By Evelyn Usman & Ifeanyi Okolie
LAGOS — Parents of Holy Rosary College, Enugu students on board Ekene Dili Chukwu luxury bus attacked last Saturday along Oke-odo end of Shagamu/Benin expressway in Ijebu-Ode East Local Government Area of Ogun State, yesterday, threatened to sue management of the company for negligence and alleged complicity in the robbery attack.
They also denied that any of their children was raped by the robbers as widely reported.
Their position came just as it emerged yesterday that four of the parents were in the luxury bus when the robbers struck, with one of them, a woman, recalling how she was saved from being raped by one of the robbers.
The parents converged on St. Agnes Catholic Church, Maryland, with some of the students who were between ages 11 and 16, where they blamed management of the company, particularly a statement credited to the manager of the company daring them to bring proof of reported rape.
The atmosphere at the church environment was charged at first, as the mothers were seen in groups fuming over the incident. Although they expressed gratitude to God that none of the children sustained major injuries or died in the process, they were angry with the media for what they described as sensational manner the attack was being reported.
The gathering also provided a re-union of such for the children who embraced each other, as most of them were seeing themselves for the first time after the incident. In fact, one of them recalled how she was jolted from sleep following a gun shot that shattered the vehicle glasses.
Parent narrates experience
Narrating what transpired that fateful day, one of the parents who would not want his name mentioned in print, said information about the breakdown of the luxury bus reached them at about 3 p.m. at Jibowu park, where most of them were awaiting their children’s arrival.
According to him, “the vehicle broke down at about 1p.m, thereby leaving the children stranded somewhere at Ore and the company was not ready to bring an alternative vehicle. Even the manager was said to be attending a social function then. We kept on pressurizing them until 7 p.m when the management eventually provided a vehicle to convey the children and I was one of those who went with the bus. We got to the spot at about 10 p.m.
“On our way back, when we got to Ijebu-Ode, we heard that robbers were on the road. We saw many vehicles parked and told the driver to stop since other vehicles had stopped. He stopped but after a few minutes, he started the ignition.
Driver ignored warnings
“I personally went to him to ask why he wanted to move and he said he had to because the bus had been booked as the first bus the next morning. I asked why he was thinking about the next day when he had not left the spot but he would not listen. Other parents in the bus also warned him not to move, that we would not mind sleeping in the bus if the need arose. But he drove on.
“Just about three minutes later, we ran right into the robbers and to our surprise, the driver and conductor escaped, locking us inside the bus. I believe our bus was the only one that was attacked because there was no other vehicle, apart from the two trailers they used as barricade. For almost 30 minutes, they were on us. Initially, they could not get access into the bus because the vehicle was locked. They threatened to shoot us if we did not open the door. They actually fired some shots during which a bullet hit one of the parents in the face. I did not know how they eventually opened the door but I was the first person to get out. They ordered us to go down one after the other and lie face down. As we obeyed, we heard some gun shots, apparently from Policemen from the Ijebu-Ode end.”
The gun shots were later discovered to be from men of the Lagos State Special Anti-Robbery Squad, Ikeja, who were on their way from Delta State, where they had gone to effect some arrests. The robbers at that point, reportedly ordered the fear stricken parents and students back into the bus, threatening to shoot whoever remained on the spot.
But not everyone, according to them, succeeded in entering the vehicle. One of the parents, a woman and other students, reportedly entered the bus which was driven into a bush while the rest were rescued by operatives of SARS and brought to Lagos.
How a parent was almost raped
While the parents gathered, deliberating on what to do and at the same time, awaiting the arrival of the school’s principal, Rev. Sister Mercy Ani, they asked themselves if any of their children was raped, with a view to knowing their next line of action. But none answered in the affirmative. It was, however, discovered that not all the parents attended the meeting. To further ascertain the allegation of rape, the parent who was in the hijacked bus was asked to narrate her experience. She revealed that the the robbers on entering the bush ordered everyone of them to get down from the bus and thereafter ransacked the bus in search of money.
Thereafter, she said they were all asked to pull off their clothes, during which one of the robbers attempted to rape her. But she reportedly begged and told him she was pregnant. She could, however, not tell her colleagues if any of the students was raped as reported, as she said the robbers hit her on the head and ordered her to get into the bus.
No student was raped —Parents
Speaking with journalists after the deliberation, Chairman, Parents Teachers Association, Lagos branch, Mr Cyril Akinyuli said: “I don’t think any of the children was raped because if an armed robber rapes a 10 or 13-year-old child, I don’t think that child would be able to walk for one week. And if they were raped, there would have been blood stains, but when we saw them after the incident there was no blood on their body. We have asked all of them and none said she was raped and these children cannot lie. We have also taken most of them to Island maternity where doctors who treated them confirmed that they were not raped and we have our medical report to that effect.
“Although the armed robbers asked them to pull off their dresses when they were searching them for money but when they couldn’t find any money, they asked them to put on their clothes and pushed them into the bus.
“Another woman who was in the bus when the robbers drove into the bush said the robbers only made an attempt to rape her but because she told them she was pregnant, they allowed her get into the bus. The students slept inside the bus in the bush till morning.
We ‘ll sue the company—Parents
The President of the Parents Teachers Association said: “We are suing the company for negligence because when the driver ran into the armed robbers, he left the vehicle key on the ignition and escaped.
“During the holiday, we normally charter bus to convey our children to Lagos to stay with their parents. Two days to their departure we fully paid for their fare at Ekene Dili Chukwu Transport Limited. And also two days to their departure, I called their manager in Enugu and he assured me that a standard bus had been provided to convey our children to Lagos. But to my greatest surprise on that Saturday, at about 11 a.m, these children were still in Delta State.
“I wondered what kind of bus would leave Enugu as early as 7 a.m. and would be still be at Delta State by 11 a.m. I called back by 1 p.m. and was told that the vehicle broke down in Edo State. I became worried and called the manager who said he had spoken with the driver who told him it was a minor fault that would be fixed.
“Some where along the line I called again, only to be informed that the driver and his conductor had abandoned the vehicle along the road and had gone into the village to eat. I called the manager and informed him on what I heard and he told me that the driver said he went to Ore to buy the damaged part. Then I told him that it was two things, first it was tyre, now it is damaged part. I felt uncomfortable and I called the Lagos office to dispatch another bus.”
Arrival of the principal
At about 2 p.m, the vehicle conveying principal of the school arrived. Immediately she stepped out, the elated children ran out to hug her, singing songs of deliverance and praises to God for sparing their lives.
Thereafter, Rev. Sister Oni met with the parents,where along the line, she broke down in tears, unable to control her emotions, apparently wondering what could have happened had a worse calamity befallen her students.
Police begin fresh probe
Meanwhile, the Ogun State Police Command has begun fresh investigation into reported rape of the students.
A statement by the command’s spokesman, Mr Olumuyiwa Adejobi said: “After the arrest of some suspected robbers who attacked the luxury bus, the Command has got reasons to investigate the alleged rape of the students by these unscrupulous elements.”
The Ogun State Police Command initially in a statement denied the report or knowledge of rape case based on the complaint (excluding rape) received at the Ogere Division.
“However, the Command wishes to make it known and clear that no one is ruling out the fact that the students might have been raped, and this general allegation makes the Command to intensify efforts to carry out thorough investigation on the suspects with a view to establishing the case of rape or defilement or indecent assault on the victims as the case may be.”
In the same vein, the Command will interrogate some of the victims to ascertain the level of assault or brutality meted on them.
The Command wishes to state that such incident and experiences of the young ladies in the hands of these hoodlums will not be handled with levity considering both social and mental implications of rape; and the culprits will pay heavily for whatever they must have done.
While the Command commiserates with the victims and their families, it will, however, leave no stone unturned to make sure that justice prevails; and assures the public that the patrol of the major highways in Ogun state is intensified for good service delivery.