Chiemelie Ezeobi writes on the callous physiotherapist and caregiver, Bisola Anthonia Abayomi-Ojo, currently a Washington Mandela Fellow in the United States, who serially abused a toddler with special needs kept in her care, and the clamour for her repatriation
Caregivers are supposed to be support systems. Basically, they are supposed to take care of persons who due to some medical impediments cannot take care of themselves. Given the highly sensitive nature of their job, high premium is often taken when choosing a caregiver, especially for children with special needs or the disabled and elderly.
So when Mrs. Bukola Ayinde, who doubles as the author of Diary a Special Needs Mum, founder of P4:13 Foundation, an initiative for children with special needs and also the founder of FLIPP Foundation, hired one Mrs. Bisola Anthonia Abayomi-Ojo, the founder of a supposed highly acclaimed Paton Physiotherapy Services, for her little daughter suffering from Cerebral Palsy, she breathed easy thinking her daughter was in the best possible hands.
This is because Abayomi-Ojo came highly recommended from parents who were dealing with same issue. She was also recommended by therapists because of the extensive work she has done with children with special needs.
However, what no one knew was that Abayomi-Ojo, who profile boats of managing cases of cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, and other developmental disabilities, was a highly unprofessional caregiver who meted out her frustrations of the children put in her care.
The Nigerian physiotherapist and Mandela Washington Fellow, who is currently in the United States for her programme, recently elicited national outrage after she was caught on CCTV abusing a special needs toddler left in her care.
Abayomi-Ojo was caught on camera abusing the toddler with cerebral palsy at the crèche where her parents had enrolled her. The footage, which was obtained by the girl’s parents, showed the physiotherapist beating her repeatedly, after twisting her arm severally and hitting her with a phone, and generally abandoning the toddler when she was not busy abusing her.
It was only later revealed at a meeting with the Medical Rehabilitation Therapists Board, Yaba, Lagos, that Abayomi-Ojo had been practising for a year without renewing her licence.
Expectedly, there has been a national outrage over the unprofessional conduct of Abayomi-Ojo, more so given the fact that instead of paying for her crimes, she unrepentantly applied for a fellowship at the prestigious Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI). The fellowship was launched in 2010 to support young Africans as they spur growth and prosperity, strengthen democratic governance, and enhance peace and security across Africa.
Although it actually began in 2014, its objectives are to bring young leaders to the United States for academic course work and leadership training and creates unique opportunities in Africa for Fellows to put new skills to practical use in leading organisations, communities and countries.
A broken mother’s ordeal
Combined with the ordeal of caring for a special needs child, Ayinde now has to battle with the inhumane act carried out on her daughter by her supposed caregiver. In her initial post on Bellanaija, a lifestyle blog, the devastated mother narrated her daughter’s ordeal.
According to Ayinde, they came in contact with the physiotherapist because they had a child diagnosed with cerebral palsy. She said: “Getting a diagnosis which says your child has cerebral palsy is a parent’s worst nightmare. I had my period of living in denial; wishing the problem would go away, like it was all a dream, but the reality stared me in the face.
“My husband and I decided to face the challenge before us squarely. We engaged different specialists – neurologist, paediatricians, physiotherapists, speech therapists, occupational therapists, special needs caregivers.
“At one point, we were scouting for a very good physiotherapist. A parent of a special needs child recommended a young lady to me. I mentioned her name to one of my daughter’s therapist who confirmed that the lady was very good at her job.
“However, she also confirmed that the lady could be arrogant. I spoke with another therapist on the field who also confirmed that the recommended physiotherapist was good at what she does but she could be rude.
“Well, at that point of my life, I didn’t mind if she was going to be rude to me or arrogant as far as she was as good as everyone had said, I was fine with that. All I wanted to see was my child’s improvement, I could take anything in between. She came on board as my daughter’s physiotherapist. She was very professional and dedicated, but she didn’t come cheap.
“My daughter attended a mainstream school that allowed her to use the sickbay as her pullout room for her physiotherapy session. In June 2016, my daughter’s school proprietress requested that my husband and I should make out time to see her. When we eventually did a week later, she told us that the physiotherapist had manhandled our daughter and she was going to show us a CCTV recording to prove it.
“At the back of my mind, I felt the woman was exaggerating because therapy could be demanding at times. My child may cry, if she didn’t like the exercise or if the exercise was tasking. However, when I watched the video, I was shocked beyond words that someone I trusted with my daughter could treat her worse than an animal. I believe that even an animal shouldn’t be treated that way.
“I mean, she came highly recommended; she is a Masters degree holder. She is not an illiterate. Apparently, she didn’t remember that there was a CCTV in the room or she felt nobody would be checking the TV at that particular time. It was heartbreaking to see my daughter treated by a health worker in such a barbaric act.
“I watched my daughter as she fell down several times hitting her head on the tiles. There were times she hit her head on the edge of the wooden bed before falling to the ground. Her physiotherapist slapped her three times; the third time with her cell phone. She left her head hanging upside for five minutes. She twisted my daughter’s hands several times; at a point she sat on her hands, at another point she tied her hands behind her head.
“I watched as my daughter fell from her chair while her neck was stuck in between the space at the vertical back rest and the flat wood used for sitting down. I watched on as this lady typed on her phone 90 per cent of the time, only taking some time off to torture my daughter. Did I mention that she took out time to take her selfie? Up to five times.
“After we watched the recording, my husband could not control his tears. My heart bled. My daughter’s neurologist said we cannot ascertain the level of damage to her brain because we did not bring her immediately it happened. He said an MRI would have to be done to ascertain any damage.”
The lukewarm intervention of the therapy board
The case was reported to the Medical Rehabilitation Therapists Board in Yaba, Lagos, leading to her suspension for three months, with a clause that she must get treatment, which she agreed to do. However, she later turned up at the board alleging that she was going for treatment in the U.S. and was given permission to travel. But unknown to the board, she was actually going for her fellowship in the U.S.
According to Ayinde, she first got the physiotherapist arrested. She said, “I got her arrested. She said she was sorry. She claimed depression and ill health. I did not believe her then, I don’t believe her now. I had to make a decision, to leave my daughter in the hands of her nannies at home (which may be another source of abuse) and follow through to ensure the physiotherapist was duly punished. (Bearing in mind the justice system in Nigeria) or drop the charges lodged at the police station and allow the Medical Rehabilitation Therapists Board at Yaba to handle the matter.
“I dropped the police charges. I decided to stay with my traumatised daughter. I handed the physiotherapist over to the Registrar at the Medical Rehabilitation Therapists Board at Yaba. Her punishment was three months withdrawal of her practicing licence. Three months work in a General Hospital under supervision without pay. She was to undergo a psychiatric test
“Like seriously? Are you kidding me? She had been practicing for a year without renewing her licence and all you could do was to withdraw her licence officially for a mere three months? She went back to the Registrar at Medical Rehabilitation Therapists Board to ask for permission to travel to U.S. to get treatment.
“I called to check on the case and I was told she had travelled for treatment. I was told not to worry, as she cannot practice anywhere else in the world without a letter from the board. Some months later, I was told by a reliable source that she was not taking any major treatments but attending a Masters programme in the U.S.
“So she got away with child abuse, assault, battery, in fact attempted murder. This is only possible in Nigeria right? I went back to Medical Rehabilitation Board, I was shocked to find out that the case had gone cold. What stops her from coming back into the country and working with other children? How many Nigerians ask for practicing licence before employing a professional?
“I strongly believe that the least the board should have done was to declare her unfit to work with children. In respect to my daughter, the signs were there: she had been withdrawn for a while. In fact, she had stopped smiling, interacting with anybody in the house, or attempting to answer questions in school.
“I kept asking the caregiver that followed her to school about the sudden change. The caregiver said she had no idea. I came up with my own theory and I brushed it aside. How would I have known that a health worker, someone I trusted with my child could be so cruel? The physiotherapist had been with us for over two years. I can only imagine.
“Well, I pulled my daughter out of school and started her own mini-school at home. I let go of my current caregivers for good reasons and got new ones. With care and love, she added weight, came out of her shell and got better. Right now, she attends a school three times a week and we are making progress.”
Already, a petition has been started on change.org for her to be recalled from the fellowship on the grounds that she is undeserving of the programme. As of press time, it had garnered thousands of likes. The decision makers being petitioned in this case were Irex.org, the Dean, Duquesne University, Pittsburg and Department of Homeland Security.
When one Laitan Asekun started the petition to extradite back to Nigeria, the votes came in trickles until people watched the video of the severe abuse and as at now, over 9,000 signatures have been gathered.
The petition read, “Anthonia Bisola Abayomi-Ojo violently abused a child living with cerebral palsy entrusted to her care in Nigeria in June 2016. The attack was captured on CCTV. She had been employed as a physiotherapist by the parents of child for two years before the discovery was made.
“She was arrested by the police and sanctioned by the board for physical therapists. Without fulfilling her sanction, however, she left the country in November 2016 after receiving the Mandela Award and per the U.S. Embassy website, is completing her fellowship at Duquesne University, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She not only unrepentant, impertinent and abrasive, she is violent and unfit to work with children.”
While Segun Abolarin cited his reason simply as justice, one Folake Alao said, “I hate children being abused.”
Also lending support to the cause, Founder of Ebony Life Television, Mo Abudu, said “This woman must never be allowed to look after children in need again. She must be stopped now. “
According to one Victoria Chukwuka, “I am signing because child abuse is inhumane and barbaric. These children are helpless and innocent for heaven sake!”
Ayodele Oluwagbemiga said, “This therapist does not deserve any award anywhere. She is a wicked woman. She is supposed to be jailed. Withdrawing her certificate is uncalled for. Nobody requests for certificate when you need some people to do some jobs for you.
“She’s not depressed! She is lying. She has been maltreating people’s children and got paid in the past. Thank God for CCTV, if not, we will not know! Let there be justice in this matter.”
Ray Nkata said, “My God! Bisola Why? You must not be allowed to get away with this act of wickedness to this innocent little girl. US embassy please revoke her visa and have her sent back to Nigeria to face the law.”
Aderonke Fatoba who succinctly said, “I am signing because this is inhuman and callous. As a mother I am traumatised by it,” was joined by Segun Olowookere who said, “It is unsafe to leave a beloved son or daughter with someone like this.”
Another Nigerian Bayo Olu said, “It’s totally inhumane and uncalled for. And yet she calls herself a specialist in such. Her license must be withdrawn” and he was backed by one Folarin O who noted that, “It’s heartbreaking to see someone do this to another human, much less a special needs child. Imagine the horror show that’s awaiting her future patients if she’s eventually allowed to practice.”
Fadhilat Akindele said, “I don’t support abuse of children especially disabled children. Justice should be done and Biola Ojo should pay for her wrong.”
Also, Winifred Roberts said, “This woman is absolutely sick; she should get help herself; she is not fit to take care of anyone talk more of children. Withdraw her award and visa now.”
The U.S. government responds
Responding to an email sent by THISDAY on the steps taken by the U.S. embassy to send the abusive physiotherapist back to Nigeria, the embassy, through its Cultural Affairs Officer, Larry Socha, acknowledged that they were aware of the allegations.
However, Socha, while admitting that U.S. Government believes in the protection of children from abuse and neglect, referred THISDAY back to the Nigerian authorities.
His response read: “We are aware of these disturbing allegations. The United States believes strongly in the protection of children from abuse and neglect. We would refer you to the Nigerian authorities regarding action taken in response to the reported incident.”
However, another top notch source in the embassy who would not want to be mentioned said there is little or nothing the U.S. Government can do in this case if the Nigerian government do not act first.
According to the source, despite the calls for extradition of Abayomi-Ojo from the programme, the U.S. Government cannot pull her from the programme and send her back to Nigeria unless the Nigerian government issues a warrant of arrest for her.
But many are of the opinion that the stance of the U.S. Government gives room for concern given that if Abayomi-Ojo is not stopped, there is no gain saying that she will not go back to her malpractice in her chosen field. This is because as a YALI fellow, she is expected to after the fellowship to continue to build the skills developed during her time in the United States through support from U.S. embassies, USAID, and affiliated partners, including regional conferences, professional practicum experiences, and mentoring opportunities.
When contacted, the Senior Special Assistant to President Muhammadu Buhari on Foreign Affairs and Diaspora, Hon. Abike Dabiri, said she was not aware of the matter, but referred THISDAY to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Geoffrey Onyeama or the Permanent Secretary, Ambassador Sola Enikanolaiye.
According to her profile on Irex.org, Abayomi-Ojo is a graduate in Physiotherapy from the University of Lagos. In 2003, she worked for free as a literacy teacher at Flan Educare, Adult Literacy Centre, Maryland. In 2008, she started practicing paediatric physiotherapy in Lagos and Ogun States.
She was also said to have from 2008 to 2012 worked pro bono in Ozanam’s free physiotherapy clinic, Ota and allegedly raised over N2 million and managed over 100 children with developmental disabilities.
She also used to allegedly work pro bono as a consultant to Lady Atinuke Memorial Home for children with disabilities, Badagry, as well as run Paton Physiotherapy Services, providing supposed quality services to both paying and non-paying indigent children.
She manages cases of cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, and other developmental disabilities and according to her profile, after the Mandela Washington Fellowship, she plans to open two free clinics in Ogun and Lagos States.
The call for her extradition and the withdrawal of the Mandela award bestowed on her for exemplary service by Nigerians should be taken seriously, given her plans to return and further her work with children with special needs. According to Nigerians, her unrepentant attitude in the face of such scandal and shunning the sanctions given her by the Nigerian therapists board has further depicted Abayomi-Ojo as one who must be stopped by all means possible including revoking her license to practice and putting a stop to all forms of work with children with social needs.