On June 15, a 27-year-old graduate of Law, Benkingsley Nwahara, rescued a two-year-old child who had been abandoned by a mentally-ill mother in Agabani town, Nkanu West LGA, Enugu State. He tells GODFREY GEORGE and TEMITOPE ADETUNJI why he did it and how the little girl is faring
What is your name?
My name is Benkingsley Nwahara. I am 27 years old. I am from Imo State but I am based in Enugu. I am a Law graduate from the Enugu State University of Science and Technology, Agbani Campus, Enugu.
You were said to have picked up an abandoned child from the streets in Enugu and taken her in to stay with you. Would you like to recount how exactly this happened?
It is true. It happened on June 15, 2022. I was on my way back from a party with some friends at night when I saw something that looked like a log of wood on the road. This must have been around 9.40pm or so. Some of my friends thought it was a snake, so I turned on my phone torch and beamed the light on the area to be sure of what it was. That was when I saw that it was a child sitting helplessly on the street. We moved closer to see that the child was just seated. She had sores all over her head and rashes all over her body. Her clothes were dirty and some akara balls were read around where she sat. Maybe, passer-by dropped them for her to eat. She neither spoke nor moved. She just sat there, looking at us. I approached her and spoke to her but she didn’t respond. I touched her and saw that she needed urgent medical attention. I decided to take the child with me.
Where exactly did this happen?
This happened in Agbani town, Nkanu West Local Government Area, Enugu.
Did you take the child home with you?
I first asked around the area and they told me that the child belong to a mentally-ill woman who stayed in the area and she (the child) must be around two years old and had been there for like three days without any help. The mother, too, had not been coming around. In fact, they said the mentally-ill woman just gave birth to another child some days earlier and had not been seen since then. On hearing this, I just knew I couldn’t let her stay there. It had started to drizzle as it had been raining non-stop for days in Enugu. I couldn’t imagine how this child had survived these rains without any shelter. It saddened me. I beamed my light on her again and her eyes shone. It was filled with hope that a helper had come. I quickly called my girlfriend and told her about what had happened and she told me to quickly take the child to the police station first, which I did.
What did the police say?
It was almost 10.30 pm or so and the policewomen on duty told me that there was nothing they could do that night. They encouraged me to take the child home and come back the next day to make a formal report of what happened. So, with the backing of the officers, I decided to take the little girl home with me.
Were you not scared?
Honestly, I was scared but I was filled with compassion and the fact that I was doing this for the good of the child and society. I just couldn’t imagine how I would be able to sleep that night knowing that little girl would be outside in the cold, open to the danger of kidnappers and ritualists. Besides, that night, the people around encouraged me to take the child. She had been there for days and no one cared, so they would have no moral right to tell me to leave the baby there to die.
What did you do when you got home?
You know her body was filled with sores and all that. I was even confused. My girlfriend had come, so she bathed the child and covered her; we gave her food and she slept. The next day, I quickly went out to get baby wear and food for two-year-olds. In fact, I became a father overnight. I spent nothing less than N150,000 under two days.
The next day, I took her to a paediatric hospital and they told me that she needed urgent medical attention as she would be put in the Intensive Care Unit for close monitoring. I had to make sure I was there for her. Since I knew it would affect my job, I told my boss that I would need some time off. Later on, I just tendered my resignation. This child, for now, is my priority. I have to be with her 24/7, so I am sure she is okay. I also had to hire someone who would help me with the things I can’t do for her (child).
How have you been taking care of the child?
It has not been easy on my finances to take care of this child. I have stretched my budget for the month. I have also had to make a lot of sacrifices for her but that is not the point right now. I just want her to be okay and be healthy. That would give me great joy. People have been reaching out to me online and have offered to help me and have been doing so in the ways they can. I am grateful to them. Some have shipped baby wears and packed food items to me as support.
Has anyone come to claim ownership of the child since she has been with you?
To date, no one has come to say they know how to get to any of the family members of the mentally-ill woman. In fact, my thought then was that when I see any of her family members, I would sue them for neglect and child abuse. They know full well that the mentally-ill woman cannot raise a child; why leave her with a child for two whole years? Now, she has given birth to another one and vanished. Only God knows where she and that newborn are as we speak.
Did you involve the local government authorities?
Of course, I went to meet the Local Government Chairman of Nkanu West Local Government Area. He invited me and we spoke with the child welfare services but they still insisted that I kept the child for now. The chairman couldn’t believe that this was going on in his LGA. He was almost moved to tears. They said they wouldn’t know how to care for the child because she was too fragile and needed a lot of special care, which only I could give since I had shown interest. They also gave me some money to add to what I have to take care of the child. The DPO of Agbani Police Station, where I had gone to make a report the night I found the child, later called me. When he heard my story, he was also moved and still told me to continue to raise the child and bring reports to him. He is a father himself and he was supportive. He attached an escort to us and always called to make sure I was okay.
Did you contact any orphanage that can take custody of the child?
The ones we contacted told me that the child might die in their hands. Everyone was just scared. If you saw the way the child was when I found her, you would be scared, too.
What really fuels your compassion for this child? Do you have a child of your own?
(Laughs) I am still very young. I don’t have a child now but I wish to have one when I need one and I wouldn’t want any of them to go through what this little girl has gone through in this life. Honestly, I saw hope in her eyes that night I saw her. In fact, it felt like it was divine. I knew it was orchestrated by God for us to meet that way so I would save that child. I have always loved kids, being a teacher in the children’s department of the Anglican Church.
Are your family members aware of this?
I have told my mum but I haven’t told any of my siblings. But I am sure they must have heard because my brother called me and was so proud of me. They were just glad that it was me.
What is the ultimate goal for you? What do you hope to achieve with this?
All I have in my mind is to revitalize that child and make sure she is alive. I want her to get a good family who will care for her and give her the best life she deserves. People have been reaching out to me to give her up for adoption but that is not in my powers to do right now. But for now, she is going to be under my direct supervision. Since even the orphanage and government have told me to take care of her, I would do so till I am sure she is safe with whoever decides to take her in as theirs.
What has this taught you about life generally?
One important thing this has taught me is to always do the right thing regardless of what anyone thinks or does. I have also decided to open a foundation for abandoned and indigent kids who need help so I would be a ray of hope for them.
Do you have any words for the government and the general public concerning this matter?
The government needs to do more to make sure that we don’t have these cases of neglect and abandonment anymore. The mentally-ill woman who has also gone missing is also a cause of concern to me. For her to be giving birth means that there are people who are impregnating her. It is a terrible cycle for these people, and the government needs to be more intentional. Society should also be kinder to these children because they are the ones that may end up as the elements of crime if they are not taken care of at this stage.