the man sexually abusing the younger one too.”
The foundation said it had notified the Office of the Public Defender, the arm of Lagos State Ministry of Justice which has now become a party to the case.
Shortly after Okezie’s arrest, ‘Nurse’ Esther was also apprehended. They were then both transferred to the sexual abuse unit of the Lagos State Police Command Headquarters.
The spokesperson for the Lagos State Police Command, Mr. Olarinde Famous-Cole, who confirmed the case, said that Okezie and Esther had been charged to court.
Saturday PUNCH learnt that on Monday, July 10, they were charged with child defilement and unlawful administering of dangerous drug punishable under sections 137 and 275 (1)(f) of the Criminal Law of Lagos State 2015.
A charge reads in part, “That you, Francis Okezie in June 2014 till June 2017 at Baruwa, Ipaja, did unlawfully defile (victim), 14, your step-daughter…
“That you, Esther Udoh, sometime in September 2016 at No. 47, Abeokuta Street, Egbeda, Lagos unlawfully administered and supplied dangerous drug to (victim), which caused her harm…”
The case was adjourned till September 18 after the duo pleaded not guilty and were admitted to bail by Magistrate D. Abegunde of an Ogba Magistrate’s Court, Lagos.
They were remanded at the Kirikiri Prison pending when they would meet their bail condition.
The case took on a new twist in court when the magistrate ordered that Daniella’s mother be remanded in prison for abandoning her children for so long.
Daniella and her younger sister have been handed over to the Lagos State children’s home.