When her dream of coming to Lagos eventually took shape and she found herself in Nigeria’s commercial capital about two years ago, 11-year-old Okenya Amaka said her joy knew no bounds, as that was all she had always wanted, based on the sweet things she had heard about Lagos. But less than two years after she arrived in Lagos with her aunty, identified as Patricia, who promised to take good care of her and put her in school, Amaka had gone through suffering and brutality multiple times that she wished she never had to leave her village. Hers is a story similar to the life of many young children, who are taken away from the comfort of their parents in the village and brought to suffer in the cities.
Now, not only is she back to her parents in the village, with the promise never to return to Lagos anytime soon, she told Saturday Punch that if she had known her aunty would make her life miserable, she would not have bothered coming. Not only was her education truncated by virtue of her sojourn in Lagos, she also went back to the village with something tangible – bruises and scars of numerous thrashing by her aunty. “She used to beat me for everything. I would have stayed with my parents and siblings in the village. She really beat me,” she added.
Amaka’s ordeal in the hands of her aunty could have continued unabated, but for the intervention of her aunty’s neighbours, who called Mrs. Favour Benson, the founder of Jashabel Touch-A-Heart Foundation, a human rights organisation, to save the little girl from further physical attack by her aunty.
Touched by the little girl’s ordeal, Benson handed her over to the National Agency for Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons, the agency that eventually reunited her with her family, where she seems to be having a new and better life. Getting the little girl to talk was a lot of work, because, for her at the time, the fear of her aunty was the beginning of wisdom. After much persuasion, Amaka, who was visibly tensed when she spoke to a Punch' correspondent shortly before she left for her village, said:
“Please, I want to go back to my parents. She doesn’t beat her children the way she beats me. I don’t want to go to school again, I want to go back to my village because all she does is beat me. I regret coming to Lagos. I will continue my education when I get to the village. Anytime she beats me, the husband would tell her to stop but she would not. I’m learning hairdressing and she sends me on errand too. We are six children of my parents. I’m the only one suffering because I came to Lagos. “My aunty told me I’m 11 years old because I don’t know my age. She accuses me of stealing from her but I never stole. She would use iron sponge to beat me. I want to go back home.”
Some of the neighbours who made the move told Saturday Punch that Patricia would sometimes force the girl to trek far distance while she and her children use public transport. “Anytime the husband came and they were to go home, the girl would be left to trek,” one of the neighbours, who identified himself as Kazeem, said. He continued, “Many times, the girl has been so beaten amidst some accusations that she stole her money or other flimsy reasons.” “Even when people tried to intervene for her to stop beating the girl, she would stop for the moment and continued later. She starved the girl, and if you give her money to buy something to eat, she would reject it for the fear of being reprimanded.”
When Saturday Punch caught up with Patricia, the woman at the centre of the issue, she was evidently worried. She said even though she used to beat the girl anytime she did anything wrong, it was not to the extent of maltreating her.
“She’s like my niece because her father and my father are from the same father but different mothers, so I can’t maltreat her, when I have my own children. I was so surprised when I was confronted that I used to maltreat the girl. I won’t say I don’t beat her, I do if she does anything wrong.
“When she came, she didn’t know her age, so I looked at her and thought she looked 10 or 11, so I gave her 11. I believe the only reason she wants to go back home is because it has been long since she left home, so she wants to go back to see her parents again, not because I’m maltreating her, and I told her I would send her back anytime I see anybody going to her mother’s village in Ebonyi State.”