The religious group that calls itself Jehovah’s Witnesses are a very unique group in Christendom. They hold their church services on Saturdays, not Sundays. They do not sing the national anthems of the countries in which they live. They do not respect the country’s national flag. They hold themselves as outlaws and do not give to Caesar what is Caesar’s. They think that their duty is only to give to God what is God’s. But the problem is that, in their fanaticism, they have had clashes with municipal authorities in different parts of the world on corporate and even personal issues.
Recently, the family of Mr. and Mrs. Emmanuel Onokpise had to be rescued from ramping up pain and punishment for themselves.
The Office of the Public Defender (OPD) in Lagos State received a call from a Good Samaritan that a newborn baby’s life was being put at risk by the religious fanaticism of her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Emmanuel Onokpise. The baby girl weighed 2.2 kilogrammes as at birth. She was said to be jaundiced and anaemic. Doctors thought she needed blood transfusion. The parents, who are adherents of the Jehovah’s Witness Sect, did not want blood to be transfused into the body of their anaemic baby because blood transfusion is against their religious belief.
The Lagos State government, through the Office of the Public Defender, had to get a Court Order to enable them rescue the baby from possible death based on the irrational action of her fanatical parents.
Their action has set teeth on edge. Thanks to the Child Rights Convention and Child Rights Act, the Lagos State government was able to save the baby from the fanaticism of her parents. The state director, Office of the Public Defender in Lagos, Ms Olayinka Adeyemi, says that “when a child faces the threat of harm the state government has the authority to wade into it. We are not violating the family or parents’ right over their child because we have not assumed full responsibility for the care of the child but just to make sure that the child is in good condition. Nobody is interested in taking the child from her but no parent of a child can infringe on the rights of the child.”
The government of Lagos State receives full marks from this column for its responsible, human and compassionate approach to the matter without which the child’s life would have been put at grave risk by her irrational parents whose stance in the matter is a poke in the eye of reason.
I have had an encounter with these extremists who call themselves Jehovah’s Witnesses before. I was dressed to go to work one day and I saw them, a man a woman, standing in front of my gate. The man wore a dark suit, not finely cut the way those that the bankers wear are cut, but it was a suit. The lady wore a long dress, not a sexy one like the type you find at red carpet events, but it was a dress, a long one that covered everywhere from top to toe. I asked who they were. They answered, “Jehovah Witnesses.” I asked what they were doing in front of my house in the morning on a working day. They said they wanted to preach the gospel to me. I thought about the stupidity and the insanity of their request to someone who was trying to go out to work.
I told them that I had neither the time nor the intention of having a conversation with people who think blood transfusion is forbidden in the Bible because I found no such evidence in the Holy Book. These fellows rely on two verses in the Bible for their assertion. One is Genesis 9.4, which states: “You shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood.” That has nothing to do with blood transfusion. Nothing, absolutely nothing. The second portion that they quote is Acts 15:29. It states: “That you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what has been strangled.” Again, that has nothing, absolutely nothing, to do with blood transfusion.
By no stretch of interpretational circumlocution can any of the two verses be stretched to mean “Do not transfuse blood into anyone.” The reason that hospitals have blood banks is because people may need blood because of an accident that leads to bleeding or surgery or they are simply anaemic due to poor nutrition or some ailment that saps their blood. Patients may be given blood boosters but blood transfusion may still be needed in some cases. So, it is unreasonable, very unreasonable, to deprive a patient of the life-saving option of blood transfusion. It is even worse if the patient is a child, as in the case under discussion. If the parents are illiterate or educated but irrational, as in this case, the government has a duty to intervene in the best interest of the baby. In this case, the government has shown better wisdom and a better sense of compassion than the parents who are blinded by their fanaticism and would easily have allowed their child to die like a chicken.
A lot of people go to great lengths to get what is called “fruit of the womb.” Some resort to fasting and praying, fertility drugs and artificial insemination because a child is a prized property. When the child is born, they offer every bit of protection for the child to grow into a successful human being. That is an indication of how much they value the gift of a child to them by God. I do not intend to question how much value Mr. and Mrs. Emmanuel Onokpise placed on the life of their baby but it appears that their religious extremism was more important to them than the survival of their God-given baby. Perhaps, if they had to spend a lot of money searching for a baby, they would have shown more commitment to the baby’s survival and well-being than to their religious extremism. In any case, someone should tell them that, in the hierarchy of rights, the right to life (of their baby) is a higher right than their freedom of worship or their right to religiosity.
The fact that the baby is in no position to personally assert her right to life does not mean that that right does not exist. That right has been eminently defended for her by the Office of the Public Defender. We thank them. Every right in any society that is not vigorously defended has the potential to shrink, then wither and die. Fanatics of all hues are a danger to society. Boko Haram insurgents say that western education is evil yet they use the benefits of western education (guns, bullets, bombs, IEDs, etc) to defend their mad advocacy. The barbed wire of the issue is that it is fanaticism, not reason, that propels all fanatics to commit acts of irrationality and insanity. In doing so, they cannot, and do not, make any coherent and comprehensible attempt at wooing those who do not share in their weird belief system. They simply carry on as if they believe that the world must be in their corner, like it or not.
That is the audacity of idiocy, the temerity to think that the rest of the world are wrong and they right. And it is mainly children, women and the lowly placed in our society that easily become victims of fanaticism, cruelty and other forms of irrational behaviour. And, if they are not restrained by fairminded and public-spirited individuals and the state, they strive to become the society’s dominant influencer. They seek to make their narrative the dominant narrative.
All state governments in Nigeria that have not yet passed the Child Rights Act must do so as soon as possible. That way, they can prevent the rights of our children from being in rapid retreat due to the senselessness of the deviants in our society.