In a private ward at a physiotherapy centre in Tema, Benita Dankwa scrolls through her photographs on a Samsung tablet. The 29-year old lady does so with a pang of nostalgia because the gloomy Benita Dankwa holding the tablet is a shocking impersonation of the breezy Benita Dankwa in those photographs. The lady looking at the photographs is not the same as the woman in those photographs.
They differ in many ways.
“This is not how I was,” she says, showing more photographs of her former self to make a point. And she is right. This is not how she was.
The woman in the photograph is full of life. She is a charming beauty. The woman in the photographs is smiling. She is standing. She is walking. She is posing. She is working. The woman in the photograph is enjoying life. That woman has a “loving” husband, 33-year old Effort Dankwa. And she looks forward to a beautiful family.
“I had dreams of a sweet husband, having me alone as the wife. No other person… having our kids, just jumping around and all that. But it never happened that way,” Benita says.
Indeed, there is a world of difference between the cheerful woman in the photographs and the low-spirited woman now looking at the images – her former self. However, they both bear the same name – Benita Dankwa. That is where their similarities end.
The Benita Dankwa on the hospital bed is paralysed from her chest downwards. Dr. Francis Caiquo of the Tema General Hospital explains that, in a layperson’s language, it means that part of her body is “dead.” The only reason it is not rotten is because of blood circulation, he says.
Apart from her hands and head, the Benita Dankwa on the hospital bed cannot move any part of her body. Those parts don’t belong to her any longer, or rather, they do but she has lost control over them. She cannot feel any sensation there.
The Benita Dankwa on the hospital bed cannot pass out urine. She cannot empty her bowels. A urinary catheter is attached to her urinary tract. It is emptied periodically by her 54-year old mother, Mrs. Agnes Yirenkyi, or anyone who is present when it is full. Benita also wears diapers to contain the involuntary discharge of faecal matter. That’s not all the woes of the woman on the hospital bed.
When Benita lifts the cloth covering the lower part of her body, huge plasters covering her bedsores are exposed. She has large bedsores on her buttocks and on her hips. The Benita Dankwa on the hospital bed has swollen feet. She is bedridden. And she needs someone to bathe her and turn her from time to time to enable the bedsores heal.
The woman on the hospital bed is also anaemic. Doctors at the Tema General Hospital say her hemoglobin (blood) level is 6.1, half what it is supposed to be. The ideal level is 12. Hers dropped to 4 and has risen to 6.1 through medication. The low hemoglobin level hampers the healing of her sores. She also stands the risk of a heart attack because of her low blood level.
“I miss many things because now I can’t do anything,” says Benita. “I miss walking. I miss working. If I could walk, I can do anything.”
On a bed beside Benita’s hospital bed lies Nana Kwame, Benita’s four month-old baby. Benita was supposed to be taking care of him and changing his diapers. But Mrs. Agnes Yirenkyi, Benita’s mother, now does all of that. She changes the diapers of her four-month old grandson and 29-year old daughter, the first seed of her womb.
“This family is going through severe pain and suffering,” Agnes Yirenkyi speaks of the agony of the family since they received a dreadful call on the morning of Saturday, August 29, 2015, that Benita had been shot.
THE SHOOTING OF BENITA
Life for Benita Dankwa, a supervisor at Asky Airlines, was an auspicious one until the sun of her bright future set on Friday, August 28th 2015. She was seven months pregnant, the first pregnancy of her four years’ marriage. That evening Benita had closed from work and was watching television when her husband, Effort Dankwa, a teacher at Angels International School in Tema, arrived.
“Everything was okay at home,” Benita recalls. Her husband took his bath and went to bed. She also went to bed later. When she woke up at about 5:30 am, she felt like a “balloon.” There was a “hole” on her chest and another one at her back.
She had been shot.
According to a report by the Tema Community 11 police, their investigation “revealed that the victim (Benita Dankwa) was shot from a close range at her chest and the bullet penetrated through her body and was rushed to the hospital for treatment, but no point of penetration or breakage into the couple’s room was detected.”
The report continues: “A live ammunition believed to have been shot from a pistol at close range was found about 2 inches deep in the mattress [on] which the couple were lying. Blood stains believed to be human blood was also found on the bed sheet and the mattress of the couple.”
Benita was in the room alone with her husband, Effort Dankwa. When she woke up, her husband was still sleeping. When she woke him up, “he was feeling as if he was confused, running up and down and all that,” Benita recounts.
“He didn’t shout. He didn’t do anything. Because I was feeling like a balloon, I thought he could not carry me so I asked him to call… there were two boys on the compound… so I asked him to call them so that one could go for a taxi so that one could help carry me to the taxi,” Benita narrates what happened when she opened her eyes that morning.
One of the young men who went to help Effort carry Benita to the hospital is John Asaah. John lives in the same compound. His room is about five metres away from the Dankwas. At about 3a.m. of Saturday, August 29, 2015, John said he heard a gunshot that was “too loud” and appeared close to the house. “It didn’t take hours and I heard my friend call me to come and help him to take his wife to the hospital.” That friend was Effort, Benita’s husband.
According to John, Effort did not give him the impression that Benita had been shot.“He was coming as if nothing had happened. ‘Oh Johny, wifee no dey feel fine oo. Go bring me taxi,’” John quotes Effort asking him (John) for help in casual pidgin English.
“You won’t even know that something like that had happened,” John tells myjoyonline.com.
John says if he had known that it was a shooting incident, he would not have entered the room to help. Effort, he says, did not mention any shooting even as they sat in the taxi and headed for the hospital.
“The husband didn’t tell us anything. All that I knew was that the wife was pregnant so I thought she was about to deliver.” John says when the taxi driver asked what was wrong with Benita, he (John) said it was her first pregnancy. Benita’s husband, who was also in the taxi, did not mention that his wife had been shot. John says Benita was first taken to the maternity ward of the Tema General Hospital. He says the first time he realized Benita had been shot was when a nurse at the maternity ward interrogated the husband and he said it was a gunshot.
“The nurse asked the husband to show her where the gunshot was and he opened the dress on the chest and I saw a hole on her chest and some small blood,” John says. The nurse told them gunshots were not treated at the maternity ward and so referred them to the accident centre. At the accident centre, doctors at the Tema General Hospital realized Benita had a spinal injury so they referred her to the Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital.
THE PRIME SUSPECT
According to Benita’s father, Mr. S.O.S Yirenkyi, Effort refused to report the shooting of his wife to the police. “We did all we could but he would not go to the police,” says Mr. Yirenkyi. “He said this was a domestic issue involving a husband and wife so there was no need to report it.” Later in the day, Bright Ofori, Benita’s 25-year old brother went to the police station to report the incident.
“If you are with your wife in the room and you wake up to find out that she has been shot, should you not be the first to report to the police?” Mr. S.O.S Yirenkyi, Benita’s 68 year old father asked.
John says when he returned from the hospital that day, he went round the house and tried to locate any form of penetration or break in but there was none. “We even took chairs and climbed onto the roof to see if there was anything from the roof, but there was nothing to show that maybe the thing was coming from armed robbers,” he says.
When this reporter visited the house, he found that the windows and the doors had mosquito nets and wire mesh. They were covered with curtains so if anybody wanted to shoot from outside, they would have had to cut through the mosquito net and wire mesh, shift the curtains aside before they could locate their target. But all the mosquito nets at the doors and windows were intact.
“Me, I can say that the thing (shooting) happened in the room,” John emphasises. “If you want to know the truth, then it will be [between] Benita and her husband who know what happened.”
“There were two people in the room. One person was shot. Police investigation revealed that the shot was not from outside. So who fired the shot?” asked, Mr. S.O.S. Yirenkyi, Benita’s father. “I suspect Benita’s husband shot her,” he alleged.
Benita also shares the same view. She believes her husband, Effort, shot her.
On September 15, 2015, more than two weeks after the shooting incident, the police arrested Effort Dankwa for investigation. He has denied shooting his wife.
On September 16th and 30th 2015, the police also arrested one Ernestina Dede Lagbeneku, who confirmed being in a relationship with Effort Dankwa for the past five months. The two of them were cautioned and bailed “pending further investigations.”
“For now, fingers are pointing to a certain direction, but because investigations are still ongoing we cannot confirm. But then, questions are coming up and answers are coming up,” Tema Region Police Public Relations Officer, ASP Juliana Obeng told Myjoyonline.com.
“The question now is: who did it?” ASP Juliana Obeng asked. “Let me give you an example: If I were with you alone in the house and I wake up to have some injuries on my body and I find some other things in the room that have to do with blood stains and there are no other persons in the room, and nobody came to the room, then your guess is as good as mine.”
The police PRO, however, says they cannot draw a conclusion now.
Criminologist and Dean of the Central University College Faculty of Law, Professor Ken Agyemang Attafuah agrees with the police that based on the facts surrounding the case, Effort Dankwa “is a legitimate person for the police to consider as the prime suspect.”
THE BLOODSTAINED TOWEL
Mr. Yirenkyi said in the panic and the desire to save Benita, the family took certain pieces of evidence for granted because it never occurred to them that the one who shot her could be someone in the room with her. One of such pieces of evidence was a bloodstained towel that Effort allegedly asked Benita’s cousin to throw away.
Priscilla Asare, 25, was sent by her mother (Benita’s aunt) to fetch a stove at the crime scene (Benita and Effort’s home) to be taken to the hospital. This was on Wednesday September 2, 2015, four days after Benita was shot.
“When I got there, Benita’s husband said I should tidy up the room. In the process, I found a towel stained with blood, the blood had dried up. When I told him (Effort) about the towel, he said I should throw it away,” Priscilla explains.
When Priscilla took the towel home and told her mother about it, she asked her not to throw the towel away. “My mother said I should wash it for her so I did.” Priscilla said she was also the one who washed the bloodstained bed sheet on which Benita and Effort lay when the shooting happened.
Benita says when she opened her eyes that morning, there was not much blood on her body. John has confirmed this. He said Benita wore a white night gown as they took her to the hospital and if there was any blood on her, he would have seen it before they got to the hospital.
Benita says when she opened her eyes, she did not see her husband wipe any blood from her body so she was surprised when the towel soaked with blood was used on her. A woman who lives in the house and was present when the police first entered the crime scene also tells Myjoyonline.com that when they entered, there was very little blood on the mattress and the bed sheet. She wondered if there wouldn’t have been more blood had there been a gunshot.
“I think he shot my daughter and cleaned all the blood before my daughter became conscious,” Mr. Yirenkyi suggests. “He thought my daughter had died, but God saved her.”
Criminologist Professor Ken Ataffuah says this is possible. “From the report, a neighbor heard a gunshot around 3am. It was not until at about 5am that this woman complained of pain and asked her husband for assistance. She possibly was in coma for a while or she had been chloroformed. There is evidence from what you [this reporter] tell me of a towel that contained blood and that towel ought to be taken to the police forensics for investigation.”
A SOUR MARRIAGE?
Benita met her husband nine years ago. They are both members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses sect. And that’s where they met. They dated for five years and were married for four years before the tragedy struck.
Benita says their marriage was without problems. If there was any problem, it was the suspicion of infidelity on the part of her husband. Benita’s mother, Mrs. Agnes Yirenkyi, says she once mediated one such misunderstanding that arose when Benita returned from work one evening to find her husband in their room with a woman whose pictures and suggestive messages she had seen on his phone. She says the lights were off and when she knocked, Effort did not open the door immediately. Benita said he denied having anything to do with the lady but when she sent an insulting message to the lady in question, he was livid.
A police report signed by ASP Owusu Dwomoh, Tema Community 11 Crime Officer suggests that Benita was sharing her husband with another woman. The report states: “It was established during investigation that the suspect Effort Dankwa who is legally married to the victim was also in another amorous relationship with one lady called Ernestina Dede Lagbeneku alias Christine Dede and had been going out to places like Prime Beach Resort at Prampram and Cocoa Beach Hotel at Nungua, Accra, to relax and make love. It was also revealed that while the suspect’s wife, victim Benita Dankwa, was at the hospital panting [fighting] for her life, the suspect had the presence of mind to engage in love conversations via WhatsApp, a social network, with the said Christine Dede.”
The police report says when “suspect Christine Dede was arrested and interrogated, she confirmed being in relationship with the accused, Effort Dankwa, for the past five (5) months.”
Benita has revealed that while they were courting, Effort once mentioned that he did not want any children in their marriage but she “took it for a joke” until they got married and he repeated it. “When we got married, I started worrying him with kids and he started declining and all that. Fortunately, or if I should say unfortunately for him, I got pregnant,” she stated.
She says he never said anything bad about the pregnancy and no issue ever came up until she delivered. Sources close to the church say there is a group of people within the Jehovah’s Witnesses who have made up their minds not to give birth because they want to dedicate their time to the “preaching of the word.” Benita is aware of this but says her husband is not part of that group.
Benita was delivered of the baby by a caesarian section on September 9, 2015 after 31 weeks. She says when she delivered, her husband started raising issues about the paternity of the baby. “He says the baby is not his,” Benita says.
According to Benita, a gynaecologist once attempted to have sex with her when she visited the hospital, and when she got home, that was the first thing she told her husband. She said her husband did not raise questions about the pregnancy but when she delivered he used that as an excuse to say that the doctor may have impregnated her.
Benita’s father, Mr. Yirenkyi, believes the pregnancy is the reason Effort Dankwa wanted to kill his daughter.
“We decided to call the child Nana Kwame because he is a male born on Saturday. We are still waiting for the father to come and name him,” Benita says.
BENITA’S HOPES AND FEARS
Today is Sunday. It’s 9.00 am. At the Kingdom Hall of the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Tema Community 11, the congregation is singing a hymn. They are standing, except one woman at the back. That is Benita. She sings from her wheelchair standing next to her father and mother. In a baby cradle front of them, Nana Kwame, Benita’s four-month old baby, lies smiling. Nana Kwame is both oblivious about the teaching on today’s judgment day and the reason her mother now sits behind the congregation. After some time, his grandmother picks him up and begins to feed him with a milky liquid in a feeding bottle.
One medical doctor has described her safe delivery as a miracle. “Maybe God has something special for that child,” the doctor says.
After the worship, Benita’s brother helps her out of the church. Before she is lifted into the car, she is interrupted by well-wishers from the congregation. This is where Benita met Effort nine years ago. For the past four years, they came to church together. On Sunday mornings, she fixed breakfast. And he drove her to church.
That changed when Benita was discharged from the hospital. She did not return to their matrimonial home. For now, the Physiotherapy centre is her new home. She says her husband has never visited her there. “He asked me not to call him again so I have stopped calling him.”
She relies on the benevolence of her father and friends to bring her to church. Today, her father and a family friend lifted her onto the front seat of her father’s wine pick up vehicle. When they parked, they lifted her onto the wheelchair and wheeled her into a space behind the congregation reserved for her. She often meets her husband, Effort, in church.
“I often see him from afar,” Benita says. When asked whether he also sees her in church, she says she cannot tell. The congregation is not a big one. It is sub-divided into English and Akan sections. Both Benita and Effort worship at the English section, and looking at the size of the congregation, it would take a lot of effort from Effort not to notice the presence of his wife in the church. But Benita does not yearn for his presence.
“Anytime I see him, my heart begins to beat,” she says. But it is not the heartbeat of love. Since the shooting happened, she’s been living in fear. At the physiotherapy centre, her bed has been repositioned. Out of the fear for her life, she is “hiding” in the corner. She fears whoever wanted her dead could shoot from the window directly facing where she used to lie. One of the persons she dreads most is her husband.
This Sunday, January 24, 2016, however, her husband is not in church. She has been informed that two days ago, the police arrested and detained him. How did she receive the news?
“I won’t say I am sad about it. It is something that has to be done,” she shrugs.
Some have described Benita’s survival as a miracle. The happy marriage and family she hoped for has now drifted from reality to a faint imagination. But her greatest hope is to be able to get back on her feet and walk again.
Dr. Francis Caiquo of the Tema General Hospital thinks the chances of reversing her paralyses are very slim. The medical report from the Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital states that she had a “complete spinal cord injury (T3 sensory level).”
“It will be difficult, if not impossible, to reverse her condition,” Dr. Caiquo says.
Benita’s blood level is very low but her religion forbids blood transfusion. Dr. Caiquo who saw her at her last visit to the Tema General Hospital says that impedes the healing of her bedsores and also has the potential of causing heart problems.
When asked whether she has hopes of getting back to her former self, Benita bursts into tears. “I think it will take a long time, but I have hope.”
“It’s rehabilitation that she needs most. She needs a physiotherapist, a psychologist… her hands are okay. If the wounds heal, I am sure she will be able to hold her baby, take care of one or two household chores,” Dr. Caiquo recommends.
“We hope the Lord has something for her,” he adds.
Editor’s note: Joy FM’s investigative journalist, Manasseh Azure Awuni, spent weeks speaking to parties involved in this story, their family, friends and neighbours, as well as the police, medical doctors and a criminologist. He also spent time with Benita at the physiotherapy centre and followed her to church. Apart from the scenes he personally observed, all other facts presented in the story are from the interviews, police and hospital reports even when no direct attribution is stated.
His email address is email@example.com