“It’s a baby girl. She’s calm and beautiful,” the midwife said at the safe delivery of the baby girl in an interior village probably 120 kilometers south of River Benue. The entire village erupted in joy to see the new born child. “Her name should be Eliza,” the midwife suggested. The other midwives laughed as Mrs. Ogbanje smiled amidst pains of child birth.
It is not unusual in Idoma land that girls born with the gift of natural beauty are christened Eliza (Short for Elizabeth) after her Majesty the Queen of England. As they grow, the name naturally transforms to Queen which has its translation as Ochanya in Idoma dialect.
At four, Eliza not only showed the endowment of her physical beauty but displayed an aura of bravery and maturity. Every morning she knelt beside her mother to say The Lord’s Prayer and the Catholic Rosary. On many occasions, she assisted her poor mum in the house core. Without coercion, Eliza learnt submission.
One day as she sat in the sand singing village rhymes and reciting Bible lessons taught in the local church, her mum watched her gravely and saw a great woman in her child. “This is our own Onyantu Ifene o,” she thought to herself.
The following year, her sister visited from Ugbokolo town to attend the burial ceremony of a relative and she spoke with her.
“My sister, you know that Eliza is my only daughter. I want her to go to school. She is too intelligent to waste in this village. Who knows, if she graduates from school, God can use her to bring school and electricity to this village like Onyantu Ifene did for her village. If it’s ok by you, let her come to stay with you in Ugbokolo. Put her in any school you can afford. I will come to see her on every Eke market day when I come to Ajide to sell wares. Whatever amount I can afford, I will bring to support you. God will reward you my sister.”
And so with a good heart, Mrs. Ogbuja resolved to take Eliza in.
Quickly, Mrs. Ogbanje called her daughter into their little hut and prayed for her. She took a Roman Catholic chaplet and hung it on get neck. “I will always come to see you on every market day,” she assured her daughter.
Excited that she would be starting school in the town, Eliza got her baggage of few cloths and hooped to sit on the laps of her aunt as they boarded a public car to Ugbokolo, a suburb many kilometres away from the village.
The cheerful five years old Eliza was well received into her new home. A few days later, she resumed school. In the classroom she was full of life and always excelling. As each year went by and with promotions and awards to crown her academic prowess, she saw her dreams coming true. She hoped to go to the university someday and graduate. She hoped to get a good job and bring school to her village.
One day, at the age of eight, Eliza came to school with a gloomy look. The cheerful face had transmogrified in a handful of hours.
“Ochanya (as her teacher fondly called her), is anything the matter? Did your aunt beat you?”
Eliza simply nodded a “No” but the teacher knew that something was not just right. The afternoon before, after close of school, the eight years old Eliza had been sexually abused by a male cousin who was several years older than her.
But she would not tell anybody because her life and dream had been threatened. She bottled her feelings hoping that the ugly incidence would never rear its head again. Every morning and night, she would kneel before her bed with Holy Child Jesus chaplet in her hand asking God to forgive her, and to forgive her evil cousin “for he knows not what he has done.” But she was wrong; the evil Victor of a cousin came again and again to have his way with her. She felt helpless; praying that someone would catches him in the very act someday. And as if God heard her prayer, Abigail, Victor’s little sister came home one afternoon and met the unwholesome act. She raised alarm and told her dad. And Eliza thought her freedom had finally come. But again she lied.
Mr. Ogbuja started from where he met his son, forming a dual force against the helpless girl. Life became miserable for Eliza. Several occasions when her mum visited, she had tried to voice it but the fear of losing her life and her cherished dream held her back.
And so the evil persevered until Eliza’s health began to fail at the age of twelve. She was taken to the local hospital in Ugbokolo but nothing was diagnosed. The nurse gave her some malaria drugs and some sedatives. She was relieved briefly but the illness resurfaced. After several visits to several hospitals, she was eventually diagnosed to have Vesicovaginal fistula (VVF), a disease resulted from the several sexual abuses.
As she laid on her sickbed and watching her esteemed dream dying slowly with her, she took her chaplet and prayed that God would forgive Victor and uncle Ogbuja “for they know not what they had done to me and my dream.” She also prayed that God would raise another “Onyantu Ifene” that would bring school and electricity to her village.
After many days in the hospital fighting for her life, one day as evening drew nigh, as the sun stooped to set, as birds returned to roost, Queen Elizabeth Ochanya Ogbanje placed her chaplet on her chest, closed her eyes and in pains bade the world goodbye.
And the girl died.
It is my innermost prayer this day that God should rescue our kids from all sorts of predicaments in Jesus name. Amen