Monday 25 February 2013

PHOTOS: Lagos University Student Attacked With Acid By Baby Father

On December 26, 2010, oblivious of the grave danger that lay in wait for her that afternoon, Basirat Raimi, a 400-level student of Business Administration at the Lagos State University at the time, was returning home from school when she heard someone call her name.

She turned her face backward and in that instant, she recognised the voice as that of her estranged boyfriend, Yusuf Salau, with whom she had a child.

Salau allegedly threw a cup of acid in the face of the woman he once loved dearly.

The chemical destroyed much of Raimi’s face. She lost one of her eyes and had to undergo many surgeries to save the other.

She survived. But like many victims of this kind of vicious attack, Raimi lives with the fear she would never be normal again.

Her father was a plank dealer, whose business was not doing very well.  But he had to sell everything in his shop and divert the proceeds to the care of his daughter.

Attacks such as this always keep members of the public wondering what could be an appropriate punishment for those who carry them out.

One part of Raimi’s face is completely disfigured and like other survivors of acid attacks, she has to live with excruciating pain for a long time, not to mention the sky-

high debt incurred through medical bills.

Findings by Saturday PUNCH revealed that most of the victims of acid attacks are women.

Executive Director of Project Alert on Violence Against Women, Dr. Josephine Effa-Chukwuma, said her group’s research once showed that up to about 90 per cent of victims were women.

She said, “About five years ago, we did a study of cases and our report reflected that about 85 to 90 percent of acid attacks were women. And at that time, it seemed to be very common in Edo State, which was why we had to establish an advocacy programme there.

“As far as we are concerned, that statistics has not changed because going by the reports in newspapers, women are still the majority of victims of the attacks. This is because the acid used – the liquid inside batteries – is easily procurable.”

In most of the cases, it was discovered that scorned lovers are the ones who mostly carry out this attack.

When Raimi spoke with our correspondent in September 2011, she said her mechanic boyfriend was behaving badly, which was why she decided to leave him.

She said, “I had a child for him when the going was good. My father would not allow abortion. Even though he was a mechanic, I did not bother because I saw the good in him.

“But later he changed and became irresponsible. He began to get violent anytime he saw me with a man. So, I did not want him anymore. We were not married. I lived with my father and my child. I did not believe someone who once loved me would do this to me.”

Raimi’s decision to quit the relationship with Salau did not go down well with him. He was wracked with hatred to the point of deciding to deal with who Raimi.

It will never be known what could have driving such a man to make such a potent chemical as his weapon of choice.

Raimi pulled through the ordeal as numerous surgeries she undertook saved her.

Salau was arrested, arraigned and sentenced to seven years in prison by an Ebute-Meta Magistrate’s Court, Lagos.

Our correspondent spoke with her on the phone on Tuesday as she was said to be out of town.

Raimi said she had moved on with her life.

“I am just happy I did not lose my life in that attack. My daughter would have been without a mother. I am even happy that at least I can see with one of my eyes.

“A lot of people criticised me for dating Salau, being a mechanic. But an animal will act like an animal no matter what job he does.

“I am currently doing petty business as the my eye problem has not given me the opportunity of living a normal life. I still need surgery on my eyes, which the doctors at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital said will cost about N800,000. But where will my parents get that?”

Years after the attack, many victims who survive it continue to undergo surgeries, Saturday PUNCH learnt. But when funds run low, victims are left with disfigured faces.

This is currently the situation 27-year-old Adesope Lateefah found herself after she was bathed with acid by Alabi Olokode, a suitor she turned down.

While Raimi’s case can be seen as one of the lucky ones, that of Lateefah was one that drew a lot of pity.

Olokode was a desperate man who sought the hand of Lateefah in marriage. But as he continued to pressure her, she maintained her stand, which did not go down well with him.

About 5.30am on December 30, 2011, as Lateefah went to say her prayers  at Tekunudeen Mosque, Aboru, Olokode, who was hiding near the mosque, poured acid on her face.

Lateefah lost the use of her two eyes as a result of the attack. According to her, life has become unbearable for her since then.

“I didn’t offend Olokode in anyway, he had been making advances at me and I refused to date him. So, he decided to destroy my life. I cannot see again, I have no fiancé, no child and all my dreams and aspirations seem like a fairytale,” she was reported to have said at the time.

Policemen attached to the Oke-Odo Division were able to arrest Olokode.

He is still facing prosecution on the case.

On Tuesday, our correspondent visited the vocational training centre run by the Nigeria Society for the Blind at Oshodi, Lagos in company with her mother.

Her attitude as she greeted our correspondent was upbeat. There was no sign of depression in her even though both of her eyes are glued shut with a layer of skin.

The skin on her face ran down one side as if it melted and solidified. The acid has disfigured the face of the young woman, who told Saturday PUNCH she once nursed the idea of becoming a clothing businesswoman.

She said, “How can I be depressed? I rarely even think about the boy (Olokode) anymore. I don’t care if he goes to jail or is released because how will that bring my sight back.

“The kind of education we receive here has given me hope that I have a bright future. In fact, I am not afraid of my future at all. We are taught Braille, daily living skills, mobility, computer, typewriting and crafts. The care and love I receive here has given me hope of a very bright future.”

Lateefah said she now wants to be a radio presenter. When asked why, she said she fell in love with the job because radio is the only thing that keeps her company apart from her blind colleagues.

“Most of the time as we lay in our beds after classes here, radio programmes are the most interesting things that keep us company. I will like to put smiles on the faces of people like me,” she said.

But while a victim like Lateefah remains optimistic about her future 35-year-old Akwa Lawson is struggling to survive with no hope for the future.

Lawson is a male victim, who like Raimi, was attacked by someone he once loved.

He had slept in the house of his 37-year-old fiancée, Dorothy Nkanu-Hayford, on May 20, 2012, unaware that he was in bed with a lover who would soon attack him with such a deadly weapon.

“We slept on the same bed together and we had not been in any fight the previous night,” Lawson recalled.

On that fateful day, he told our correspondent that he went to sleep over at his fiancee’s family house in Ugep, Yakuur Local Government Area of Cross River State, which was not strange because he had done so before.

Lawson said, “I was going back to school the following day. I was a student of the University of Calabar, Educational Technology Department at the time.

“I planned to go to school from her family house the following day. We once had a little problem weeks before that day. Someone told me my fiancée had contracted someone to beat me up. But I was warned to stay clear of her.

“I loved her very much and had promised not to abandon her so I reported the incident to her family members who begged me and apologised on her behalf. I confronted her with the accusation and we sorted out the issue.

Our life continued normally and I thought the issue was over.”

But the issue obviously was not because according to Lawson, Nkanu-Hayford, woke up that morning, slipped out of the room while Lawson was on his knees saying his morning prayer.

He explained, “I’m a good Christian and I pray a lot. I was saying in my prayer ‘anything that was not your will, Lord, take it out of my life.’ I am not sure whether that was what infuriated her because she did not join me in the prayer.

“When she came back, she brought in a container and emptied the content on my head. I did not know it was acid immediately but I realised it was eating into my skin. I could not understand why she did it. We slept on the same bed till morning and she emptied acid on my head. I was confused.”

While he was screaming, Lawson was rushed to the Ugep General Hospital and later referred to the Unversity of Calabar Teaching Hospital. His head and face were badly damaged in the attack.

Asked what explanation his fiancée gave after the attack, “she said I stole her N20,000,” he answered.

Saturday PUNCH sought to inquire what could be the motive behind the alleged attack and called a phone number of Nkanu-Hayford provided by Lawson, but the number did not go through.

Life has since become unbearable for Lawson. He told Saturday PUNCH he now lives from hand to mouth as he had spent all he had on treatments and surgeries.

To get a better consult, he comes to the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, Ikeja.

Lawson currently needs N6m for a plastic surgery he was told will be done in India.

He said, “I can hardly eat daily. I don’t want to be a beggar. Surviving daily has become a great challenge. I have a friend who helps me out by providing money once in a while. My family members are poor.

“I’m not even concerned about whether she is prosecuted. She was arrested but later released. I just want to be alright again.”

Attacks such as the ones suffered by Lateefah, Raimi and Lawson made it necessary to find out how acid is obtained. Findings by our correspondent later revealed that it could be easily got than most people will think.

Our correspondent approached a battery charger, who identified himself simply as Samuel, at Agege, Lagos to buy a little quantity of acid.

Samuel sold it at N250 per litre without any question.

Jamiu Isola, who operates a car battery repair shop at Ogba, told our correspondent that anytime someone comes to buy “battery water” he assumed they want to use it in their cars.

“I sell mine at N1,200 per gallon. What use asking people what they need the battery water for? Even if a buyer wants to use it to attack someone, will he say so? Anytime anybody comes here and say I want to buy battery acid to top up’ I simply sell it,” he asked.

That is how easy it is to buy a chemical weapon.

However, our correspondent asked the police how the purchase of the substance can best be controlled. The reply was that it was a responsibility that could not be carried out by law enforcement agents alone.

Deputy Public Relations Officer of the state command, Mr. Damascus Ozoani, said the members of the public need to be actively involved in efforts to control the procurement of the acid.

He explained, “The retailers dealing in the acid or the battery chargers cannot determine the genuine motive of those who come to them to purchase the susbtance.

“What happens in a situation where someone who wants to use it obtains it from his or her own vehicle? The main thing is for every member of the public to have a reorientation because the motive behind using acid in attacks is usually psychological.

“The police on its own try as much as possible to monitor known places where batteries are charged or battery acid are sold because the procurement of some chemicals are guided by law.”

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