Lagos, Nigeria — Uwaila Vera Omozuwa was studying microbiology at university in Nigeria’s Benin City, but her passion was theology.
Even after she gained admission to the University of Benin last year, the 22-year-old didn’t stop taking theological classes at a local parish of the Redeemed Christian Church of God in Edo State, her older sister Judith Omozuwa told CNN.
Despite the best efforts of doctors to save her life, Omozuwa, whom her family described as “kind and intelligent,” died days after the attack.
“She wanted to be a minister and preach the word of God. The church was her favorite place to be,” Judith, 24, said by phone. “That she was murdered where she always found peace is just devastating.”
Omozuwa usually went to the church on weekdays to study to avoid distractions from her siblings at home, her sister said.
The student went more regularly in recent months as her university was one of the dozens shuttered by authorities as part of measures to halt the coronavirus pandemic in Nigeria.
On the day her sister was attacked, Judith said she walked with her to the gate of their home before she left for church — not knowing that it would be the last time she’d see her sister alive.
“Uwa complained that we made a lot of noise at home watching TV and it was getting worse now that everyone is at home.
“That day she was wearing one of my clothes and I was teasing her.
“She said that is what sisters do.”
A man has been arrested in connection with Omozuwa’s death and police say forensics show that she been hit on the head with a fire extinguisher found at the scene.
Rape is considered a stigma in most Nigerian families and it’s extraordinary for her family to reveal that this happened to her, Amnesty International Nigeria Director Osai Ojigho told CNN.
“It shows how police are unwilling to even investigate rape cases and will rather probe murder allegations. Both are heinous crimes and none should be dismissed for the other,” Ojigho said.
CNN has made several attempts to reach the police team in charge of the investigation with no response so far.
However, for the first time in recent years, Nigeria’s police said it planned to strengthen its response to gender-based violence, adding that it had deployed special detectives across the country to work on gender violence cases.
“This is to strengthen and enhance the capacity of the units to respond to increasing challenges of sexual assaults and domestic/gender-based violence linked with the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic and other social ills within the country,” the statement announcing the change said.
The force is also calling on citizens to come forward with information that could assist them in ongoing probes of sexual assault and domestic violence cases in the country, Nigeria police spokesman Frank Mba said in the statement.
Omozuwa’s death is part of a recent spate of violence involving young women in Nigeria and the killing has become a rallying cry as women call on authorities to tackle gender-based violence in the West African nation.
He added that he expects the Nigerian police to “speedily and diligently” investigate the case to ensure justice.
Amnesty’s Ojigho told CNN that authorities need a zero-tolerance approach to end the violence targeted at women.
“No matter where you are in Nigeria, in the north or south, in the city or rural, Christian or Muslim, every woman and girl is at risk of rape. Nowhere is safe or immune to this violent crime against women,” Ojigho said.