Looking pale and frightened, Mrs. Onyinyechi Godwin, cut the true picture of a distressed widow. Flanked on both sides by her five children, she looked sober given the torturous experiences she had had in the past and the future which, seemingly, felt so uncertain.
For the past three months, Onyinyechi had been living on the streets of Lagos with her children. Since the landlord of her one-room apartment in Iyana Ipaja sent her packing for not paying her rent six months after it expired, she had been living at Alasia junction, beside a popular filling station in Oshodi area of Lagos.
In a chat with our correspondent on Tuesday, the 32-year-old woman said she had to take to the streets when no help was coming her way, adding that hunger was the family’s main problem.
Given the hardship they had been through, her eldest child was already learning to run after people to beg for money.
Narrating the circumstances surrounding her coming to Lagos, she explained that she left her town in Orlu, Imo State, shortly after her husband, John, died of stroke and she and her children almost died of hunger. Perhaps she would have found a ready shelter in her husband’s house and live on whatever her husband left behind, but unknown to her, her late husband had a wife and four children, which she said she never knew about. Thus, after his death, she and her five children were treated as outcasts.
She said, “They called me prostitute, husband-snatcher and different names. I felt so bad. Due to the shame and hunger, since there was nothing to live on, more so that the person I was working for as a stylist wasn’t paying me, I decided to come to Lagos in 2015. Then, I was pregnant with my last child.
“There was no option but to leave the village because we were going to die of hunger and I didn’t want to lose my children.”
Speaking further, she said she and her late husband met in Owerri and became husband and wife. She said she insisted her late husband should take her to his village but he was always making excuses. “When he was very sick, his relatives came around and took me to his village where I met his four children and wife, who told me I couldn’t live with them. I felt betrayed.
Apparently confused with the way things turned out for her when her landlord at Iyana Ipaja evicted her in July, Onyinyechi took to the streets with her five children, including a one-year old.
Asked why she decided to come to Lagos where she didn’t know anyone when she could have sought help from her siblings in the village, she said nobody, including her in-laws, was willing to help her as most of them were also struggling financially.
“My only brother is dead and my two sisters didn’t help me. They said I should stop disturbing them because they didn’t have, because anytime I visited them, they only gave me food to eat and transport fare. I knew I couldn’t continue like that, so I found my way to Lagos so I could work, raise money and take care of my children,” she added.
She pointed out that she could have found herself a job, even if it was to sell sachet water, but that she couldn’t move around with five children, all of whom had dropped out of school and are currently struggling to survive.
She said, “I’m not lazy, but I also can’t roam the streets with five children. I just need help; hunger is my main problem,” she added.
“Everything around me has been frustrating. I wasn’t making progress, rather, things were getting worse, and when I was evicted from the house at Iyana Ipaja, I thought of going back to the village to face the hardship, but I didn’t have transport fare, so I went to Oshodi to stay and the only place I could afford was the street.
She said they usually slept on the corridor of a shop at night and during the day when the owner of the shop was around; they would stay on the street, where they got alms occasionally.
Looking at her from the distance, especially before brief help came her way, some could conclude that she needed mental help, looking at how tattered she was and seeing a mother of five living on the street, in the rain and sunshine. But Onyinyechi is not mad, even though overwhelmed by the circumstances around her.
However, brief respite came her way last week when a passerby, Mrs. Bosede Shofarasin, spotted her in the rain and offered her some help. Shofarasin told our correspondent that she first saw them at the spot on Monday but that while passing the same route on Friday, they were still there as they covered themselves with nylon due to the heavy rain.
She added, “I couldn’t hold it, so I told Mrs. Solape Ademulegun-Agbi, who immediately offered some help. We contacted the Akinpelu police station and the DPO gave us a policewoman, Supol Gladys, who, in company with another female officer, met us at the scene. We then contacted Oshodi Local Government and one man, Ebenezer, from the child welfare department, came and said we should go to the state secretariat at Alausa.”
She said, “In the office we went to, the ministry official asked if Onyinyechi thought people pick money on the streets of Lagos. The woman said ‘so you came to Lagos with these kids to kill them and make them suffer.’ She called me in and said we should take them to Alakara police station and that we shouldn’t tell them at the station that we had been to the secretariat. She said they would have to refer her back to her state of origin.
Interestingly, a staff of Oshodi local government, Mr. Mamora, took them in, temporarily.
Ademulegun-Agbi, said they were able to meet the local government chairman, Mr. Bolaji Muse-Ariyo, who also contacted a not-for-profit organisation, Out-of-School Children Empowerment Foundation, which took them in temporarily.”
Meanwhile, on seeing the children, drenched and looking malnourished, Ademulegun-Agbi, who is the proprietor of Hillcroft Nursery and Primary School, said she would give the children scholarship in the school until help would come their way, noting that she wouldn’t want to overshoot the capacity of her school.
“Government needs to help. Even though she is from Imo State, she is first of all a Nigerian and whether she is Igbo or not should not matter. The least we can do is provide some help, otherwise she would lose her sanity. It’s not as if I have a big school or I have the space, but I’m appealing to government to get involved. I plead with Nigerians to help this woman and her wonderful children; they need urgent help,” she added.
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