… i didn’t see my baby after delivery – victim informs court
The Children, Sexual and Gender-Based Violence Court of Anambra State has remanded a suspended Catholic Priest, Rev. Fr. Stephen Nwaigwe to correctional center for allegedly raping and impregnating a teenager he was living with.
Offence of sexual intercourse with a minor is punishable under section 34(2) of the Child’s Rights Law of Anambra State, 2004.
Fr. Nwigwe was also accused of forcefully taking the pregnant minor to Benin City, Edo State, where she was delivered of her baby.
Police investigation however revealed that the whereabouts of the said baby is still unknown.
It was gathered that the priest was among those expelled by Two Hearts of Love Congregation” (Ugwu Nso), a popular Catholic faith-based religious congregation in Orlu, Imo State, in 2018, over alleged misconducts inimical to the image of the order.
Source informed our Correspondent that the priest met the teenager at the St. Albert The Great Catholic Church Parish, Obosi, Anambra State, where he was invited for a religious church programme.
Responding to questions in the court during remand proceedings on Monday November 20, 2023, the victim said the priest took her from her parents to live with him when she was 14 years old, with a promise to sponsor her education, while she equally served as his cook.
She further stated that not long after she moved into the priest’s house, he started forcing himself sexually on her, which continued until she became pregnant at the age of 17.
The victim further stated that when she informed the priest about her pregnancy, the priest took her from Ihiala, Anambra State, where they lived, to somewhere in Benin City, Edo State, to the house of a man and woman the priest introduced to her as his brother and brother’s wife.
When the minor gave birth to the baby at a native birth attendant’s house in Benin City, she said she was told that the baby died, and when she made efforts to see the dead baby, they told her it has been buried.
Asked if she had been gang-raped before, the minor said no, and alleged that while on the way to Benin City, the priest told her to say that she was gang-raped.
Police prosecutor, during remand proceedings, informed the court that there was a probable cause to order the remand of the priest.
However, the defence counsel applied for bail of the defendant, urging the court to exercise his disrection of bail in favour of the defendant, while citing Sections 13(3), 71(3), 72 and 73 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Law (ACJL) of Anambra State, 2022, as well as, Sections 35 and 36 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, as Amended.
He also prayed the court to grant bail to the priest in most liberal terms; assuring the court that the priest would never jump bail if granted.
But, in a vehement opposition to the bail application by the defence counsel, the police prosecutor prayed the court to refuse bail to the clergyman, stating that the case before the court was an offence against a minor who was supposedly under the spiritual guardianship of the defendant.
The prosecuting police officer emphasised that the defendant had since been suspended by the authorities of the Roman Catholic Church, noting that the claim that the defendant had serious health challenge to warrant being granted bail, was never certified by a qualified medical personnel, as required by the ACJL, 2022.
According to the police prosecutor, the defendant could jump bail and leave the country without standing his trial, if granted bail.
Ruling on the bail application, the presiding Chief Magistrate, Genevieve Osakwe, stated that the case before the court was an offence punishable with life imprisonment, regretting that the offence of rape against minors was becoming rampant in the society.
She warned that the court would not fold its hands to watch the society decay, irrespective of whose ox is gored.
The court gave numerous instances of similar offences which had appeared before it in the past, mentioning specifically, a case involving a-75 year old man who also allegedly raped a minor and was accordingly remanded.
In the light of the above stance and other submissions by the honourable court, on point-of-Law, the defendant, Rev. Fr. Stephen Nwaigwe was accordingly remanded in the Correctional Center, even as the court urged him to seek his bail at the High Court.
Meanwhile, the Presiding Chief Magistrate ordered the Prosecuting Police Officer to transmit the original case file to the office of the Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice of Anambra State.
She therefore adjourned the case to the 6th day of December, 2023, for report of compliance.