A dedication and thanksgiving ceremony for the relocation of the Light of Hope Orphanage, Ogun State, was hastily cancelled on Saturday after protesters stormed the place.
Two underage inmates of the orphanage had accused its Director, Mr. Olatayo Atunde, of sexually abusing them in 2013. He was subsequently arrested and arraigned before an Ota Magistrate Court, Ogun State, on four counts.
Presently, Atunde is said to be on bail after a brief stay at the Oba Prison in the Abeokuta area of the state.
The Ogun State government had also barred Atunde from returning to the orphanage, which was located at the Akute area.
The running of the shelter subsequently fell on the wife, who later accepted the victims back to the orphanage after the state government took them from the custody of a non-governmental organisation – Project Alert on Violence Against Women.
However, it was learnt that Atunde relocated the facility from Akute to Lambe and was set to re-assume the directorship of the establishment.
A few weeks ago, some corporate organisations and other sponsors of the orphanage allegedly received a text message inviting them to a dedication ceremony of the new location of the orphanage in Ifesowapo Street.
The text message read in part, “Beloved, come rejoice with us as we celebrate God’s faithfulness in thanksgiving and dedication of the new place God appointed us on February 22, 2014 at 11am.”
But the ceremony was aborted after some non-governmental organisations organised a protest march to the new abode.
Atunde was said to have got wind of the protest and hurriedly cancelled the ceremony.
It was learnt that an attempt by a senior official of the state government to plead with the organisers of the protest to abandon it was also rejected.
When PUNCH Metro visited the new address, it was deserted. Some buildings within the compound were still under construction. On a bench under a tree, was a big cake still under wraps.
A man, who described himself as Atude family friend, Pastor Adebayo, said he was not aware of any dedication ceremony.
But an invited guest, identified simply as Mrs. Olagbemi, told PUNCH Metro that she received a text message on the ceremony.
She said, “I first went to the old address at Tunde Sebanjo Street and I was told that they moved here. I am not even aware that Atunde has any case in court concerning child abuse. I have made donations to the orphanage.”
However, outside the orphanage, members of many human rights bodies, including Project Alert, Women Arise, Media Concern and Freedom for Abused Children protested the relocation of the orphanage.
Executive Director of Project Alert, Mrs. Josephine Effuah-Chukuwma, said, “It is only in Nigeria that an orphanage that is being investigated for an alleged crime will be left to operate. I don’t know why the Ogun State Government is encouraging impunity. Residents must be aware that a child sexual abuse centre has been opened in their community.”
Executive Director, Women Arise, Mrs. Joe Odumakin, demanded the immediate closure of the orphanage and called on the Ogun State House of Assembly to look into the issue.
She said, “There is no reason for the orphanage to relocate; it is the one who sins that runs away.”
CDA Chairman, Ifesowapo Central, Mr. Folarin Fambegbe, said, “I am aware that this place was bought a few weeks ago. I am also aware that it is an orphanage that would be moving here. However, I have no idea that the owner was in court concerning the sexual abuse of some minors in the orphanage. We as a community would not support any criminal act.”
When contacted, Atunde’s wife, who spoke on behalf of her husband, denied that any ceremony was planned.
She said, “Yes, we have a new location, which we plan to move to very soon, but we have not moved yet. We only sent text messages to people to notify them that we had relocated to a new place.
“There was nothing like any dedication ceremony. We had only planned a prayer meeting. Did you see any guests there or chairs? There was no music. I am aware there was a protest against the orphanage, but we will still hold the prayer meeting after the protest.”