OPINION: WHEN A NATION BETRAYED AN ORPHAN GIRL

The late Iniobong Umoren’s sister got an urgent call from the best friend of her now late sister early enough. She was concerned that Iniobong, popularly called “Ini”, appeared to be in trouble, and desperately needed help. The last time Ini’s phone rang, she explained, Ini was crying, then her voice trailed off. She believed that someone must have snatched the phone out of Iniobong’s hands. Iniobong had heeded an invitation through an unknown phone number to pick up a job, but she had briefed her friend about it. The friend advised her to send the telephone number of the person and job location to her. Ini did that. After a while came the distress call.

Her sister ran down to the police station – as you would expect any person with a good civic education to do at such times. But the policeman, after listening to her, informed her with all the airs of a wise man that the police only begins a search for a missing person after 24 hours. He advised her to come back the next day. See what a country we live in? A young woman’s life was on the line, there was a window of opportunity to save her life and all that was needed was prompt police action. If this had happened in any country apart from Nigeria, police squad cars would have swooped on the location in a bid to save her life. And who knows if her life would have been saved!

Not in Nigeria. You have to wait for twenty four hours – no matter the state of urgency. But consider another scenario. Consider that that policeman’s sister were to run down to the police station, and inform him that his daughter just made a distress call to them from an identified location and she was crying when her phone went off. Do you think he would have asked his sister to go back and he would take action after twenty-four hours if his daughter did not show up? If you know the answer, then you may be close to solving the puzzle of why some wonder when “the police became our friend.” Of course, there are exceptions – if that report had been lodged with a policeman like the famous CSP Erhabor, action would have been taken immediately.

The poor young woman left the police station in tears. Throughout the night, Iniobong’s friend drove the issue online and the online community mounted a campaign to locate the missing girl and expose her abductor. The next morning Iniobong’s sister was back at the police station for intervention. The police asked her to rent a van for the operation, and also provide them with petrol. She did not have the money and she had to fall back on Iniobong’s friend to transfer money to her for this to be done. By the time the police got there, it was too late. Iniobong had been killed by her abductor (Uduak Frank Akpan, 20) and buried in a shallow grave.

The late Iniobong lost her father when she was three years old. Her mother died shortly after. The currents of life did not favour her, but with steady strokes and a focused mind she succeeded in obtaining a bachelor’s degree in philosophy. While waiting for her National Youth Service, which should have been in the next batch, she opted to work so as not to be a burden to anyone. She posted a job request on her twitter handle and that was how the hoodlum contacted her and lured her to her death.

While we mourn her death, we should also be concerned about a system which waits for twenty-four hours in order to go and rescue a citizen in trouble. In twenty-four hours you are not definitely interested in saving the person’s life, but in arresting the culprits. We should be concerned about a system designed in such a way that if you cannot bear the financial cost of having action taken to save a distressed relative from the fangs of death, the relative may not be rescued at all. We should be concerned because Iniobong could have been anybody’s sister, daughter, niece, auntie or friend. Therefore, like John Donne said, “Never send to know for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.” She cried to us. Her cry was our cry. She cried to her beloved deaf and dumb country – the country she was hoping to “arise and serve” as a Corps member later in the year.

The inspiring words of the National Anthem says, “Arise O Compatriots, Nigeria’s call obey…” Sounds good. But the brutal truth is that until Nigeria begins to respond to the call of citizens in trouble (without waiting for twenty-four hours or for a private citizen to hire a van and provide petrol), only those in Aso Rock will pretend to respond, and hype the need for others respond, to Nigeria’s “call”.

© Anietie Ukpe

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