Mrs Chika Eneh-Okonkwo, mother of the 11-year-old girl who recently escaped captivity, domestic abuse and starvation, was still in shock over what her daughter went through since she gave her away late February 2019. In this interview with OLISEMEKA OBECHE, the 38-year-old widow shared her own side of the story.
How did you meet the woman that took your daughter to Awka and lived with her until recently?
I don’t know her from anywhere. It was through my younger sister that she took my daughter to live with her. She came to visit one man at Ugwuoba and went to buy things from my sister who sells close to the man’s house. In the process, she started chatting with my sister. She soon begged my sister to plait her hair during which she told my sister that she wanted to travel to Port Harcourt but that her daughter, Chikaima was troubling her and that she didn’t want to take her along. That was how my sister accepted to look after her child while she travelled to Rivers state. Eventually, she spent over two weeks during the trip and my sister took very good care of the baby such that she did not even feel her mother’s absence. The presence of other kids in their compound also helped. She actually only left them with tea, claiming that her husband was abroad and that the child only ate foreign food. But the child ended up eating local foods with her mates.
My sister’s husband usually bought different kinds of fruits and snacks for them on his return. You wouldn’t notice that the girl was not even related to them. When she returned and discovered that her baby was happy, she started saying that her daughter would marry my sister’s son and they were living like same family. Soon after she returned, she started saying that she would like to take my sister’s second daughter called Mmeso but she refused, insisting that the girl was helping her mother out. However, she was assured that they would look for another child for her.
Soon after, she informed my sister that there was an employment opportunity that came out in Abuja that she was going to apply. She left her child and spent over two months in Abuja. My sister took care of her. It was shortly after she returned that my younger brother, Ekene was locked up in the police. It was the journey to settle the case that brought her to our house in Nkanu, Enugu state. My sister was plaiting her hair when the call came and she overheard them talking about it on phone and volunteered to follow her and eventually we succeeded in settling the case. It was after helping us out with that case that my sisters decided to look for a child from our side for her. My sister then called me and begged me to release Ngozi to follow the woman to Awka as her show of our gratitude. That was how my daughter was handed to a stranger my sisters mistook as a good woman. The day they came to pick her, Ngozi was not happy. I was not happy because I never wanted her to leave my side.
Even when they left for Awka, my sister used to send them foodstuffs and fruits on regular basis from Ugwuoba because she was the one that knows her. At a point I became angry that she wasn’t calling me and whenever I call her, she won’t pick or return my call. Even when she picks, she will always assure me that she was fine and doing well. My brother-in-law also usually call her regularly to ask after Ngozi and she would always tell him that she was fine and went to school or lesson. And we used to feel happy.
Even the day my sister called her to find out how she was faring, she told her that she had improved remarkably, not knowing that the change she was talking about was that she was maltreating, starving and feeding her with all sorts of waste that she was supposed to dispose. I was shocked that my daughter was not allowed to attend school but rather locked up inside without food. I used to try to reach her to find out how my daughter was faring but she was always giving me excuses that her phone was faulty or damaged. What I discovered was that the woman has not just started that attitude. It’s been long. But my prayer is that if I had any bad intention before giving her my daughter, let Him punish me, but if I did not and she decided to repay our goodness with wickedness, let her punishment be a lesson to others.
Did you at any time feel restless over the condition of your daughter?
The truth is that I have emaciated seriously because I did not have rest of mind since my daughter left to live with that woman. I lost appetite and hardly stayed calm. At a point I started disturbing my brother-in-law, begging him to go to Awka to check on her. But, due to the fact that the woman used to assure him, he would tell me that I should not worry that she was fine. But, deep down inside me, I knew that something was wrong where she was staying. However, I couldn’t place anything on it since I had no means of reaching them. The only thing I did was to always hand her over to God, to take care of her situation. I was not surprised the way God intervened eventually, because I know that without God, she would have been dead in that house and nobody would know what happened to her. I’m grateful to God.
The woman claimed that Ngozi used to steal her money to the tune of N110,000 she wanted to use for house rent. Did she use to do such a thing?
Never! In my family, we don’t do such a thing. I know my daughter and I can vow for her that she would never take what does not belong to her. Back home, she hardly eats what was given to her talk less of stealing money to use to buy things. But, even if a child steals, does that warrant such cruel treatment? What kind of woman would feed another person’s child with that sort of rubbish that my daughter was forced to eat just to stay alive? Let’s say that she still steals her money, my brother in-law has phone, I have phone, my brother has phone, my sister has phone but she claimed we don’t have phone. She never called us one day to complain, let alone bring her back.
How did you feel when you saw her at police station?
At the police station, we were staring at each other and I didn’t know what to tell her. I couldn’t understand the reason for her maltreatment against my daughter that looks after her child whenever she goes out on her activities. I don’t know what she planned to gain by using lies to do mistreat people. We might do bad things to people and think that no one sees us but Heaven sees us. These things she did, like flogging my daughter with chain on her head and all over her body, hitting her with pestle, locking her up, and feeding her with all sorts of garbage, she thought nobody would see that but God was seeing it. I asked her why she failed to bring her back to me if she didn’t want to live with her anymore. Just N100 would have been enough to take her to my relative in Ugwuoba than treating her that way. But she failed to respond. Sincerely, no woman that carried a baby in her womb for nine months, went through labour would maltreat a child like the way she maltreated Ngozi because remembering the pains from labour room would have changed the person’s mind. I have given her up to God and court to judge and pay her back for what she did.
How do you feel now that your daughter is recovering fast and no longer in the madam’s house?
I will not say that my mind is at ease but I am happy that heaven made it possible for my child to be alive with the people God used to save her life because I am nobody and I don’t know any of those that helped to rescue her and save her life. I think this is a lesson to us mothers not to give away your child to somebody you don’t know or easily reach. I know there are still good people out there who would take care of other people’s child as if he is their own but the bad ones are making this difficult. Since their father died in tragic accident at the age of 37, I have been finding it difficult to take care of them properly.
To me it’s not that I cannot feed her, it’s because I want her to go to school just like other kids. In Ngozi’s case, she wants to be a medical doctor and I have no means of making that possible and that is why I decided to give her out so she can attend a better school and get some help in her education. Ngozi kept on telling me that she wanted to go to school after returning home. The woman always says that Ngozi had gone to school/lesson every time I called her on phone not knowing that she had tied her up with chain inside the house. So, my only prayer is to see her achieve that aim of becoming a doctor.
“These things she did, like flogging my daughter with chain on her head and all over her body, hitting her with pestle, locking her up, and feeding her with all sorts of garbage, she thought nobody would see that but God was seeing it.”