26 January 2013

Nigeria: The Many Faces of Calabar Orphans

Calabar — In Calabar, some of the orphans and abandoned children find abode in orphanages and welfare homes, while others struggle it out on the streets.

There is now increasing interest among individuals, religious and welfare groups, including government agencies to alleviate the plight of abandoned children in Calabar, Cross River State.

But it would appear that these seemingly laudable efforts by these public-spirited persons and groups appear not to be deep enough and well spread out which reasons there are still growing number of another set of children now popularly referred to as 'street lords' all over the major towns in the state.

Why are the street lords increasing in their numbers by the day and becoming not only a menace, but eyesore at many public places, streets and abandoned houses in Calabar?

In Calabar , there are the Botanical Garden, Cultural Centre and other dump-sites in the state and Federal Housing Estates where these children frequent, sleep and sometimes commit petty crimes to survive.

On the other side, there are children who live in luxuriant care at some welfare homes and orphanages where the lucky orphans have been collected together by kind and affluent individuals, churches and agencies run by either wives of the state governor or his lieutenants.

At the Mother Elizabeth Redeemed Children Home located in a two-storey building inside the sprawling complex on Ambo Street in Calabar owned by a spiritual leader and philanthropist, His Holiness Olumba Olumba Obu of the Brotherhood of the Cross and Star, children ages between two and 12 were seen in a very comfortable, relaxed and neat home. Some were either watching plasma TV sets in the large sitting rooms or playing about or hugging a woman who was later disclosed to be their supervisor and overseer, Mrs. Enobong Mike Ntuk.

Mrs. Ntuk said the home was established in 2003 in memory of a woman from Biakpan and mother of His Holiness Olumba Obu who was very fond of children, helpful to people and caring for the orphans and the displaced, Madam Elizabeth Esu Olumba Obu

"Presently, there are over 90 children in this home. Although most of them are Nigerians but we do not discriminate between the types of children that are admitted here irrespective of their religious or geographical backgrounds. Among the kids here are those from Ghana, all parts of Nigeria, Cameroun, and elsewhere. Most of them are orphans that were abandoned on the streets or within this 34 Ambo premises while many others are from homes whose parents could not really care for them", she explained.

Ntuk, a teacher and journalist who was appointed by Obu to take charge of the children as overseer last year, said she has other workers, about five of them, who work under with her to run the home. "Some of the workers in this home are nutritionists, moral/religious tutors, health and education experts. They discharge their duties to the children effectively, so that jointly we make this place "a real home for these children'", she said.

She said the children are well taken care of in every respect because of the types of motivation available for them. "Food is much in supply because we believe in the God of provision. The children feed very well three times per day. We have cooks and spacious kitchen that is well equipped; we have workers that handle their laundry and hygiene, including those in charge of sports and other extra curricula activities."

The children wake up at the home before five in the morning for the 'morning devotional service' where they are also taught Bible lessons. Most of the children attend BROMCO nursery and primary schools which is located a stone-throw from their abode and also sponsored by His Holiness Obu popularly referred to by his followers as The Father.

There is no doubt that the children are living in luxury at this home, and without any complaints from anywhere. As noted by our reporter, the home is also well fortified with security and well-to-do Nigerians visit the homes with food items and clothing materials regularly.

For instance, Mrs Ntuk disclosed that one Mrs Celilia Bassey Duke, a retired director of the NNPC (Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation), led her international NGO, the All Ordained Ones Fellowship to donate additional 20 mattresses and pillows to the homes in September 2012, while other groups, including Chief Magistrate Pastor Edet Obot from the Akwa Ibom State judiciary regularly visits with kind donations.

The Catholic Church also runs a SOS Children home on Bateba Street in Calabar where public donations are received regularly. The 207 Mobility Group of the Nigerian Air Force has visited the home with loads of food items before now.

There is also the Destiny Children Home run by the wife of the state governor, Mrs Obioma Liyel Imoke. Here, children and other orphans are taken off the streets and kept in a well catered home where adequate provision for food, medical and training is guaranteed.

With some supports from the state government, the centre is well staffed. The centre has picked up many abandoned children from Calabar streets in the last three months.

However, there was controversy late last year that Obioma was allegedly aware that some children were sold out from the centre to some faceless people. This, the governor's wife has since debunked and those behind the rumours warned.

Recent statement from the state ministry of welfareand social development said about 50 street children have been rehabilitated into the Destiny Child. There are also ASFAC (A State Fit For A Child) Destiny Child Project andMothers Against Child Abandonment (MACA)sponsored by Mrs Imoke for vulnerable and homeless children.

But the destitute most of who are children have put a question mark on the efforts of the state agencies as well as private organizations and individuals at bettering their lots.

These children many of whom claim to be orphans or abandoned roam and beg all over the streets, thereby constituting nuisance. These homeless children sleep by the roadside and abandoned buildings at night. The presence of these street children has raised questions about the state's policy on children.

James Ibanga is about 11 years old. He said he is from Akwa Ibom State but that his parents died two years ago and that his uncle whom he was staying with left home to unknown destination. He said he and his friends, numbering 14 of the same age range usually go round party and market places and dumpsites to scavenge for empty cans and water bottle for sale at N20 each. "We use this money to eat at the end of the day. In the night we sleep anywhere", he said. All of them were unkempt with funny hairstyles.

Residents of the state are however, worried that while the state government is busy concentrating on making the state attractive to tourists, social issues like abandoned children was being over-looked.

Frowning at the non-implementation of the Child Rights Act passed into law in 2009 by the State House of Assembly, Eyamba Ekpenyong Nsa warnedthat the attitude of the state government with regard to abandoned children, may have a ripple effect in future as they might grow to become armed robbers.

A lawyer, Archibong Essien said efforts should not only be made to implement the law, but awareness must also be created to ensure the rights of children are respected.

A priest, Wilson Andem also appealed to the state government to rescue the children by taking them to remand homes or for those whose parents can be identified, should be re-united with them.

Embarrassed by the increasing number of homeless children in Calabar, Mrs. Obioma Imoke, said last year that the enforcement of the Child Rights Act will help reduce cases of child abuse in the state and advised parents to give their children good care and protection.

Speaking to reporters when they picked up an abandoned baby last year behind the medical students hostel on Moore Road Calabar, Special Assistant to the Governor on Public Health/ NGO and Special Projects, Dr. Regina Ejemot-Nwadiaro intimated that in the past five years the government has been championing the stamping out of teenage pregnancy and child abandonment in the state.

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