Stiffer penalties’ll curb child sexual abuse, others – Late Ochanya Caregiver

Enuwa Soo is an Evangelist and Founder of Restorer of Paths Care Foundation, Orphanage and Rehabilitation Home. She was caregiver to late Ochanya Ogbanje, who died a year ago following complications from serial rape by her guardian and his. In this interview with ENE OSANG, she stresses the need for victims of rape and other forms of violation to speak out to deter perpetrators.

You were Ochanya Ogbanje’s care giver and you were recently honoured for taking care of her. What was the experience like?

Ochanya attended Federal Government Girl’s College, Gboko, however, due to her health challenges from the rape by her guardian, Mr Andrew Ogbuja and his son, Victor, she couldn’t continue.

She was in and out of hospital. Her case is not unknown. We took her in at the Restorer of Paths Care Foundation, and tried to manage her case, unfortunately she died.

The Old Girls Association of Federal Government Girls Collage (FGGC), Gboko, honoured me for humanitarian service to Ochanya and for other similar cases, especially for helping her to speak out.

So, what does the honour mean to you?

It is a great encouragement and we will do our part by working harder to get safe spaces for victims.

We will ensure we report cases known to us and also ensure justice is got for victims.

As late Ochanya’s caregiver, how would you describe what she went through?

My little Ochanya’s case was quite traumatising, when we discovered her in August 2018 she could not walk properly and her feet were swollen. She passed urine uncontrollably. It was already a bad case when she was brought in.

We took her to the hospital and when it was confirmed she had been sexually assaulted, virginally and anally, I had to report to FIDA, then to the police. Then her guardian, who was the suspected perpetuator, was arrested but until now his son, Victor, is still at large.

Ochanya’s case is still in the court since over a year, would you say the judiciary is doing justice to the matter?

I actually do not have much to say on this but l believe there are procedure to follow and it will definitely take its right course. Ochanya will definitely get justice.

What does your organisation do basically?

Restorer of Paths Care Foundation is a shelter for orphans, the destitute and vulnerable as well as teenage mothers.

We take in the teenagers who became mothers by circumstance. Some of them are so beaten and traumatised. After delivery, some return to school, while some are trained in our Skill Acquisition Centre.

It is a home for the homeless and gives hope to the hopeless. It is our dream to see the dignity of the girl-child recovered, redeemed and restored.

What inspired you to set up the Foundation because?

It’s true that some of the organisations in humanitarian services were opened for pecuniary gains not out of passion. But, l tell you, it takes commitment and real passion to help and salvage souls.

I went through so much as a person. At the age of four l was already being assaulted by an uncle. Of course, l didn’t know what it meant at the time because l was never taught sex education. In those days parents will never discuss anything sex with their children. It was considered a sacrilege.

I was abused severally until l became used to it and this also led me into becoming a teenage mother at 15. Luckily for me, l became saved; l mean became a born-again Christian. So, l see what l do today as a call to save others from the misfortune, rejection, and trauma l went through as a person.

My case is that of true passion. l went through most of the pains l see these victims going through and I want to lend my voice to the voiceless.

How many girls, women have you assisted so far and does any case stand out for you?

We have graduated so many girls from the centre, but our most exciting success stories are with the teenage mothers. Currently, we have one in her final year in the university studying Agric-Economics.

Another one has her National Certificate of Education (NCE), she studied Agric-Education and of course would want her to continue with her education.

Three others have finished their Senior School Certificate Examination (SSCE) and have been reunited to their parents. We don’t only provide care for girls and women; we also care for young boys as well. One of our sons in the home is studying medicine in the university.

Presently, we have 16 in the shelter and 12 outside on our scholarship. Our results are not commensurate to the labour we have put in due to limited resources, lack of funds and collaboration.

I have been doing this for about 15 years. l moved to Otukpo 2003, started from my family home to brother’s apartment, until 2015, when miraculously some individuals were  touched by our work and built a shelter for us. We are trusting God to send help and we can do more. Part of our vision is to run a craft school, which is my husband’s area of speciality. He is a mechanical engineer.

So, how do you get funding?

It’s not really been easy for us, my husband and l. we do a lot of farming to fund our work. Some churches, the widows in my community have also been instrumental to our work. Some individuals like Professor Ochekpe and his family; Justice James Ogebe and family; former Minister for Agriculture Audu Ogbe, and Dr. Charles Agbo; are the key people who are very passionate about what we do and will give everything to see us move forward.

My very own sis, Mrs. Ada Aigbodion, Samaila Dogoyaro and my mother who died few years ago, gave her support and stood by to nurture our children.

One support that really touched me is that of a young sales person in my community who has made it a responsibility to bring us detergent every week. My community has really been supportive and most of these are more like gift and are not consistent.

We have not had large funding to move us at our desired speed that could help us fulfil our dreams for women, girl child and the vulnerable.

Even right now, our shelter has leaky roof and we have been trying to roof our boys hostel for over two years now but the funds is not coming. All the same, in all, God has been faithful.

How can parents or caregivers know that the girl-child is being violated, what should they look out for?

It takes a cordial relationship with our children or wards to identify issues around their lives and to be able to have them confide in us we must build their confidence in us. We have to give them listening ears always.

Things to watch out for: Is your child withdrawn; sickly; suddenly becoming aggressive to some persons, especially those who are supposed to be close relations or friends; or becoming depressed. These are few things to watch out for.

How would you assess Nigeria in terms of sexual abuses and violation of the rights of girls and women?

It’s quite prevalent especially in the rural areas where the poor are, sometimes they are at the mercy of the few so-called rich ones where they work either as maids or where they are being traded out by poor parents for survive.

It’s a very bad case in our society today, in most cases the victims are afraid to speak out and even if they want to share where do they go to? There is really not enough sensitization our communities on how to manage sexual and other forms of abuses.

You said sexual abuse is prevalent among the poor, how do you explains violation of minors and even infants?

In our society today all manner of evil is prevalent. Some for ritual purpose and so coupled with the high rate of indulgence in drugs.

Also, some minors become vulnerable as a result of broken marriages as well as the issues of exposure to early usage of the internet. However we can’t deny the fact that major cause boils down to poverty, especially in the rural areas where 10 children and their parent are raised in one room. In such cases the children become vulnerable and susceptible to all kind of abuses.

Nigeria is signatory to many international conventions which condemn rape and all forms of discrimination against women. Can you say these laws have any positive effect in the society?

We all know that the law has always been there, while some are ignorant of the law, implementation has also been a problem. Also, others for fear of being stigmatized will not want to speak out and crimes cannot be solved if they are not reported.

However, the fact that there is increasing advocacy and campaigns going to enlighten the girl-child on the need to speak out and cry out, even as more efforts are being made to educate the girl-child and empower her, l think the future of the Nigerian women and girls is brighter.

What is your call to government on the spate of violation and abuse of women and girls?

The relevant legislation for indecent assault and rape should be amended to provide stiffer penalties up to life imprisonment. I think this will serve as deterrent.

What is your advice to Nigerians in general, particularly women?

I think for us to have safe space for our children we must have everyone’s hand on deck, the community leaders, security agencies, school authorities, parents/guardian, must work together, bearing the burdens of one another. Sometimes we feel unconcerned and exonerate ourselves from the situation going in the country as long as we are not directly affected.

However, having it at the back of our mind that Nigeria is ours we must work for our desired change which primarily begins with us.

And particularly to the woman, charity begins at home, the children need proper upbringing. We must put in all we have and can to deliver to our country future leaders that can restore sanity to our great country Nigeria.

So, where do you see the Foundation in the near future?

We are still struggling. Not many people knew about us but our little Ochanya’s case brought us to limelight. Sadly, she died. Even at that, some people still don’t know that we were responsible for her and we are still fighting to get justice for her.

It is believed that when you do the right things you will get the right results. So, we want to see the girl-child and the less privileged to have equal opportunity just like any other child in the society.

We also trust God that as we keep lending our voice to the voiceless, our desire to rescue and bring justice to victims of sexual and gender-based abuses would be achieved, even as we give home to the hopeless.

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