According to GlobalGiving, a nonprofit that supports other nonprofits by connecting them to donors and companies, one in four girls and one in 10 boys are sexually abused before their 18th birthday in Nigeria, and only 2% of girls and 4% of boys receive any help. Also, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the UN Refuge Agency, notes that sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) refers to any act that is perpetrated against a person’s will and is based on gender norms and unequal power relationships. These include physical, emotional or psychological and sexual violence, and denial of resources or access to services.
Violence include threats of violence and coercion. SGBV inflicts harm on women, girls, men and boys and is a severe violation of several human rights. Despite the establishment of about 15 Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC) across the nation, in response to the rising levels of sexual and gender-based violence across the country, this evil, despicable, reprehensible act seems not to have abated.
It thus calls for sustained concerted efforts to stem the tide of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) and indeed child abuse. This is the focus of Chinwe Fez-Odita’s latest book, ‘Please Let Us Grow’, a passionate appeal by the author to Nigerians, particularly the adult, to put an end to child abuse, child rape and molestation. The book condemns in very strong terms child rape and advocates very stiff penalties for offenders.
It also calls for a safer and happier place for children, especially African children, who are exposed to the harshest forms of abuse and dehumanisation. ‘Please Let Us Grow’ is a 114-page book, comprising 10 chapters, a conclusion and excerpts from her forthcoming book, ‘The River that Ran Away and Other Stories’. It is the story of Ona, an otherwise fulfilled and contented woman in her 50s who left a traumatic childhood behind after being blessed with an education, a wonderful husband and children. She is inadvertently transported back to that childhood when she visits IDPs camp with some friends.
What she witnesses there, “crashes the carefully erected walls of her life but she then determines to make a difference in her society. Together with her doting husband and friends, she starts a foundation to give molested children a voice and to help prevent others from passing through same ordeal.”
Told in both first person and third person’s omniscient point of view, the book takes the reader through a disquieting, gripping story about child abuse, child rape and molestation. The book opens with Ruth’s Story in Chapter one, titled ‘Enslaved To The Evil’, with a thought-provoking poem, presumably written by 14-year-old Ruth, who has been sexually abused and traumatised by two adult males – her uncle and her cousin – since she was five years, and was now fighting for her life in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) of St. Monica’s Hospital Gboko in Gwer East Local Government Area of Benue State.
The poem also entitled; ‘Enslaved To Evil’, reads: “They trampled on me like aluminum, / But my essence is more than platinum, / And though I feel filthy and worthless, / I hope to be judged faultless, / For all I did was to be born a girl. /Therefore, Lord I have just one plea, / Nay two, that girl children are kept safe. / In our climes henceforth, but most especially, / That before I enter your presence, / I shall smell clean and fresh again, / So I sure hope there are restrooms on the way to heaven, / Because I will hate to arrive all soiled and smelly, / Like I was made to be here on earth.” This was the prayer and wish of a traumatised 14-year-old Ruth, whose condition was deteriorating even as doctors were battling to save her life.
She was suffering from acute VVF and had slipped into coma. Unfortunately, Ruth died. For Ona, who is the leader of ‘Please Let Us Grow,’ a foundation concerned about children’s rights, especially the female child, which she co-founded with her best friend, Yetunde and a number mutual friends, including Patricia, Ruth’s death was not only devastating, it is a wakeup call to the menace.
These include providing succour and counseling to victims but importantly, those perpetrators prosecuted and punished to serve as deterrent to others. Omotola’s story is the focus of Chapter two, titled ‘Plucked Innocence’. Born in a family of seven children, her father was a night watchman in their local church, while her mother was a petty trader.
When Omotola was 10 years old and one rich woman, Aunty Iyabo, from their village, came to their house and told her parents that she would like to take her (Omotola) to the city of Ibadan, promising to assist her learn a trade so that she could help train her younger ones. This, they agreed to but little did she or her parents know what was coming. She was excited to go to the city with Aunty Iyabo, where she could, for the first time in her life, eat food and meat and go to bed without feeling hungry. She was looking forward to a brilliant future, until Iyabo’s husband decided to do the unthinkable. He not only raped Omotola, he made it a regular thing, until Omotola decided to put an end to it.
In the succeeding Chapters three to six, titled ‘Stigmatising The Victim’, ‘Lost Virtue’, ‘Seeking’ Justice’, and ‘A Paedophile Exposed’, respectively, the author takes the reader through the various experiences of victims, as told, largely, by the victims themselves. From Ona, who was raped and defiled by an adult male; Ofodile, when she very young, and was scorned, vilified rather than raise their voices or lift a hand against the adult male, “whose seed had swollen in her tiny body, thus ‘stigmatising the victim’, to ‘Seeking Justice’ in the case of The State/Ruth Gyang (deceased) versus Mr. Donald Gyang and his son, and to Yetunde’s story as narrated in Chapter six, titled; ‘A Paedophile Exposed’.
The stories are as heart-rending as they are shocking, and thus a clarion call to end such evil acts, including, as are narrated in the succeeding four chapters, 7 to 10 and titled ‘A Protest March’, ‘Incest’, ‘Aggravated Sodomy’, and ‘Cougar Unmasked’.
While rapists and child molesters were being punished even though rape was still far from being eradicated in the country, the political leaders were being more irresponsible by the day. Significantly, however, one must note the efforts of ‘Please Let Us Grow’ members, who were constantly in and out of various courts in the country and won most of their cases. Written in simple prose with splashes of dialogue and poetry, ‘Please Let Us Grow’ is a must read and highly recommended.
Fez-Odita is a graduate of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, and has worked in the mass communication, marketing communication and banking industries in Nigeria. She is a devoted wife and mother of two beautiful children. She feels strongly that the world should be made a safer and better place for children. She is currently self-employed and loves to write and motivate young people.