Feature

DNA: The reality of paternity fraud

A new practice is beginning to catch on in Nigeria today; it’s the use of Deoxyribonucleic Acid (DNA) testing. Over the past few years, Nigerians have been inundated with scandalous paternity stories. It does appear that many have suddenly come to the realisation that children from their wives regarded from birth as theirs could be the offspring of other men. This, as Isioma Madike, tells in this story is already wreaking significant havoc on families

A recent viral video, where a court of law in the United States of America, had to rely on a Deoxyribonucleic Acid (DNA) test to resolve what looked like a complex paternity problem, has once again sparked a fresh controversy about paternity fraud. Two young men had laid claim to a three-year-old boy given birth to by a young woman, who was supposed to be married to one of them, but has had sexual relations with multiple partners only known to her. The judge, who depended on the DNA from a reputable laboratory, ruled to the surprise of everyone, that none of the frontline claimants of the child is the authentic father.

The ruling not only exposed the penchant of some women to cheat, but also, expectedly, sparked a debate around the world on whether or not there should be mandatory DNA tests at the birth of a new child. The debate has become so interesting in Nigeria, where it is said that at least four out of 10 men may not be the biological fathers of their children, according to available data.

Some medical experts have disclosed under the condition of anonymity that many Nigerian men do not know that they are not the biological fathers of some if not all of their children. One of the experts noted that currently, the situation is quite rampant as the majority of first-borns are affected. However, a retired nurse, Mrs. Abike Balogun, has said that there is a complex mix of reasons for the paternity fraud phenomenon in the country. Balogun said the issue is mostly tied to a very strong cultural bias towards reproduction and lineage longevity.

Many do that to expand the family unit as a criterion for social acceptance, she added. She also point to the criminalisation of abortion as an added factor. This, Balogun said, has led more people to finding other ways to deal with pregnancy as a complication from adultery or fornication. Another reason, she said, is unnecessary pressure on women to marry and procreate only within marriage and the obsession with purity culture.

She said: “There are women who go out of their way to protect their husbands’ reputation over reproductive issues. They, ignorantly, try to protect their husbands’ ‘masculinity’ by giving them children that aren’t theirs. During my active practice, I had cause to discuss with some women, who for one reason or another decided to give another man’s child to their husbands without their knowledge.

“They sometimes go to this length to protect their husbands from being made a laughing stock because they are infertile. Some of them whose husbands are infertile step out of their marital homes to get pregnant. In Nigeria, when a couple struggles to give birth, the wife is considered to be the barren party. That a man might be shooting blanks is an afterthought that is usually whispered.

“Even with advancement in medical science, our patriarchal society still considers it a taboo to speak about a man not being able to impregnate his wife. But, with enormous pressure on wives to display the ‘fruit of the womb’, some get other men to do the job their husbands are incapable of.”

Balogun’s position may not be entirely misplaced as it found support in the view of a frontline fertility specialist, who doubles as a consultant obstetrician/gynaecologist, Dr. Abayomi Ajayi. The medical expert was once quoted to have said that “12 per cent of men, who visit clinics in Nigeria, do not have sperm even though they have semen.” Ajayi’s position was equally validated in a 2018 research, which stated that sperm counts of men in Africa have seen a decline over half a century now with Nigerian men taking the lead.

The study also stated that the possible major causes are poorly treated sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and hormonal abnormalities, consumption of excessive alcohol and tobacco smoking. In his contribution, a Lagos- based lawyer and human rights activist, Emmanuel Nwaghodoh, told this reporter that premarital sex/fornication and adultery are the major reason women cheat in marriages. Nwaghodoh also said that married women are now considered safer in the Nigerian society for dating younger men. “They do this knowing that chances of an STI/HIV are slim, just as pregnancy might not be a serious issue.

A married woman is not likely to want to cross the line with her partner’s marriage. They also understand the issues at stake better than a young single girl would. Recent trends suggest that unprotected sex and multiple partners’ relationships are a common occurrence. Another issue is poor family planning among women as most first pregnancies are unplanned,” he said. However, a Nigerian professor of virology, educational administrator, and former Vice Chancellor of Redeemer’s University, Osun State, Oyewale Tomori, has said that it is only in a decadent society that DNA tests at birth will become mandatory. In a normal society with Godly and moral standards, he said, paternity issues should not be a normal thing.

He said: “Infidelity and greed are the ingredients of the situation that will make DNA paternity testing a regular or normal thing.” In a similar vein, the National President, National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD), Dr. Uyilawa Okhuaihesuyi, said despite the advancement in medicine and science generally, the issue of paternity should always be a personal matter, especially as it involves the fundamental human right of choice. The privacy act all over the globe, he added, prohibits any form of unauthorised intrusion into anyone’s personal space, activities and dealings, except when it becomes detrimental to others.

“That said it should be clear that laws are made for humanity, and not humanity for laws, thus the issue of choice is extremely important. In this way, no form of objectivity can be arrived at from a compulsory/ mandatory DNA test at birth since it remains at variance to the objective right of choice and self-determination. Protocols of limitations need to be established here, just like that seen in human genome alterations,” he said. Dr. Doyin Odubanjo, Executive Secretary at The Nigerian Academy of Science and Past Chair, Association of Public Health Physicians of Nigeria, also said that such matters are complex moral issues that are difficult to legislate. “Marriage should be based on a foundation of love/trust. Otherwise, we might need to make prenuptial agreements mandatory too,” he added. A Family physician and primary care paediatrician, Dr. Rotimi Adesanya, has equally said that a mandatory DNA test at birth is not ethical.

“You can’t force the people involved, but you can advise,” he said. While another medical expert, Ade Oderinde, believes the issue of mandatory DNA test at birth should not arise because the rights of those who differ must be respected. Rather, it should be employed as an unbiased and objective determinant in the resolution of paternity disputes, he said, adding, “This is better and much more reassuring than the traditional subjective tool of similarity in shape of ear, mouth, forehead etcetera.”

Meanwhile, a psychologist, Dr. Ifeyinwa Maduka, said that there is the desire to expose and shame the women whose unconscionable infidelity leads to such unfortunate situations. Such unfaithful women, she said, may be condemned to the abyss of marital ignominy, and the society believes they deserve all the reproach they get. She said: “There is no acceptable explanation why a man should be treated so wickedly, deceived with a ‘big lie’ that can destroy many lives at once and which, in some cases, have led to the victims committing suicide.

“These are not just simple tales of unfaithfulness. They are a deadly combination of adultery, betrayal, shock, and shattered dreams. There have been tales of regrets and a turbulent future, also. While some people have attributed the major causes of paternity fraud in Nigeria to “infidelity, adultery, and increase in sexual recklessness among couples”, others point to “poor family planning.

“There are also those who emphasize the mix-ups in maternity hospitals as an additional factor in failed paternity tests. The error of swapping children in the hospitals where they are born, have inadvertently accounted for many paternity disputes in Africa and Nigeria in particular. Although this is rare, it usually comes from carelessness or in some cases acts of commission like the reported incident in Zambia. In that instant, a dying nurse, Elizabeth Bwalya Mwewa, was said to have owned up on her death bed to swapping about 5,000 babies over 12 years “for the fun of it”.

From this account, it is obvious that the affected women would find it difficult to restore their ruined homes or be cleared of unfaithfulness and infidelity. They may never also be able to resolve the truth behind the discrepancies of their children’s paternity.

Such incidents abound in Nigeria as well. There have been, in recent times, widespread stories of DNA fraud in the country. But the one that shocked many was that of a Delta State High Court judge, Anthony Ezonfade Okorodas, on January 28. Okorodas had publicly announced that the three supposed children he had with his estranged wife are not his.

He had accused his former wife, Celia Juliet Ototo, of cheating during their marriage, which ended 11 years ago. The judge said he was persuaded to carry out the DNA tests after he received an anonymous call during the COVID-19 lockdown in April, 2020, that one of the children wasn’t his. According to Okorodas, after the DNA test proved that he was not the father of his last child, he decided to conduct DNA tests on the two remaining children from his former wife, and the results showed they are equally not his. Okorodas also persuaded his second wife, Ebi, to agree to carry out DNA tests on their four children. He was however lucky the results came back negative.

The incident nonetheless did not dissuade him and his current wife from continuing to care for the education of the three children from his estranged wife. He had said: “I have taken the decision to address the press in respect of certain traumatic developments that have arisen between me and my exwife, Barrister Celia Juliet Ototo of the Ototo Family of Ovom in Yenagoa Local Government Area of Bayelsa State. It is now nearly 11 years since our separation and divorce. This press statement is important in order to prevent damaging speculations, half-truths and outright lies from persons, who may want to cash in on the tragedy that has befallen my home.

“Sometime during the Coronavirus lockdowns early last year, I received information from an anonymous source that indicated that the last of the three children from the previous marriage was in fact not my biological child. Due to the COVID-19 restrictions at the time, I had to wait until August 2020, to carry out a DNA test.

The DNA result, which came out in September 2020, confirmed that I was not the biological father of the child. “Consequently, I convened a joint meeting between my family on the one side and Celia’s paternal and maternal families (i.e., the Ototo Family of Ovom Town and the Agbagidi Family of Yenagoa Town) on the other side, where I confronted her with the paternity fraud allegation. “Although she initially strongly insisted that I was the biological father, she has since confessed to having the child with another man during the course of our marriage. This repulsive act of my ex-wife prompted me to conduct DNA tests in respect of the two other children. A few days ago, the results came out. Sadly, none of them is my biological child. “This abomination has caused excruciating mental trauma to me, my present wife, Barrister (Mrs.) Ebi Okorodas, and all of the innocent children involved. This is particularly so for Ebi, who has had to agree to have DNA tests on the four children of our own marriage. Thankfully, the test results confirm each of them to be my biological child.

“Ebi and I would continue to support the children in any way that we can. Indeed, even after the release of the first DNA test result which proved that I was not the biological father of the last child, we have continued to pay for his education in a private boarding school.” Sad as the above was, there are many others in that mould. In March 2020, for instance, there was what Nigerians love to refer to as a society wedding between Nkechi and Eromonsele in Benin City, the Edo State capital.

The two families are well to do. They are also socialites and the wedding lived up to its billing. Shortly after Eromonsele tied the knot with his longtime girlfriend, they gave birth to a bouncing baby boy. The marriage could have been a fairy tale, but the unexpected happened through a series of unfortunate events.

A few months later, Eromonsele’s world crashed in an instant as he found out that the child he called his son wasn’t his. To deal with the pain, Eromonsele had to take his life, unfortunately. Before then, there had been another that left many wondering what the world is turning into. It happened in February 2017, when a young man, named Oscar, found out that 32-yearold Valentine was not his biological son. His partner had, according to reports, deliberately misidentified him as the biological father of her child. Paternity blood tests were first performed in the middle half of the 20th century, by comparing blood types of tested parties, but the testing did not provide for a very powerful test. In the 1970s a more powerful test was developed using white blood cell antigens resulting in a test that was able to exclude about 95 per cent of falsely accused fathers. However, blood types alone cannot be used to determine who the father is, but they can be used to determine the biological possibility of fatherhood.

Since its invention, DNA paternity tests are said to have unravelled a lot of buried family secrets. For now, keeping family secrets, according to some opinions, isn’t as easy as it used to be, as one DNA test, they say, could change everything for better or for worse.

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