I have read with infinite pain and sadness the press interview granted by Elder (Mrs.) Margaret E. Asim, wife of the embattled Special Adviser to the Governor of Cross River State on Biodiversity, Mr. Edet Okon Asim, who is alleged to have sexually abused a fifteen-year-old girl child over the course of three years and even gotten her pregnant on three occasions. The statement is riddled with blatant lies and ordinarily deserves to be ignored. However, there are countless members of the public who may not know the full story and may believe her lies. I am thus constrained to respond to set the record straight.
First of all, I am not only a lawyer but also the Chairperson of Child Protection Network, a network of civil society organizations (CSOs) battling child abuse in Cross River State. And, by virtue of my office, I have the mandate of CSOs in Cross River State to beam the light of publicity on any person or body of persons alleged to have abused a child – because of our well-anchored belief that evil and injustice thrive in the absence of publicity. I and my partners have discharged this duty diligently over the years even at the risk to our lives and limbs. The frustration of the abusers of the children we seek to protect is that we have always refused to be compromised in our fight for justice for child victims/survivors of abuse.
Now let me deal with the present matter. Around the midnight of December 11, 2018, I received a telephone call from Mrs. Josephine Effa Chukwuma, the founder of Project Alert, a Lagos-based non-governmental organization (NGO) that is in the vanguard to fight against gender-based violence by holding abusers to account and helping protect victims of such abuse. The founder of the NGO is a daughter of the Quas of Big Qua Town, Calabar Municipality. She requested me to go to the Federal Government Girls College, Calabar (FGGCC) to conduct a preliminary investigation into an allegation of sexual assault committed against a student of the school.
I swiftly commenced preliminary investigations into the matter to determine whether there was any truth to it. Pursuant to this, I personally contacted the authorities of the FGGCC which confirmed that one of their students had been sexually assaulted. They added that one Mrs. Stella Noah, the mother of the survivor, had signed the survivor out of the school sometime in September, 2018 and had gone on to procure an illegal abortion for her. The abortion resulted in serious complications as the poor girl bled from September until the 11th day of December, 2018 when she reported her ordeal to the school authorities. The police were brought into the case, and she was rushed to a police hospital. Armed with this information, I promptly contacted Cross River State’s Ministry of Sustainable Development and Social Welfare and the Ministry of Women Affairs to intimate them of the matter.
I accompanied the police and representatives of the FGGCC to the police hospital in Calabar where I met the girl child for the very first time. She was sleeping at the time. While the police waited patiently for her to wake up, I went back to my law office to attend to some pressing matters. I returned to the police hospital later in the day to meet the girl awake and giving a statement to the Investigating Police Officer (IPO). She was doing this in the presence of Mrs. Stella Noah (her mother), some of her paternal relatives and the police doctor. After her statement had been taken, the IPO also obtained a statement from the girl’s mother. In her statement, Mrs. Noah corroborated her daughter’s claims to the extent that the girl had previously reported to her that Mr. Edet Okon Assim had been sexually assaulting her and was in fact responsible for the pregnancy that had been illegally aborted and had resulted in the complications that led to her being in the hospital.
To avoid the girl suffering the fate that befell the poor Miss Ochanya Ogbanje of Benue State, a child victim of serial sexual abuse who died on October 17, 2018 shortly after her matter was reported to the police, I advised the police to take steps to protect the girl’s life. Accordingly, the girl, with the support of the police, was moved to another government facility in Calabar where, to this day, she is receiving medical intervention for her perforated uterus.
It is thus ludicrous for anyone to suggest that the survivor is in my custody not to mention being in the process of being given up for adoption. Similarly, her alleged brainwashing by me could only have happened in the imagination of my accusers. Moreover, the allegation that I habitually defame highly placed people is nothing but a product of desperation. To date, none of the persons Mrs. Asim referred to has sued me for defamation because they know that they may be unable to compromise the civil courts (all the way to the Supreme Court) the way they were able to exploit the weaknesses of the Nigerian criminal justice system. I sincerely sympathize with my accusers. Conviction for rape under both the Criminal Code Law of Cross River State and the Child Rights Act renders an offender liable to life imprisonment. This is a fate that awaits Mr. Asim if he is found guilty. It is thus understandable for a wife of such a man to put aside her personal feelings of hurt and betrayal and do everything within her powers to help spare him such a fate.
Going by the press interview granted by Mrs. Asim and her family, it is clear that they are currently mobilizing their allies to either gag or eradicate me after efforts to compromise me failed. Although I am angry and pained over these vile and baseless allegations, I am even more motivated by the tears of the child (who also fears for her life) to continue to press for justice. In the course of this, I am ready to pay the supreme price if doing so will secure justice for the poor child who had cried out for three years but got no protection from her powerful and highly placed violator until she reported her plight to her school.
JAMES IBOR ESQ.
Founder, Basic Rights Counsel Initiative