Alleged manslaughter: Housemaid committed suicide, couple insists

A couple, Fortune and Stephen Nwankwo, accused of manslaughter of their 19-year-old housemaid, Ms Joy Adole, have insisted that she committed suicide.

The Nwankwos made the revelation while testifying in their defence on Monday before an Ikeja High Court about the circumstances surrounding the death of Adole on April 20, 2020 at their residence at No. 18, Ogundola St., Bariga, Lagos.

The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the couple is facing a four-count charge of conspiracy, involuntary manslaughter and accessory.

The prosecution claimed the Nwankwos were involved in Adole’s demise because of the manner her corpse was found (feet touching the floor).

Led in evidence by defence counsel, Prof Paul Ananaba (SAN), the couple said the deceased was employed on Jan. 10, 2020 through an agent, Johnson Odewu, and her “sister” Blessing.

The couple in their respective testimonies said sometime in April 2020, they noticed that Adole was no longer doing her chores diligently and had stopped coming out of her bedroom to eat with the family.

Testifying, Fortune, a housewife and mother of two told the court after she noticed the change in behaviour, she called Blessing and Johnson who spoke to Adole and the housemaid reassured them that she would start behaving better.

She, however, noted that about two days later, Adole went back to her old habits and she had a conversation with her husband and they both agreed to terminate her contract.

Fortune said following the decision, Adole was unable to leave her home because of the movement restrictions necessitated by the COVID-19 lockdown.

She said on April 19, 2020 she caught Adole stealing Indomie noodles.

“I told her that we should go to her room, I was assuming that I will see the usual foodstuff she hides there.

“I opened her bag and started searching and I saw my clothes, jewelry, my kids’ toys, human hair extensions and books she had taken from mother’s school.

“I asked her why she had stolen my things and she disagreed that they were stolen. I asked if she bought them with your money, why she had to hide them this way.

“She had turned her clothes inside out and used needle and thread to attach my own clothes to her clothes in a way that if you lift up her own clothes my clothes will not drop, she also did the same thing to my jewelry,” she said.

Fortune said that Adole continued to deny the theft allegations and in annoyance, she used a cane to flog the housemaid and called Blessing her “sister” to report the incident.

She said Blessing gave her Adole’s older sister’s phone number in the village and she called the older sister to report Adole’s behaviour.

“When I flogged her, Joy did not cry, when I gave her the phone to speak to her elder sister she cried. Later that day we had a conversation, she apologised and promised that it will not happen again,” she said.

Fortune said that evening she asked if Adole had eaten, she responded in the negative and she had to encourage the housemaid to eat while she (Fortune) went to attend to her infant daughter.

The housewife noticed that later that evening, her husband noticed Adole sitting on the kitchen floor and that she also told him that she had not eaten.

She said upon hearing that Adole had still not had a meal; she called the housemaid who in turn reassured her that she would have a meal. She also told her employer that she would clean the living room in the morning.

“The following morning, I went to the kitchen to get something. I called her name from inside the kitchen but she did not respond, then I went to her room, knocked and she did not respond.

“I opened her room and saw her hanging from the ceiling. I screamed and my husband ran out while holding our seven-month old daughter and I told him in our native dialect ‘Joy has killed herself.’

“He opened the door, also screamed and was also shouting while hitting the wall. Our two-year-old son ran out and we had to shut the door to shield him from seeing it.

“Joy had used the adjustable hand of a travelling bag to hang herself on the hook of the ceiling intended for a fan with the ironing board fallen beneath her,” she said.

She said her husband immediately called their respective fathers to inform them about what happened and her husband locked the housemaid’s bedroom and went to the Police Station with a neighbour, Mr Eno Bassey.

She said she and her children went to Bassey’s flat and while there, she saw a police van and ambulance arrive.

She watched as Adole’s corpse was taken away by the authorities and that she was invited that day to give her statement at the Police Station.

“The Divisional Police Officer (DPO) asked to speak to a relative of Joy. I used my phone to call Blessing and he spoke to her and asked her for Joy’s surname.

“She said that she was not sure of Joy’s surname that he should call her sister. It was at that point that she told us that she is not Joy’s sister that it was her brother that married Joy’s older sister.

“The case was transferred to the State Criminal Investigation Department (SCID), Panti, Yaba and I was detained.

“On April 26, 2020 while I was still in custody, the Lagos State Forensic Unit came to take my DNA, thumbprint and blood and I was transferred to Kirikiri Correctional Center,” she said.

While being cross-examined by the state prosecutor, Mr Yusuf Sule, Fortune said she had beaten Adole because she was unremorseful for stealing. She said she had given the housemaid three cane strokes.

When shown a photo of Adole’s hung corpse, she said that the housemaid’s feet appeared to be touching the floor while an ironing board was seen in an upside position beside the bed.

On why she did not contact Adole’s family between the period of 7.00 a.m. to 11.30 a.m. after her body was discovered, Fortune said she did not contact the family because her husband had gone to the police.

“There were three adults in that house and one was found dead,” the prosecutor said.

Stephen in his evidence told the court that the suicide scene was not left intact by the individuals who came to take away Adole’s corpse.

“One of the men that removed the corpse removed the ironing board from where it was to the side of the bed.

“The adjustable strap of the traveling bag she (Adole) used to hang herself was given to the police as well as her phone and her body was put in a body bag,” he said.

While being cross-examined by Sule, Stephen insisted that the ironing board Adole was alleged to have climbed in the suicide was moved by authorities.

“The people that came to carry the corpse removed the ironing board from the position it was before the pictures were taken.

“I only contacted family and my neighbours and not her family when we discovered the body because I was in shock and that was the only thing I could think of.

“The police never said anything about a suicide note I never saw a suicide note,” he said.

Following Stephen’s testimony, Ananaba informed the court that the defence would close its case while Sule announced that the state intended to re-arraign the couple on an amended criminal charge.

Justice Oyindamola Ogala adjourned the case until Jan. 31 for further proceedings. (NAN)