Thursday, January 08, 2015

I won't release her till my money is paid-Man who took girl as collateral for N600k loan

Asuquo Etim, the 42-year-old man who took a 12-year-old daughter of Bakassi refugee, Mary Okon, as a collateral for a N600,000 loan, has said the girl works for him to feed his (creditor’s) family.

The PUNCH had on December 30, 2014, exclusively reported that Mary’s father, Okon, secured the loan from Etim in installments in 2013, with a view to saving the life of his first daughter, Blessing, who was diagnosed with blood cancer.

Blessing, however, died in September 2013, despite efforts made to sustain her life.

But speaking with our correspondent at his residence on Orok Effiom Street, off Atimbo Road, Calabar, Cross River State, on Tuesday, Etim, who described himself as a contractor working for the Calabar Urban Development Agency, absolved himself of child labour accusation.

He argued that since he had not been able to secure government contracts like he used to, he and his wife, Patience, had resorted to engaging Mary in street trading.

Etim said, “I gave him (Okon) my money and even my wife, who pitied their condition gave out part of her business capital to him. And because they didn’t have any property, they used Mary as collateral for the loan.

“But as you can see, I am also facing financial problems now and that is why my family relocated from the three-bedroom flat we used to stay on Nyahasang Street to this one-room apartment where we now reside.

“We don’t have money to fend for ourselves anymore and that is why Mary has to sell small-small things like bottled water, garri and palm oil to feed the family. I don’t have any plan for her to go to school because I don’t have money.”

Etim explained that he thought that Okon, who accompanied our correspondent on a visit to his residence, had come to pay off the debt. He insisted that Mary would not be released to her father until the N600,000 loan was repaid.

He added, “I thought he came to pay off his debt. I would have been happy and willing to release the girl. She (Mary) will not reunite with her parents unless her father repays the loan.”

Meanwhile, Mary, who was preparing to hit the streets to hawk palm oil during the visit to Etim’s residence on Tuesday, said she would be very happy to return to her family who reside at the Bakassi refugee camp inside St. Mark Primary School, Akwa Ikot Eyo Edem, in the Akpabuyo Local Government Area of Cross River State.

She said, “When I go out to sell palm oil, I will not return until 7pm. I really want to reunite with my family again and see if I can still go to school. I will love to become a lawyer when I grow up.”

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