Influenced by a harrowing experience as a child, Mrs. Olubunmi Igbinijesu, suddenly developed a compelling urge to bring succour to women, especially young women who have been forced into prostitution. Over years she has through her not for profit, non-governmental organisation, King’s Daughter, provided counselling, shelter and education to homeless, battered and self-harming young women. In this interview with Mary Ekah, she talks about her childhood experience and how it propelled her into what she is doing today
What is the inspiration behind the King’s Daughter?
The inspiration for it goes back to when I was growing up as a child. I grew up in a dysfunctional family where you call a polygamous home, so to say. My father had four wives and my mother happened to have been the first wife. I went through all the traumas of growing up in a polygamous home and all the stress of growing up with step mothers who were not loving or caring and were very abusive. They were really unkind to me and as I grew up, I didn’t want to see any woman suffer what my mother suffered. My mother was so maltreated that it destabilised her mentally and affected her all round and she ended up raising us as a single mother. I knew it was not convenient for her. So I grew up not wanting to see women go through such situation in life. So as I grew up, I made up my mind that I was going to help women in any way that I can. Apart from that, when I was growing up, I saw a lot of girls and young women going into sex work, especially when I stayed with my father. She was living in a compound where there was a brothel and I saw men going in to have sex with these young women and then coming out. It destabilised me and I felt this was not the way to go. So I made up my mind that this dehumanisation of womanhood was wrong and I wanted to do something about it. I saw a lot of girls on the streets, marketing themselves and men picking them up and so the thoughts, passion and burden to help them got over me again and again, so I decided to come up with The King’s Daughter Ministry to help them with a new direction to life.
The King’s Daughter is a non-governmental organisation with the main focus to carter for women who are sex workers. The King’s Daughter Ministry is a residential ministry providing counselling, education and daily life skills to women between ages 18-30 and children who may be homeless, battered, self-harming or recovering from substance abuse. We are a non-denominational organisation and, one of our main goals is getting girls off the streets. We have been re-orienting, rehabilitating and empowering these young sex workers through various means for them to be useful to the society. We also do several things for women of all ages.
A lot of young girls go into prostitution voluntarily. Do you really think it is easy to talk them out of it?
Let’s be careful using the word ‘voluntarily’ because there is always a reason for every action. Every one of those girls who go into sex work– some are because they were abused when they were children and because they are not healed due to the fact that they didn’t go through the process of counselling and so nobody told them how to heal out of it. We all know that any child that is abused is always secretive about it and she doesn’t want anybody to know about it and when anybody gets to know, sometimes, we do not handle it well most of the times, especially in this part of the world, they don’t go through the normal healing process that they ought to, so they increase in age but are not getting matured in that area. Their emotional lives are not healed yet and so as they grow up they get to a point in their lives where they get tempted by such things again and a lot of them don’t even know when they fall into such errors again. So it looks like it is voluntary but it really was not voluntary but there was a situation that warranted it. Sometimes we think that it is the harsh economy that is the problem but we have spoken with a lot of them and realised that some of them are even educated and know how to make money but they still want to go prostituting. So that tells me that there is a spiritual angle to it – it is just like a well, when you fall into it, you keep going down until you get to the bottom. That is the kind of thing sex work is. So there is always a reason for it and so now we need to help them find out what this reason is and then proffer solution to it. If I sit with a sex worker for few minutes, no matter how excited and willing she is about what she is doing, by the time we are done talking, she would dislike what she is doing because she would suddenly realise that it is abnormal.
What strategies do you use to attract them and then talk to them?
First of all, we try to have a passion for them. Luckily, all the people working for me have a passion for these sex workers. There is this burden they have for them. So every one of us comes together and talk to each other that we need to help these people get out of their situations. And I must say that as a spiritual woman, I also encourage us to pray. And we say to ourselves, we are going to these people because we love them.
So when we go to their shelters and every other place they stay like beaches and brothels, we approach them with so much love and treat them as normal people because they are also normal people like us only that their situations are different. One of the things that they like, which we have learned, is touch and that is one of the ways these men get them. They touch them and then speak to them, it is all about romance and all that but we don’t go that extent but we touch them to let them know that we care about them. We go there at the right time too because the timing is very important. If you go there when they are busy with their trade, it is like a waste of time because they would not listen. So the best time we go there is like early in the morning when their potential ‘customers’ are at work and only return by evening to spend the money on them.
One of our biggest success stories is a girl I met at the one of the Lagos beaches. When I met her for the first time, she was more or less in her underwear, so I greeted her and then embraced her. She was so shocked, you know, she felt like, “Oh she knows what I do and then my outfit is not even welcoming and yet she is being so nice to me”. But I just felt that I was looking pass what she was wearing because I was there on a mission and after talking to her suddenly she started weeping. And from there, we won her heart to the Lord and today, she is transformed and she is serving God. She had a baby in the course of doing her sex work because she was pregnant by the time we met her and didn’t know and when she realised, she wanted to abort it but we said she shouldn’t. We helped her and before the baby was born, we were able to unite her with her parents, delivered her of the baby there and they are both doing very well right now. We have set her up in a trade and she is so grateful today. One of the other things we do is TEAM.
What is TEAM all about?
TEAM means, Teach Equip Advise and Mentor and this is part of what we do. We discovered that since we pick girls off the streets, which is a curative measure, we can also put in place a preventive measure by catching them young before they get to that point. So we decided to work with public secondary schools. We discovered from research that a lot of these sex workers come from homes that are not well to do and as result they cannot further their education after secondary school and so they feel what else can I do. So we go to public secondary schools to teach, empower, advise and mentor them. We teach them from personal development to skill acquisition. We teach them leadership skills, chastity, personal hygiene so that when they leave school, even if they cannot further their education, they can be on their own make money in a legitimate way to make a living and even further themselves in school later on. We have given awards to a lot of students who are exceptional in all what we teach them.
Do sex workers have the right to sue for rape?
They do have right to sue but it is kind of dicey because prostitution is illegal in Nigeria and if they have to sue, it should be something legal. But then they have the right to sue as human beings for somebody violating their human rights. They ought not to be raped – that is the violation of their human rights. So they can sue if they can be helped but then we have to able to draw the line– I am being careful because the matter here is illegal because if they are going to sue, they are going to sue based on whether they were not paid for service rendered but again, where do we draw the line. Is this a rape or a consensual act? They can sue but at the same time there is a bone of contention when it comes to a point where it has to be determined if what they are involved in is legal or not. So since it’s not legal, I would rather say to them, get out of that trade because you are already in the trade, so how do you say you are raped? You are already dehumanising yourself by giving men the right to do whatever they like to you, so what are you suing for?
Who is Olubunmi Igbinijesu?
I am a pastor with Word Assembly Church and my husband is the senior pastor of the church. We have churches all over the country. I’m an accountant by training and also a professional counsellor and member of the American Counselling Association (ACA), with a Master of Arts in counselling (in view). I graduated from the Oakseed Executive Leadership Course of the Institute for National Transformation (INT), Lagos. I’m married to Pastor Philip Igbinijesu, and together we have Joshua, Jochebed, and Joel.