Until that day some two months ago after we returned from Benin Republic to get clearance from their Interpol to excavate Juliana's body on forensic examination, I still carried the believe in my head that Juliana was underneath the mold of earth, near which I stood to promise her justice.
Maybe till now, I still do, because it sounds strange and mysterious to me that a family we had stood solidly for, even when we were yet to know or meet with them, carrying out protests and disturbing every institution for investigations, would turn back and suddenly change their story, which they made us in turn share to the world.
That voice from Baba-Ibeji as we journeyed to the Federal SARS office to collect feedback from the police on their meeting with the Interpol in Benin still resonates in my ears; "Doctor, I am sorry I did not tell you this before. Maybe it was the informant's fault that she told us to always maintain that Juliana was dead until all is over". That was Baba-Ibeji's voice, Juliana's father, known in the Ejigbo pepper sodomy case as the Palm wine tapper. I thought I did not hear him well, he said it again, in imbalanced Yoruba language. I was confused, I asked what he meant.
After his explanations, it dawned slowly on me that it must be the reason they had sent for me from the Federal SARS, asking me to bring him and his son along. We had gone with the Police team from Nigeria to Benin Republic, with mission to gain easy permission to exhume the corpse for forensic check. However the day finished without achieving it. I had to return to Lagos very late that night from Benin Republic to catch flight back to Abuja, the National Confab required my input. But we left the police over there, to continue with the assignment. We had thought we would do the forensics same day, but that did not happen due to long process of obtaining clearance from their Interpol. I left late that night for Lagos. But Baba-Ibeji did not tell me what they told their own police in Benin Republic, and now to Nigeria's police when they arrived their yard for the assignment. We had communicated many times after then. But he did not still tell me they had a new story for the police than I knew, of Juliana's death. Now in the car, he explained that Juliana was not physically dead, but that he thought we were the same (Women Arise) with the informant who brought him to us and collected the reward announced by the Lagos State House of Assembly. He said the woman (the informant) knew about it from day one, that Juliana was not physically dead to their knowledge, but got missing and was concluded to have died. He said he thought I also knew about the informant's position, asking that they maintain that she was dead whenever asked.
Terribly, I got disturbed!
I immediately began to think of many things; how I had gone to the grave; how I had made promises for justice at the grave site (which I was just being told no longer belongs to Juliana); how I had made the world believe the same thing I was told about Juliana's death; all the efforts; my integrity...and the rest.
We were on the third mainland bridge and heading for Adeniji Adele, office of the Federal SARS. I felt like jumping out on the car and into the lagoon. The day was saved by two men in the car with me asides from the palm wine tapper. Leye, the Women Arise Project Officer and Segun O'Law, the citizen reporter who had been capturing footages and rendering a documentary from the case. Himself, O'Law, almost broke down, but as he saw me go mute, thinning and profusely sweating, he grew himself back into the characteristic of a man so as to help me pull up fair approximation to a balance. I wanted to probe further, but O'Law cut it, making him suspend any further explanation yet, until we reached our destination. I understand O'Law wanted me to gain a some recovery from the shock first, before we'd proceed on that, but I was anxious.
O'Law prevailed, laying off the discussion temporarily. But I had almost lost sense of myself.
We assembled on the Federal SARS premises, and decided to talk further before going in to meet our prospective host. I had lost my appetite, but was famished. I knew more that day, that a worried mind is a quick drain pipe of body fluids. I could not tell difference between my own mass (or how flexible it felt at that time) from the size of a broom stick. I felt lighter for what a little amount of breeze would displace. My vision blurred, and I fast dazed.
Suddenly, our prospective host stepped out. He was leaving for other assignment. The officer noticed something was wrong with me and spent a great deal of time chatting with us about others things. He requested we fix another time, between when he called me to say he understood what had happened to me, which was his reason for fixing another time.
Sincerely, words cannot capture it. I thought I would not survive it. Nothing ever shocked or shook me like that. It was like a magnitude of tsunami capable off throwing a city into irreparable calamity hitting me. had been tortured by the military, jailed, shot on my leg, robbed in gun point and faced multiple tragedies, they did not shake me as such. But something threatening my integrity was a worse hit. What would I tell the world now, whose attention I had turned on the Ejigbo case?
I began calling all that stood with us since start of the case. I called in the OPD officials, who are in collaboration with us on the matter. I hinted them. More people entered the disturbance.
Long story short, we invited the OPD attorney along for the next day fixed for meeting at the Federal SARS. Now, we were formally made aware of the news; we could not establish "murder" in the case, because victim's family said they weren't sure she physically died, but they had only buried her spirit in line with certain traditional practice. Baba-Ibeji insisted it was their practice to call over and bury the spirit of a person that has been missing for a long time, and later presumed to be dead. He said in their culture, if they called such person's spirit, who had gone missing for a while, the person would return. Otherwise, the person is dead. I had heard about people using charms to call their children home from abroad, they were distant stories yet, until Baba-Ibeji's strange narrations here. Even if that was, we had become too close not to have disclosed that to me, even till the moment I insisted he showed to me the grave site and I traveled with our team to see it in Porto Novo.
His excuse; he thought the informant woman was part of our team, and he already disclosed that to her when she located him and brought him to us for the announced reward. He said the informant told him not to say that again, but to simply say she was dead. O'Law then wondered aloud; "but you burst into tears the day we asked you about Juliana and it was in tears you announced to us that she died. Was that part of a rehearsed line with the informant", no convincing answer came.
So, the police would charge the suspects (the "pepper-trators" as O'Law called them in the documentary) only for inflicting bodily injuries, attempted murder and all the sorts. No murder charge, but is Juliana alive?
Although the police also said they met with local chiefs in the victim's village and were told Juliana is alive and had even just had a baby in a local hospital there, Baba-Ibeji insisted their rite never failed and that Juliana is dead since she did not return after the rite. I, OPD, Baba-Ibeji, O'Law and the entire Women Arise team kept asking, and till now, who saw Juliana and where is she? No answer yet. If the police claimed Juliana was not yet dead from what they were told by locals in Benin Republic and therefore expunged allegation of murder from the charges, it behooves of the institution to probe further and help locate Juliana; that I insist on. It will be my greatest joy if Juliana is not dead, so she will come and tell the world her own story, herself. I still believed something must have changed the story with the family, perhaps, Juliana is in that tomb. Could they have been bribed to change the story? But I give him and family some money each time we see so that they don't feel lack as such. Could the family possibly be afraid at the news that police wants to excavate the tomb for forensics and therefore claim she is not in it? Could this be; or could that be? Many questions, no answer.
I asked him if the police could still go ahead and open the tomb, at least to confirm if Juliana was buried there or not. But "No", he said.
The palm wine tapper insisted it was abominable for any corpse ever buried in their culture to be opened for any reason whatsoever. Even though I respect people's diverse cultures and traditional practices, my doubt for him on this one grew, yet more.
He said there was a body buried in that tomb he showed us but it belonged to his own mother. By practice, he said, missing Juliana's spirit was called to join his own late mother in his tomb. He said by that rite, if Juliana was still alive even though missing, she would return home, but after more than a period of eight months if she did not return after that rite, then it could only mean she is dead.
And dead, they had concluded, since it was abundantly more than a year yet she was missing and the rite to find or bury her had been conducted (according to Baba-Ibeji, the palm wine tapper). What I should add is that it was in a herbalist place in their hometown that she was taken for treatment, and one day they got there to the news that she walked away from there and had not been found ever since. Although another account has it that a man came to pick her from the herbalist place and later they saw her having a baby in a local hospital. Whichever is true, she was missing and by their rite, she was dead from there. Otherwise, the rite would have brought her back home; some Nollywood kind of story, you know!
I still have some bothering and we need help as under listed;
1. Since Baba-Ibeji keeps denying his daughter is still alive, even as the police claims so, the police could just help prove beyond doubt that she exists. Simply bring her out. Although I understand they could not continue to hold the suspects in detention but had to take them to court, listing some charges. So, they had to remove "murder" for now that there is doubt as to that claim. However, public opinion still charges murder, except otherwise those who claimed they saw her bring her for us all to see
2. Where was Juliana last seen by those who claimed they saw her having a baby in a hospital. Does the hospital have no name? baba-Ibeji should tell the police where the herbalist is, so he can tell us how a "patient" suddenly got missing. If she is dead, we should have her body, not bury her "spirit"
3. From the gruesome video which brought this case to world attention, it was clear to everyone that "someone" could die from that long moment of violent organic torture; including "pepper-trating" her genitals with help of hard sticks; terrific!
4. Does anyone know Ajase in Benin Republic well? Are u aware of any culture against forensic examination of dead persons?
5. Who has seen Juliana? Please we'd love to see her too, if you have any information that she still alive, please be generous with information and kindly share
6. If I see Juliana today, or any day after, the "pepper-trators" can still be validly charged for the offences for which they were arraigned last week. But if not, then, where is Juliana?
Dr. Joe Odumakin is President of Women Arise! t: @DrJoeOdumakin f: facebook.com/jokeiodumakin web: www.DrJoeOdumakin.com