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Funmi Iyanda
Lagos, Nigeria
Funmi Iyanda is a multi award-winning producer and broadcast journalist. She is the CEO of Ignite Media and Executive Director of Creation Television
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Friday, October 05, 2007

The swimmers against the tide (story one)

Once during the years I volunteered with the Strong Tower Mission, I visited the centre with Rev Dele George, founder of little saints orphanage to pick up an abandoned baby. She warned me about the deplorable condition of the place but nothing could have prepared me for the sight my eyes beheld.

A saddened colonial structure, standing dirty, sullen and quiet just a short turn off the chaotic Mushin end of the Abeokuta Express road. There on the left is a cell like structure with iron bars and a gaggle of miserable children huddled together. Children from a few months old to pre teens. Some crying, mucus running down the nose, some staring dejectedly whilst some watched an ancient black and white TV suspended high up the cage.

The place stank to the heavens, recent and aging urine and defecation mixed with unwashed bodies and the rancid smell of fear to produce a sickening olfactory assault.

As the officer in charge showed us the abandoned new born we had come to collect, I noticed a crying child, a toddler quieten and wipe the mucus with the back of his hand, then stretch out same hand to receive a plastic plate on which sat a ball of mashed up beans from an attendant.

As we left, I asked Mrs. George in alarm, are we going to leave them like that? We have to pick our battles Funmi she says, the officer in charge is a decent woman but there is very little she can do without resources. It is important we maintain a good relationship with the police so they cooperate with us in finding the children, bringing them and doing the paperwork for care and adoption. In any case they will never allow you bring a camera in here. We both agreed to send more materials to the centre and I silently resolved to get a reporter in there to tell the story in print. This was in 1997, the Abacha years; any criticism of governance was an act of treason.

For years the children of Alakara Juvenile Centre have haunted me. They come in all shapes, sizes and circumstance. Desperate, ill or demented parents abandoned some. Some are lost or missing, others are runaway children mostly from abuse. The centre should ideally be a half way home cum social welfare centre to rehabilitate abused or abandoned kids and return them to their families and in some cases to organized and recognized orphanages or even foster homes. The situation of the kids is sometimes so extreme that they require special care.
I monitored the centre for a number of years then simply forgot about it until recently when I heard about Margaret Ekpe. Tall, regal Margaret is the police officer in charge of the centre now. A former athlete and mother of three, she it was who got noticed by Stella Obasanjo (rewarded with a handshake and few wads of naira) on the chaotic Oshodi oke as the no nonsense traffic police officer who temporarily brought order to that hub of madness.


Margaret was transferred to the juvenile centre a couple of years ago and refused to be lulled into resigned complacency. The stories l have heard come from different sources of how she physically cleaned the place up spending her own salary, how she would go to the local market asking the women for food for her children and how she would fuel her own car and go in search of the families of the children until her car broke down and she started going by public transport by which l mean molue and danfos to unearth parents in places as far away as Ekiti oft armed with nothing but a sketchy address from a disoriented child. She removed the cage and separated the children and is trying to teach the attendants not to ignore, beat or harass the children. Children who include the 7 year old girl who was brutally raped by area boys , whose extended family does not want and whose irresponsible parents are separated and remarried to other people and therefore unwilling to be reminded of her existence. When the police commissioner noticed her diligence, he donated a generator and recommended her for a promotion, which would have taken her out of the centre, but she and others who know the story protested pleading that she be left to continue her swim against the tide.


The place is far from good, it is still a mess, but it is a mess that one woman is valiantly trying to clean up. It requires proper dormitories, food and clothing and supplies for the children, a vehicle, functioning telephone, volunteer doctors, child psychologists, nurses (who can all work from their bases as the children can be brought to them) and a committed citizens body or NGO who will monitor the activities at the centre.

Margaret, a poorly paid Nigerian policewoman, mother and wife is swimming hard and alone.

27 comments:

Anonymous said...

Great woman like this should be celebrated to encourage others and remind us all, what is important and how we should work !
Also i think there should be a reorientation raising process.
The likes of Etteh who will be looking for ways to launder her image could be introduced and try to suck as much government backing as possible before she`s settled into the loots again, and generally be on the look out for more politician in trouble and get funds of them, might be faulted morally but hey it a crises situation and the kids need help desperately.
As for the rest of us, there could be a fund where we could send money to electronically knowing that the head will not enrich herself.
The NGO should be more organised and be a pressure group using political tactics to get things done.

Anonymous said...

thank you for shedding light on the impoverishment in naija. what can i do to help and I also want to be assured that rendered help will be delivered into the center manager's hands. thanks

C said...

Funmi, you have not left much details for those of us who would like to help. I'm in Nigeria soon and certainly would like to get involved. Can I have some kind of contact info, please?

Nonesuch said...

I saw your show on monday and i havent stopped thinking ever since. I will let you know when I have decided how to help. well done. You make me so so proud.

douby said...

what can i do to help?

Ola. Ayokunle said...

It is very sad that in a nation like Nigeria, people in power can spend millions to renovate a house and more millions to buy cars at government expense instead of using it to fund causes liike the one this great woman has taken up on herself.

I would be very happy to join hands and fund any NGO that would ensure that these children receive the necessary welfare.

Good Job to you Funmi for bringing this to light.

Omodudu said...

How can one help with a little cash...

Anonymous said...

What can we do to help because i am sick and tired of the way things work in Nigeria,but with women like these makes one happy. What can people living abroad do? can you set up a fund where it can be closely watched.

advice said...

yep, please Funmi let us know. And i don't mean the one off 10000 naira! to assuage our guilt. Gosh this country sucks. And some idiots are spending hundred's of millions to renovate a property! I wonder tho why she uses up her resources trying to find the parents. if they dumped the child in the first case......

pam said...

I love it that you celebrate the uncelebrated. I get naseous seeing the same people in our press and award ceremonies over and over again whilst heroes like Magaret are just invisible. I mean this is a policewoman for crying out loud, smashing our general preconceptions of evil, corrupt police. There are good selfless Nigerians everywhere in this country... existing in a system that spits on such selflessness.. There must be a way to nuture and support such. You are doing it in your way. Great series Funmi. You have my support 24/7

acainto said...

This is so impressive. It's incredible that there are people believing so hard in Nigeria at a time like this. How can we help?

Ladybrille said...

Would be interested in contributing funds and maybe other items towards helping. Do you have an address? How do I go about making it a reality? Plus, what kind of accountability processes, if any, so that the ppl who need help actually get the help when monies are sent.

Thx.

Funmi Iyanda said...

@ all, l dont know about hobnobbing with the likes of Etteh but l do know about collective will and action. l spoke with KIND (kudirat intitiative for democracy) led by Hafsat Abiola Costello and they have agreed to monitor the centre on a monthly basis as well as open an account to which KIND, myself and any of you bloggers resident in Nigeria who volnteers can be signatories to. We can thus collect monies and materials to do what we all agree on for the centre and post updates on line and on NEW DAWN. l must emphasize that l am always reluctant to directly be involved in handling funds for any cause and have always stood between the giver and receiver but l think this is one case where we can come together and make a calculatable, transparent and identifiable change. l like the idea of a virtual body of people making changes in big and little ways so lets do it ok? l will have account details for you by end of next week, non 9ja based bloggers, be patient o, things can be a tad slow here. Meanwhile if anyone wants to do anything to reward and encourage margeret directly, pls email me at funmi@newdawnwithfunmi.com and l will link you directly with her. cheers all.

cheetarah said...

I'm gone blog about this for my next post,wow! These are the type of people who shd get the merit awards,not people who already have strings of titles and letters.I wanna help, and when i come to nigeria I'll get in touch ok.

On a totally shallow note,great shoes

Anonymous said...

I forgot to mention this earlier, if they partner with a shipping company in the US, i have hordes of gently-used girls clothing in my garage. i usually give them to in-laws from naija going back until someone said to stop. so if something is worked out for the US i do not mind dropping or shipping to the dropoff location.

Iyaeto said...

Who is supposed to be incharge of this centre?Shame on the Ministry.If only some ''women''9I refuse to mention names) could be like Margaret.Hmm Abiyamo ku oro omo. Funmi I'll contact you when I get to 9ja.

mystoriesmytestimonies said...

GOD BLESS margaret Ekpe...
his face will shine upon her life now and always...

CATWALQ a.k.a LAGBA-JESS said...

I applaud this woman.

I am not sure if it was the same orphanage I went to whilst in school or not but I remember leaving the place extremely heartbroken...

This is the type of woman that needs to be in public office. She recognises what needs to be done and she goes out and makes sure it is.

Respect and gratitude I have.

Logosian said...

I would like to donate some money and/ or vital supplies to the orphanage. Will watch out for the details once you are ready.
(BTW, is there any update on the young man with health issues you spoke about before?)

Anonymous said...

was moved. i cried and i'm incoherent. will definitely love to help in anyway i can. Thanks for creating awareness and providing publicity.

Anonymous said...

I am definitely willing to help. I will like to send items no longer in use by my friends & family to the centre. I must also mention that the shipping cost will be taken care of by myself nothing is too much to give those who have nothing. I shall be posting my number soon so that anyone who wants to send any clothes can contact me. God bless this woman who has decided to help these children.

Tola Tiamiyu said...

Thanks Funmi for using your blog to reach out to people on this issue.I know this collective effort will make a difference.For those interested in knowing about other charities working with kids in nigeria,u can also checkout www.unitedforkidsfoundation.org.
And the beauty of technology is that you can participate from anywhere in the world.

Funmi Iyanda said...

@ all, sorry about the time out, fuel finish for motor.
As you might imagine, we have not been able to open the account as l have been ill and no one has olunteered to be the blogger signatory. Nigeria is on holiday till monday so we can get it done early next week. As per accountability, we will publish the account details and records so all who donated will see that the money is in, then we will agree collectively on what which need to fulfil with that money at the juvenile centre. I have given margeret's phone number to those who want to support her and will to other if you mail me funmi@newdawnwithfunmi.com. At the end l will do a show which documents all that has been done with support from other media friends.

@iyaeto, should be ministry of youth and social welfare, will expect you.

@cheetarah, l feel you sista, never take yourself and the world so seriously as to become a joyless bore. Those shoes are built like a ferrari but are as comfortable and functional as a volvo.

@logosian, he remains dying.

@anonymous 11.22am, thanks that will be appreciated, let us know how you proceed with that.

@catwalk, pls explain the lagbaess bit o mai sista.

Babawilly said...

Good work

Anonymous said...

stories like this inspire me. One can do so much with the little that one has. Thank you for sharing.

-A Nigerian abroad.

shola pacheco said...

its pathetic,how can some ppl sleep at night without as much as a single remorse spending public funds as they like and leave ppl who have little to push and push

well aunty funmi hope things sort out soonest with the account so we can help in anyway we can.he who knows wat it feels like to suffer will never close his/her eyes at the suffering of others.if only all these senators can give up a days wage for these cause what a difference it will make
God bless u for all ur doing

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