Female inmates at the Light of Hope Orphanage describe how the owner of the orphanage allegedly raped them repeatedly. From the outside, the Light of Hope Orphanage in Akute area of Ogun State looks like every other orphange.
The facility which was founded in 1996 by Mr. Olatayo Atunde receives donations from multinational companies, non-governmental organisations, and other concerned members of the public. The orphanage, also has a nursery and primary school within the premises.
However, recent sexual allegations by some of the female inmates seem to have shattered the positive image the orphanage once enjoyed. It all started when two young girls from the home told their secondary school teacher that they were raped by Atunde, who runs the facility.
One of the orphans 14-year-old Atinuke (not real name) said Atunde, popularly referred to as, daddy, by the inmates, slept with her and many other girls at the orphanage.
Atinuke, who is now in custody of an NGO, Project Alert on Violence Against Women, said she lost her virginity to Atunde at the age of 10 and has lost count of the number of times he has had sex with her.
She said, “Daddy started sleeping with me when I was 10. I have two blood brothers at the orphanage who I reported to but they have not been able to do anything about it. On one occasion, when he was sleeping with me, I ran into another room but he chased me and warned me never to run away from him again.
“I also reported the matter to the orphanage administrator, Aunty Hannah, and she said she would address the matter but daddy continued to rape me. Daddy usually raped us around 2am in his room. His wife does not always sleep in his room. She sleeps at the crèche where the younger orphans are staying.”
Atunde was also alleged to have sacked one of the employees at the orphanage that dared to challenge him. Another orphan, Salewa (not real name), told SUNDAY PUNCH that she was barely 12 when Atunde started having sexual relations with her.
She said she had a sister at the orphanage who was in the university. She added that she had caught Atunde having sex with another orphan.
“Daddy has been having sex with at least 10 of us. We are mostly between the ages of 8 and 14. I reported to Aunty Hannah and when she challenged daddy, he laid a curse on me,” she said.
The PUNCH had reported that at the instance of Project Alert, the police at Zone 2 Command had begun investigations into the matter and had arrested Atunde, who was later released on bail.
Our correspondent, who visited the orphanage at No 2, Tunde Senbanjo Street, Akute, observed that the orphanage was deserted and the gate was locked. Neighbours told SUNDAY PUNCH that Atunde had relocated some orphans to different locations.
A resident, who is an employee of the orphanage said, “After Atunde’s release, he hired some trucks to move the orphans to different locations so that if the state government shuts down the orphanage, he would still be able to operate directly or through a representative.
“Atunde receives donations from banks, multinationals, churches and other members of the public and the smartest thing for him to do right now, is to relocate the children and open another orphanage in a different name if possible, he said.
“Most of the girls were relocated to another property within the area while others were taken to the Shangisha area of Lagos State. The police should not have granted him a bail.”
The Ogun State Ministry of Women Affairs said the orphanage was not properly registered.
The Director, Social Welfare Services, Olumide Sotunbo, said although Atunde claimed that the orphanage was founded in 1996, the ministry only got to know about the home last year.
Sotunbo said the institution could not be described as an orphanage because orphanages were meant for orphans, but that investigations showed that many of the children had parents.
He said, “In 2012, Atunde wrote us that he wanted to register his orphanage and in August, we gave him the requirements and told him if he could meet them in six months, we would approve the orphanage. Most times, when people come to us saying they want to register an orphanage, we try not to be too stern because if we do that, they may change location and you might not be able to contact them again.
“On March 14, 2013, we went to inspect 14 orphanages and Hope Orphanage was the only one whose records were not intact. Atunde claimed some of the orphans were brought to him by churches and some of them had lost their mothers at childbirth but they have fathers. We learnt that some of the orphans have parents that gave them to Atunde willingly for unknown reasons and he accepted them. This is not how to run an orphanage.
“We then told him to go and get a police report stating this and we gave him three weeks to do this. It was while we were waiting for this that the allegation of sexual assault came up.”
The Director, Child Development at the ministry, Salimotu Otun, said the state governor, Ibikunle Amosun, had shown interest in the case.
Director, Project Alert on Dr. Josephine Effa-Chukwuma, also said the matter would be pursued to a logical conclusion.
Effa-Chukwuma, who stated that cases of rape had increased drastically in recent times, said the two girls had suffered psychological trauma and had been receiving daily counselling.
She berated the police for the manner with which it had carried out its investigations.
“We were told that there are many other girls that have been defiled by Atunde and yet the police released him and allowed him to continue to run the place. That orphanage needs to be shut down,” she said.
Atunde could not be reached on phone for his comments as it was switched off. However, the orphanage administrator, Hannah Atunde, who is Atunde’s daughter, said the allegations were baseless. She blamed Project Alert for initiating moves that would bring woes on the home.
Hannah said the children had not been relocated and that the home still operates normally.
She said, “We were not aware of the allegation before daddy was arrested. After he was interrogated and released by the police, we tried to question the girls but Project Alert people took them away.
“We believe that it is Project Alert that is spearheading this and hopefully, the truth shall come out. The orphanage is still being run and everything is going smoothly. I don’t believe any child was raped.”
Our correspondent learnt that the girls had been taken to Lagos State University Teaching Hospital for medical examination. Result of the tests carried out showed that the vaginal hymens of the girls were no longer intact and that the victims have Pelvic Inflammatory Disease which requires urgent treatment.
Effa-Chukwuma said since it had been established that the two girls were brought to the orphanage at the age of two, the orphanage must explain how they lost their virginity.
The Police Public Relations Officer, Zone 2, Femi Balogun, confirmed that investigations were ongoing. Balogun however said it was too soon to conclude if Atunde was culpable. Asked why Atunde was released on bail, he said, “The instruction given to us is that suspects should not spend more than 24 hours in detention and that was what we did. We do not have enough evidence to charge him to court yet but investigations are ongoing.”