Wednesday, 24 April, 2024

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Reactions trail court judgment condemning Igbo custom on fatherhood


WHAT qualifies a man to lay claim to paternity of children born to him, according to Igbo custom and tradition? This contentious issue was triggered by a recent judgment of an Akure Magistrate Court which declared as “barbaric, evil and ungodly,” a part of Igbo custom which denied a father access to his children for reason of non-payment of bride price to the wife’s family.

Ruling on a divorce case between Prophet Theophilus Obayan and his estranged wife, Prophetess Chibuzor Lilian, Magistrate Segun Stephen Rotiba of Akure Magistrate Court, Ondo State, condemned that aspect of Igbo custom as unacceptable.

Prophet Obayan is a Yoruba while his estranged wife is Igbo. They were heads of a church located in Ladipo, Lagos State.

According to reports, Prophetess Chibuzor left her husband to marry one of his spiritual sons, Abua Obi, and changed her children’s surname from Prophet Obayan’s to Obi, the new husband on the grounds that Obayan, according to her, did not pay her bride price. She contented that Obi, her new husband, paid her bride price and therefore has the right to have the children bear his name in accordance with Igbo custom.

Granting Obayan’s prayers to dissolve the marriage and have custody of his four children, Magistrate Rotiba said: “I find the Igbo custom exuded by the respondent and her witnesses that the children of the union can bear Abua Obi as their surname, atavistic, barbaric, evil, ungodly, irrational, unsensational, crass, gross, crude, unwary, provocative, ungodly, discriminatory and insensible.

“The custom that tends to punish one person when two consenting adults are involved in the act is nothing but the highest element of insensitivity and servitude. I condemn this custom in the strongest terms.

“The Court hereby declares persona non grata, the custom of the Respondent (the woman) awarding paternal personality to a man who is not the biological father of the children.The Court hereby invalidates and renders null and void, the publication changing the surname of the 1st and 2nd children from Obayan to Abua Obi.”

SEV shares the reactions of gbo leaders and stakeholders:

Paying woman’s bride price qualifies a man to lay claim to paternity of children —Imo monarch

The traditional ruler of Umuneke-Nna Ugiri, in Isiala Mbano Local Government Area of Imo State, Eze Jude Onyenagbaru, said a man can lay claim to a child if only he pays the woman’s bride price. 

Said Eze Onyenagbaru: “Traditionally,  any child that his mother’s bride price was not paid, that relationship is illegal. What makes a man to claim a child is to pay all the marriage rites, most importantly, paying the bride price of the woman. If a man does not pay bride price, he cannot lay claim to a child from that woman.   

“It means that they are just in a friendly relationship not marriage; so, if you are in an ordinary relationship with a woman and she lives in your house, both of you continue to bear children, I want you to take note, any day you separate from her, that man cannot lay claim to the children.

“That woman will go with those children. One of the reasons is that it is only a woman that can say the truth who the father of her child is. So, in Igbo land, the only thing a man can do to claim a child is to pay the bride price of a woman. That is simple.  

 

“Once he pays, those children belong to him. Another thing, if a woman gets pregnant from another man, and another man comes to pay her bride price, what it means is that the man who paid her bride price can lay claim to that child,” the monarch said.

Fulfilling traditional formalities can qualify a man to the paternity of a child

The oldest man in Umuagu, Okija in Ihiala Local Government Area of Anambra State, Nze Nwabuikwu Okorafor explained that only a man who performed traditional marriage rites on a woman can lay claim to any child or children from that union.

He argued that a man has no right to a baby born out of marriage, which he said, is the reason people rush to perform marriage rights once they discover that the women they intend to marry had become pregnant.

He said: “The basic requirement in Igbo land is that once a man shows interest in a woman, he should start marriage formalities by first ‘knocking  on the door’ of the family of the woman.

“If this is not done and the woman becomes pregnant, the child does not belong to the man even if they are living together.

“Also, if by any chance the man wants to start the process of marriage ceremony when the woman is already pregnant, our custom is that the man should be asked to wait until the baby is delivered because we do not give out a pregnant woman in marriage.”

Okorafor said in occasions where a family decides that the daughter should stay to give the family children to ensure family continuity, the man responsible for the pregnancy can never lay claim to the child.

“So it is not in all situations that a man’s child belongs to him,” he said.

Only payment of bride price entitles one to claim paternity of children—Abia Community leader

A community leader in Aba North Council Area of Abia State, Chief Chukwuemeka Ogbugo, also said that only the payment of bride price and fulfilling of other marital rites entitle one to claim paternity of a child. He stated that a marriage cannot be validly contracted until the man fulfils the marital rites by visiting the woman’s family to pay her bride price.

Ogbugo insisted that any child produced through a relationship where a woman’s bride price is not paid, belongs to the woman’s family until such bride price and marital rites are fulfilled.

“What qualifies a man to claim ownership of a child or children is the payment of accepted bride price on the woman’s head and fulfillment of other marital rites which is specific to a defined area. Note that word “accepted” which means it was consensually accepted by the girl’s family. Now, any baby born in a man’s house when the woman’s bride price has not been paid is the woman’s father’s child, if the family of the girl accepts such.

“In Igbo land, nobody recognises you as an in-law until you pay a woman’s bride price and fulfill other marital rites. Even the woman cannot be legally recognised as a married woman anywhere.

“However, there are exceptional cases where the man after living with the woman and has children will later come to pay bride price and fulfill the marital rites. 

In Igbo custom, you have no genuine claim to a child if you didn’t pay the mother’s bride price; you are only seen as a male concubine until you pay the bride price. In fact, there is a saying in my area that a concubine has no claim to a child,” he explained.

Marriage is a contract in Igbo culture and the agreement is sealedupon payment of bride price —Prince Muo

Prince Christopher Muo, an Onitsha-based legal practitioner and Amauro Royal Prince in Okigwe, Imo State, explained that marriage is a contract in Igbo culture and the agreement is sealed upon payment of the bride price.

“So whoever paid the bride price and performed the marriage rites is the husband of the woman in question. Hence, when you marry a pregnant woman, the child is your own not the child of the “sperm donor.” It also removes the issue of bastard in the lineage.

“The man must have paid the woman’s bride price and performed all customary marriage rites in accordance with the custom of the Igbo community of the woman before the child is born. Failing which the man does not have a claim over the child born by the woman,” he said.

However, if the child whose mother got pregnant before her bride price was paid by another man grows up and discovers that the man who paid his mother’s bride price is not his biological father and decides to go for or follow his biological father, the person is at liberty to do so as a man in so far as the biological father acknowledges him as his son.

Marriage rite grants man ownership of child in Igbo land —Nze Amadi

The Nze of Obokwe, Obetiti Autonomous Community, Nguru, Aboh Mbaise Local Government Area of Imo State, Nze Collins Amadi, said a man is qualified as a father of a child in Igbo land if he has performed the marriage rites.

Amadi stated that the Igbo do not recognise a man who hasn’t performed marriage rites as a legitimate owner of a child.

He noted that the Igbo tradition gives room for a man who had a child outside marriage to approach the family of the woman for marriage rites in order to be recognised as the father of the child.

Amadi, however, submitted that the constitution of Nigeria will always prevail when in conflict with the tradition of any ethnic group within the country.

“A man who has not performed marriage rites is not recognised as a legitimate owner of a child in Igbo land.

“In fact, the Igbo tradition does not even recognise the child born outside marriage as a bonafide indigene of the community until marriage rites are performed.

“If a man has a child outside marriage, the Igbo tradition gives room for him to approach the family of the woman for consummation of marriage. Until he does this, the Igbo do not see him as the legitimate father of the child.

“However, the constitution of Nigeria will always prevail when in conflict with the tradition of any ethnic group within the country”, he stated.

Bequeathing a man’s children to another man would create problems for the children in future —Prof. Opata

The President of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Nsukka Local Government Area chapter, Prof. Damian Opata, however cautioned that bequeathing a man’s biological children to another man on the ground of non-payment of bride price would create problems for the children in future. Opata, a Professor of African Fiction, also said that any woman who lives under the same roof with a man and bears children for him cannot deny the man his children in moment of crisis even if the man has not paid her bride price.

“In some tradition, whenever a man impregnates a woman, whether married or unmarried, he owns the child. On the other hand, a woman can stay in her father’s house and bear children in the name of her family. That is, the children will belong to her father.

“However, when a girl leaves her father’s family and lives with a man, if she bears children, whether her pride price has been paid or not, the children belong to the man who made her pregnant. A woman cannot be living with a man and bearing children for the same man and she claims she is not married to him, what is she doing there?

“I agree with the court ruling because a woman cannot take ones biological children away on the ground that he has not paid her bride price.

Even if she succeeds in taking the children away by force, it would create problems fore the children  in future because people will tell them that the man they are staying with, assuming the woman wants to bequeath them to another man as was the case in that court ruling, is not their biological father.”

Credit: Vanguard News Nigeria

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