After five years of intense battle over the custody of little Samuel, whose mother, Juliet Osuchukwu, died in 2015 following a caesarean section in Lagos, peace has returned to the warring families.
The family of Chief Godwin Osuchukwu, from Onuimo Local Government Area (LGA), and that of Mr. Princewill Njoku, who hails from Umudiagba Abajah, in Nwangele LGA, both in Imo State, had been fighting to secure the custody of the boy, who is now five years old.
Daily Sun had reported in September 2017 that Juliet, a graduate of Marketing from Imo State University, Owerri, died while giving birth at a medical facility in Festac, Lagos, in 2015. She was 31.
Before her demise, Princewill Njoku had visited her family in Lagos to declare his intention to marry the lady, but was told to go to her hometown, Okwe, as the Igbo tradition demanded. As reported, Njoku went to the village to perform the marriage introduction, but was asked to suspend further activities until Juliet, who was four months pregnant then, was delivered of her baby. It was explained that the Igbo tradition did not permit the conduct of a marriage ceremony while the bride was pregnant.
Unfortunately, she died in childbirth, but the baby boy survived.
Controversy then ensued over who should take custody of the baby. The baby was then taken from the hospital by his maternal grandfather, Chief Godwin Osuchukwu, for better care, as the pregnancy/foetus was just seven months old at the point of birth.
Three months after the death of Juliet, Njoku allegedly demanded custody of the child, but was denied. The deceased’s family insisted that he had not completed the traditional marital obligations before the woman passed on. Njoku was said to have insisted that he married his late wife according to Igbo tradition and also buried her as a good husband.
It was also reported that, after all efforts to get custody of the baby failed, Njoku claimed that Osuchukwu planned to travel out with Samuel without his consent. He thereafter petitioned the Lagos State government, Lagos State Police Command, National Agency for Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons and other Related Matters (NAPTIP), and the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) against Osuchukwu. He accused the deceased’s father of kidnapping, abducting and selling Samuel for ritual. He was also accused of renaming the child.
But Osuchukwu described the allegations as false, malicious, frivolous, unfounded and unfortunate. He said the child in question was his grandson, noting that his family handled their daughter’s antenatal care and general upkeep while she was pregnant.
“There is no way someone will come up with the allegation that I kidnapped, abducted, changed Samuel’s name or sold him for ritual. When my daughter was pregnant, she had openly said that, if she delivered a baby boy, he would be named Samuel. So, the name Samuel was given to him by his mother. We also gave him ‘Ndidi’, his mother’s native name, in order to immortalise her.
“But Princewill was going round saying that the boy’s name was Kayomikun, a year after he was born. I objected that my grandchild would never bear such name, after the death of my daughter. Meanwhile, judging by the meaning of the name, it shows Princewill is happy that my daughter died.”
Osuchukwu claimed he had withdrawn all court cases instituted against Njoku, explaining that he was no longer interested in the matter.
He said, “At a stage, I was not comfortable with the way the case was being handled. I was going to the court with the child, until I was ordered by the court to take him to a welfare centre and I objected. I told the magistrate that my family was capable of taking good care of the child, even when Princewill, who claimed to be his father, agreed. The order to take the child to the welfare centre was given on a Thursday and, by Friday, we petitioned the authorities and there was a stay of execution of the order. Thereafter, it was set aside.”
He explained that, thereafter, Njoku was advised to put up a petition against him at the Lagos State Police Command, where he was accused of kidnapping, abducting and selling the child for ritual.
“Then, the police invited me through a phone call, and I reported at the X-Squad of the state command on June 22, 2017. After looking into the matter, the police said the matter had nothing to do with such allegations, and acknowledged that every tribe has its own culture and traditions that guide them. The police, therefore, advised that we should leave the police and court out of the matter. They later came to my house on investigation,” he said.
On the issue of bench warrant given to Osuchukwu, he stated that as a claimant in the case, after he agreed to settle out of court, he asked his lawyer to withdraw the case, but he did not. He said that he also changed the lawyer and asked the new one to withdraw the matter, but the magistrate refused to grant his application.
His words: “That was when I concluded that I was no longer safe. Later, they came up with a bench warrant for my refusal to take the child to the welfare centre, and they started harassing me. I insisted that my grandchild should not be taken to the welfare centre when my wife and I were alive.
“I later engaged another lawyer who advised us to embrace peace and settle out of court, since the boy was growing, and we agreed to withdraw all cases in court because, if we continue, it may affect the future of the boy.”
The family of Osuchukwu then decided to formally hand Samuel over to the Njoku family.
Speaking after the handover in Lagos, Osuchukwu said his family did it for peace to reign, noting that he was of the belief that the boy would gradually learn to cope with living with the new family.
“Aside from my stand that Princewill has not completed the marriage requirement, the most important thing to me has been the survival of the boy. Now we have released him, without being mandated by any court or anyone to do so. It is purely our family decision,” he said.
The grandfather expressed satisfaction that peace has returned after years of disagreement. But he demanded to always have access to the boy.
He said: “After everything, Princewill came to my house with someone and gave me packs of fruit juice to thank me. I appreciated them also and gave him the child’s property that we bought. I told him to always bring the boy to me at least once in two months, to know how he is faring. But since that day, he has not brought the boy.”
He appealed to the Attorney-General, Lagos State Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) and Commissioner of Police in Lagos as well as his deputy to urge Princewill to ensure that the welfare of the child was not treated with levity.
He believed that both families could train the child better when they join hands to do so.
In his reaction, Njoku gave glory to God that peace reigned at last. He said he actually got the child back without struggling.