It should have been one of the safest places to seek refuge. Instead, Uwaila Vera Omozuwa was attacked as she studied in church, according to Nigerian police.
The 22-year-old died on May 30, just days after the brutal assault inside the church of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, or RCCG, in Benin city, a spokesman told CNN.
A Nigeria police spokesman described Omozuwa’s death as a “brutal attack” in a statement and said the force would “bring the perpetrators of the callous act to book in the shortest possible time.”
RCCG spokesman Olaitan Olubiyi said Omozuwa was a member of the choir who had studied privately at the church since lockdown measures due to the coronavirus pandemic were put in place in Nigeria in March.
“We are all devastated by her death. She decided to do some private studies during the lockdown because the church was peaceful. She’s been taking the key from the parish pastor and returning it after her studies.
“But that day she didn’t return it and the night guard who resumed duty found her in a pool of her own blood and half-naked in the church hall,” Olubiyi added.
The university student was taken to hospital where doctors battled to save her, but Omozuwa died three days later, the church said.
In an interview with Town Crier, a local media platform, Omozuwa’s mother, who was not named, described how she was told of her daughter’s death by a neighbor.
“I ran [to the church] but before I got there, they took her to a private hospital and when I saw my daughter, I cried. They raped her; the dress she was wearing that morning was white. The white had turned to red; all her body was full of blood,” she said.
CNN also spoke to Omozuwa’s father, Joseph, who said doctors told him she was raped.
“My daughter was very kind and very intelligent and disciplined. We had just celebrated her admission to university.”
A ‘shocking situation’
The RCCG church is one of the largest denominations in the country with hundreds of parishes. It also has global branches in the United Kingdom, India, USA, Canada, South Africa, Australia among other countries, according to its website.
Its General Overseer Enoch Adeboye, one of the most revered religious leaders in the country, issued a statement on Sunday saying that the church would pray for Omozuwa’s family.
“I and members of my Family condemn this act strongly and urge everyone to stay calm as we are already looking into the matter and cooperating with the police to establish the facts of the shocking situation… #justiceforuwa,” he said.
Omozuwa’s death is sparking outrage online as Nigerian women lash out against the attack.
The hashtag, #justiceforuwa was trending on Twitter, with thousands of Nigerians calling for action against the perpetrators.
Dr. Kemi Ibru founded the non-profit organization Women at Risk International Foundation, or WARIF in 2016 to help survivors of sexual and gender-based violence.
Ibru told CNN: “We can not look away as our young girls and women endure horrific acts of rape and sexual violence perpetrated against them. Our silence has made us all complicit and now is the time to speak out and put an end to our rape culture.”
While authorities have not said if Omozuwa was sexually assaulted, Amnesty International Nigeria is describing the attack as rape.
The rights group issued a statement calling for a stronger government response.
“While the nation is still coming to terms with this gross violation, in Jigawa state 11 men were arrested for raping a 12-year old girl at Limawa in Dutse, the state capital. Although rape is a crime in Nigeria government’s response to it continues to be, woefully inadequate,” according to the statement posted to Twitter.
“We are deeply concerned that perpetrators of rape in Nigeria invariably escape punishment.”
The governor of Edo State, where the incident happened, also released a statement saying he has ordered an investigation into Omozuwa’s death.
“I have ordered the Nigeria Police Force to thoroughly investigate the circumstances that led to the death of Miss Vera Uwaila Omozuwa, a 100-level student of the University of Benin (UNIBEN),” Gov. Godwin Obaseki said on Twitter.