By Barrister Aja N. Aja-- This is a pathetic story of an Akwa Ibom Child Labelled a Witch. Read on!
She is 9 years old and terrifically intelligent. Her father works at the National Headquarters in INEC while her mum stays in Akwa Ibom, both having separated way back. In effect, she is from Akwa Ibom. However, she currently lives in a motherless babies home at Karu in the outskirts of Abuja .
I came upon her story in the course of offering free legal services to a public interest radio program called BEREKETE, which used to air on Kiss FM, but now domiciled in Love FM. She had been cut adrift by her father and his current wife, from Kogi, who held the belief that she was afflicted with witchcraft. They subjected her to sordid ordeals, including waking her up in the dead of the night, lighting candles all around her, forcing her to stand nude in the middle of a circle drawn on the floor with native chalk while ringing bells and chanting, all ostensibly meant to exorcize her.
Her brilliance in school only added to her misery as her parents would interpret her coming first in class as a confirmation of her demonic nature. They spread the news around the neighborhood that she was possessed, even taking it to her school. She thus became a pariah, avoided by her peers and ostracized by her folks. Parents never failed to warn their wards to stay away from her. At a point, her tender shoulders could not carry the burden of parental neglect and social alienation, and she rebelled by withdrawing into herself and refusing to eat or partake in any domestic chores.
Goaded by his Kogi wife, the father shoved her off, claiming he had disowned her. She ended up in a sympathetic neighbor's home.
The woman, a labour leader in the employ of the NNPC here in Abuja , tried to mediate between father and daughter, but the man would have none of it. He even accused his preteen daughter of being responsible for his failing health. In fact, when I saw the man, my conclusion was that he was afflicted with the VIRUS, but I may be wrong. The matter dragged even to his office where he formally insisted on disowning her.
At length, he formalized it by writing and signing on a pad that she was no longer his child. That was just before the general elections. INEC then took her where nobody knew. It was at that point that the sympathetic neighbour brought the story to the radio show, and that was how I got involved.
I invoked administrative remedies first by writing to the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons whose mandate included child abuse. The Agency dawdled and snagged bureaucratic lines all in an effort to appear to be doing something. The long and short of it is that the Agency discovered that INEC dumped her at the motherless home and continued as if nothing happened. All this time, I had not met the unfortunate kid. Then Channels TV was doing a feature on the phenomenon of child witches, and my name came up as a resource person. I gave an interview and then arranged for us to go see the child in person. We did and the story aired.
At a point, she was asked if she would return home to which she retorted: OVER MY DEAD BODY. When pressed for a reason as to why she did not want to return to her father, she said she had found happiness with her friends at the home. I was moved to tears. A child preferring the warmth of strangers to the coldness of her own home!
While reflecting on the impending valentine yesterday, I suddenly remembered her. I called the Channels correspondent and she expressed joy at what I had in mind, regretting that she might not be able to join us due to her frantic schedule. However, she sent her driver with some money as her contribution to the venture. My boss showed tremendous understanding when I let him into my plans, allowing me to work a half day. I bought a couple of gifts and headed for the Karu Children’s Home, where the children were already having a ball, a show having been staged to enable them join the Valentine groove.
My plan to take her out was not to be as the authority insisted all of them had to be at the show. All the same, I presented my gifts to her, which included a beautiful teddy with pink and red ribbons festooned to commemorate the occasion. On sighting it, she beamed, and my heart glowed. I put a call to the Channels person and both of them spoke. As she was about to run in to their show, she bent low, gave me a peck on the cheek and asked if I would come again. Of course I said YES.
Her name is Victoria and she is my Valentine. How did you spend yours?
By Barrister Aja N. Aja (firstname.lastname@example.org)