Tina Okpara, the teenage girl who was serially raped by Super Eagles star, Godwin Okpara, has released a book, detailing how the sexual assault went on for two years. Linda, Okpara’s wife, then enslaved her for five years and turned a blind eye to the sexual abuse, she says in the book.In the book titled, “My Life Has A Price”, the victim narrates how she was adopted at age 13 by the Okparas and taken to France.
Tina’s decision to write the book seven years after she regained freedom, aims at raising awareness and helping other girls who might be going through the same horrendous experience, she said in an interview with TheNews magazine….continue to read her interview
Why did you decide to write this book?
For a long time, I refused to talk about my story. I refused all articles, interviews. One day, I told myself that if I refused testifying, other girls will continue to experience modern slavery. There will be other unhappy children, other “Tinas”. This is what gave me the courage.
Why did you title the book, My Life Has A Price?
It was proposed by Virginia Fuertes, the editor with whom I worked. I immediately found that corresponded to my story. My life has a price since Godwin Okpara gave money to my parents to buy me. But my life has also a price worth far more: the price of tears, fear and courage. Please click to continue.
Considering what you went through in your adoptive parents’ home, do you blame your dad for letting you go through all those?
No. My father believed in doing what was best for me. He believed sincerely in giving me the opportunity to study in France and have a better future. The Okparas told him that I would go to school and when Linda Okpara made trips to Nigeria, she went to see my father and lied: “Oh yes, Tina works well in school, etc…”
Have you been able to get over the traumatic experience?
In part, yes. Because I was able to go back to school and get a job. Because I work with seniors and I feel useful. Because people have helped me: educators, my lawyer, friends. But I still have crying spells and nightmares. I wanted to write this book also to get it out of me. It came out, but it remains inside.
You had a secret notebook while going through the harrowing experiences. Did the raw material for the book come from the jottings you made?
Initially, I was not thinking about it. These notebooks were used to dump all my sorrow, all my hatred for Linda. It was my lifeline and my friend. But when I started writing the book, I took out the books. It was very hard to read everything.
You portrayed Mamie as cunning and subtly wicked. How were you able to cope with her?
At one point, I thought she might be my ally. But very quickly, I realised that she was spying on me, denouncing me and I learned to be wary of her. She did this because, as everyone in the house, she was afraid of Linda. And finally, she witnessed my tortures without saying anything.
What actually gave you the strength to survive the ordeal?
When I appeared on French television, a presenter first made a summary of the book and my life. Meanwhile, on a giant screen behind me, they ran images of Godwin Okpara as Paris Saint-Germain player. It was horrible. At the end, the presenter of the show turned to me and asked: “Tina, how did you survive that?” I was prepared to answer a lot of questions, but not that. There was a silence on the set of the show; I felt all members of the audience watching me. And a tear ran down my cheek. I was looking for the answer and it came. I said: ‘For the love of my father.’ It’s true. During all these years of suffering, I thought of him. I did not want to disappoint him. I remembered his kindness, his love. I also thought much about my mother, who was in heaven.
Did Godwin Okpara show any amorous interest in you before he actually raped you?
I do not know. In any case, he never tried to seduce me. He took what he wanted, suddenly, without love, without feeling, just for fun.
When did it occur to you that the Okparas didn’t have good plans for you?
I gradually realised when my school year was always delayed and at the same time, I had more work to do at home. And Linda was gradually changing her attitude towards me. At the beginning, it was ‘Tina, please, can you do that for me?’ Later, it became: ‘Tina, do this. Tina, why have you not done this yet?’ The day she spat it in my face that schooling was not for me because I was too stupid, I lost all hope.
You portray Linda as actually controlling Godwin in your book. Could you tell me how the couple met each other and got married?
I do not know how they met. Linda had a great influence on her husband. She was older, I think, and more authoritarian. He was afraid of her, I think.
Why do you think Godwin didn’t have the courage to challenge Linda over the way she was maltreating you?
On the football field, he was perhaps a courageous defender, but in life, he behaved like a coward. He was afraid of her. She dominated him psychologically. He was the child and she the mother. And I think he was not opposed to her because I was not important to him. I was something like a piece of furniture. You do not argue with your wife because she abused a table or chair.
In your book, you said Godwin gave your father some money. Did Godwin actually buy you? Or is the money a kind of price he paid for you?
I think the Okparas were malignant. They gave N30,000, the equivalent of 375 euros to my father, telling him that it was a gift. It was better hidden. In fact, they purchased me without my father’s knowledge. I believe that my father did not sell me .
The couple are still serving their jail terms. But you didn’t write about what happened to their children. Where are their children? Who is taking care of them?
After the arrest of Godwin and Linda, they were placed in foster homes. For them also, this story is a disaster. I often think about them because I loved them.
How long did it take you to write the book?
It took an entire year.
You wrote the book in collaboration with Cyril Guinet. Could you explain the nature of collaboration?
I did not know Cyril before writing this book. This is a journalist, who has always been interested in issues of child slavery around the world. For example, he went to Haiti to denounce ‘Restavec’, a traditional slavery of poor children. He knew my story by attending the trial of Okpara. As luck would have it, he contacted Maitre Peron, my lawyer, years after the trial. But the day before he called, I had just told my lawyer that I was considering writing my story. I told Cyril my story and he wrote, asking me questions along the way. We both worked several times a week. I cried a lot during these sessions and I gained weight. I even had to see a shrink not to sink. Then he sent me the chapters to re-read. In re-reading my story, I cried every time. But I was happy because the book faithfully captures my story.
What lessons have your experiences taught you?
Hope. This is the most important lesson. I also learned that I was stronger than I thought because I survived.
Where actually did you grow up in Lagos before you went to stay with your uncle?
I grew up at Shomolu, Bariga, in Lagos.
What was the relationship between your dad and the Okparas?
My father knew Godwin Okpara thanks to football. Godwin, when he was young, had played in a company where my father worked.
Does your past experience affect the way you relate with people now?
I do not know. I cannot say how I would relate with people if my life had been different.
Are you in any relationship now? What plans do you have for the future?
Like all girls of my age, I dream of Prince Charming. I want to be in love, get married and have children. I always dream of having a large family: two boys and two girls.
Do you intend relocating to Nigeria very soon?
Maybe to see my family, I have returned several times since.
In your book, you gave the impression that your father was poisoned? Do you still believe that?
He died in a very mysterious way.
What native language did your parents speak. Where are you originally from in Nigeria?
At home we spoke Alago our native language and Yoruba. I come from Nassarawa State.
Considering what you went through, are you satisfied with the judgment?
At the trial, I said all I wanted was a halt to the torture. I wanted to go to school and have a normal life, not to be a slave. Nobody should be a slave in the 21st Century. I told the judges: “If people like Godwin Okpara, if they want to pay to see him play football, release him but withdraw me from them.” Years in prison, it is normal in terms of what they have done. But that won’t give me back my childhood and my innocence.
Why did you think the couple behaved the way they did to you?
You should ask them. But I think they behaved so partly because others had done so before them and others are still doing it. For a certain part of the population, exploiting children is not wrong.
It is a tradition; it has always been this way and they do not understand why it should stop. Unfortunately, Linda and Godwin Okpara are not isolated cases. And today as I am answering your questions, there are many other ‘Tinas’ who suffer. This must stop!
The 188-page book, originally written in French, has just been translated into English.
Godwin is currently serving a 10-year jail term in France, while his wife, Linda, will be in jail for 15 years.