A Cry for Help

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Rebecca Ejifoma writes on the agony of a mother, Gift Esinwoke, whose two minor sons – aged eight and five – were allegedly snatched by her sister in-law, Mrs. Chinyere Isibor, with the support of Mr. Ugochukwu Esinwoke, Gift’s husband

A young mother of two and resident of Ikorodu area of Lagos, Mrs. Gift Esinwoke, is currently stranded. She seems to be standing alone in her battle to reunite with her children – Emmanuel and Nathan- aged eight and five since they were snatched from her in February this year before the lockdown.

Gift, who is calling for dire help from the state government, has accused her sister in-law, Mrs. Chinyere Isibor, of forcefully taking custody of her sons – the only family she has got and holding them captive at her Ikeja GRA residence with an alibi that she is incapacitated to care for her own children.

Marriage

She got married to Mr. Ugochuckwu Ejike Esinwoke, the only son of the Esinwoke’s family, on October 1, 2013. The union had two children, both male. Although the family eked out a living, Mr. Esinwoke is said to be solely dependent on his wealthy sister, whose generosity was described as undiluted, for his daily bread.

However, their jolly-good union allegedly hit a brick wall in the second week of February this year after she was striped of her sons on reasons that her husband was no longer interested in the marriage coupled with accusations that she was pregnant with another man’s child.

Ugochukwu was alleged to have solely eloped with the minors to his sister’s place in Ikeja without considering the emotional and mental effect of his decision on the mother and the children.

Separation from Sons
Gift, in a phone conversation with THISDAY, narrated what she termed her traumatic tale of woe in 2020.
While waiting patiently in the endless Lagos traffic, Gift was oblivious that her husband had premeditated his move with their sons.

“I went to the market that faithful day before the lockdown. I got trapped in traffic. Before I could get home, it was 3pm and the school bus had brought my children back. Their father, who was home to receive them, fled with them to his sister’s place”.
When I returned, I couldn’t find my children and my husband. So, I put a call across to my husband only for him to tell me that I will never see them again,” she cried over the phone.

Not sure she heard clearly what her husband said, she hit the road for her sister in-law’s home at Ikeja GRA to get her children. “My sister in-law told me I could go anywhere I like and report the matter, she will use her money and power to make sure I will never get my children back”.

Since the children were taken in February, her efforts to retrieve them have been fruitless. “I tried my best. Anywhere I went to complain, she would suppress with her money. It has been over five months now I have not been with my children.

“When I saw them, she had shaved their hair. I don’t know what she did with their hair. When I went there again to ask for my children, Mrs. Chinyere slapped me together with her children. I was beaten up and kicked out. They humiliated me in front of my children who were already crying to come to me”.

Alleged Death Threat
“My husband threatened that if I go asking after my children again that he would get me killed. I’m pleading and crying for help. I need my children back please,” she added.

“My children were forcefully taken away from me. I’m a mother yet live all by myself without my little boys. My sister in-law is saying that my husband is not interested in the marriage so they have taken my children because they are her father’s offspring. I can go to hell.”

Allegations of Infidelity
Reacting to the claim of her being pregnant for another man, Gift debunked it as a cooked up story to distract people. “I’m not pregnant. They cooked that story up to distract people”.

Recalling the light argument that ensued between her husband and her, she noted, “I started having problems with my husband when he took me to a micro finance bank to borrow some money – about N500,000. I signed for him. He collected the money then absconded. For two years, I suffered to repay that loan alone while taking care of the children.

“He only showed up out of the blue last year without anything. That was how our disagreement started. When I asked for the money, he beat me up and I was hospitalised for weeks. Only for him to say he will never give me back my children.”

She pleaded profusely for help. “Help me please, I’m an orphan. No one to help. Let them give me my children. I want my sons”.

Counter Accusation

Meanwhile, THISDAY contacted the sister in-law, who narrated her own side of the story and what led to the decision by Gift’s husband, her brother.

She said her brother accused Gift of infidelity and carrying another man’s pregnancy. She further accused Gift of stealing and imbibing uncultured and disturbing habits into the children, who are her father’s grand children and her blood.

In a telephone conversation on three different occasions and days, Mrs. Chinyere Isibor recalled, “I’ve never been to her house. I didn’t bring the children here. Yes, her children are in my house but it is their father, my brother, that brought them to my house. I didn’t even want to keep them here”

She continued: “One day, her husband came to us and said his wife was pregnant. Their children are aged eight and six. He said since the last child was born six years ago, his wife had not allowed him sleep with her; no conjugal relationship. This was either March or April.”

Chinyere told THISDAY how she had been the brain behind their survival. “I’ve been the one responsible for their upkeep since they got married: paid their house rent; children’s school fees; and put them on full medical coverage. I’m like a guardian to them because my brother is the only son. He is not doing well financially. So, I said because of these boys and the pressure from my mum, I take those responsibilities to ensure that even she, Gift, is okay”.

She continued, “When he told us she was pregnant, we said okay. He urged us to call and invite Gift. I did a text to her congratulating her on her pregnancy. She didn’t reply. Not too long I changed my mind and deleted the message.”

“I sent her another message to come see me. When my brother came the next day, he asked if I told the wife to come and see me, I replied yes. My husband advised me to tell her to come see me the next day. I did. Gift replied okay, ma. She didn’t come.”

According to the sister in-law, everybody knows in the family, and the church that Gift and her husband don’t have the capacity to raise the boys. “These children are boys. Gift herself doesn’t tell the truth, she steals from my house. The children learnt those things. She would take my bedsheets, clothes and my children’s slippers. We don’t want to escalate it because of family.”

Noting that her home is where children don’t lie, she emphasised, “My son is 30 years old. My first daughter is getting married. We are Christians and ministers. What my husband told her was to go and call her family members. “Let’s have a meeting so that we can help you raise these boys because of tomorrow”.

Chinyere’s says she meant only good for them. “We explained to her what we want to do for her boys. I’m not interested in whether you are sleeping with your husband or not. You people met yourselves and chose yourselves, but these children are my father’s seed. My brother is the only son and I don’t want these children to be like their father or go through what he’s going through. Let them stay here with us, go to school from here then come and take them every weekend so they can stay with you. She refused”.

She said her husband even told Gift they would open a shop for her, pay the rent but let the children be well raised. “You know it yourself that you don’t have the ability to train these children so that they can be responsible. You don’t want to raise thugs or people that will end up in prison or just irresponsible in life. Their father is not particularly responsible. That’s the truth. He’s been struggling.

“Two of them have been irresponsible with money. I’ve opened a business of about N3m at Alade market, she ran it down. I advised her to enter into services. I gave someone N650,000. They went to Gorodon, bought plates, cutlery and glasses. I said start a rental business, she didn’t go to that shop for three days and I paid three years rent. I did tiles, did burglary. She didn’t go there. She didn’t want to work.

“She just wants to keep the children as her meal ticket. They do TV adverts because they are handsome boys. She bleaches them, dyes their hair, and I asked her what she was doing to the children. Since they have been in my house, their natural hair has come out. The little boy used to have boils breaking out all over his body all the time. Now, you won’t see any boil.

She however acknowledged, “for me, that’s not enough reason to separate them from their mum because the children need emotional stability. They brought a mediator, and I’ve explained to the mediator that it is because of the children. When they open school they will go back to their mum, but while they are here let her come here, even if she wants to come here every single day.”

Stating that the children were happy at her place, she added, “Let me tell you the truth, the children are happy here. But they also want their mum. They just want to see her not to go home with her. I’ve told the children that their mummy will come and see them”.

Chinyere further recounted how Gift’s eight years old told her daughter’s fiancé that he didn’t want to go home, that if he went he would become a bad boy. “This is the truth before God and man. The children have seen the difference. If she wants to take,let her come and take, I’m tired. I’m doing her a favour.

“I’ve told my brother that let Gift take the children during school so she can have more days with them. Let them stay and go to school with her from Monday to Friday, Friday evening they should bring them so that whatever it is we have fellowship. My first son is a youth pastor. He teaches them God’s word every night.

“I have told my brother, I don’t want to punish Gift. I’m not God. I don’t want to take her children from her. I want her to be able to enjoy her children, but enjoying your children without 20 years in view is short sightedness,” she expressed.

Ongoing Legal Intervention
Reacting to the case of Gift and her sister in-law, the Vice Chairman NBA Ikorodu Branch, Mrs. Seun Adekoya, who heads the committee on domestic violence and child abuse, who was helping Gift with the case, affirmed the case to THISDAY.

“Gift lives in Ikorodu. We have been on this case since March. The sister in-law is crying more than the bereaved. We have been to so many places, State, command, gender unit, Ikeja Area F, still she refused. Thank You cannot cry more than the bereaved. This woman has suffered. I’m ready to go with her anywhere. They should give her back her children”.

Recalling what transpired at a scene, “I remember what DPO told the sister in-law three weeks ago, ‘You can’t cry more than the bereaved. Their biological mother is alive. The father is around. You are a third party. If you want to assist them in any form, give it to the mother’.”

Breaking the silence that Chinyere already has six children, “Why should you take the two belonging to another person to add to yours, leaving the woman without a child? You have a younger brother that packed out of the house. You just threw this woman out on the streets without her children and nothing. That is why we are crying for help”.

The advocate lamented: “We would have gone to court if court was open. Whatever her reason is does not matter. You make your younger brother, her husband very irresponsible. Give the children to their mother. Whatever you can do to assist as an elder sister you can do it, but not take them away from her.”

On the allegations the Chinyere and her children pounced on Gift mercilessly, the lawyer affirmed. “Oh yes. I am aware. I have been following the case. She was beaten up. We invited the sister in-law several times with series of text messages but she never did. When we visited her estate with some police officers, come and see what the police faced before they got into her estate.”

When THISDAY contacted the state Police Public Relations Officer, SP Bala Elkana, he said he was not aware of the case.