Writhing in pains as her mother used a small towel soaked in water to gently mop her back, Toyin Muhidi, 27, could barely contain her agony as the process went on. Soon breaking into uncontrollable tears as a native balm was rubbed onto her body, the sight of the young woman not only evoked pity but anger as well.
Two months ago, soft-spoken Muhidi cut a different picture. Full of energy and an eye on the future of her dreams, she traversed one part of Mushin to another every morning and evening to market her hot, tasty koko (a variant of pap) to old and potential customers across the sprawling Lagos suburb. Though barely enough to take care of her major worries, the meagre proceeds from daily sales forked out of hours of relentless hawking under the city’s sweltering heat helped the mother of one put food on the table and heightened hope of a better tomorrow.
A trained ‘chemist’, the young woman made the long journey to Lagos from her native Eruwa, an agrarian community tucked in the heart of Oyo State, in 2017 in search of a new life. Initially pushed to Nigeria’s busiest commercial city to raise enough money to sponsor her graduation and establish her own patent medicine store, the realities in Lagos soon swerved her mind off the idea, planting new thoughts in her head, instead. Gradually finding her foot in Mushin in the coming weeks and months, the 27-year-old began to invent new friendships and network. It was in the process that she met Lukmon, an executive of commercial motorcyclists in the area, who professed love to her. Starting out as sweet romance, things soon took a different turn – a curve that now leaves Muhidi in a very precarious state.
“After dating Lukmon for a while, I left him when I discovered that he was not a good person,” the mother of one, who is still in bandages following an acid attack on her in March by Lukmon, told our correspondent. “After I left him, he went to destroy the place I was selling koko. When his troubles became too much, I had to leave Mushin for a while and move to Eruwa,” she added, while recounting her close shave with death.
Thinking that the young man’s troublesome nerves would have calmed, the 27-year-old lady returned to Lagos a few weeks later, looking to begin a new phase she hoped would usher in the blessings she had long sought after. To avoid her estranged lover, she shunned some of her usual hawking routes, devising new avenues through, which to meet up with her customers. But after a few days, the man found out; the beginning of even bigger troubles for her.
“I became worried immediately I knew he had found out that I was back to Lagos,” the young woman, who speaks with a lot of difficulty these days, told our correspondent. “I was in the house sleeping around 6:00am on that fateful day when he sneaked into the apartment where I live with a woman. He covered his face with a mask, like an armed robber, and poured the acid on my head which then spilled all over my body.
“Immediately he committed the act, he ran out of the house and disappeared. I was later taken to Gbagada General Hospital for treatment. After spending three weeks there and running out of money, my family decided that I should be moved to Eruwa. There is no money to perform the necessary surgery on me. A doctor has only been coming to the house to dress my burns twice in a week.
“I can’t sleep at night as a result of the pain I feel. My entire head and face were all affected, making it difficult for me to even talk.
“Since that incident, I have been living in fear and have been confined to the house. I don’t know what offence in this world I have committed to deserve this type of treatment. This tragedy has brought a heavy financial burden upon my entire family,” she said painfully.
Though said to be in police custody, Muhidi, who revealed that more than N600, 000 had been spent on medical treatment alone, fears that Lukmon could evade justice at the end of the day.
Like the badly-damaged mother of one, Chizoba Obanye is another young woman whose life has taken a different and painful turn after being bathed with acid. Nine at the time of the tragedy in 2005, the 22-year-old Anambra State University graduate has lived with the scar for much of her sojourn on earth, watching hope fade faster than the smoke from a crumbling locomotive, at times. But unlike Muhidi, whose predicament was engineered by an estranged lover, Obanye’s attack was orchestrated by a jealous in-law desperate to serve enemies with her evil portion.
“Though I was very young when the incident happened, I still remember what that day was like,” the young lady currently undergoing her one-year National Youth Service in Delta State, told our correspondent during a recent encounter. “The incident happened on a Monday morning, around 5:00am, in our family house in Onitsha, Anambra State. I was sleeping on the bed by my grandmother when I heard someone sneak into the room. The person, who happened to be my late uncle’s wife, pointed torchlight to my face and immediately poured acid on me. I thought it was hot water and began to shout.
“But while screaming in pain, I could hear the woman saying that she thought it was Obiora, my elder brother. She said he was the one she had targeted and that I was unfortunate to bear the consequence. She then ran out of the house and jumped over the fence through the help of a ladder,” she said.
The coming weeks and months presented Obanye with all sorts of challenges, testing and stretching her resolve to unimaginable levels. Forced to drop out of school as a result of the tragedy, she spent days and night battling for life in various hospitals.
“The first hospital I was taken to wasn’t a specialist facility,” she said. “So I didn’t get proper care there,” adding quickly. “The burns ate deep into my face to the extent that it damaged one of my eyes. After one week there, I was transferred to the orthopaedic hospital in Enugu where I spent over one year.
“While at the hospital, a surgery was performed on me. Part of the skin on my laps was removed to cover a hole in my eyes caused by the acid attack.
“The woman’s action was informed by jealousy and hatred. My father is the first son in the family, so my uncle and his wife were afraid that he could take over the entire property for his children. As a result of this, she vowed to deal with us. But we were thinking it was going to be a physical combat, we didn’t know she had a deadlier plan in mind,” she revealed.
Though the 22-year-old was able to go back to school about two years after that devastating experience, her life hasn’t ever been the same since that period. Apart from being permanently scarred and losing one of her eyes, stigma and rejection have come along, too. It has been a very tough period for her.
“Immediately I was discharged from the hospital, everything about my life changed. My friends were scared to come close to me; nobody wanted me around them because I was totally different from the person they used to know.
“On a number of occasions, people have taken advantage of my condition to humiliate and embarrass me. It got to a point once where I felt like taking my own life. Thank God for my mother, she has been my biggest source of strength.
“I had huge dreams for myself as a child. I dreamt of becoming great in life and helping people around me. I wanted something different, not the pains that I have experienced these past 13 years.
“Though I have never set eyes on the woman who did this to me, I hold no form of grudge against her or anyone else. I have left everything to God, all power belongs to Him,” Obanye, who is warming up for a reconstructive surgery in the United States of America through donations from kind-hearted individuals, told Saturday PUNCH.
Her attacker has never been seen by family members around their native Onitsha where the attack took place in 2005. She roams about freely while her victim lives with the pains.
Jamila Musa is yet another woman whose live has taken a different turn after being attacked with the corrosive liquid. Relaxing at her house one night in February 2016, she soon got the shock of her life after a stranger knocked on her door and drenched her with acid.
“A minute to 10:00pm on that day, I was sleeping in my room when I heard a knock on my door. Even though I didn’t recognise the voice, I proceeded to opening the door after the person said my boyfriend sent him to give me a message.
“My boyfriend usually sent motorcycle operators to me, so I assumed that he sent the person. But as soon as I opened the door, he poured the acid on my face.
“I have been in pains since that period. My life has been seriously affected. I don’t know if this pain will ever go away,” the heartbroken lady said.
Disturbing as the ordeal of the three young women is, it is only a tiny fraction of such similar attacks that have taken place in many parts of the country in recent weeks. Though varying in degree and damage, most of these gruesome acid attacks are perpetrated by aggrieved persons – often jilted lovers – carrying out vengeance on the other party. While only a few from this bunch have been apprehended and made to face the law, the majority of such attackers have continued to evade arrest, roaming about freely while their victims live with the pains.
“The guy who disfigured me with acid still drives through my street proudly today,” Otonye Pepple, a tricycle rider in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, told our correspondent during a telephone conversation earlier in the week. “He is a militant with powerful connections everywhere. He attacked me one night when I had closed for the day and was heading home. He got angry after I told him he was driving recklessly and needed to be more cautious. Immediately I said that, he used his car to block my tricycle, came down with a small bottle in his hand and poured the content on my face. It was like fire burning through my skin.
“I collapsed to the ground and only regained consciousness the next day at the hospital. My entire face and neck is completely damaged but the man who did this to me is still walking freely despite the matter being reported to law enforcement agencies. It is very painful; sometimes I wish I had the power to take revenge. I leave justice to God,” he said, bitterness and anger rife in his voice.
Fuelled by easy access to the corrosive liquid in many parts of the country today according to findings by Saturday PUNCH, acid attacks may soon leapfrog other known forms of ‘small-scale’ violence to top the log if things remain the way they are. For example, in many neighbourhoods across Lagos, it was discovered that shops retailing hydrochloric acid, one of the most common of the corrosive liquid used in the processing of leather and a number of essential items, are in abundant quantity. In many of these places discovered by Saturday PUNCH, the deadly liquid is stuffed and shelved by persons selling new and used car batteries. On getting the clue from a battery charger whom our correspondent approached on how to get this type of raw acid to clean an apartment that had been abandoned for a long time, the man, without wasting time, directed the reporter to a shop in the neighbourhood where he could buy as much quantity as he wanted.
“Go to Ik’s shop and tell him you are from me,” the short and balded man told our correspondent as he pointed towards a building a few metres away. “He’ll sell it to you,” he added quickly to confirm the authenticity of his claim. “The raw one sells for N400 per beer bottle while the one that had been diluted goes for N300 for the same quantity,” he continued. “Please be careful so that it doesn’t spill on your skin, it is very dangerous,” he added finally.
The shop described by the man is a well-known auto spare parts spot where all kinds of batteries including new and used vehicle batteries are sold at Kosofe bus-stop – a popular section along Ikorodu Road, one of Lagos’ longest expressways. After finding IK and informing him that I was from the battery charger, a deal was struck.
“Idowu has directed you to the right place,” the middle-aged man said without any sort of probing or suspicion on the real motive of our correspondent. “A lot of people come to buy from me especially those who use it for house cleaning. If you have money, buy 20 litres of the raw one, it will serve you very well and do the job you want. I’ll reduce the price a bit for you because of the person who directed you to me,” he added.
After a few minutes of negotiation, the man agreed to sell 20 litres of the raw and deadly liquid, which looked a bit yellowish, for N7,500. Our correspondent told him to fill the jerrycan while he would go into a nearby bank to pick cash from the ATM. Undiluted, combustible acid available to anyone, who can afford it here.
To further interrogate the unregulated access to hydrochloric and indeed other types of dangerous acids in the country, our correspondent visited other places and the discoveries were quite disturbing. For instance, during a visit to a popular auto spare parts market around Ojota bus-stop where chemicals of all kinds are also sold, our correspondent discovered that buying raw acid is as easy as buying a bottle of table water from anywhere in Nigeria. Without any sort of questioning and background checks, a young man with engine oil stains to his shirt and shorts took our correspondent, who claimed to need raw acid for house cleaning, to a section of the market where the item was stored in huge drums and sold in wholesale and retail basis.
“What quantity do you want,” the guy asked our correspondent as he beckoned on him to follow his lead. “We have different types here and all of them are very strong. I will take you where you’ll get it for good price but you’ll ‘find me something’ for my effort,” the baritone-voiced man said, flashing a cheeky smile to the reporter, who nodded in approval of his request.
At the place, one litre of the commonest type of acid in its raw form is sold for between N350 and N380 depending on dealer to dealer, while the ones diluted usually goes for N100 less for same quantity. Even though many of those coming to buy the item from this market on the day our correspondent visited appeared to have established good relationships with the sellers over time due to the frequency of their demand, new faces like our correspondent were also promptly attended to once he or she could claim to need it for house cleaning. Like at Ik’s shop at Kosofe, our correspondent told the seller he had stricken a deal with to load the item in a keg while he needed to quickly go to pick cash from the closest ATM around; another loose and uncontrolled market for raw, deadly acid in the heart of Lagos.
In places like Mushin, Isolo, Orile and Oshodi – known hubs for chemical sale in Lagos – visited by our correspondent recently, it was discovered that beyond routine questioning of what a prospective buyer needed the item for, there are no strict procedures in place to guide the sale of acid to individuals. Sold on whole and retail basis, most dealers in these places would do anything to see a customer patronise them as competition is very high.
To further highlight how uncontrolled acid sale now is in the country, our correspondent contacted a few sellers on various online platforms, who all responded to the purchase request by asking which location to deliver the quantity needed without finding out from the caller the purpose it was needed for. There was also no probing on whether the caller had all necessary certification to handle such a deadly substance. Most of the sellers online agreed to deliver acid to any location within Lagos in 24-hours at no extra cost if the quantity was above five litres. The agreed fee is to be paid upon delivery of the item, it was discovered.
But beyond Lagos and on the Internet, the corrosive liquid is now easily being sold in other parts of the country as well, according to findings by Saturday PUNCH. While its sale is mostly common around auto spare parts markets, chemical shops and places where used car batteries are recycled, it was discovered that raw acid also changes hands in neighbourhoods where factories smelting iron, producing plastic and processing leather are found.
According to a recent research by Recycling and Economic Initiative Development of Nigeria, an estimated 110,300 tons of used lead acid batteries are generated in Nigeria annually from the transport sector with each ton sold at N340,000. The organisation while applauding the economic prospects of the industry in Nigeria raised serious concerns on health and environment following the poor regulation of activities of operators despite the toxic nature of acid.
“Acid is a hazardous item and as a result the Ministry of Environment and National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency is supposed to be responsible for the regulation of it in the country while state ministries of environment are also to control it in their various domains.
“But unfortunately because of poor enforcement, acid can be bought in Nigeria in the open market which is not supposed to be.
“People that import and sell acid are supposed to be closely monitored so that they don’t sell it to individuals who are not licensed to use it for any type of production or sinister things.
“That is why when it comes to used batteries which also contains a very dangerous acid compound, we advise people to dispose properly when it’s old and no longer working.
“Acid are not produced locally, they are imported into the country. But these days it is sold indiscriminately without proper regulation. The government needs to step up its enforcement of environmental laws to check this menace,” Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of the firm, Terseer Ugbor, said.
Calls and a text message sent to an official of NESREA on the matter and what they were doing to address the situation was still being awaited as of the time of writing this report.
A female official of the Ministry of Environment also contacted said she wasn’t qualified to speak on the matter and that she would send the telephone number of one of her superiors, who could address the issue. She was however, yet to do so as of press time.
But a psychiatrist, Mrs. Funmi Adegoke, said pouring acid on another person is not a normal behaviour and that anyone who indulges in such a cruel act must be properly checked by a trained expert.
“Nothing should drive anybody to pour acid on another person just because he or she has grouse against them. It is not a reasonable behaviour.
“Anyone who acts in such a manner, should be regarded as having lost their minds and require urgent psychiatric help,” she said.
According to the Public Relations Officer of the police in Lagos, SP Chike Oti, anyone caught using acid to attack others would be arrested and dealt with thoroughly as stipulated by the law.
“Regulation of such substance does not rest in the hands of the police. However, our job is to advise people not to abuse such chemical.
“If you are a dealer in acidic substance, you must make sure that it is properly stored so that authorised persons will not have access to it.
“It will be very unwise for any dealer to sell any type of acid to anybody who comes to their shop. A seller must be able to ask the customer what they intend to do with the substance. If the person says he deals in battery charging, the seller should ask him where his shop is. By the time you ask these questions and more, as a seller, you should be able to know whether he is into that work or not.
“However, I don’t think there is an established law against those who sell the acid to wrong hands. But if we have evidence that there is a collusion between the buyer and the seller, who plans to use it to attack somebody, we can prosecute the seller,” he said.
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