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Health News of Saturday, 10 October 2020

Source: punch.ng

Gang-raped under a bridge, mental health survivor battles foster parents for her child

She appeared sorrowful and worried as she approached our correspondent for an interview.

To 37-year-old Miss Ifeomachukwu (surname withheld), a graduate of Physics Education, University of Jos, Plateau State, life has become meaningless and wicked because the only thing that represents joy in her life has been taken away.

She became mentally-challenged immediately after completing her national youts service in 2015. A native of Abba community in the Njikoka Local Government Area of Anambra State, the then mentally-challenged Ifeoma had absconded from her family home to Abakaliki, the Ebonyi State capital.

In her condition then and while roaming the streets of Abakalili, she was said to have been gang-raped by men whose identities were not known. The result was a pregnancy. After nine months, Miss Ifeomachukwu (still in her mental ill health then), gave birth to a baby boy. Good-hearted Ebonyians who saw her under the bridge while in labour, assisted her to the Alex Ekwueme Federal University Teaching Hospital, Abakaliki, where she was delivered of the baby.

The management of the hospital, investigations revealed, had denied her access to the baby because of her mental ill-health.

The thinking that little Ifeoma Chukwu jr (the name given to the boy by the biological mother) was okay marked the beginning of a crisis between the poor family of Ifeomachukwu from Anambra State and a former Special Assistant to Commissioner in the state, one Steve Ali.

The management of the hospital had handed the baby over to the Ebonyi State Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development. Ifeomachukwu ran out of the hospital the moment her baby was handed over to the ministry for custody.

Ali had, in 2014, through a letter, by his lawyers, allegedly asked the ministry to give him a baby boy for fostering. The requested wasn’t granted and, in 2017, Ali and his wife reapplied to the ministry for the same purpose. This made baby Ifeoma Chukwu jr, who was then in the ministry’s custody, to be given to the the Alis.

The re-appearance of the UNIJOS graduate and her family marked the beginning of battles, both psychological and legal, over who truly owns the boy that clocked four years on Wednesday, September 23, 2020.

Ifeomachukwu demanded that baby Ifeoma Chukwu Jr be given to her, but the Alis refused to release the child to them.

While the mother of the baby boy and her family maintained that they were the rightful owner of the child, Mr. and Mrs. Ali rejected the claim.

The Ministry of Women Affairs said it merely ‘handed over’ the child to the Alis for fostering, not for adoption.

Sources revealed that the Alis had gone to court to challenge Ifeomachukwu and her family as well as the ministry, which handed the baby to them.

The court ruled in favour of the baby’s mother and her family. The court went on to order the ministry to retrieve the child from Ali and wife and hand same over to the biological mother (Ifeoma).

The judgment, dated 17th June, 2020, with Suit No. HAB/77/2019, obtained by our correspondent, had Steve Ali and his wife, Martina Chito Ali, as applicants; while the state Ministry of Women Affairs, the Commissioner for the Ministry, Mrs. Rebecca Ogbuewu and the HOD, Child Development of the Ministry, Mr. Godwin Igwe, were respondents.

The court ruling, which was delivered by the Chief Judge of the state, Justice Anslem Nwigwe, reads in part, “The actual mother of the child being fostered by the applicants, who was described/identified as a homeless social mother with psychiatric manifestation as in exhibit A of the respondents which is unchallenged by the applicants, goes to show that the abandonment of the child was not a voluntary act of the mother.

“It is my further view that interest of justice will frown upon my granting this application. From the foregoing and all I have stated above, this application of the applicants for an order of Mandamus and Prohibition against the respondents fails and accordingly dismissed.

“The sole issue of the applicants is resolved against them in favour of the respondents.”

After the judgment, the police went to the Alis’ residence for the purpose of recovering little baby Ifeoma Chukwu Jr, but their efforts proved futile. Ali claimed he had appealed the judgment of the court, which had ordered him to release the baby to the biological mother.

I’m well now, I need my baby back -Ifeoma

Speaking to The PUNCH in an interview in Abakaliki, the biological mother of little baby Ifeoma Chukwu Jr, said all she needed to be a happy and fulfilled person in life was her baby boy.

She observed that although she was sick and ran away from her house, which led some men to take advantage of her, thus the pregnancy that resulted in the baby, she is now physically and mentally fit to take care of her baby.

She said, “When I finished my NYSC, I developed a mental sickness. I used to hear voices telling me to flee from home. As I ran away from home, I was raped by some men and I became pregnant.

“While in Ebonyi State, I was sleeping under the bridge because of the mental sickness. Under the bridge where I was staying, I was in labour and some people took me to the hospital, where I later gave birth to a baby boy.

“There in the hospital, they took my baby to the unit for newly born babies where they were attending to him.”

Also speaking on the matter, her elder sister, Ifenyinwa Nzenwa, alleged that Ali used his influence in government to perfect the processes that eventually made the Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development to hand over the baby to him.

She said, “The Director of the AE-FUTHA gave us a letter and told us that the baby was no longer under their care. He said the baby had been handed over to the Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development, Abakaliki.

“We went to the ministry and spoke with the HOD in charge of Child Development, who advised us to address our complaint in a letter to the commissioner in the ministry and we did. After seven months, we got a reply (letter) from the commissioner through our lawyer.”

Nzenwa said when they attended a meeting in Abakaliki on the invitation of the ministry, Ali was absent. She, however, said the man and his wife attended the second meeting.

She said, “At the meeting, Ali’s wife insisted that the child must remain with them and that no one, including the child’s mother, could take him away from them. Seeing that cost of transportation from Anambra State to Ebonyi State was high and because of our situation, we decided to get a lawyer in Abakaliki.”

Nzenwa said the family wrote two letters to the ministry, adding that none of them was replied. According to her, the commissioner in the ministry later said the ministry had written to the man to release the child to the mother, since the baby was merely given to him to foster.

She explained that the matter was reported to the police, who invited Ali and told him to release the child.

Nzenwa added, “But his lawyer came and said that the matter was in court. In June this year, our lawyer called me and announced that a judgment had been passed on the matter and the court’s verdict said we should use any forceful means to get our baby back.”

According to her, despite the court case and the police intervention, Ali refused to release the child.

“He said he had appealed the matter in the Appeal Court, Enugu. It was at this point that our lawyer advised us to approach the National Human Rights Commission.”

We want to know why rule of law is not holding sway on this matter -NHRC

The NHRC, Ebonyi State branch, said the principle of rule of law was not given its rightful place in the matter.

Its Coordinator in the state, Mr. Okorie Christopher, who spoke to our correspondent, said the law was actually being disrespected in the course of the matter. He, however, vowed that justice must prevail eventually.

Police ineptitude over the matter frustrating -Commissioner

The Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development alleged that the police in the state were frustrating efforts to recover the baby from Ali. According to the Commissioner of the Ministry, Mrs. Rebecca Ogbuewu, the ministry had worked very hard for the recovery of baby Ifeoma Chukwu Jr, saying that the police were rather crippling the process.

Mrs. Ogbuewu said, “We have written a reminder to the police to recover the child. We have not been served any paper from the appeal court telling me they have gone to a higher court. The police are the ones that don’t want to do their job in this matter.

“The child didn’t develop wings. Baby Ifeoma was handed to the Ministry of Women Affairs in 2017 because we don’t have a home. We normally keep a child in motherless babies’ home because once a child is over one year, motherless babies’ home won’t accept such a child from us.”

Baby Ifeoma’s case got to us late -Ebonyi Police Command
Meanwhile, the Ebonyi State Police Command has denied allegation that it is frustrating the recovery of the child. It claimed that Ifeoma and family didn’t notify it on time.

The Command’s spokesperson, Mrs. Loveth Odah, said Ifeoma’s family ought to have reported the matter to the police immediately the man refused to release the child to them.

Although Ali had, at different times, told journalists that he didn’t in anyway illegally adopt the baby and that he had documents from the women affairs and social development ministry, efforts by our correspondent to reach him for comments did not succeed.

His phone number was not reachable when over 17 calls were put across to him by our correspondent. Also, text messages sent to the phone had yet to be responded to as of the time of filing this report.

I acquired the child legally -Ebonyi ex-official

A letter dated 28/08/2020, addressed to the NHRC in the state by Steve Ali’s lawyers, a copy of which was obtained by The PUNCH, reads in part, “That our client did not illegally acquire the custody of the child alluded to by you in your letter of 26/08/2020 and as such, he did not unlawfully seize and detain any such child.

“That the basis of our client not yielding to the illegal and ill-advised attempt by the Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development, Ebonyi State, to retrieve the baby boy he legally acquired under the law is that the ministry does not have the legal authority to retrieve a child that she had given out for fostering and adoption after a period of two years subsequent to the action.

“That there is no court order compelling our client to deliver any baby boy to the ministry or to anyone else and if there is, your office, with respect, is not the proper venue for the execution of a court judgment.

“According to our client and documents made available to our office by a letter dated the 9th day of October, 2014, our client applied to the Commissioner for Women Affairs and Social Development, Ebonyi State, for the fostering of a baby boy.

“By another letter dated the 19th day of February, 2017, our client wrote a reminder to the commissioner of the earlier application which was approved by the Commissioner on the 14th day of March, 2017 and referred to the executing on 18/05/2017.

“A child fostering arrangement dated the 2nd day of June, 2017 conveying the Commissioner’s approval was prepared and signed by the appropriate officer.”

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