By Samuel Oyadongha, Yenagoa
Where she was kept would stir emotion even in a stone hearted being. What came to the mind of many was why any parent would banish their own child to such a despicable solitary confinement.
The grubby dungeon, located in front of her family apartment, was built with carton board and roofing sheets ostensibly to ward off the elements and gave it the semblance of a dwelling place.
The less than four feet high structure could be mistaken for cage for dog.
Sadly, this had been the abode of 16-year-old Blessing Olokumo in the last two and a half years.
Blessing, a twin, whose little frame betrays her age, cuts the picture of neglect and abandonment. Her parents might have locked her up in the cage which had no window to keep her away from the public out of shame or wanted her dead.
Blessing’s condition is pathetic. Unlike her twin sister in senior secondary school class 2, Blessing never had the opportunity of seeing the four walls of a school due to her health challenge with the result that she could only communicate in Isoko, her mother’s native dialect.
Though the father is an indigene of Ayibabiri community in Kolokuma-Opokuma local government area of Bayelsa State, the mother, Binaese, is from Igbide in Isoko South local government area of Delta.
Sunday Vanguard learnt that though Blessing’s was born normal, her problem started about 13 years ago when she was aged three in Delta State.
She was said to have to have suffered from convulsion, which was not properly taken care of by her parents probably due to ignorance. The father was then said to have acted against doctor’s advice by forcefully taking her away from the hospital where she receiving treatment because he could not afford the N15,000 medical bill.
The convulsion was said to have worsened over time due to poor medical attention leading to her abnormal behaviour.
The ailment is also believed to be responsible for her retarded growth when compared to her twin sister, a beautifully grown girl.
Although physically challenged kids like her deserve decent life, love and adequate medical attention, in her case she was treated cruelly; locked up in a cage lacking window for proper ventilation and light.
The place where she was confined for almost three years by her father shares fence with a medical facility where she is now receiving treatment.
Co-tenants, who could have notified the authorities on the girl’s plight, looked the way ostensibly for fear of incurring the wrath of her father whose relation, Sunday Vanguard learnt, owned the house they are living in.
Succour however came her way last weekend when a concerned native of Okolobiri alerted the group, the Mary Slessor Twin Foundation, which rescued her and took her to the Niger Delta University Teaching Hospital, Okolobiri where she is receiving treatment.
When this reporter, on Thursday, visited what once served as her home, it was discovered that a rubber carpet had been laid on the bare floor with a view to making it look a little decent due to the public interest generated after her predicament was reported.
A resident berated the girl’s parents. “This is the height of man’s inhumanity to man, especially coming from one own father. The girl though is retarded doesn’t deserve the treatment meted to her. Before now, she used to walk freely around from her parents apartment to her mother’s kiosk by the roadside without disturbing anybody,” the resident said.
The girl, on admission at the teaching hospital courtesy of Mary Slessor Twins Foundation, cut the picture of a six-year-old. Her confinement and lack of care apparently left her malnourished, as according to the doctor handling her case, “she is 16 year old but her weight is like that of a five year old.”
Acting President of the Foundation, Mr. Tonyon Ebitei Robert, said she was locked up because she was defecating around the family house.
According to him, Blessing’s father, who is also a twin and a security official with the Niger Delta University Teaching Hospital, Okolobiri, allegedly built the cage and locked up his daughter to keep her away from the main house.
“She was kept like a rabbit. She was given food when it was available and was allowed to sleep in her vomit, faeces, urine. She lost weight and could have died,” Robert said.
He explained that the group, known for its campaign against maltreatment of twins, was contacted by concerned indigenes of Okolobiri community where the Olokumo family resides.
Blessing, he said, was rushed to the teaching hospital where is being given medical treatment.
Though the father was not around when Sunday Vanguard visited as he was said to have gone to Yenagoa for a verification exercise, the mother of the girl was sighted at the hospital keeping her company. The woman, who identified herself as Binaese, said the girl was locked up because she was roaming about and disturbing other neighbours, a claim that was dismissed by a resident who said the girl though has health challenges hardly disturbed anybody.
One Dr. Deji, who was attending to the girl when Sunday Vanguard visited her, said: “We gathered that when she was three years, she started having convulsion and the convulsion worsened over time and due to the poor control of the convulsion she started having abnormal behaviour.
“About three years ago, the father decided to keep her in an enclosure outside the house and, over time, she degenerated. She wasn’t well kept and her weight wasted. She is 16 years but her weight is like that of a five-year-old child.”
According to him, the girl is a bit reserved most likely as a result of the trauma she may have undergone. The doctor went on: “Three are signs of obvious neglect over time. It is the case of a child having seizure disorder which some people might call epilepsy, and was not treated appropriately. She was not given adequate medical attention and kept out of the house in a restricted environment and barely fed which resulted in malnutrition.
“She is responding gradually to treatment and is a bit more interested in her environment. When I first saw her, she refused my coming close to her but she now obeys instructions.” President of the Mary Slessor Twins Foundation, Robert, gave kudos to the medical personnel handling her case saying she has improved tremendously. According to him, the group would lodge formal complaint with the police and the welfare department of Bayelsa State Ministry of Women Affairs.
“Criminal charges of child abduction, inhuman treatment, child molestation and failure to enroll the child for proper education will be brought against the parents,” he said.
Also, the Chief Nengi James Foundation, on Thursday, visited the girl in hospital and made a cash donation to assist the Mary Slessor Twins Foundation pay Blessing’s medical bills.
Represented by the immediate past Secretary of the state chapter of the Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO), Comrade Alagoa Morris, the Chief Nengi James Foundation urged parents to cater for their kids no matter the circumstances.