ANGELA MBOCHA writes that a 37-year-old Ifeoma Chukwu Nzenwa, from Abba community in Njikoka local government area of Anambra State, is now at war with her child’s foster parents over custody of her four year old son. Is Governor Dave Umahi aware of this preposterous story emanating from his door step and his aides involvement?
Her son, Ifeoma Chukwu Junior, who she named after herself clocked 4-year-old last September 23rd this year, but he has not seen his mother due to series of battles both physical and legal that began after a year and six months of his birth.
One Mr. Steve Ali, who has been fostering him as a father has bluntly refused to release the child to Ifeoma the mother despite court ruling which ordered him to release the child.
The twist in Ifeoma’s life journey began in 2016 when she became mentally sick after her National Youth Service.
Ifeoma is a graduate of Physics Education from University of Jos and after her Youth Service in 2016 she ran away from home as a result of her illness.
However, her family never gave up on her as they relentlessly took her to hospitals, churches and conducted series of deliverance but to no avail.
One faithful day, Ifeoma was nowhere to be found and her family members mounted a serious search for her. They saw her at Upper Iweka, in Onitsha begging for alms.
She was brought back home but she later left and was also seen under the bridge begging, but this time around with a protruding stomach which indicated that she was pregnant. But unfortunately, after she was brought home this time, Ifeoma ran away from home to Ebonyi State still in 2016.
Recounting her ordeal at the office of National Human Rights Commission, Ebonyi State capital, Abakaliki, Ifeoma said she used to hear voices telling her to flee from home and in 2016 she ran away from home and in the process she was raped in Anambra state by a man she didn’t know. The ugly incident resulted in pregnancy.
One may wonder why she left Enugu and other neighbouring states to Ebonyi. However, Ifeoma provided the answer when she narrated, ”I looked for admission in Ebonyi State University, EBSU, but when I couldn’t get, I left for University of Jos where I was given admission that was how I knew Ebonyi state”.
On her arrival to Ebonyi during her pregnancy days, Ifeoma further revealed that, “While in Ebonyi state, I was sleeping under the bridge that time I was having mental sickness. I gave birth to a baby boy under the bridge. Some people that saw me took me to a nearby hospital FETHA now FUTHA. There in the hospital, they took my baby to the new born unit where he was attended to. They asked me the name I would like my baby to answer and I told them Ifeoma Chukwu, I named him after me.
“The hospital gave me serious medical attention and l recovered from my mental illness. When I recovered, I went to them to give me my baby but the hospital refused to give me the baby because I didn’t have anybody with me so I left the baby in the hospital and went home. When I came to collect my baby with my people, they now said that they gave my baby to one man for adoption”. All I want now is my baby no matter who they handed him over to, she cried out”
Ifeoma’s sister, Ifeanyi Nzenwa, also narrated that they were surprised when Ifeoma came home in 2016 with pregnancy, but returned in 2017 without a baby.
She said that questions were asked and Ifeoma recounted her ordeal to them. She told them that she gave birth to a boy but she left the baby at Federal Teaching Hospital Abakaliki, now Alex Ekwueme Federal University Teaching Hospital Abakaliki. By then the baby was already one year and six months.
The herculean journey to recover baby Chukwu which began in 2017
According to Ifeanyi, “Ifeoma took us to a federal hospital where she kept the baby. When we got there, the Doctors and Nurses started asking her why she abandoned her baby and ran away and we looked at each other and said that what Ifeoma told us that she gave birth was true. So, someone told us that we should get a Lawyer that a Lawyer must be involved in our case. When we got home, we got a Lawyer who wrote to the Chief Medical Director of the hospital. The Medical Director told us that the baby was no longer with the hospital that the baby has been taken to the state Ministry of Women Affairs, Abakaliki.
“We went to the Ministry of Women Affairs Abakaliki for the recovery of the baby. We met the Head of Department of Child Welfare in the ministry who asked us to go back and address the letter to the Commissioner that the baby is under the care of the Commissioner for Women Affairs. We then wrote to the Commissioner. After about six, seven months, the Commissioner wrote back to our Lawyer and asked us to come to Abakaliki for a meeting.
“We honoured the meeting invitation by the Commissioner but she was not available for the meeting. Our Lawyer wrote to the Commissioner again and she fixed a new date for us to meet and when we came to Abakaliki for the second meeting, we met the wife of the Special Assistant, SA, to the Commissioner instead of the husband. But Steve Ali the SA to the Commissioner once came to our house and told us that the government of Ebonyi state sent him to our house to come and investigate the matter. We had a fruitful discussion and he told us that he will report to the Ministry his findings.
“When the Commissioner invited us for another meeting and I noticed that the same man that said that the government sent him to come and see us is the one that is holding our baby, I asked him, so you are the one holding our baby and he didn’t say anything. After every said and done, the wife was being stubborn and said that the child should not be released. Because of transport fare from Anambra to Ebonyi and other things involved, we decided to get Lawyer here in Ebonyi state so that it will be easier for us.
“I was in the court over the matter and the HOD of that Ministry of Women Affairs told me to bring the educational qualification of that my sister so that the Judge will see that the people that trained her in the University can take care of the baby since Steve Ali the SA was claiming that he has gone to our place and discovered that we don’t have money let alone training the baby. I gave the HOD the documents of my sister on her educational qualification.
“The police invited the man and told him(Steve) Ali to release the baby to us but he refused. The police was angry and arrested him. While in police, he called his Lawyer who came and bailed him. The Lawyer now said that the case over my sister’s baby is now in court. The Lawyer said that the Ministry of Women Affairs should give them N500million for the child to be released. Because of this, the matter lingered.
“Around June this year, our Lawyer told us that judgment on the matter has been passed, that the court said we should use any force to collect our baby. The police went to the man’s house for recovery of our baby and Steve Ali refused again. Our Lawyer directed us to go to National Human Rights Commission to report the matter.
“The Ministry of Women Affairs ordered us to come and collect our baby since court has ordered the release of the child but Steve Ali’s Lawyer said no ruling on the matter has been served them, that they have not seen the court judgment. The Lawyer said they have appealed the judgment”.
Police, Ministry of Women Affair’s failed effort to reunite Chukwu Ifeoma with his family
When contacted, the Ebonyi State Commissioner for Women Affairs, Mrs Rebecca Ogbuewu, explained that the baby was handed over to the Ministry of Women Affairs in 2017 and owing to the fact that they didn’t have a place to keep him, and the motherless babies home no longer accept any baby from them once the child is more than one year, the ministry handed over the baby to the SA and his late wife to foster.
”Baby Chukwu Ifeoma was handed over to the Ministry of Women Affairs in 2017. We normally keep children at the motherless baby’s home. But once a child is over one year the motherless babies home don’t accept such child from us. So my SA then and the late wife foster baby Chukwu Ifeoma.
“After a year and some months, I got a letter from a Lawyer, in fact the lawyer called me from Asaba that she is Ifeoma’s Lawyer, and I asked who is Ifeoma, she started telling me that Ifeoma is the biological mother of the baby Chukwu Ifeoma. I said okay. She said they had written to me, but have not got any response from me. I said I have not seen such letter on my table, but when I go to work the next day I will ask.
“So when I got to the office the next day I now asked of the letter, I think they brought the letter when I was outside the country. But eventually, I got the letter and after reading the letter which stated that Ifeoma is now mentally sound to take care of her baby, I told my HOD Child Welfare to invite the two parties, that is both the biological parents and the foster parents which he did. I had a meeting with the two families in my office here, that was in 2018. But eventually on the foster parents side it was only the late wife that came, my SA then didn’t come.
“After the meeting, late Mrs. Ali, who was a lawyer told me she was not going to hand over the child to the Ministry, that where were they all these while that it is now they were coming to take the child.
“I told her that you are not acting like a lawyer, that you know that if you argue this case till the end of the world you are not going to win this case. She said that she was heading for court, I said okay, if that’s what you want you can go ahead.
“The next thing I think they served my HOD Child Welfare first, the next one was me and the Ministry. Since last year the case has been in the court and once it became a court case we had nothing to do than to wait for the court to decide. So sometime last month the judgment came out and it was in favor of the Ministry.
“I waited for Mr Ali to bring back the child, we wrote to him to bring back baby Chukwuemeka to the Ministry of Women Affairs, we didn’t see him or the child. I now wrote to the police to help us recover the child after the judgment.
“According to my Staff, Mr Linus that went with them, he said that Mr Ali was not at home, but on their way back they saw Ali coming back home. They now went back with him and he said that before he do that, that he will speak with his lawyer. So they went back to the police station, before they got there the lawyer was already there.
“The Story I heard again from my staff that went with them was that they went to appeal. Court is not in section now that’s why it looks as if we are stuck. I have written to the Commissioner of Police again that it is their duty to recover that child, whether supreme court or not the court has given judgment, let the child be released to us from there we can do whatever is necessary. We are doing our best it is left for the police to do their own job”, she stated
She also revealed that the Ministry doesn’t have the right to give out a child for adoption, that the ministry can only provide foster parent(s).
“I don’t know about any legal adoption by Ali, at least I have the right to sign any documents before fostering or adoption of a child, I have not signed anything for adoption, if there is any I don’t know.
“We have written a reminder to the police to recover the child, we have not been severed of any paper from appeal court or whatsoever, so why telling me they have gone to a appeal court, police is the one that don’t want to do their job”, she added.
DSP Loveth Odah, police PRO in Ebonyi state said that Ifeoma’s family took a civil action against the accused before coming to the police. And when the family finally came, the police were handicapped because the matter was already in court.
“If it should be an illegal adoption, I think the police should have known from the beginning, because such a matter should have been reported to the police in writing.
“Yes she is now well, maybe the parents didn’t know they were supposed to have reported to the police by writing a petition to the Commissioner of police narrating their story, and the matter would have been investigated. But when we got to know about it, the matter was already In court , they took a civil action against the accused person before coming to the police.
“When they came to the police on this matter, it made the police to be handicapped because court of competent jurisdiction was already on the matter.
Odah further assured that as soon as the magistrate or the judge takes action on the matter and the judgment comes in favor of the complainant, police can go ahead and investigate and receive the baby from the foster parents to the real family.”
National Human Rights Commission to the rescue
The state coordinator, National Human Rights Commission, Okorie Christopher Onyekachi, noted, “the law is very clear on the issue of adoption or even fostering. We are advising the members of the public to always play by the rules of the law. Section 131 of Child Rights Law of Ebonyi State makes it abundantly clear that the court shall not make an adoption order in respect of a child unless the parents of the child or where there is no surviving parents, the guardian of the child consents to the adoption”. This is so clear and very direct and from the documents before us, the court has equally ruled in this regard.
“We want to know why there should be alleged disrespect for the rule of law and as far as Ebonyi state is concerned, the National Human Rights Commission will ever stand behind the rule of the law and for whatever is in the best interest of the child. The child has a right to its identity, the child has a right to its root and we must ensure that this is done.
“In Ebonyi state where the Governor has received award from the National Human Rights Commission, we know the Governor will frown at anything that infringes against the law and on the rights of any child. And so, we are calling on everybody in Ebonyi state; the Governor, the Commissioners, Private Sectors. Everybody should help us so that we make sure that justice is done and not just done but seen to be done especially in this regard”.
Mr. Ali when contacted claimed he has briefed his lawyers on the matter.
Nevertheless, Ifeoma is still unsure if and when she will take custody of her child she conceived after the ugly incident that has changed her entire life.