• Naval officer demolishes stepmother’s house, claims she’s not legally married to his father
• Ebonyi govt wades in amid discordant voices
Wilson Okereke, Afikpo
A 45-year-old mother of seven children, Mrs. Nnennaya Okorie, from Mgbom community of Ugwulangwu in Ohaozara Local Government Area of Ebonyi State is currently in a quandary. This is because one of her stepsons, a naval officer, on August 23, 2020, allegedly stormed their premises and demolished her two-rooms-and-parlour apartment, declaring that their father’s insistence on raising a polygamous family cannot stand.
While the woman and her children have remained homeless since then, her case has been compounded by stories making the rounds about her marriage: that she is not legally married to the late Okorie Anoh. It was alleged that she did not formally divorce her previous husband, one Okoro Chukwu with whom she had her first two children before getting entangled with the late Anoh for whom she bore additional five children. The action taken by the naval officer, Ogonnaya Anoh and some of his siblings is said to be in line with their earlier resistance to their father’s decision to accommodate and run a polygamous homestead while alive.
My story, by devastated widow
Narrating her ordeal, the distressed woman disclosed that her relationship with her late husband who happened to be her former teacher in primary four, started in 2004 when the man impregnated her outside wedlock, a development which truncated her education career. When her parents and other relatives noticed what happened and wanted to take action, the man, in his wisdom to douse the situation, rushed to her parents’ compound alongside his brother, Mr. Moses Anoh and requested for her hand in marriage.
According to the woman, following several visits made by the teacher and some of his kinsmen to her family, the marriage was approved and later consummated. “After my parents agreed with my husband, he further requested that I remain with them to enable him make provision for a separate abode for me so that rivalries commonly found between co-wives will be curtailed,” she recounted. “My parents also accepted his plea and kept me till 2008 when he finally took me to his home. But before then, I had already given birth to another baby besides the product of the first pregnancy courtesy of the same man, Mr. Okorie Anoh.”
She said that on her arrival at her husband’s home, she began to face all manners of maltreatment from her co-wife, Mrs. Mgborie Anoh and her eight children. Because of the cat- and-mouse relationship between the two wives, the deceased whom she said was not comfortable with the situation went out of the family compound to build a living apartment for her. But he encountered stiff resistance from the naval officer and his siblings who stormed the site and stopped the ongoing work.
She said she reported the matter several times to the village leadership under Mr. Moses Ajah Nwigwe who, after investigating, appealed to the alleged oppressors to leave her alone especially as the marriage had been legalized. According to her, about five years ago, the man went farther from their home and built a house for her, without knowing that his children from his first wife had not stopped their agitation against having a step-mother, let alone stepbrothers or sisters.
She said that for some years afterward she experienced relative peace after the structure was built until that fateful morning when the naval officer reportedly arrived with a Hilux van fully loaded with naval ratings and pulled down the house, four months after the death of her husband. “It was precisely four months after my husband’s death that Ogonnaya brought the people who destroyed my house after evacuating my belongings, including a motorcycle,” she said. “Before the outbreak of COVID-19, he had brought a large number of policemen from Police headquarters, Zone 2, Lagos State, who came to the village to arrest Chief David Uke and Mr. Okoroafor Igboke for daring to stand up against them over the maltreatment meted out to me.”
Alleged traducers, community leaders react
In his account, the village head, Nwigwe confirmed that the victim had reported the matter to their union and upon their mediation, the children of the first wife were advised to accommodate the distraught woman and her children since it had been their father’s wish to have an extended family before his death. He expressed surprise and disappointment that the naval officer could despise the intervention of Mgbom people, and go ahead to destroy his stepmother’s house without considering what would be the fate of her little children. The village secretary, Mr. Okoroafor Igboke and Chief David Uke, a stakeholder who were reportedly arrested and taken to Police Zone 2, Lagos State, over the same issue confirmed to Saturday Sun, respectively, of both their awareness of the case and their ordeals. According to them, they had previously looked into the matter and discovered that the woman had not committed any offence against her stepsons as to deserve such inhumane treatment.
Their words: “The same Ogonnaya and his siblings had arrested and taken us to Lagos State over the matter. But after the AIG of Police in charge of the zone found out that the issue was a family crisis, we were released on bail while police investigation continued. We had advised the accused persons to let go of their grievances and give the woman some sense of belonging. But surprisingly, they went and hired thugs who destroyed the woman’s house.”
Another community leader, Chief Idika Okoro, said that the people of the area were already relaxed about the issue with the hope that peace had been finally restored in Okorie Anoh’s family before Ogonnaya suddenly stormed the village with a large number of soldiers and miscreants and demolished the woman’s living quarters.
The village was deserted when our correspondent visited as many people took refuge in neighbouring villages for fear of being attacked while the victim and her children were still homeless. The naval officer who spoke to our reporter through his counsel, Ogbonnaya Nwani, tagged the allegations against him spurious and non-existent, adding that he is in possession of a strong documentary evidence to back up his claim.
He said: “Nnennaya Okorie Anoh as people labelled her has a husband who is a staff of Ohaozara LGA in the person of Mr. Okoro Chukwu Owutu, an indigene of Amaegbu village in Ugwulangwu. This is the man who married her and performed all the customary rites of marriage but the woman being whom she is, jumped board and became a mistress to many people.”
According to the lawyer, there was already a subsisting verdict stating that the woman’s five children belong to Mr. Chukwu Owutu, which no one had appealed in any court. This, he said, is a proof that the woman was not married to the late Okorie Anoh.
“A situation whereby one is only warming the bed and fails to fulfill customary rites, all the children born as a result of the illegal affair automatically belong to the suitor who had paid the bride price and other intricacies. This is our tradition in Ugwulangwu”, he explained
On the alleged demolition of the woman’s house, he said that his client was not there when it happened. He insists that his client neither recruited anybody nor saw the woman on the fateful day “Before now a version of the allegation said that the woman was beaten up by the naval officer while another has it that Ogonnaya did not come in person but sent some persons,” he said.
Nwani further said that his client and siblings never displayed any act of violence in spite of the fact that some stakeholders involved in the traditional Alternative Dispute Resolution had, according to him, made themselves the accusers, witnesses and judges in the case and because of that, his client was requesting for a neutral body to look into the matter.
All the same, the puzzle remains as to how Okoro Chukwu Owutu could have given birth to the first two children while the woman is claiming that her former teacher was the father of all her children. Our investigation revealed that the said Chukwu Owutu whom tradition conferred paternity of the children on may not have impregnated the woman but allegedly married her at a point while she lived with her parents, together with her first two kids.
Another twist to the case: the former Vice Chairman of Ebonyi State Traditional Rulers’ Council who hails from the area, Eze Romanus Iyioku, said that the older children of the late Okorie Anoh had admitted responsibility for the destruction of the property because of their claim that the woman was occupying a piece of land earlier given to them by their father. But when asked about the paternity of the children, he said that the first two children of the woman belonged to her first husband while the last five were born by late Anoh.
He explained that since the legality of the marriage between the woman and the deceased had not been proved beyond reasonable doubt, it was against their tradition for the said five children to be claimed by a man who did not legally marry “an already married woman.” Based on the foregoing, the community urged Okoro to claim the paternity of all the children but he, unfortunately, rejected the idea and insisted on laying claim only to the first two children whom he said belong to him.
“Traditionally, all the children belong to the former husband who had performed the marriage rites over the woman but since the man had rejected the idea on the basis that he is not the real father of the rest five, there is nothing that we could do again than to keep on appealing to the two parties to exhibit tolerance so that the problem can be solved”, the traditional ruler stated.
Ebonyi State government wades in
In the meantime, the Ebonyi State government has ordered the accused persons to build another house for the poor woman. The Commissioner for Internal Security Border Peace and Conflict Resolution, Stanley Emegha said that government’s finding indicates that the destruction of the said structure was masterminded by the victim’s stepsons hence the accused persons were directed to erect another house for her and her children.
Emegha’s words: “Though the naval officer had denied being responsible for the action, rather he mentioned one of his brothers as being in the vanguard, through the man’s body language coupled with the fact that his sibling being a civilian lacks the capacity to attract the presence of soldiers during the demolition, one could deduce what happened. So, we told him bluntly that the state governor through my office has instructed them to replace the damaged property with another one.”
On the argument over the paternity of the children, the Commissioner disclosed that after he found out that the community wanted to handle the issue in accordance with their tradition, he instructed the traditional ruler, Eze Iyioku, to take care of it.