Abayomi G. Omotayo

I have heard and read horrific stories of child abuse but the one that top the list in my heart is the story of a frail looking, hunger ravaged, cadaverous little boy in Akwa Ibom that came to limelight on 30 January, 2016. Accused of witchcraft and abandoned by his family, he lived on the streets for eight months, survived on scraps and unprotected from the elements. He was naked, stark naked. He was just two years old. This little boy was found by Danish aid worker Anja Ringgren Loven. A year on, this boy’s life has changed. From hopelessness to hope which indicatively is the name he is now being called. That re-christening aptly fits. Now well fed, chubby and looking very healthy. She recently shared his picture on his first day of schooling. That picture, contrasted with the one she took a year ago, side by side would be a strong contender for the Pulitzer Price for Photography.

Sadly in Akwa Ibom not much has changed in terms of these horrific cases of abuse under the guise of the children being labeled as witches. Just few days ago, another boy was rescued on the streets by the same lady one year after the popular case of Hope. The only thing that perhaps has changed is that unlike before when these vulnerable children are abandoned on the streets after gross abuse, they can now find succor with Ms. Loven. But this is not enough, it glaringly indicates that the society and the government have failed and continues to fail these children. These incidents should not even occur in the first instance. Lest we forget, these children are protected by law particularly the Child Rights Act 2003 enacted into law by the National Assembly. Interestingly, Akwa Ibom is among the states that have domesticated the law but it appears that the law is only effective on paper.

This sad situation in Akwa Ibom is not peculiar to the state alone, there are widespread and alarmingly increasing cases of child abuse across Nigeria but the state is a pace setter in matters of witchcraft accusation, abuse and torture of children. This is an unfortunate irony considering the official slogan of the sate being the ‘Land of Promise’. For these children, where is the promise? When at such an early stage they have been stripped of their dignity, abused physically and psychologically. Thrown to the streets in utter hopelessness and yet they are from the land of promise. The state government missed a very big opportunity to stop this barbaric way of treating children in the state with the case of Hope. He was from a family and a community; he has parents especially a mother. Why was there no prosecution? The state government should have taken that case up. The state’s Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Justice in conjunction with the Ministry of Justice should have made an example out of the parents of the boy. When people get away with breaking the law and in the most barbaric way, definitely they will continue breaking the law. This is a no brainer.

On this matter, the spotlight is on Akwa Ibom (please google “Akwa Ibom and Witchcraft” and see heart rendering stories, images and videos then you know will know why I have decided to focus on the state) but it is a microcosm of Nigeria where we have laws but only effective on paper. Where we have officials who will not wake up to their duties and conveniently turn a blind eye to matters requiring attention because it is considered not important. Most of these cases are from the largely poor and uneducated folks so perhaps they are not very important to the government. After all, this is Nigeria, the giant of Africa. Giants don’t get involved in stuffs of minions like children issues. 

These children’s weakness and vulnerability are being exploited by very irresponsible parents with the government inactively acting as accessory to these crimes by their inability to take action. It is not only the children that are being hurt or disgraced or punished which is the intention of these idiotic parents, we are hurting our future as a nation, destroying our tomorrow and continuously disgracing our humanity. The joke is on us all.

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