Rev. Fr. Nwaigwe Stephen, a Catholic priest from Anambra state, has been taken into custody on suspicion of raping and impregnating a teenage girl.
The priest will remain behind bars until December 6, 2023, according to a decision made over the weekend by the Anambra State Chief Magistrates’ Court, popularly known as the Children, Sexual and Gender-Based Violence Court.
Moreover, Anaedoonline.ng has learned that the court has directed the prosecutor to forward the original case file to the Anambra State Commissioner for Justice and Attorney General’s office.
The pregnant minor was taken by force to Benin City, Edo State, by the priest, who is also accused of raping her. This occurred after the girl gave birth. Nonetheless, police inquiries have shown that the baby’s whereabouts remain unknown.
The Child’s Rights Law of Anambra State, 2004 states that the cleric’s act of having sex with a minor is illegal under section 34(2).
In 2018, Nwaigwe was banished from the popular Catholic faith-based religious congregation in Orlu, Imo State, called Two Hearts of Love Congregation (Ugwu Nso). The reason for his expulsion was his claimed misbehaviour that damaged the order’s standing.
The adolescent was reportedly invited to a religious church function at St. Albert the Great Catholic Church Parish in Obosi, Anambra State, where the priest first met him.
The victim stated during Monday, November 20, 2023, remand proceedings that the priest had taken her from her parents and brought her to live with him when she was 14 years old, promising to sponsor her education while she equally served as his cook.
She said that shortly after moving into the priest’s home, he began coercing her into having intercourse with him, and that he persisted in the behaviour until she became pregnant at the age of 17.
The minor went on to say that after telling the priest she was pregnant, the priest drove her from their home in Ihiala, Anambra State, to a location in Benin City, Edo, where they resided. There, the priest introduced her to a man and a woman who were his brother and his brother’s wife.
“But when I gave birth to my baby at a native birth attendant’s house in Benin City, I was told that the baby died, and when I made efforts for them to show me the dead baby, they said the baby had been buried,” the minor reportedly said.
The minor said, “While on our way to Benin City, father told me to say that I was gang-raped,” in response to the court’s question about her prior experiences being raped by gangs. However, other from the rapes I suffered at the hands of my father, I had never before been raped.
Additionally, the police prosecutor told the court throughout the remand process that there was probable cause to order the priest’s detention and that witnesses were required to appear before the High Court to provide testimony anytime the issue was brought up.
Nonetheless, the defence attorney requested the defendant’s bail, pleading with the court to carry out his bail directive in the defendant’s favour. The defence cited Sections 35 and 36 of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, as amended, as well as Sections 13(3), 71(3), 72, and 73 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Law (ACJL) of Anambra State, 2022.
In addition, he begged the court to give the priest the broadest possible bail, promising that Nwaigwe would never violate the terms of the bond if it were granted.
However, the police prosecutor asked the judge to deny the clergyman’s request for bail, arguing that the offence in question was against a juvenile who was purportedly under the defendant’s spiritual protection.
The Chief Magistrate, Genevieve Osakwe, expressed sadness that the crime of rape against kids was becoming more common in society while ruling on the bail motion. She added that the matter before the court was one that carried a life sentence.
She issued a warning, saying that no matter whose ox was gored, the court would not stand by and watch while society fell apart.
The court offered other examples of similar acts that had previously come before it, citing particularly a case involving a 75-year-old man who was remanded after it was alleged that he had raped a juvenile.
Consequently, she postponed the case to December 6, 2023.
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