Insight

Traumatised, violated, child brides helpless under Nigerian laws

Poor parents, with the connivance of the police and judges, have continued to frustrate the Child Rights Act to give minors out in marriage to adults who steal their innocence, dignity and liberty, writes JULIANA FRANCIS

The marriage of a ‘15-yearold’ secondary school girl to a 52-year-old religious leader in September 2020 left child’s rights advocates in Lagos State spluttering in outrage. Stephanos Enofe, the General Overseer of Spirit of Grace Ministry (SOG) in Mushin, married the girl, identified simply as Confidence, who worships in the church with her mother. In a recorded interview with journalists and police personnel, made available to our reporter, Mr. Enofe, who has four children from a previous marriage, said: “I thought she was 18 years old when I first made my approach.

When I mentioned marriage, she said it was not possible. In February, she said she had had a revelation and conviction from God that we should go ahead with the relationship. I told her that we would take it step by step because she was still in SS2. To be a bishop’s wife, a woman needs to be well educated.” According to Enofe, he and his first wife had parted ways over “doctrinal emphasis as a church.”

The cleric said he decided to remarry on advice from the church. He said: “The church said that I was not supposed to be without a wife. I didn’t want any doctrinal problems. I had to look for someone in the church; someone who understands the church.” According to him, it was after taking that decision that he approached Confidence, who, he claimed, told him she was 19 years old. “I knew that if I was not fast enough, because she’s beautiful, another guy could be faster. While responding to my proposal, her father said that Confidence was still schooling. I told him I didn’t want to disturb her education,” he added. Enofe said the girl’s father took him to their village to see his kinsmen. “He told me that they believe in village union and that the introduction would have to be done with kinsmen involved.

On August 26, 2020, we went to Abia State, to have an elaborate introduction. In fact, the whole village of Igbere community in Bende Local Government Area of Abia State, even their Royal Highness (traditional ruler) and his cabinet were introduced to us.” Returning to Lagos after the ceremony in Abia State, Enofe said, he received a call.

“The caller said he learnt I was going to marry an underage girl, that it was a sacrilege. I got angry and asked him what his problem was? I asked him if he was the father of the girl. I told him I was going to marry her, that he should accept it,” he said. Confidence began living with Enofe as his wife on August 28, 2020, after the traditional rites. But information on the marriage got to children rights advocates on the day she was to be taken to the altar for the church wedding. The girl’s father, Joseph Ukandu, a trader at Idumota Market denied his daughter is 15 years, claiming she was born at home on January 7, 2001, in Mushin, Lagos State.

Thus dispelling any attempt to probe birth certificate and hospital of her birth. Recalling how the case got to the Advocates for Children and Vulnerable Person’s Network (ACVPN), the co-founder of the non-governmental organisation, Ebenezer Omejalile, said that a journalist reported it to the NGO. He said: “We swung into action, but there had been an introduction of which both families agreed to the marriage. We saw the white wedding invitation card and picture of Bishop Enofe lifting the child. One of our partners, Office of the Public Defender (OPD), got interested in the case and ensured Mr. Enofe was arrested.” Omejalile said Confidence was then placed in the Juvenile Welfare Centre (JWC), Alaka Police Station. “I personally interacted with her; she told me she was 15 years old.

We called the attention of the OC gender, Margaret Ighodalo, (a chief superintendent of police, CSP) who equally inoverterviewed her. The irony of the matter is that in the course of the investigation, the girl confessed to Ighodalo that she agreed to the marriage because her father had been molesting her and that her mother was aware. This made the police arrest and detain her parents.” Escape from justice? Omejalile said his organisation was surprised at an initial court ruling on the matter.

“Ighodalo travelled to Benue State to see her husband and it was during her absence that a policeman called John took over the case. This officer, even before the commencement of this case, had been transferred out of the Gender Unit. He charged the matter to court and it was a shock to us as advocates when we heard that the magistrate granted Enofe bail and then struck out the case, saying the girl was 19 years old. I don’t know how she suddenly clocked 19,” he added. Omejalile said Confidence was seeking an escape from the ‘molestation’ by her father but ended up being disappointed by the system.

He accused the police of mishandling the case. “To date, we don’t know what Enofe was charged for, because we’ve not set eyes on the charge sheet, but that IPO (investigating police officer) caused all these nonsense,” said Omejalile. “We heard the magistrate asked the survivor why she wanted to send her parents to jail and other stuff, which worked on her mentality,” he added. Child rights activists accused the IPO who charged the matter to court, after Ighodalo had travelled to Benue State, of scuttling the case.

They also blamed the police prosecutor. They accused both men of feeding the judiciary with false information, paving the way for Enofe to escape justice. This reporter later found out from the Lagos State Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO), Adekunle Ajisebutu, that Enofe was charged with “attempt to procure the commission of criminal act,” in the case “COP vs Bishop Enofe and two others.” On November 27, Ajisebutu told our reporter after the case was initially reported at the Alakara Police Station, Mushin, it was later transferred to SCIID.

The transfer signal states thus: “Bishop Enofe Lucky Stephanos of Spirit of Grace Ministry of No 8 Makinde Street, Idi-Oro Mushin was about to marry an underage girl, Ukandu Confidence Chineye, who was brought up by a single mother of five at No 17, Adeyanju Street, Idi-Oro to this end, subject took maximum advantage of the minor with the full support of the runaway father Mr. Joseph Ezekiel whose relationship with the said mother was not consummated in all ramifications, all in a bid to procure the commission of criminal acts in which the criminal law of Lagos state frowns at more so many NGO were interested.”

This reporter then applied on November 1 to the Court 3 Registrar for the records of proceedings on the case, in order to get the details of what transpired inside the court. But the registrar said the chief magistrate in charge of Court 3, who has to give instructions for the release of the proceedings, was on a training course. Two weeks later, the registrar said the magistrate would be proceeding on leave from the training and would not resume until December.

As at December 20, the magistrate was yet to resume. In a letter dated November 15, addressed to the Lagos State Director of Public Prosecution (DPP), Aderera Adeyemi, our reporter requested the official statement of legal advice on the case. After some back and forth, the DPP responded. In the response dated December 8 to this reporter, a Deputy Director at the DPP, Adetutu Oshinusi, stated that: “After careful consideration of the facts available in the duplicate case file, this office is of the opinion that the alleged defilement or any offence whatsoever cannot be substantiated against neither of the suspects Page B1 (Bishop Enofe Lucky), Page B2 (Joseph Ukandu) and Page B3 (Esther Ukandu). Facts available in the duplicate file reveal contradictory declarations as to the age of the Page A4 (Confidence).

While the written statement at the police station reveal that she is 15 years of age, in the interview conducted video recording, she stated that she is 19 years of age and was not coerced into the marriage, with Page B1, Bishop Enofe Lucky Stephanos. It is imperative to determine the age of the victim in view of the legal issue of the consent of the victim of sexual offences. As it is imperative for this office to determine the culpability or otherwise of the suspects this office shall rely on recorded video interview of the suspects and Page A4 (Confidence), which states her age to be 19 years.”

Meanwhile, Enofe has taken in his ‘child bride,’ with the Lagos justice system unable to resolve the problem. More cases of child marriage in Lagos Enofe’s case is not unique in Lagos, judging by what transpired at the Shogunle Police Station, Lagos, in September 2020. In that case, the police, according to an activist, helped a 40-year-old man escape with the rape of a 14-year-old girl. Rather than prosecute him, the Divisional Crime Officer (DCO) reportedly advised the rapist to marry the victim for an amicable ‘settlement’, which contradicts the Child Rights Law. The victim had gone missing on August 16.

When she was found the following day, she looked frail, confused and frightened. She told her sister, Jennifer, that their neighbour, popularly called Okey Ten Kobo, took her to a hotel, where he laced her food with an unknown substance. She said after eating the food, she could not remember anything afterward. It was, however, discovered that she had been raped by her abductor. Omejalile of the ACVPN said: “At the station, Jennifer and the survivor stated their own story, leading to the Crime Recorder begging and asking them to forgive and forget. He told Jennifer to take the survivor to a private hospital for a medical examination.

But he was actually supposed to give them medical papers to go to the government hospital. “He also didn’t even obtain a statement from Okey. Rather, he said the medical test was to check if the survivor was pregnant, and if she was that Okey would marry and pay her bride price in instalments as they were both of Igbo extraction. Jennifer told us that she didn’t agree to it.

“When I heard about it, I was shocked. An investigating police officer, who is the crime recorder in a division, suggesting child marriage? I told him he needed to charge the case to court and issue the survivor a proper medical paper.” Omejalile stated that in Lagos State, according to the child rights law, a minor could not give consent to marriage. He also stated that the consent of parents or guardians was not valid for a minor. The activist said his organisation reported the matter to the Area F Commander, an Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP), John Zongo.

He said the Gender Unit of the Area F Police Command, which took over the case from Shogunle Police Station, believed that Okey Ten Kobo had fled to Enugu State and had been taking minors to the hotel. In his response to the allegations that some police officers, by their actions, encourage child marriage, the Lagos PPRO, Ajisebutu, said it is not true. “There’s absolutely nothing like that in Lagos. Not to my knowledge. Policemen don’t give out children for marriage except their own mature children (adults) of marriageable age, with the mutual agreement between intending couples.

“Any policeman found acting outside the provisions of the law or not acting professionally will be sanctioned accordingly,” he said. Child brides emotionally, psychologically immature -Experts According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), 700 million women alive today were married before the age of 18, and up to 280 million girls are currently at risk of becoming child brides. It further states that girls who give birth between the ages of 15 and 19 are much more likely to die in childbirth than girls in their early 20s.

Those under the age of 15 are at even greater risk. UNICEF further states that each year, 12 million girls are married before the age of 18, which means 23 girls every minute and nearly one every two seconds. Experts say girls in forced child marriages are often not mature enough emotionally and psychologically for the roles and responsibilities that come with marriage.

This psychological impact of child marriage played out in the case of a 17-year-old wife, Salma Hassan, in Bauchi State, who admitted to stabbing her husband, Mohammed Mustapha, to death for attempting to have sex with her without her consent. She explained that she was forced into the marriage and killed her husband 11 days after the wedding.

She reportedly said: “I never knew that sex is a marital obligation. On that fateful night when he approached me for sex, I refused him because I have never been involved in it. I thought he wanted to defile me. He got angry and was trying to force himself on me with slaps and beating, then I picked up a knife to scare him away but he kept coming. I didn’t know when I stabbed him in the chest.” In another case in December 2017 in Katsina State, Dausiya Abdulmumini, a 15-year-old housewife, killed her husband, Saminu Usman, 27. She admitted using rat poison on him because she did not love him. Dausiya, just like Salma, said that she was forced to marry her husband.

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