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09.03.2021 Journalism Blessing Ezeala ‘Was Sexually Assaulted’ by Her Boss but She’s the One Panti Police Station Wants to Go After

Published 9th Mar, 2021

By Socrates Mbamalu

Every day for two weeks, Blessing Chibuzor Ezeala spent N1,100 going from Surulere to Onikan where she worked as a secretary at the Omolayo Art Gallery headed by Biodun Omolayo.

Blessing had been without a job for two years, lived with her mother and younger brother, and needed a job urgently. When this job came with a salary of N40,000 she took it. For her, it was a case of survival even if the conditions were not favourable. She needed the money to take care of her mother and brother.

She told FIJ that when she interviewed for the job, the agreement was that she would leave latest at 6pm as compared to 8pm that was required. The spate of crime around where she lived had made her wary of staying late at night. But this new job which she started on January 25, was to be short-lived when her boss hit her buttocks during a lively conversation.

Blessing downplayed what happened to the laughter they were both sharing and ignored it. But then it happened again, this time after he had insulted her in the presence of a client. After the client left, he had invited Blessing to seat on a cushion next to him, and apologized for insulting her, opening his arms for a hug. Blessing told FIJ she gave a side hug and as she was leaving he hit her buttocks. She stopped in her tracks and eyed him before walking away. This would become the point when things started going downhill.

Sexual harassment in Nigeria is rampant at the work place. In May 2018, following the OAU scandal in which a lecturer, Richard Akindele, sexually harassed Monica Osagie, a master’s degree student, the sexual harassment bill was signed into law in 2020. This bill was however targeted at those in tertiary institutions.

Blessing Chibuzor Ezeala told FIJ she was sexually harassed and after she was sacked she has not been paid for the twoo weeks she worked.

On Friday, February 5, just at the close of work, Omolayo came with a document for Blessing to type, despite their subsisting agreement on closing hour. Blessing told FIJ that it was then that he changed her closing time to 8pm. It was during the argument that he asked her to leave. “I carried my bag and I left. On Monday I resumed as usual,” Blessing told FIJ.

Blessing had studied Library and Information Science at Imo State University but work was difficult to find. When Blessing resumed, Omolayo expressed surprise at seeing her in the office. He accused her of walking away from him and sacked her. Blessing had only spent two weeks at Omolayo Art Gallery but is yet to receive her N20,000 wage till now.

When FIJ contacted Omolayo he said “My lawyer has taken up the case flowing from the several threats she (Blessing) has issued at my person, to burn down my gallery and cursing my children.”

Screenshots obtained by FIJ showed that Blessing had demanded for her money and had told Omolayo she would take up the issue of the sexual harassment.

However, Omolayo further told FIJ that Blessing had spammed his social media in a bid to blackmail him. WHat he didn’t say, though, was that Blessing was going to do this as a way of forcing him to pay her for the period of work.

“A petition has been written at the state CID Panti against her and she has been invited. Instead of showing up she decides to go this route. I can only advise you to be careful what you publish to avoid the needless libel suit which may follow.”

The Nigeria Police Force as a tool of oppression and intimidation is not a new tactic when it comes to issues of rape and sexual harassment. As of the time of this report, Blessing had approached the Office of Public Defender to help her with the case as she had been summoned by the police, but she hasn’t received sufficient help. With no job in sight, and a mother and brother who depend on her, Blessing is left with little or no option of how to get her money.

Independent, public-interest journalism has never been more vital than in times like this when truth is constantly being suppressed. With your support, it will be easier for us to continue speaking truth to power and preserving your right to know.

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Published 9th Mar, 2021

By Socrates Mbamalu

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