A Russian-Nigerian-born, Mrs. Chioma Stephena Okeke, who probably is one of the newest widows in town, has cried out to the Nigerian authorities, particularly, the Acting Inspector General of Police, Sulleiman Abba and the Commissioner of Police, Enugu State, Mohammed Abubakar to quickly save her from her late husband’s siblings who, she alleged, are threatening to “make me bleed”, and perhaps force her to meet the husband in the world beyond.
Mrs. Chioma Okeke, 33, and mother of two girls, Samanta Nnenne Okeke,2, and Hazel Nkem Okeke,8, told ADVOCATE NIIGERIA in an interview in Enugu that she was born to a Nigerian father from Isiala Ngwa South Local Government Area, Abia State by a Russian mother both of whom are currently residing in the United Kingdom. Chioma’s father, Dr. Eugene Obisike Nwankwo, in his 80s, was former Chief Medical Director, Aba Health Centre, according to her. But since about eight years now, Chioma said, she fell in love with a U.S-based businessman, Mr. Chukwudi Emmanuel Okeke, 54, a native of Njikoka in Anambra State, although she has had sad tales to tell about her husband’s relations. Chukwudi lived 35 years in America.
Life was not all that rosy for husband and wife who engaged in fish pond and oil business until this year when they had what could be regarded as a breakthrough in terms of material reward for their hard work, according to Chioma. “It is only this year that we made some money,” she said. Sadly, Chioma’s husband, ‘Chuky,’ as she fondly called him, never lived to enjoy the gains of their labour.
But before his sudden demise, he made sure that each member of the family of eight children – three boys and five girls – was well-settled financially so as to reduce the financial pressure they were putting often on husband and wife. “We were actually getting tired of the brothers and sisters coming to ask for N10,000 or N100,000 assistance as the case may be,” Chioma told our reporter.
“Just before he died, he gave each member – they are eight – without him meaning seven; he gave each member N5million. The first sister, – I drove her car that day; we gave her a car, Toyota Camry and N5million cash just to sort herself out. We are tired of every time, ‘please give me N10,000’; ‘give me N100,000’.
So we (my husband and I) thought, ok, this is a kind of investment; may be, this one could start up a boutique or another business, whatever it may be. N5million each was enough for all the help me, help, help me they were requesting quite often,” according to the widow, who also remarked: “When I met him about eight years ago, my husband had nothing.”
Besides, Chukwudi built three bungalows which signified three brothers – Chukwudi and his two brothers, according to the wife, who added that her husband was also renovating their family house before his sudden death occurred. “So we strived to settle them but they were still not happy. He built three bungalows in the village compound and was renovating the main family house, and the three bungalows signify three brothers, him and his two brothers but they were still fighting for only God knows what,” she said.
“They have always been against him,” she remarked, noting that the family has always experienced needless chaos. “Last time when we went home for a burial before this wedding, we were in the new house but his two sisters – Ijeoma and Pauline – chose to stay under the rain rather than step into the house . It was raining that day. The whole villagers saw it and that’s why they have problem now in the village in Njikoka Local Government,” she remembered.
But asked why her husband’s siblings never had soft spot for him in spite of all he did for them as she claimed, Chioma replied that petty envy and jealousy was the root cause. And moreover, they were against their brother having her as his life partner chiefly because they felt that “this oyibo girl was too exposed, too enlightened and smart for their liking.”
Chioma said: “It was so weird; I thought they would be happy their brother married an enlightened wife but they wanted the opposite. And so he fully kept them away from me. But they kept coming. And the relationship was always sore.”
Apparently, this made some of the family members to stay away from the wedding of Chioma and Chukwudi at the Magistrate Court, Ikoyi, Lagos on 25th June, 2014. “My husband’s sisters’ husbands attended because there’s always been chaos in the family,” she added.
Chioma recalled vividly the sequence that eventually led to the husband’s death. On 26th September, 2014, Chukwudi drove his Mercedes Benze C-Class from Lagos to Enugu to attend the traditional wedding ceremony of his sister’s daughter, the next day at Ogidi, Anambra State, she said.
But after the traditional wedding in the village, Chukwudi also attended the white wedding of the same couple in Enugu and reportedly took ill after the event. She said: “He took ill immediately after the wedding and it continued till he was taken to the hospital.”
The widow further recalled: “I came to Enugu from Lagos on the 6th of October, 2014 because my husband, Chukwudi Emmanuel Okeke was reported ill. He called me and said he was ill. And so I flew down to from Lagos to Enugu and then I drove down to the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital (UNTH), Enugu that was where he was admitted. Then I stayed from the 6th till he finally gave up on his birthday, the 8th of October, 2014.” And from 1am on October 8, when the husband passed on till the time of writing this piece, her husband’s siblings literally forced her to ‘experience hell’ simply because her name was next-of-kin in her husband’s medical file, she said.
TROUBLE BEGAN AT UNTH:
Right from the UNTH where relations of the deceased reportedly spent over eight hours arguing the issue of who would be the next-of-kin, even while the corpse of their brother was yet to be deposited in the hospital mortuary, to Chukwudi’s GRA, Enugu residence where his wife was allegedly denied access to some of her husband’s personal belongings, to the New Haven office of an Enugu-based NGO, Women Aid Collective (WACOL) that assisted the widow in handling the matter, to the police stations at GRA, Enugu and the State CID (Criminal Investigation Department) where she was detained for almost two days, Chioma lamented that she has literally passed through the eye of a needle in the hands of her husband’s relations. And she explained that the entire incident seems like movies to her.
“Basically, when my husband passed away, his brother was like screaming in the background to the matrons and the doctors that they would listen to him and take orders from him from now on. I was still struggling to see how I could give my husband CPI (Chest Inspection for the Heart) And then the matrons called me and said, look madam, he’s gone but we‘ve got medical record. When we admit patients we get a file, and so I don’t know who filled the file when your husband was admitted but whoever is the next-of-kin on that file, we will take orders from that individual. I said, ok, check your record then. And then she went and checked and then came back and asked me if my name was Chioma Stephena-Okeke, and I said yes. And she said I’m going to take orders from you from this moment,” Chioma recalled.
Of course, that was the beginning of the ‘hellish experience’ she said she had in the hands of her brothers and sisters in-law.
And for eight stressful hours, relations of the deceased argued with hospital officials over next-of-kin palaver. “And my husband’s corpse was lying in front of the mortuary while the argument lasted,” she said as she fought back tears. At last, the matron’s argument was superior to theirs and they reluctantly agreed to deposit the remains of their brother on the ground that “they could come to claim it with a letter of authorization from me as instructed by the hospital.”
However, that was not the end of her experience which she regarded as “widow’s nightmare.” Upon leaving UNTH after depositing the corpse in the morgue, Chioma went back to their GRA Enugu residence but was confronted by her in-laws again. “There were people camping in the house,” she said. This time, they denied her access to her husband’s belongings, especially the contents of the bags with which he travelled from Lagos to Enugu, she said.
As she sat and wept openly in front of the house after she was harassed and threatened particularly by one of her brother’s sisters, Chioma said she was mentally confused and didn’t know what next to do. That was when a family friend of many years sold to her the idea of reporting her ordeal to the New Haven, Enugu-based WACOL for assistance. Backed with the legal officer of WACOL, they went and reported to the GRA, Enugu Police Station how the widow was disallowed from having access to her husband’s belongings.
Eventually, when a police Inspector accompanied Chioma to the residence, the main woman who reportedly harassed and “threatened to deal with me spiritually” was nowhere to be seen within the compound. “I’m concerned about my safety because I received so many threats from them; that I will bleed, that they will fight me… Even today at the airport, people called me and said they were waiting for me,” she said pitifully.
Later, the police Inspector went and obtained an official search warrant with which he broke into the only room that was locked, and it turned out that some of her husband’s belongings which they initially denied were there, somehow, were also found inside the room, according to the widow.
She said: “They took away his ATM cards. The car he drove down from Lagos is C-Class Mercedes Benz automatic, and the bags that I packed for him though I managed to get that, but a lot of items were missing. The car key to the automatic was not there. His chain that was about N1.6m which I bought for him on his last birthday was not on his neck. His wristwatch was not on his wrist. His ATM cards were not there.
His UBA cheque books were not there. We only recovered two cheque books – Fidelity and Access banks. His mobile phones were not there.
The iPad was retrieved but we had to break the code on it because they had hidden it so bad that it got compressed and automatically the iPad will not function. So now even if I want to open it, I must go to iPad manufacturers because they hid it under a heavy object and it compressed. So they are still with these items, my husband’s items. They have been using his phones to call his business associates and asked them for money. They even sent email message claiming that my husband is in hospital and needed kidney transplant, and they demanded some money. But my husband, they know, has died. They have most of his personal effects.”
Unfortunately, before Chioma realized what she was into, her in-laws wrote a petition to the police alleging that she connived with people to kill her husband and that she has to surrender all her husband’s exotic cars and other assets. The petition, she said, originated from the state CID where Chioma was invited to for questioning. And on getting to the police station, she was detained alongside Ike, the husband’s friend of many years right from when they lived in the U.S.A. “They put Ike in the most critical part of the cell,” she said. Even the WACOL legal officer was helpless, possibly because the State Commissioner of Police, Mr. Mohammed Abubakar who would have ordered Chioma’s release was out of the country, and also, WACOL’s Executive Director, Dr. Barrister Joy Ezeilo was not in town. “I made an undertaking that I will bring the things they said I should produce, at least to gain my freedom,” she said.
Right now Chioma wants to give her husband a peaceful burial and also to be left alone by her husband’s relations who, she said, have forced her to “see hell on earth.” She said: “My husband was a very nice human being. He was the best man I have ever come across and he deserves the best. I want to mourn my husband. I want to be able to sit and lie down with my kids and be able to know how to do it. But I don’t have the energy now to do all this because I’m in a different kind of shock.
“Secondly, I went to the police because I believe the police are for protection; they are going to guard you in the right direction and then help to restore order. I need order. I need people to understand that right now, a brave man has died, a man that I loved. And as far as I’m concerned his wellbeing is the most important thing to me right now, and the cause of his death is also the most important thing to me right now because as far as I’m concerned (his death) is a mystery. It just happened all of a sudden, and is suspicious too.
“And then thirdly, I would like his family to please leave me alone. LEAVE ME ALONE. The last thing I care about now is his assets. The last thing I care about now is to look for where his documents are. And I’m concerned about my safety because I received so many threats from them; that will bleed, that they will fight me. Even today at the airport, people called me and said they were waiting for me there. Emma Nwachukwu himself today called me so many times; the man that was eating with the 2i/c yesterday. He had to send me a message saying this is Emma Nwachukwu. I don’t know what he’s calling me for. Right now, I’m worried. My kids have lost their father; I have not seen my kids since I got here in Enugu, and is very sad. I’m scared. I just want them to leave me alone. Let’s concentrate on how we are going to bury my husband and see how we can make the best out of it. Right now, is not about property; is not about all that; that’s not my main concern.
“But also why are they holding onto his personal effects and trying to cause problem for us? These are things we just managed to achieve this year and they know that. And they ‘ve caused so many problems already by releasing all sorts of nonsense information that is not meant to be. And so I need all these things to come to an end and that’s why I believe WACOL is going to do that, is going to help me because is tiring. A woman has lost her husband, and is the worst that can ever happen to her, especially a 33 year old woman; is the worst thing I think I’m going to experience in my entire life. And so the least any one can do for me now is to help me. But obviously, they are not ready for that and I’m not asking for their help, what I’m asking for is what is rightfully mine.”
PHOTO: The late Chuwudi and Chioma (half caste) Okeke during their wedding at Ikoyi Magistrate Court, Lagos in June 2014. Pix from family album.