THE story sounded bizarre, almost like a work of fiction, but it was true. Citizen Julie Okwudili, stolen at birth 20 years ago, was recently reunited with her biological parents, namely Michael Okwudili, a professor of educational planning and his wife, Mrs Gloria Okwudili–both are natives of Ogbunike in Oyi local government area of Anambra State— in the most extraordinary of circumstances. According to the report, Mrs Okwudili was short-changed during the birth of her twin babies at a private clinic in Enugu, Enugu State, on July 18, 2002. She gave birth to a son and a daughter but, she alleged, the operators of hospital connived to deprive her of her daughter.
Narrating her pains during the delivery of her babies, Mrs Okwudili said: “When they laid me on top of the delivery bed, I was so weak but I had a strong spirit. In that room, it was only Dr. Oguannua and Nurse Eucharia Udeh. At some point, Udeh climbed on me. I was like, ‘what is happening?’…The nurse was pressing my stomach. Then she disappeared and I was left with Dr Oguannua. When I wanted to get up, the doctor shouted ‘Lie down, your placenta hasn’t come out!” I started praying and shouting and they were asking me to push. After some time, I felt relieved and the excruciating pains I was having suddenly disappeared and they asked me to get up. Not quite long, Nurse Udeh brought a baby and told me ‘this is your son.’ I named him Nzubechukwu, meaning God’s will. Before Nurse Udeh left, they asked me to push and I know I pushed. I also pushed another one, and all the pains disappeared in my body.”
As a Nigerian proverb says, a lie may be in motion for 20 years, but truth will catch up with it one day. Julie, a student of the Alex Ekwueme Federal University, Ebonyi, had gone to a shop located at Thinkers Corner, Enugu, a few poles away from her residence to learn hairdressing in March 2021, but her life was about to change. The landlord of her boss, who coincidentally had her shop next to the hairdressing salon, was her real mother. Because of the striking resemblance between Julie and Mrs Okwudili, visitors to the shops began asking probing questions. And Mrs Okwudili was struck by the fact that Julie had the same kind of eye defect as her son. Over to Mrs Okwudili: “On July 7, 2022, the girl came to our house herself and we went for the DNA test. In September, two months after the test, my husband called me in the night that the DNA test was out. He said ‘I, Okwudili Michael, am the biological father of Juliet. So Juliet Okwudili is our biological daughter, 99.99 per cent.’”
Juliet’s foster mother reportedly had a document attributed to the Red Cross Society, Imo State branch, showing that she legally adopted the girl, but the manager of the Red Cross motherless babies’ home, one Mrs Ugochukwu Okosisi, dismissed it for having no reference number. The Imo State Ministry of Women Affairs also had no record of the adoption. Ben Amaefule, a director in the Ministry, was quoted as saying: “We don’t have a record of such adoption with the ministry. If the woman claimed that she adopted a child through this ministry, she should produce the documents given to her by this ministry and the adoption order from the court.”
If this story illustrates anything, it is the power of science and technology. Properly deployed, science and technology can help to unravel tricky questions and situations. It is said that DNA tests conducted on parents taking their children abroad have broken some homes, as uncomfortable truths were discovered. Truth has no other name and if science and technology help to expose it, that is a positive development for the society. Were it not for DNA technology, any suggestion that the Okwudilis are the biological parents of Citizen Julie would have remained at the level of conjecture. Happily, however, that question has been laid to rest, giving the Enugu State government and its Imo counterparts a solid basis to unravel the circumstances that led to her separation from her biological parents 20 years ago. While accusing no specific persons of connivance, we think that the government should be interested in matters like this. Orphanages and foster homes must be properly regulated so that the dirty business of baby factories/child trafficking is combated to a standstill. Surely, if anyone claims to have adopted a child, there must be valid documents to back that claim up. In all likelihood, this is a story of child theft and we urge the government to find out who the perpetrators are.
This story speaks to the apparent shoddy processes of adoption and regulation of maternities and hospitals in the country. It is striking that the pretending parents could not provide convincing evidence of how Juliet came to be with them. We expect the government to get to the root of this story and use it to put in place more effective surveillance and oversight over the way hospitals and maternities are run and how children are adopted. This will help to stop the wave of child trafficking in the country. If investigations prove conclusively that this is a case of child theft, the alleged criminals should be punished to the full extent of the law to dissuade others from planning or embarking on such dastardly venture.
We sympathise with Juliet and her real parents for being victims of a heinous crime and wish them well as they try to reconstruct their lives on the strength of their fortunate reunion.