Morufat Ogunkoya says that she and her children face religious persecution back home
BY GLORIA J. KATCH
Special to the VOICE
“If they catch me and torture me, who will take responsibility for my children? Who will take responsibility for this?” are questions that supporters of Morufat Ogunkoya’s family say that Canadian Immigration need to answer
The Ogunkoya family has recently received a deportation order after two appeals for refugee status have been rejected. A meeting was held last Thursday at the Welland’s Rose City Kids, a non-profit youth organization, to support the family.
Fleeing what she asserted was religious persecution in Nigeria, Morufat arrived in Canada in Quebec in January 2018 with her three children, Victor, 16; Hephzibah, 14; and Rejoice, 10. Morufat said after an argument with her husband about where to emigrate, he went to the U.S. However, considering U.S. President Donald Trump’s highly publicized stance on refugees claimants, Morufat was afraid to move there with her children and chose Canada.
Although she was born into a strong Muslim-faith family, Morufat was introduced to Christianity and converted in 1994. She later became an ordained minister. She claims her father has strong ties to Muslim clerics and the extremist group, Boko Haram, which is similar in ideology to ISIS in Nigeria. He forbade her to become a Christian and has since threatened her life and the lives of her family members, said Morufat.
“He has declared a fatwa on me,” she said, a decree allowing other Muslims to maim or torture a Christian, according to Shariah law. While a fatwa is not binding in secular courts, Morufat maintains the predominantly Muslim faith and culture in Nigeria results in Christians being targeted.
“Even the president in Nigeria is Muslim,” she noted, adding Nigeria was under military rule as late as 1998.
If a Christian were to convert to Islam, it would be readily accepted, but not the reverse, she said. When she lived in Nigeria, her family maintained a nomadic life, constantly moving to avoid her father’s wrath.
While Nigeria has many Christians living in its southern regions, Morufat said Nigeria’s militant factions and political power comes from Islamic authority. Western faith-based publications have reported that some 500 Christians have been murdered since 2016 by members of the primarily Muslim Fulani ethnic group, who have allegedly attacked farms and Christian churches, looting and burning them to the ground. Alluding to an incident on Palm Sunday last year, in which Fulani herdsmen killed two priests and several parishioners, Morufat said, “They beheaded the people in the church.”
A large concentration of Muslims exists in Northern Nigeria, but the Fulani herdsmen and gangs of Boko Haram have attacked various Christians in the middle and southern regions. Morufat’s deportation notice and reports from Immigration Canada indicate the ministry wants to deport the Ogunkoya family back to Port Harcourt, in southern Nigeria, a large city with a Christian-based population, because Canadian authorities don’t believe she has enough evidence to indicate that she would be unsafe there. Immigration is also requesting new information before they will grant another appeal, and have not agreed to allow an oral hearing, as yet.
Morufat doesn’t believe she or her family is safe anywhere in Nigeria.
“My father is well-connected,” she said.
Reporting a family who has converted to Christianity is his way of attempting to gain recognition and power among his extremist’s clan, regardless if it is a family member, she asserted.
Morufat said that her father verbally and physically threatened her, including by burning her with an iron. He also took a few swipes, she said, at her son Viktor’s hands with a knife that has left scars.
If the Ogunkoya family is returned to Nigeria, Morufat believes her father will be alerted as to when and where she is sent. Officials would also be able to find her children through school records, she said, adding, “I might be safe if I stayed in a closed-up room for the rest of my life, and my kids didn’t go to school.”
Pelham resident John Langendoen, who is also a Rose City Kids benefactor, points out that Canada’s Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship has publicly stated that he has helped approximately 327,000 immigrants find homes. Langendoen doesn’t understand why this wouldn’t include Morufat’s family. He was made aware of the family’s plight as Victor Ogunkoya is a lead volunteer with Rose City Kids. Morufat was granted a working visa when she arrived, and has been working at Embassy Suites as a maid. “I’m known as the singing maid, because I sing praises to God all day as I work.”
Victor has a part-time job as well. Together, the family has volunteered at food banks, soup kitchens, and places like St. Vincent de Paul to assist others, whenever they can. Morufat has never received sponsorship or money from any organization, and can support her own family. Formerly a Logistics Manager with Global International Inc., an American firm that is based in Nigeria, she is also well educated. Her children are equally keen on learning, as Hephzibah told the Voice she would like to be a lawyer some day, while her younger sister, Rejoice, wants to become a doctor.
Victor recently received the Julia Turner Junior Irish Award at Notre Dame College School for being an exemplary student in Grade 10, reported Principal Ken Griepsma. Griepsma, and many involved in running Rose City Kids, attended an informal gathering Thursday to support the Ogunkoya family.
Despite all the encouragement and hopefulness, Morufat said, “The kids try to hide their feelings and be bold, but it’s been hard on them.”
Langendoen helped refurbish the Rose City Kids’ location on Main Street as part of a pledge to his wife, who passed away from cancer several years ago. Langendoen said Rose City Kids have started an online petition to keep the family in Canada, which has gathered 1700 signatures so far.
Langendoen hopes the media exposure will add names to the petition, and help pressure the government into allowing the family to remain in Canada. He is also looking for ideas on how to fight their case. Lawyers he has contacted recently stated they wished they had known sooner, and another lawyer said it would take “deep pockets” to take the challenge to court. Langendoen said his group plans to meet with Niagara Centre MP Vance Badawey for some assistance and direction. Otherwise, at this point, Morufat doesn’t know what else to do. The last notice from immigration stated she is to leave Canada, but a departure deadline has not been issued. Immigration also expects her to pay for her family’s return home.
When asked if she could join her husband in the U.S., Morufat said she hasn’t talked to him lately, and he hasn’t asked for her to emigrate there. She’s also not certain of his whereabouts.
Calling the group’s attention, Langendoen said, “Put the word out on your Facebook, and if you have any ideas, email us. Keep the ball in the air. If you have anything, we would appreciate it. We have to keep them here in Canada,” he said.
In the meantime, Morufat is accepting the well wishes and encouragement of neighbours and friends, and her second family at Rose City Kids. For more information, email: [email protected], or visit: www.citizengo.org/en-ca/169689-christian-family-able-remain-canada
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