‘Why we gave Emmanuel away’ - Nigeria
‘Why we gave Emmanuel away’
By Agency Reporter
Published: Sunday, 4 Jan 2009
The Little Saints Orphanage, Lagos, has been in the news lately with the most recent being that of a six-year-old boy, Emmanuel, whose adoption is causing rancour. KEMI LAWAL met with the proprietor of the home, Rev. Dele George, who gave an account of what transpired between her and Mrs. Okunubi Ajayi, who levelled the allegations
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Rev Dele George
YOU must possess a heart of steel not to break down or silently rain curses on the mothers who are responsible
for the fate of these children. At various stages of development in their cots at the Little Saints Orphanage (one of the country‘s foremost homes), these are not ordinary babies. Little do they know that the course of their lives was changed the day they were found abandoned by their biological mothers at roadsides, dustbins, bushes and gutters.
In spite of their various state of ill-health, Rev. Dele George has taken it upon herself in the past 15 years to nurse back to good health and care for these special kinds of children at the LSO.
One of the blessed ones is six-year-old Emmanuel, who is currently at the centre of bitter bickering between the home, being led by its proprietor, George and 71-year-old Mrs. Okunubi Ajayi, who has accused the home of secretly giving out Emmanuel to a Dutch couple (a child she found abandoned as a day-old-baby at her doorsteps) who have since ferried the boy to Holland, an act she terms child trafficking.
In an interview, George recalls the arrival of Emmanuel at the home six years ago. She explains, ”This is the boy‘s file. For every child that comes in we have a file. In it we have the data of the child, medical records and all. On November 18, 2002, Mrs. Ajayi came and said she found an abandoned baby in front of her house and she has taken the baby to the hospital.
”This is the police extract that came with the baby when Mama came with him. She had taken the baby to the General Hospital, but she said the hospital was planning to take the child, and she did not want that to happen. Having heard about the reputation of the orphanage, she wanted the baby to come to the Little Saints Orphanage because she knew that the baby would get adequate care here.
”A few days later, Mama came back to me and said she would like to adopt the child and at that particular time, we were encouraging adoption and because Mama was like 68 or 69, I told her that because of her age, it would be very unlikely that we give her the child because according to the law, you have to be a maximum of forty something years older than the child you are adopting.
”So if Mama is sixty something for her to adopt a child, he has to be about 15. She now mentioned to me that she had children, her own biological children, who were abroad, would be willing to adopt the child because she felt emotionally connected to the child, which is understandable. When she mentioned that I said, ‘Fine, all they needed to do was to go to the Ministry of Youths, Sports and Social Development and process their documents.‘ So she told me that the children would be getting in touch with us. I was excited at the possibility of getting him adopted. We don‘t have a lot of people who find babies and come back to look up the babies at the orphanage.”
George said that Ajayi agreed to sponsor the child. ”This is the form that people use for sponsorship,” George said. ”I told her what sponsorship entailed and since Emmanuel was just a few days old, all she needed to do was sponsor for care not for education. She was sponsoring the N5, 000 a month for care, which is what we ask all our sponsors to pay for caring at that time. So every month, she would send some money.”
The payment, she said, was regular in the first year but things took a different turn in the second year when it began to come in trickles until the third year when it was no longer forthcoming.
”Every time sponsors come with money, they get a receipt and I don‘t think Mama could have turned in anything more than N350,000 for the whole five years that Emmanuel was here, but in the third or fourth year, Mama told me that her local church in England wanted to give a donation to the orphanage, and we received £250, which was about N50,000.”
The proposal to get Emmanuel adopted was however mooted in 2004. ”I kept asking Mama where our children were when we saw that she was not really coming through with her promise to get her children to adopt Emmanuel,” George says. ”First of all none of the children ever called me on the phone or sent me an email to say oh, ‘We are interested in Emmanuel.‘ She said I should not worry; they will get in touch and made all kinds of excuses. In 2004, when my personal assistant and I went to England, I asked my PA to go and visit Mama in Birmingham and I specifically told her not to bring up the issue of adoption if Mama did not. Mama knew she was coming and Mama did not make any arrangement for any of her kids to be around and Mama knew beforehand that she was coming. She was very hospitable, but never brought up the issue of adoption. So my assistant told Mama to tell her children that I was around in case they needed to see me but none of them contacted me.”
In the same year, it was noticed that Emmanuel was slow. He took his first steps later than his peers and scarcely spoke.
George said, ”We called some experts to examine him and it was confirmed that he had some learning disabilities. On learning about his condition, I transferred Emmanuel from the main branch at Palmgroove to Abule Egba, where children with special needs are catered for.”
Not long after, Ajayi returned to Nigeria from England and got to know that Emmanuel was at Abule Egba. ”She came to my office to plead that I should take Emmanuel back to the main orphanage that she would put in more efforts to get him adopted. Because of her, I transferred Emmanuel back to the main orphanage,” she says.
”In 2007, we made up our minds that it was time for Emmanuel to be adopted,” George adds. ”The reason for that was that Emmanuel was getting to that age where it would be impossible to get adopted locally or internationally. At this time we had foreigners who were looking for children that were a bit older because they already had a child so they were looking for a brother or sister.
”That was when we decided to consider Emmanuel. The white couple were in collaboration with the ministry and an NGO. But I could not do it without telling Mama. So I called her and she came to my office. I told her it was time for Emmanuel to go on adoption. I also said to her that we were putting him up for adoption because it was obvious her children were not interested.”
Outlining the processes involved in adopting a child, George said, ”The couple will first of all go to the ministry to get the adoption papers sorted out. We only attend to those that already have approval from the Lagos State Ministry of Youth, Sports and Social Development, where they will be required to present documents like birth certificate, marriage certificate, means of employment, evidence of accommodation, medical report to show that they don‘t have any kind of terminal illness and others I can‘t recollect now. Once you have satisfied all the requirements, a letter of approval is given to the individual or couple, it is that letter they bring to us. That approval letter entitles you to go to any of the government registered orphanages and seek for a child. When they come to us, we do our own investigations as well and now present them a child we feel they can adopt based on their specifications.”
However some couples have had to reject the babies presented to them.
”They could decline because of the age or maybe they are light in complexion and the baby is dark, but I always say to the adopters it is a spiritual exercise. There must be a supernatural bond between the adopter and the baby,” George says.
Citing an instance, she says, ”We were actually the ones that took the baby back because we heard that the couple were ashamed of the complexion of the baby. They were light skinned and the baby when it was born was light. As the baby began to grow he became darker. They became very nervous and began to suspect that people had got to know they adopted the child because adoption in Nigeria is still a secretive affair. They began to hide the baby, never went out with the baby and we got these reports. We investigated and found out it was true and the baby was taken from them and they did not resist.”
Explaining how Emmanuel was adopted, she says, ”He is a child that is very quiet and yet when the couple met with him you could see the transformation in him. It was spectacular. The way he held on to the adoptive mother and I had never seen him that way before.”
Brandishing a picture of Emmanuel, she continues, ”This is Emmanuel when he was adopted.” Picking up a second picture and then another, she adds for emphasis, ”This is him now in Holland. I just picked this picture from the internet.
”His adoption is very legal; there is no hanky panky about it. These are all documents pertaining to his adoption. This is a letter from the Lagos State Government introducing to me the couple. This is a letter from the Lagos State Government authorising me to release him to the couple. The couple that adopted him already have a son of their own. They just wanted a brother or sister for their son.”
The adoption process that was completed in January 2008 saw Emmanuel leaving the orphanage that month before Ajayi came visiting in September of the same year. ”Mama only came around in September and that was when she found out Emmanuel had been adopted. The same woman that used to bless me began to curse me and said she had an inheritance for Emmanuel. She sent a text to the governor who in turn instructed the matter to be investigated. We went to the ministry and it was clear to all that it was a legal adoption,” George says.
How then is the home able to monitor the progress of Emmanuel at his new base? ”Every year the ministry visits Holland. They meet with all the children. They have a forum. They have a day when they celebrate so there is nothing secret,” says George.
”When the wind of persecution is blowing there is nothing that anybody can do to stop it. That wind of persecution is coming to test your strength and your faith so if you are not strong or steadfast in your faith, you will be blown away. That is why the Bible says you must build your house upon the rock and that is Christ and the word. So in 2008, these two people - one a young one and another one an elderly one - came against us for something we have done right. The young woman that said we use the girls for prostitution is now at Majidun because she is mentally unstable but all this will not deter me.”
2009 Jan 4