It is no ordinary crime. Incest, a distant word to many, claims its victims body and soul and shatters every sense of normalcy a child who grows up to experience such act is supposed to have. Such is the life of Bola and Tolu, who endured a sexual abuse by their father for two years. But for Susan, who had two children for her father, it is a different kettle of fish as a result of the identity problem her children will have to contend with. KUNLE FALAYI reports
Sexual abuse is one of the greatest crimes that could be committed against a child. The United Nations Convention on Rights of Child and Nigeria’s Child Rights Act give prominence to the protection of a child in the society as a result of this and specifically make case for the importance of the “primary care giver” which is the child’s immediate family.
But for many children, they are captives in their own family as they are constantly sexually assaulted by their own fathers. For such children, the scar the act leaves in their lives will not likely be erased anytime soon.
‘My children’s father is their grandfather’
The Lagos State Children’s Home at Ipaja Ayobo, like the one at Idi Araba, houses children whose complicated fates had brought them together to live as family.
It was their end-of-year social event; a period of merry-making and lots of singing and dancing.
In the crowd of hyperactive former victims of different forms of abuses in this home, was Susan (not real name). Smiles smoothed away the creases on the face of the fair, good-looking young lady as she was busy dishing out food, washing plates and helping her younger friends and co-residents of the home.
But few will wish upon themselves the unfortunate fate that brought this young lady to the home. She was no longer a child. But leaving the home was not that simple.
Susan was 17 years old in 2011. By that time, she already had two children for her father, Egbuna, a pastor of a church in Igando, Lagos, who is in his 50s. The Enugu State born father is currently awaiting judgment before the Family Court, Ikeja.
Susan, now 19, is one whose story many would hear and cry out the word, ‘abomination!’
She was rescued by the Esther Child Rights Foundation in 2011 after a group of women in the neighbourhood made a report.
Egbuna had nine children from his wife, who died in 2009. But he allegedly started sleeping with her eldest daughter shortly after, and she gave birth to two children.
A cunning rescue
Director of the ECRF, Mrs. Esther Ogwu, with a contingent visited Egbuna’s home under the guise that they wanted spiritual intercession.
“You have come to the right place. Before 24 days, you will come here and give testimony,” Egbuna told the group, and called Susan out to round off the prayer.
Ogwu said, “It was obvious the girl was living under serious subjection. She was almost trembling as she scurried to obey her father.
“We did not make any attempt to confront him the first day. We studied the place and noticed that there was no single sound from any other child within the house. It was as if there was a warning that none of them should make any sound. Neighbours said only one of the children was allowed to venture out to hawk sachet water.
“We came back days later with the police and state government officials to arrest him and he denied fathering the children. He said they were fathered by her daughter’s boyfriend. He was sweating all over as he spoke.”
All the children were transferred to the state government children’s home.
Egbuna is still in custody.
But fast-forward two years. Susan looked radiant at the home. She has changed but the scar is far from being healed. Her current dilemma is what to tell her children when they grow up.
Her two young children were kept inside, out of sight, during the visit to the home. There was no chance to see them.
“The children are really growing up fast. But what do I tell them when they grow up? How can I tell them that my father is their father. I am very confused about that.
“I will like to leave this home later but this place is just too good to us. But I am getting older; I will like to go back to my family. I have forgiven my father for what he did.
“But though I have forgiven him, I am scarred for life. How do I tell people that I have two children for my father?”
What family to go back to is another major quandary for this young lady, whose journey in life seemed to have been a transcendental punishment.
“None of my father’s or mother’s families has visited us since we were brought here. I don’t know how tomorrow will be but I know God will show the way,” she said.
She had yet to be admitted in school as officials are still considering which class best suits her.
Her children are also still being kept at the home, yet to start school. She is not alone.
Scary future for children raped for two years
Thirteen-year-old Bola (not real name) danced and clapped with her friends; children of the Lagos State Children’s Centre, Idi Araba. It was an end-of-year event in which the children exhibited their talents in various crafts like bead-making and tailoring.
Some of them were younger than Bola, some older. The laughter of the children was a far cry from the journey that had brought most of them to the centre, which houses rescued homeless children, victims of rape and physical abuses.
At that single moment, the sad stories etched in the memories of the young children seemed to vanish. In the crowd was Bola, with her sister Tolu (10) both laughing excitedly.
But the situation that brought these young sisters to the children’s home was far from being a laughing matter.
Bola looked towards the back of the crowd and instantly shot out of the crowd like a lightning bolt; her sister at her heels. She threw her arms around Ogwu, who had just entered the premises. Both Bola and Tolu locked the woman – their rescuer – in a tight embrace. Tears streamed down the face of Bola.
“I did not know you were coming,” the young girl said with a big teary smile.
Bola and Tolu have both spent six months at the home. The woman who rescued them has become someone they love like their own mother.
One evil night in June
Bola and Tolu’s journey to the children’s home was one with a lot of pains. For three years, both children had endured an excruciating sexual abuse from their father, Adetayo Adeleke, a 35-year-old commercial bus driver in Egbeda area of Lagos. But they suffered in silence. They dared not tell anyone; their father would kill them. So they said after their rescue, which Saturday PUNCH reported in July 2013.
One cannot really say what the exact psychological state of these two children are at present because their evaluation in the home could not be revealed by the officials.
But Consultant Child Psychiatrist, Federal Neuro-Psychiatric Hospital, Lagos, Dr. Mashidat Mojeeb-Bello, had an opinion on what victims of the horrible act like the one Bola and Tolu had gone through may face.
She said, “Such victims could develop anxiety and undue fear. In the long term, they could develop major psychiatric problems like depression and other major psychosis later in life.
“The self esteem may be affected in such a way that they may not see themselves worthy of anything good. At some point, some may develop somatisation disorders; they start having some unusual bodily symptoms whose origin becomes untraceable through tests. There is a myriad of psychological impact on such children.”
The magistrate weeps
Adeleke is now facing charges of incest and child defilement at the Family Court, Ikeja and the two sisters were transported to the children’s home.
With tears in her eyes, their mother, Kemi, came to the court with a toddler she had for her new husband.
She had told this correspondent a life of hell she was subjected to in Adeleke’s house.
“He beat me regularly, calling me prostitute just to disgrace me. I suffered with my children. We rarely had food to eat. When I could not take it anymore, I had to leave. It was not like I was starving him of sex. I did not know he was raping my children. May God punish that man,” Kemi said.
In November 2013, during one of the hearings of the case in court, the children were asked to come forward to testify. When they took up the narration of their ordeal, the misty-eyed magistrate could not take it anymore. She had to excuse herself for a moment to wipe her tears in her chambers.
However, months after their rescue, a lot has changed. Bola looked chubby; no longer the haggard looking girl she was when she was rescued. This correspondent spoke with her during the visit of her rescuer to the children’s home.
Asked how she felt about her father at the time, the young girl’s excited face fell like a pack of cards. She looked down at the ground.
“I know we cannot forget what our father did. This is something we have to live with for the rest of our lives. Here, they tell us to forget the past but how can we forget that our father slept with us?”
“But I want them to release him. I don’t ever want to live with him again. But I have forgiven him. I like it here very much. They should just let him go,” she said.
Bola spoke with a surprising intelligence that was totally in contrast with the beaten and abused child who spoke little when she was rescued.
It was clear a lot had changed.
Will you like to live with your mother as well, she was asked.
She said, “No o. I don’t want to live with her again. I want to continue to live here because I have a lot of friends here. The other children and our teachers here are very nice.
“When we went to the court last time, my mother did not even come. None of my mother’s family came too. Only our landlord and a woman who is a friend to my mother came.
“My mother has not visited us here since we got here. I don’t even know where she is. In the night, children like me, whose parents have not visited gather to pray that wherever our parents are, God should bring them.”
The younger girl, whose sad eyes still seemed to carry the heavy load of her past ordeal, gave the same answer. She too said she would not want to live with her parents any more.
The home has enrolled Bola and Tolu in schools; the older girl in Junior Secondary School Year One and the younger in Primary Four.
For these two bruised children, nothing could hold them back. Not even the absence of family.
The older girl said she would like to become a lawyer while Tolu said she would like to become a banker.
They only spoke with excitement anytime conversation switched away from their parents.
But when Ogwu spoke of an attempt to contact her mother, Bola rose to her defence immediately.
“Nobody should touch my mother. Don’t do anything to her, please,” she said plaintively.
But she was assured that her mother had not done anything wrong to be arrested.
Father gave them siphilis
After Bola and Tolu were rescued in July, they were taken to the hospital for medical checks. Saturday PUNCH has learnt that their father gave both of them syphilis, a case which had been muted at the time of their rescue. But they were promptly given treatment which got rid of the disease.
A phone number the girls’ mother provided seemed to be out of use, as it had not been going through. Neither does anybody know her address in Oyo State.
It is not an easy road for these children but consistent counselling has been helping them in the home.
“Someone comes to counsel us regularly,” Bola said. “They tell us not to think of what has happened to us in the past. They said we can become something big in life.”
A young female official of the home said Bola has grown to be very intelligent.
“The counselling is really helping her. On top of that, they are both doing well in school. I am confident they will go ahead to live normal life,” she said.
A neighbour’s intervention
If not for a neighbour who promptly raised the alarm on the children’s plight, one can only imagine the kind of situation they would be in by now.
It will be recalled that the landlord of the house in which they live with their father, Mr. Amos Omooye, had said he had no idea that such thing was happening in his house.
The landlord said, “I noticed the children were always crying and I tried as much as possible to provide for them whenever they said they were hungry and their father went to work without leaving them any money for food.
“The children were born in my house and I christened them. But I could not imagine that their father was doing something as terrible as that to them.”