*Somebody wants to wipe out my entire family
+ Hides murdered brothers’ corpses, says will not bury them even if it takes 20 years to get justice’
I’ve known Lady Apostle Helen Ukpabio for over 10 years now and never for once have I seen her spirit this low. With the corpses of her mother (Madam Etim Akpabio),sister (Elizabeth) and three brothers (Charles, Emmanuel and Joseph) still lying down in the morgue and awaiting burial, the firebrand preacher of the gospel and founder of Liberty Gospel Church (with over 250 branches scattered all over the world) would have preferred a different 2012. And as if those are not enough challenges already, she and her elder sister, Rose narrowly escape death recently. While on a whistle-stop visit to Lagos, YES International! Publisher/Editor-in-Chief, AZUH ARINZE, had a late night interview with her somewhere in Ajao Estate, Lagos on Thursday, January 10, 2013 – and she poured out her heart on how she’s been coping. Come with her…
How does it feel to lose your mother?
Very, very painful, because those that my mother met when she was born are still alive and strong; those that were in that our compound, my cousins, my uncle’s children that were old then, the big boys when my mother was newly married, their own mothers are still strong and alive. In my village, people don’t die young, especially in our compound. We don’t die young. But my mother died because of the pains of losing her children and more so when no justice was done. The autopsy shows that she died of heart break. So, it’s painful.
How about your father, Chief Essessien Akpabio, how is he coping?
It’s not been easy for him. To even break the news to him was horrible, but we managed. My husband, some of our pastors rallied round and then told him that the woman was dead and since then my father has not been himself. It’s like he was initially managing to survive with his children’s death, but with the wife’s death, he went very low.
How exactly did your mother die?
You know she could not take her mind away from the death of her children and she told us that she kept hearing the gun shots (as they were being killed) and seeing how the children were shot. Anytime she was alone, she kept crying and everything I did to take away her mind from there didn’t really work. But on that day, I think it was on a Sunday, 25th of November, she slumped in my house, at the veranda. I was still in the church, though service was over. She was rushed to the Teaching Hospital, which we visited later and discovered that she was deeply unconscious. It was like that throughout that night and the doctors battled to save her. By Monday afternoon, my mother sat up and was even playing with a grandchild. So, everybody was happy. Even one pastor sent me a text message saying ‘Thank God, I’ve spoken with mama on the phone, she was sitting and talking with a granddaughter’. This was on Monday, the 26th. Then, on Tuesday, I was to go to London, so I was preparing; I was packing my things when the hospital called and said I should come. I said why, mama had my sister there taking care of her, but they said no, that I should come. So, my husband said let him rush down there. Then, I called one other lady living close to the hospital to go and find out what was happening. Not long after, she called me to say that my sister, Aunty Rose, the one with my mother, was unconscious. I said ah! What made her unconscious, and she said because mama is dead. So, till I got to the hospital, I didn’t even know myself. When I got there, I screamed and shouted. Because when I saw my sister, her face had turned. They said the blood vessels that supply the head went into spasm, so blood was no longer being supplied to the head and they started battling that one. If not, it would have been six corpses waiting now in one family for burial. They (doctors and nurses) battled for hours to make her come back to life. The following day she had the same problem again. My husband again took her to the hospital and after like four, five hours, she became conscious. So, those are my pains (voice now very low). My mother never had any deadly disease, so what could have killed her? I insisted on having an autopsy and the autopsy showed that she died of heart break.
Any plans yet for her burial?
I’m burying her on the 26th of January, along with my sister, Elizabeth, who died in April when she heard about the death of her three brothers. Those are the two people I’m preparing to bury.
How about your three brothers (Charles, Emmanuel and Joseph who were gruesomely murdered on March 25, 2012 in Mbente, Ini LGA, Akwa Ibom State by an agent of the government)…
They are awaiting justice! I will not bury them even if it takes 20 years for justice to prevail. I won’t go back to the grave to exhume them for whatever. No!
So, where are their corpses now?
I won’t say where the corpses are because many attempts had been made by the security agents to steal the corpses so as to shield the perpetrators. My third brother, they sold the corpse to a native doctor, according to some villagers; those who were there. The perpetrators are denying that they never killed that one. It was after stealing one corpse and they attempted to steal the other two that I went and took them from Ini local government (in Akwa Ibom State). I’m hiding the other two corpses.
How does it feel to have five corpses awaiting burial on one’s hands?
If in January 2012 somebody had told me that this year, you will lose your brothers, lose your sister, lose your mother, I would have said no way. But (smiles)…I think God is just teaching me another lesson of life that I didn’t know about. Because you cannot totally say I have forgotten about it. It’s always there and even before you. Like sometimes when I travel abroad, sometimes it can overtake my days, especially when the thought comes so strong in the morning and it can affect anything I want to do that day. Even when I come back, it’s the same thing. It’s not something that somebody can cope easily with, but then it has happened and as a Christian I’m just encouraging myself in the Lord.
If this type of thing had happened to someone, usually it is pastors like you that people call or run to, to assist and to console them. If it were to be someone else, how will you console and comfort the person? What quotations in the Bible will you use for the person?
Ah! You know it is easy to encourage when it is not you. But as it is me now (smiles), when I sit back, I remember those words I use for people – I say look, if God had not permitted it, it wouldn’t have happened. So, I relax because He knows the reason and I encourage myself too with those words. If God had not permitted it, it wouldn’t have happened. But then, it keeps happening and I don’t know (smiles again).
Have you found out from God why He allowed this monumental tragedy to befall you?
There are too many dimensions to it. Sometimes you will ask and a voice goes like ‘My grace is sufficient for you’. Sometimes the question comes back: ‘Who else? If not you, then who?’ This is not a wish that you can pass unto any other person because I see it to be more than a trial; more than persecution, more than anything any war situation would have brought, more than what we can ascribe it to. I just feel that the work of the ministry cannot slow down or die because of this, because I’m sure that, that is what the devil is looking for. But if that is what he’s looking for, he has failed totally. For me, the Lord is my stronghold (voice shaking). The Psalmist says if God be for us, who can be against us? So, I draw my strength from the Lord and He’s giving me the strength.
What is the latest on the investigation? Any favourable response from the government yet?
If you go to any police station, they will tell you ah, this case, there are too many interests. And we don’t know these interests, what or who they are or even where they are coming from. Because the governor (Chief Godswill Akpabio of Akwa Ibom State) has told us specifically that he was never part of the problem. He told us that he’s not part of this. He even said that people that were condemned by the courts, he changed it to life sentence. So, how will he now kill three boys from one father and mother? For what? What did they do? But the killers of my brothers, especially Chief Bassey, has been boasting. To different people, he tells different things. To some people, he told that the people went for robbery. To some people, he said they kidnapped somebody, a former deputy governor’s mother and so they were caught. To some people, he said they were terrorists. They were terrorizing the village. Then, to some other people, he told them that I’m the one who killed my brothers. He has even sent me a text to that effect. He said that I killed my brothers and that I should tell my parents the truth. Then, to others, he told them that I wanted the boys dead. So, my question now is, I wanted the boys dead and I now hired him to go kill them. You can now see somebody who is not related to me by blood having too many or showing so much interest and talking about this matter everywhere. He alone in the whole of our community is the one that is talking left, right and centre.
So, what do you want to do next as far as this case is concerned?
I want justice to prevail, I want the case investigated, even if it takes 20 years. I want to know why they were killed and I want to prove the murderer wrong. He lied to the government. Yes, the Akwa Ibom State government has said they are not involved. I believe them, but I know that they used the SSS to kill them. I didn’t know that a government organ could be used to kill innocent citizens. Because in the course of our own hired private investigator working, we discovered so many other atrocities committed by them. So many interests. No senator wants to be exposed, no governor wants to be exposed, no politician wants to be exposed, but not on my brothers’ corpses.
What will you miss most about your mother?
Everything! A woman who suffered and labored and brought us up in abject poverty should have stayed longer or lived like every other person does in that village. The youngest people in our village die at ninety – something…
But she died at what age?
Your sister, Elizabeth, what are you going to miss most about her?
She was the most beautiful girl in the whole village. Yeah! Her beauty keeps flashing into my mind from time to time and somebody with a Master’s degree. In our family, apart from my daughter, Iniobong, who has her Master’s now at 22, she was the most educated. In the village, you can count the number of people with Master’s and she was even doing her Ph.D when this happened. So, I miss everything about her. I miss her beauty, I miss her level of intelligence, I miss her calmness, I miss her advice. She was a very good girl.
How about your brothers?
Em…(silent for seconds). First of all, I don’t have brothers any more. No home brothers again. Everything about us (her family) is now naked. We are now like a city without any gate, without any fence. So, anything and anyone can break in. That is how we are now. We are so porous, vulnerable to attacks, to anything. So, anybody can say anything to us now and nobody will defend us. The only person I have now is my God which nobody can take away. I told those who killed my brothers; one day I sent the man a text. I said there is one thing you can’t take away from me – you can’t take away my God from me. Because I was travelling then and they sent hired assassins after me. So, when I came back, I sent him a text message. I told him that you cannot kill me, because if you kill me, there will be revenge. If you kill me, they will kill you, kill your mother, kill everybody in your family. There are people in the village who are not related to me, but the pain of killing those boys for nothing, they are bitter. Since those boys died, that man has never stepped into the village. People keep asking him to come to the village, but he refused. Like on the 29th of December, I was in the village. I was told he would be there, I went, but I didn’t see him. I saw the villagers, they were having a meeting and I told them that if I had seen him we would have sorted out the matter. He used to come to the village once in two weeks, but not anymore. Since March last year, he hasn’t come. So, those are the signs that the guilty is already afraid.
Can you hazard a guess on why he wants to wipe out your entire family?
I don’t know o! That was the question I wanted to ask him on the 29th of December if I had seen him. But I hear people say land, politics, envy and so on…