ON the day she was crowned Miss Nigeria 2013, Anyaoha Ezinne Akudo pledged to use her crown to bring succour to rape victims, though there were no details on how she intended actualising that dream. To many present at the ceremony held at the Intercontinental Hotel, Victoria Island, Lagos, however, her words sounded more like the wishful thinking of a young lady, carried away by the joy of beating other pretty contenders to the big crown.
Again, in a chat with Life Magazine a day after her emergence as Miss Nigeria, the Abia State indigene never minced words on her resolve to stand up for rape victims in the country through her foundation. And from her tone and body language that day, it was obvious the pretty lady is passionate about the cause.
“Personally, I’m coming up with something and everybody would get to know about it. I want to use this platform to speak out on rape. I’m trying to get the other finalists involved in the project; we all have to speak up against rape and domestic violence,” she had said.
All through her reign, Ezinne’s hands were full with activities, especially using her position to reach out to the less privileged, as well as mentoring the young. But in all these engagements, she never lost sight of her main target— setting up a foundation that would cater for rape victims.
At last, the 24-year-old beauty queen has succeeded in putting her words into action. Her wish has materialised and she is simply overjoyed. Just recently, she formally opened the doors to her Rape Crisis Centre established under The Eight Foundation, an organisation she founded in 2014, with the strong goal of supporting victims of sexual assault. The mission of the foundation, according to the queen, is to provide help, hope and healing to those affected by sexual violence.
“I’m glad that finally, I’ve been able to achieve that dream. I felt this is something I really need to do and I’m happy that it has come to stay. I’m grateful to God and everybody that supported this dream; I feel great,” she says at the media unveiling of the Centre located in Lekki, Lagos.
The Eight Foundation provides free services in the areas of crisis response, counseling and support, court advocacy, education and outreach with the support of the Lagos State Office of the Public Defender, the Domestic and Sexual Violence response team and the Mirabel Centre.
Now, Ezinne is set to go and she is full of enthusiasm.
“We live in a world, where women are abused daily and are unable to speak about it. One out of four women experience some form of sexual violence in their lifetime. This crime can take place at anytime and can happen to anyone regardless of tribe, religion or social class. Sadly, the society’s response to this heinous crime has led victims to believe that silence is the best option. However, speaking up is our greatest weapon in this fight against sexual violence,” she explains.
Dedicated to promoting the needs of women and girls, who have experienced sexual violence by providing them with the necessary medical care and social rehabilitation, the organisation also educate and raise awareness on the understanding of sexual violence in the society.
“Sexual violence, which could happen to anyone, has devastating short and long-term consequences on the physical and emotional wellbeing of affected persons. No one deserves or asks for it to happen. This organisation was founded as a safe haven and is committed to ensuring that every victim is treated with dignity, kindness, love and with utmost professionalism. It is very difficult to speak up but we promise to listen, care and stand with you,” she says.
Though Ezinne remains the founder, the centre actually has in-house professionals, who are paid to take care of victims.
“You saw me helping to set up for the event; this is something I’m passionate about. I didn’t just start this foundation to create employment or to impress people; this is something I want to be involved in. I’ve set up the foundation and involved professionals to be part of this. We’ve also set up a strong board of trustees to ensure we get things right. I didn’t set this up for personal glory; we are going to run it professionally,” she assures.
On why the initiative took long, she explains, “I was never in a haste to do this; I wanted to follow the right process. I could have rented an office and announced that I have a foundation. But we wanted to get things right. On this project, we have a lot of partners working with us and convincing them to come onboard wasn’t easy. However, all through the period we were working on the project, I was confident that things would go fine.”
Aside getting the partners, funding was another major challenge for the young lady, who is determined to give back to the society through her crown.
“Notwithstanding, we had individuals that donated to this project. It was unbelievable and gratifying that we got a lot of Nigerians, who are passionate about what we are doing. A lot of them donated to the foundation and we are still looking forward to more people, who are willing to join us on this project,” she says.
But why is she so passionate about rape victims? What’s the pull?
“A friend of mine was a victim of rape in school and I know the trauma she went through that day. She actually went to study in the classroom when the incident occurred; there was no light that day and it had rained. After that shocking experience, I resolved to do something to help rape victim regain their confidence. Today, I’m happy that I’ve actualised that dream,” she says.
Since her emergence as Miss Nigeria, Ezinne has been involved in different charity works aimed at helping mankind. The Law graduate of the Abia State University was once at the Federal House of Representatives to personally present a petition on child marriage in Nigeria, which she described as a violation of human rights. In her view, the girl child should be allowed to live out her childhood instead of being subjected to sexual and physical abuse.
“These children are not prepared for the tedious demands of marriage and family life. Supporting underage marriage will keep relegating the girl child to the background, as well as reduce her chances of being educated in order to liberate herself,” she says.
According to the queen, child marriage perpetuates poverty and leads to poor health as children will not only be withdrawn from their peers, but will have psychological trauma and health challenges such as ‘Vesico Vaginal Fistula.’
Aside from the prizes and glamour that come with winning the crown, Ezinne has also learnt a lot during her reign.
“It’s been good. At a point, I had to combine that with school, especially last year. So, it’s been a bit tough, but I’ve learnt to balance both and ensuring that none of them suffers. I’ve learnt to be wiser; I’ve learnt to be stronger and tougher. I’ve learnt not to complain about life; I’ve learnt to make good use of every situation, no matter what it is,” she explains.
On how she arrived at the name ‘The Eight Foundation’, she explains: “the number 8 signifies new beginning and this foundation offers that to anybody who walks in here. We want them to leave here with different approach to life,” she says.