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How stray bullet from soldiers celebrating reunion with colleague killed my wife – Imo panel beater

A panel beater, Benjamin Ofoegbu, has narrated how a stray bullet from jubilant soldiers at a checkpoint in Imo State killed his wife who was working on the farm.

The deceased’s husband during an interview with The PUNCH said his wife, Mrs Chikaodi Ofoegbu, was working on the farm when she was hit by a stray bullet fired by the soldiers manning Umuorji military checkpoint on the Owerri-Onitsha Expressway.

Who are you and what do you do for a living?

My name is Benjamin Ofoegbu. I am from Umudimonyeshim village in Umuagha Eziama Obiato autonomous community, Mbaitoli Local Government Area of Imo State. I am a panel beater. My workshop at Avu mechanic village.

We learnt your wife was killed by a stray bullet. How did it happen?

My wife, Mrs Chikaodi Ofoegbu, was working on the farm when she was hit by a stray bullet fired by the soldiers manning Umuorji military checkpoint on the Owerri-Onitsha Expressway. The soldiers were shooting indiscriminately in the evening of Thursday (April 22). I was at my workshop in Owerri when the incident occurred but my people told me that the soldiers were celebrating the sudden reappearance of one of them who was attacked the day that some unknown gunmen ambushed them at the checkpoint. From the story we heard, they thought he (their colleague) had died but when he suddenly reappeared, they were excited and they opened fire, shooting and celebrating. That was how one of the bullets they released travelled to our farm and killed my wife.

My wife was working on our farm along with two other women – her co-wife and one of my sisters – when she was hit by the bullet. When she (my wife) told the two women that she had been hit by a stray bullet, they thought it was a joke until they saw blood gushing out of her mouth. They then realised that she was hit on the back by a stray bullet. She died before any help could come her way. The two women said they raised the alarm and some villagers ran to the scene but before they could arrange for a bike to convey her to the hospital, she gave up the ghost. They brought her body home in a wheelbarrow.

Are the soldiers aware that your wife was hit by a stray bullet?

At first, they didn’t know but they were later informed. I learnt that they molested the young man who first ran to the checkpoint to inform them about the tragedy. More people had to go there to tell them that a stray bullet from them had hit and killed a woman working on her farm. My wife was actually planting maize when that stray bullet hit her.

After they were told by more people, what did they do?

They came to my house and saw my wife’s corpse. They checked and discovered that truly it was their bullet that hit and killed my wife. They said, sorry, to me and asked me to go and make a report at a police station.

You said you were at your workshop when the incident happened. Who broke the news to you?

It was my brother-in-law, Christian Osuji, who called in the evening of Thursday to break the tragic news to me. At first, he told me on the phone that my presence was urgently needed at home. When I enquired from him what was wrong because I could sense tension in his voice, he first told me that my wife had an accident. After I probed further, he broke the bad news to me. He said, “In short, your wife is dead. Army people have killed your wife. They were shooting randomly in excitement and one of the bullets hit your wife and she died. She was carried in a wheelbarrow to your house. You have to rush home, immediately.” At that point I became confused and dumbfounded. I boarded a vehicle down home immediately. On getting home, I realised that the bad news was true. People had already gathered in the compound and when I enquired they pointed out where the remains of my wife were lying on the ground. I uncovered the body and saw the bullet mark and the blood all over her body and mouth. I called her repeatedly and she wouldn’t answer me. That was when I knew that nightfall had come at noon. That was when I knew that my world had crumbled. That was when I knew that these soldiers had practically killed me too. How do I live with this ugly memory for the rest of my life? A woman I left in the morning while going to work had been killed by some military men who have no respect for the sanctity of human lives. I am finished!.

Can you describe your last moments with your wife?

My last moments with my wife were normal–the same way any husband, wife and children wake up in the morning and begin their daily activities. After our breakfast, she told me she was going to the village market to buy her goods. She was a trader. She sold plantain chips. She pleaded with me to help her arrange the palm fruits she wanted to process before going to work, which I did. She also asked our first daughter, Eberechi, who will be 18 in June, to do another thing for her. My wife was a workaholic. She told me that on her return from the market she would go to the farm to plant maize. So, I helped her to arrange the palm fruits. It never occurred to me that it would be my last moments with her. How could I have envisaged that when she was healthy, full of life and wasn’t complaining of any strange feeling and no sign of anything bad?

How old was she and for how long were you married?

My wife was 45 years old and we had been married for 20 years. She was an industrious woman. It was my late mother who recommended her to me to marry because of her background and strong character. She was from Umuagwu village in Akabo community in the Oguta Local Government Area of Imo State. This was a woman who complemented me in various ways. She was hard-working, very respectful and she loved God dearly. She traded and farmed. She was working hard raising our children. This is one death to many. The military men have touched me in the most sensitive and delicate part of my life. Oh! God, why?

How many children did she have for you?

We have three children – two girls and a boy. Our first child, Eberechi, who will be 18 in June, just wrote her WASSCE. Our second child, Chetachi, is 14. She is in Junior Secondary School 3. Our only son, Onyemauchechukwu, just turned 11 on April 10. He is in Primary Six. You can see that they are still young. Who will help me to raise them? This is a big blow to me.

How are the children taking the incident?

The children are heartbroken. They are young but they are aware of what happened. They know that the military people have killed their irreplaceable mother. They have all been crying. The most painful aspect is that they were at home when she left for the farm and promised them she would return home soon. They were in anticipation of her arrival but what they saw was the corpse of their mother brought home in a wheelbarrow. What a country!

Are you taking any steps to get justice?

What step can I take than to ask Nigerians to come to my aid; to ask Nigerians to help me get justice for my wife and my family? What steps will a panel beater take to get justice? Who do I know? What can I do? Has anybody been arrested for killing my wife? The answer is no. Do I even know the particular soldier who killed my wife? The answer is no. As I speak to you, the soldiers are still at the checkpoint stopping vehicles as if nothing happened. If you pass through there now, you will not even believe that they were the ones that killed my wife. They are behaving as if nothing happened. They have resumed their normal activities. Since the Monday attack, they have been intimidating us, the villagers, with sporadic shootings. Every night they will be shooting indiscriminately, scaring people, especially us, the villagers.

What steps can I take to get justice other than to ask you, the media people, to help a poor man like me get justice?

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