It was a sorrowful nightfall for two members of the National Youth Service Corps last Wednesday in Asarama Community, Andoni Local Government Area, Rivers State, after they were robbed and raped by suspected militants.
The victims were said to be in bed at their unsecured lodge in an isolated part of the community when the gunmen broke into their rooms to rob and rape them.
The operation which started at midnight lasted for more than two hours, with two female corps members raped, and phones, food stuff, clothes, shoes, money among others carted away.
One of the victims who didn't want her name in print in a telephone conversation with The Nation explained that the gunmen numbering seven wore face caps except for the ring leader, who was hooded.
She said the gunmen hinged their actions on the failure of the government to pay them their dues.
"The gunmen broke the door with their legs. No burglary proof or protector. We were about seven in the lodge. We had five serving Corps members, one ex-corps member and one other person. They entered my room and I was told to knock on other rooms. They came here with guns and cutlasses. They were about seven in number.
They asked all of us out of our rooms and they led all of us into an empty room. Then later they came to ask if we had any male Corps member because the lodge is like a wing. It was the first wing they robbed in the first hour of the operation. In that first wing, we had just one male Corps member; so they took him to the other room and beat him with a cutlass. They asked him to pull his trousers.
''We, the girls were packed in an empty room and they told us to stand up one after the other and they led us to our rooms. Some phones were collected and luckily for some of us, our phones were not with us because we were charging it. I had my phone with me but immediately they came, I hid my phone because they did not come with a torch. It was our torch they were collecting. There has not been light in our lodge since we started serving. We have been using a generator set and we don't put it on overnight.
So there was no light and they didn't come with any source of light. They asked me to put on my torch. They asked us how much we had as they led us to our rooms. As they were doing that, they were beating, slapping and hitting us. They searched the rooms and asked us to bring the money. So I think because I was fidgeting, I told them the amount I didn't have. The one I had I gave them and they were asking for the remaining one. I was still checking when one of them came in to scatter all my stuff. And I was trying to tell him that was just all I had. They asked me to kneel down and went into other people's room to do the same thing.
"When he came back into my room, he locked the door and asked me to look for the money, else he would kill me. I told them that I didn't have any money apart from the one I already gave them.
Then he (gunmen) asked me to pull my dress, and I was actually raped that night. I struggled but he overpowered me. He was beating and slapping me. The marks are still on my body. He was the one who had the gun with him and he had already locked the door on us. One other female Corps member was raped in our room too.
After that, he told me to lie faced down on my bed, then also took some things from my room and left. He told me to lock the door when he left and warned that I shouldn't open the door for any other person that when he wants to come, he would knock.
Then I was hearing footsteps; I think they were carrying the food stuff that they saw in other rooms. They went to the other wing where they met two men and a lady and they collected their phones, foods stuff, clothes, shoes, and some plates too. All these lasted for more than two hours. They sounded local and they were saying "since the government did not pay us; no vex o. All these things, na hunger cause am. If government no pay us, then if we get gun, we go find our way.''
Expatiating further, she said: "There is no police station in that area. And our lodge is bushy, so even if we called for help, no one would have heard us. If you are coming into the community, our lodge is the first house. It was my pastor who took us to a hospital. The hospital is in another community entirely, there is no health facility where our quarters is located.
"The local inspector, local government chairman and some other people visited us in the hospital and took care of our hospital bill. We were adequately treated and given drugs to prevent pregnancy or infection. They told us to leave the place.
"So, the place is under lock now. I feel very bad. It's very heartbreaking and traumatising but I know God has just been helping me. And with the people around me, I've been so encouraged. I know God knows about everything that happened and I know those that did it will not go unpunished."
She condemned the state of insecurity especially in hinterland communities like Asarama saying: "There was a time they raised an issue that everybody will be left in his or her own geopolitical zones, so even if they wouldn't want to scrap it, we should be posted within our geopolitical zones. If I was in my own place, whatever they were saying, I could pick up some little things from it when they were speaking the language and that could even be used to trace them. But in a place like that, by 5 or 6pm, you have to be in your own house and if something happens, you don't know how to communicate.
Even if someone is talking about killing you, you cannot understand to save yourself. If it will not be scrapped, they should maintain us in our own geopolitical zones and they should ensure security measures because we did not say we wanted to serve. They made it compulsory for us, so once we have agreed that we want to serve our country, they should make sure security measures are high. There is no security where we are and I think that was what gave the gunmen confidence because they know there is nowhere we can run to for help."
Meanwhile, other corps members have become apprehensive since the incident, especially the females.
According to one of the corps member serving in the same community, no measures have been instilled to forestall further attacks in the area.
She said it took the intervention of the Zonal Inspector to approve their relocation to safer areas as the Local Inspector insisted they stay or face harsh consequences.
According to her: "The proximity of our lodge to the scene coupled with no guaranteed security had set panic in us, we don't know these guys neither do we know what line of action they would take next, we just thought it's better to be proactive and not just take a harmful risk. So, we all decided to vacate the lodge and not to return.''