No one could have imagined that 16-year-old Gloria (not real name) was just two weeks away from the delivery of a child on September 3, 2014.
“I noticed her neck was full and darker, those were the only signs I saw. So, I asked if she was pregnant. Her expression and answer showed she had no idea she was indeed pregnant,” a neighbour who unravelled the mystery of the pregnancy told Saturday PUNCH.
Gloria, a year one senior secondary school student, lives with his married brother unaware that she was about to become a mother. But buried deeply in the girl’s heart was a painful secret she had never told a soul.
The inquisitive neighbour was unconvinced. She approached Gloria’s sister-in-law, who also expressed the same concern that she was afraid the girl might be pregnant.
“The sister-in-law had even taken the girl to the hospital and had her urine tested for pregnancy. But the test was negative. But I insisted we take her back to hospital for a blood test instead. I even had to pay for that,” the neighbour, who pleaded anonymity, said. The test result was positive. Gloria was pregnant.
With threats, pleading and persuasion, Gloria’s brother, Obi, tried to get the truth about who was responsible out of Gloria, but the little girl was too afraid to tell the truth.
Saturday PUNCH decided to withhold the identity of the girl and those of her relations because she is still a minor according to provisions of the Lagos State Child Rights Law, 2007.
The same neighbour, who had been friends with the family for some years, eventually got the girl to tell the truth, which shocked the girl’s brother.
When our correspondent spoke with Gloria on Thursday, there was no sign that she could have been the mother of the child she held in her arms.
Timid and innocent, she looked at the floor as she spoke softly, delving into the account of a sexual abuse she had gone through in the last five years.
When Gloria’s brother brought her to Lagos seven years ago from their village in Abakaliki, Ebonyi State, it was to give her a semblance of a better life, different from the pathetic one she was said to be living in. Their mother had just died at the time, while their aged father back in the village was not doing too well financially.
“She was living with me along with some of my friends at the time. Things were still rough for me and I was single.” Obi said.
Not long after this, Obi’s good friend from Anambra State, a trader living in Mangoro area of Lagos named Ugochukwu Okparanta, said he would take over the care of the girl to ease the financial burden off his friend while the girl would help his wife with house chores.
“I was nine when I started living with Uncle (Okparanta). But two years after I got there, he started raping me,” Gloria began. “He started one day when I was washing plates and he started to touch me in the private part and breast.”
The girl became tearful. Her voice shook and trailed off. But our correspondent assured her that she was not going to be in trouble of any kind by telling her story. Then she continued.
“He started by petting me, telling me I would like it. I refused and became afraid. Then he threatened me. He would tell me that I would be in trouble if I did not do what he wanted,” Gloria said.
Asked why she could not report the problem to her brother, the girl said she thought nobody would believe her.
“If I told Madam (Okparanta’s wife), she would say I lied against her husband,” Gloria explained. Then came one night, while her boss’ wife slept in the couple’s room, Okparanta sneaked out to the room Gloria shared with his own daughter, an older girl.
She said, “He told me to follow him to the sitting room. I obeyed. He raped me and while he did it, I was about to scream, but he covered my mouth with his hand very tightly. I was bleeding when he finished and I became more scared but he smiled and said the blood was normal.
“After that, he would rape me almost every night. Madam did not know anything. Anytime I refused, Uncle would threaten to deal with me. There was a day I refused and when I greeted him the following day, he did not answer me.
“He reported me to his wife that I had become pompous in his house and that I no longer greeted him.”
This sexual abuse would continue for four years, according to the girl, until 2013 when his brother got married and brought her back to help around the house.
However, in January 2014, the sexual abuse the girl had kept secret and thought was over would come back to haunt her.
“His wife had just had a miscarriage and I was sent to go and help her for a few days. But in the afternoon, when his children had gone to school, he dragged me to his children’s room and raped me,” Gloria said.
Few days before that day, our correspondent learnt that Gloria’s brother had even gone to his ‘magnanimous’ friend, bearing a bottle of wine, to thank him for taking care of his sister over the years.
“I did not know in my wildest dream that the man I see as my friend would do such a terrible thing to my sister,” he said.
Nobody knew what damage had been done until September 2014 when the symptoms of pregnancy started to manifest in the girl’s body.
“She is one of those people who could be pregnant and her flat tummy would not make anyone suspicious. I thought that if she was pregnant, it would be in early stages and could be aborted. I had no idea that she would deliver in a few days,” the neighbour told our correspondent.
The day Gloria gave birth, the girl who knew nothing about motherhood was in labour for hours in her room and thought she was having a stomach ache.
She only screamed when her water broke, it was learnt. But she had a crisis-free delivery and gave birth to a healthy baby boy.
“I have never had sex with any other boy before. I can swear on my life,” she said.
When Gloria’s angry brother and other relations confronted Okparanta with the rape allegation, he denied initially.
“He later admitted that he slept with her only once,” Obi said.
When Saturday PUNCH spoke with Okparanta on the phone, he initially went from feigning ignorance to outright denial.
But when he was asked why he sent a cheque of N50,000, to the girl’s brother, he hesitated a little and admitted he raped the girl once.
“It is a lie that I started sleeping with her since she was 11. Even last year, I did not sleep with her,” Okparanta said.
“Yes, I gave her brother a cheque because they were accusing me that I was responsible,” he continued.
But did he think he could be responsible since he has admitted sleeping with the girl?
He said, “I only slept with her once in January and she was not a virgin at the time. That was the last time I did it. I was not the first person to sleep with her. I am not the one that deflowered her.
“I was sleeping in the sitting room at the time. I just felt someone touching me. I just did not know how I slept with her after that. I hated her since then.”
Our correspondent asked if it was true that he and his wife had accused the girl of being possessed, Okparanta said, “I did not know what came over me that made me sleep with her. I told his brother after the incident that he should take her to a church for deliverance.”
He told our correspondent that he did not tell his friend that he ever slept with his sister.
“No, I did not. I just hated the girl and felt she should not have made me to do such a bad thing. I am currently discussing with the family to see how we can take care of the baby if indeed I am responsible.”
Child rights activist, Esther Ogwu, who had taken up the case, said taking responsibility for the care of the child was just a first step.
Ogwu, who is the Executive Director of Esther Child Rights Foundation, said, “We are working to ensure that justice is done in this matter. But the welfare of the mother and child is paramount. We are taking the matter to the police, who will invite Okparanta for interrogation.
“But it is necessary for families to be wary of the environment where children they put children they bring to Lagos from their villages. Many of such children often times are abused by adults who take advantage of their ignorance and innocence.”