Monday, May 11, 2011 was a day Beauty Igbobie wanted to remember for good things as it was her 19th birthday.
Born to Chief Jeremiah Igbobie and Doris, Beauty had always wanted to join the Nigerian Air Force and also, it was her first birthday as Air Police, a dream job for her. She was enlisted into the Nigerian Air Force in August 2010 and was serving at 335 Base Services Group, Kaduna State as an Air Police following her passing out from the Nigeria Air Force basic military training about two months earlier.
But sadly for Beauty, the day did not end with the joy that heralded a beautiful morning for her. It ended up as a day that changed her life and robbed her of her innocence.
“I was raped, brutalised, beaten up by a superior officer and the trauma has not left me since then,” she told Saturday PUNCH in a long telephone interview in a voice laden with emotions.
Her account of the experience started with an anonymous call around 8pm from someone, who introduced himself as one of her instructors during the training period.
The caller, who she said was Flight Lt. B.F. Vibelko, told her that he had got her contact from one of her course mates, Air Craft Man Bello. He asked her to meet him at a popular church in the Nigeria Air Force Base in Kaduna for an important matter he did not want to discuss on the phone.
At the location, Beauty met Vibelko, Bello, a Sgt. Hossan, one of her other instructors and a lady she did not know.
She said, “They (Vibelko and the other instructor) said they needed to drop the lady off first and pleaded with me to join in the car. I resisted but they said they could never harm me because they were my instructors.”
After dropping the lady off, they drove to a place called ‘Communicator Mess’, where Beauty said Vibelko ordered for wine and roast fish. She said she was offered a glass of wine, which she later found out, had been drugged. She suspected that the drug was put in the wine when she left for a few minutes to use the ladies room.
Beauty said from there, Vibelko and Hossan also discharged Bello and the other instructor, leaving just the three of them. They, however, promised that Hossan, whose car was being used, would drop her back at a place later, which was described as close to hers.
She said Vibelko and Hossan were later engaged in discussion at a flat in JD Quarters, where Vibelko was supposed to be living. She was asked to wait at the former’s living room while they concluded their discussion.
She said, “Suddenly, I heard Hossan starting the car and as I tried to rush out to join him, Vibelko pushed me back inside. He locked the door and Hossan sped off.
“I said ‘Sir, why are you pushing me back inside when the person I’m supposed to leave with is going? He said ‘you’re very stupid; you mean say after I don train una finish, your course mate go charge through you before me?
“I said I didn’t understand what he was saying. He said he must sleep with me. I struggled with him for more than two hours and when I tried to shout, he would use his hand to block my mouth and push me to the ground. I received severe beating. What I went through that day was too painful and so traumatising.
“I told him I was a virgin but he insisted that he must have his way. As I pleaded with him, the beating got more severe. It was then that he told me that since I was stubborn, he would teach me a lesson. He hit my head on the wall and I passed out. I didn’t know what happened afterwards till I woke up and realised I was naked. The bed was soaked with water and I was bleeding.”
Beauty said Vibelko attempted to rape her again after she regained consciousness but she managed to get out, still feeble and dizzy from the drugging, battery and rape.
“It was on May 18, 2011, at around noon that I realised that I was in the hospital,” she said.
“When I regained consciousness, I attempted to urinate, but could not. The doctor had to hold my hand to help me to the toilet. He said I was brought in by Vibelko and Bello, and that Vibelko said I had malaria.”
Following the incident, Beauty said she spent two weeks and three days on admission at the hospital and had to be operated on after bleeding nonstop for three days. She also made a 25-page medical report to substantiate her allegations available to the Saturday PUNCH.
She said she also found out later that she had contracted a sexually transmitted disease after the sexual assault.
But that was not the end of Beauty’s ordeal. Soon, intimidations, transfers and her eventual dismissal followed.
She was soon transferred from Kaduna to Abuja and later to Lagos.
She said, “After I was discharged from the hospital, the Aeromedical Commander said I should not tell anyone what happened, including my family members.
“Air Commodore N. A. Sanusi, the Director of Air Police also told me not to talk about it or tell my family; AVM I. Saliu, Air Officer Training Command, Kaduna, also told me not to talk; the late Air Commodore Falodoye came to my place to tell me to keep quiet. From that point, my life was under threat.
“They told me that a dead woman cannot make a case. They asked if I was the first woman that would be raped and that didn’t I know that Air Force women are male officers’ materials. Group Capt. Inuwa also told me that a dead man could not make a case.
“At Muster Parades, Group Capt. Inuwa would ask me before everybody if my virginity was as precious as gold.”
In Lagos, Beauty said she was detained for days on several occasions for no reason except that she reported to the authorities that she was raped, even though, the alleged rapist was not punished.
According to her, Vibelko was court-martialled, but she was barred from following the proceedings except once that she was called in to give her account of the incident.
She was later dismissed from the Air Force in October 2015, following an incident with Flight Lt. E. Miji, who she described as a “friend and former course mate to Vibelko”.
“One day, he (Miji) threatened to kill me,” she said.
“He said ‘you are dirty thing and a very poor idiot, if I kill you, nothing is going to happen. He was drunk and reeked of alcohol. He advanced towards and tried to snatch my rifle from me, I could not give my rifle to a drunken man. I told him that I would shoot if he came closer. We were taught not to ever lose our rifle to anyone and here was this man threatening to kill me.”
Beauty said a senior officer later intervened and took her rifle from her, but that she was thrown in guardroom for days after that.
She said, “Meanwhile, I had given them my retirement letter. In the guardroom, I collapsed, and I was taken to the hospital. But at the hospital, I was being given drugs that would make me appear to be psychologically deranged.
“Then, I was placed on medical review. One day, I got a phone call from my Admin Officer to see the Squadron Leader, Ilori, for an interview. Ilori directed me to another officer, Ejiga, who asked why I wanted to retire. I said it was because of my health and threat to life, then, he said I should be locked in the guardroom. Nobody enquired what happened between Miji and I till they pronounced that I was dismissed. It was an unlawful dismissal because I was not given any letter to that effect, only verbally.
“I was dismissed and still taken to the guardroom. I was given a seven-count charge and locked up for days. They said that I removed my uniform, shouted that I was tired of the Air Force, and assaulted one Corporal Ubani. I did nothing of such.
“They beat me up and took me to the hospital. I was unconscious for 48 hours and never knew where I was. I was chained to the hospital bed. I spent seven days at the hospital before being dragged half naked back to the guardroom. Then they threw me out of the Air Force Base.”
There is one thing that seems to drive Beauty these days and that is to see justice done after her experience in the military.
She once loved nothing more than to join the Air Force, but her story has since changed to that of utter disgust for the military.
She said, “I joined the Nigerian Air Force because I had passion to serve my fatherland, with integrity. But on getting there, I found that the glamour I used to see in the military was not there.
“I am disappointed with the Nigerian military because there are lots of terrible things happening there. The male officers treat the women like prostitutes; they point at the women they have slept with. When they sleep with a female colleague, they share the story and urge other male officers to do the same. And this includes both senior and junior officers. They make laws and break laws; I was disappointed when I was there.”
Sometimes, Beauty now wishes she would “sleep and not wake up because of the trauma” she has gone through.
She is jobless now, but hopes her degree in Security and Operation Management would chart a new course for her in life.
“I am tired of life because of the psychological trauma I have passed through,” she said.
“Every day, I remember the rape incident. Even when I was in service, there was no day I didn’t shed tears because my heart had been shattered.
“I was raped as a virgin. I wanted to die; meanwhile, nothing was done about it. The rapist walks freely while the victim continues to face the trauma, victimisation and threats to life.
“My life has been so unbearable for me; it has not been easy. You try to make sure you don’t mess up and at the end; the country you serve pushes you out to become a prostitute. I don’t want this to happen to any other woman in the military. Let them have their pride as women to serve their fatherland.”
However, Air Commodore Dele Alonge, Director Air Force Information, declined to comment on the issue, saying it was “already in court”.
But a source in the Force confirmed to our correspondent that Beauty’s rape allegation was true and that the officer responsible for the crime was court-martialled and duly punished.
“He was duly punished because he was demoted to Flying Officer,” the source said.
Beauty’s case has been taken over by the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights.
Its Chairman, Delta State, Mr. Benefit Orugbo, said it had petitioned the President, Senate President and the Chief of Air Staff, asking that Beauty’s account be investigated and the alleged rapist and others who intimidated Beauty be prosecuted if found guilty.
He added that the organisation would be suing the Nigerian Air Force for N1bn.
He said, “They should be prosecuted so that it would act as a deterrent to others who also rape our women in the military and rid it of such characters. We will be asking for a compensation of N1bn from the Air Force for the various acts of injustice she was subjected to.”