A Mother’s Pain

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Rebecca Ejifoma writes about the pains of Mrs. Seluona Ubebe, a mother of three, who has been separated from her kids since 2018 after their father allegedly denied her access to them, thus breaching the terms of their joint custody, although he argued that there is a pending appeal on the case

Listening to her pleas and pitiful narration, I reminisced an excerpt from Buchi Emecheta’s “The Joy’s of Motherhood” where the protagonist, Nnu Ego, soliloquises, “If you don’t have children, the worrying will kill you. Once you have children, the worrying will kill you”. Although it sounds ridiculous to some, it holds some truism.

This, in a way, was the situation playing out in the case of Mrs. Seluona Ubebe, a graduate of English and Literature, who got married to Victor Nordi, a lawyer, in 1998 in Lagos. Although she is a proud mother of three children, the worry to reunite with them is gradually ripping her peace of mind.

In an exclusive interview with THISDAY, she poured out her heavy heart, as she regaled how the ex-husband, picked up the children up for a long vacation in 2018 but never brought them back till date and allegedly refused her access.

Marriage

After THISDAY read her story on Instagram in the early hours of Tuesday September 1, this reporter was assigned to swing into action and hear from both parties – Ubebe and Nordi.

In a telephone interview with the downcast mother, she recounted, “We got married on October 2, 1998 at the Surulere Registry in Lagos. We did the native law and custom the following year.”

Allegations of Domestic Violence

She continued, “I didn’t move in with him until the following year, 1999. Soon after I started living with him he started showing signs of violence which I didn’t see in our four years of courtship. I was in school, so I didn’t see him all the time. Maybe it was part of the reasons it was easy for him to pretend about his real character.”

Shortly after marriage, she alleged, “he began to hit me at the slightest provocation. At first, he would apologise that he was sorry, it was a mistake, it was the devil, he wouldn’t do it again. Before I knew what was going on, it became a full-blown kind of beating, like beating me to a pulp. I would have injuries all over my body. This continued up almost until almost 10 years into the marriage”.

Initial Separation

Ubebe said she was no longer down with the violence and pitiful apologies. Rather than be carried on shoulders by able-bodied men, she defied the marital vow – ‘Till death do us part’ and left on her own two feet. “One day I just couldn’t take it anymore. I ran away. This was in 2006. My kids, twin boys, were just four years old at the time. I left for Lagos. I was in Lagos for a year”.

According to her, Nordi showed remorse. “He came begging throughout the one year. He said he was sorry, he had changed. It was the Devil. He got a lot of people on the phone, pastors inclusive, to beg me nonstop. He said he had repented and promised that all of those violence would never happen again.
I didn’t believe him because for over 10 years I had seen so much. On one of those visits, because he used to come visit then in Lagos at this time we had moved to Abuja. So, I ran to Lagos to my family.

“I allowed him visit the children freely and come around them. On one of his visits when he realised that he had been pleading for a year and I was not ready to change my mind and come back to him, he came to visit as usual and pretended he wanted to take the children out to eat at the eatery. That was how he took the children, who were age four at the time, and ran to Abuja in 2007.”

Brief Reunion

Few months after being away from her children, Ubebe looked back. “After a few months in Lagos, the mother of three continued, I just couldn’t cope. I knew I needed to be in the lives of my kids, who were age four. For their sakes, I decided to go back even though I knew that all his pleadings that he had changed may not really be true. I didn’t want them to stay on their own or be at the mercy of maybe another woman who would maltreat them. I went back in 2007”.

Having decided to give the marriage a second chance, Ubebe stayed with him again until finally in 2016. “He did not change at all. Everything he promised he was going to do did not happen. He would not only beat me, he forbade me from working. I’m a university graduate, I could not work because of this man.

“He kept claiming he would set me up in business, which he never intended to do. He just wanted me to sit in the house, go nowhere. If I’m a housewife, at least be responsible for majority of my needs. He was not even providing to the extent I would say okay I’m satisfied not working.”

Second Separation

In 2016, Ubebe threw in the towel on the marriage. “I couldn’t even understand his aim of my not working was all about other than his ego that was at play here. I just couldn’t take it anymore. At this time around, my kids were older. I had another one, a third child. All three of us left for Lagos. I made up my mind that nothing was going to make me come back. I finally left in April 2016 when nothing changed at all. In fact, things got worst. Since then I have not returned to him.”

Breach of Joint Custody

In 2018, the mother continued, “because the court had given us joint custody over the children, he came under the pretext of coming to pick them for a long vacation. He said they would spend just two months with him and come back to resume school in Lagos in September. Instead of returning them in September, till now he has not returned the children since July 27, 2018.”

Now, the twins are 18 and the last one is nine – all boys. “All through the period he stayed with the children, a few times he allowed me to talk to them on phone. He would put them on the phone and say, ‘Talk to the kids’.”

On some occasions, she said more often than not, “he has not allowed me to talk to them. Whenever I call him sometimes to talk to them, because he changed their sim cards so I can only reach them through him and can’t see them, I must call his line.
On some occasions he would pick his call and allow me talk to them. On some occasions, he would not pick his calls. This has been going on for the longest time. It’s such a problem that I can’t even see my kids. I can’t correspond or relate with them”.

Recent Efforts at Reunion

To reunite with her kids, the graduate of English and Literature took a bold step in 2020. “So, in February this year I came to Abuja. I spoke to him that I haven’t seen my kids in a long time and I wanted to see them. At first he said no problem I could come see the children. Suddenly, the lockdown happened.”

Speaking further, Ubebe said, “After the lockdown, I called him again that I was coming to Abuja. He changed his mind that I should hold on, he would let me know when. He has been playing all these mind games with me for a long time. He would say hold on I’m not ready yet or he is about to travel. He won’t call me. Sometimes he would take his calls and other times he wouldn’t.”

While airing her displeasure to THISDAY, she recalled that recently her estranged hubby stopped taking her calls, hence, she hit the road. “So I decided okay, let me come to Abuja and look for my children anyhow. That’s why I came. I was able to locate his house after making enquiries. I got there, and met the security man, who didn’t let me in. I called him, he didn’t answer. I did a text to him, he didn’t reply. The security man told me the children were in but I couldn’t see them without their father’s permission.

“He goes through their phones. I can’t communicate with them directly on their own phone. He has an office in that house. He is always home. There was a time I was talking to them on phone, he found out and changed their sim. He seized their phones for many months but gave them later with new sims. He rules them like a military general. He doesn’t realise that they are old enough to know better.”

When asked if no family member had tried to mediate, she replied with a sigh, “If you understand who this man is – he is a bully. He bullies the family to the extent that he bullies his mother so much that she can’t open her mouth to say this is what I want you to do”.

Mr. Nordi’s Defence, Threats

Meanwhile, in a call to Nordi for his own side of the story, this reporter got an earful. He responded at the top of his coerced voice coupled with threats to come after this reporter.

When asked to hear his own side of the story in order to get a balance the report on the allegations leveled against him, he roared, “Yes, what can I do for you?” his response to the name of the reporter, and a crime journalist with THISDAY, “Excuse me! I’m driving. I’m driving. You are flashing (beeping) me. I expected you to have texted me. “Yes, what do you want from me?” he quickly interrupted the apologies and possible explanations of calls and not flash.

Indeed, this reporter had called twice before finally connecting through. In the first call, Nordi said “Hello!” repeatedly. The second time, he picked the call, as this reporter kept saying hello but no response. After a while, this reporter called again, and he answered then accused her of flashing (beeping).

He yelled at the top of his voice, “Allegations! Allegations! Against me or who?” he queried. “Go ahead and publish. Go ahead and publish. I’m a lawyer. I’m not afraid of that. If you go ahead and publish what you cannot substantiate, I will respond accordingly. Go ahead and publish. If you publish the truth I’ll respond, but if you publish untruth, we both know what it means.”

When asked that his ex-wife had claimed that he took the kids and refused her access to them, thereby, defying court order, he questioned with rage, ” Excuse me. Is that a matter for the press now? Okay. Is that what she told you?

“Did she tell you there is a court case? Did she tell you consequent on the court case I was given custody? At the moment, there is a pending appeal. She won’t tell you. That is why when you threatened that you are going to publish, go ahead and publish, by the time I start with you Nduka Obaigbena (THISDAY Publisher and Chairman) will be looking for me all over the place.

“Listen, you don’t know me, you are only going by what they told you. Let me make it easy for the both of us. She came to you with half truth, unfounded allegations intended to deceive you, fine. Let me tell you what I need to tell you. As I speak to you there is a pending court of appeal matter”.

“I took the issue of custody of my children to court of appeal. The reason being that they were she and her several lawyers she changed. This time is the fact that judgement favoured me on the custody of the children. Two of the children, boys, are 18 plus.
Even the judgement said when the boys are 18, they can decide what they want to do with their lives. She won’t tell you all that. She will not also tell you that out of my magnanimity I allowed her access. She was talking to the boys regularly.”

He narrated how he implored the kid’s mother to do video calls in order to see them. “She did that for several weeks and suddenly said she wanted to come and visit them. I said ‘no no no no; it’s too soon. You started talking to them in early March how can you now bump in on me in April you want to see them with all what is on ground?’ I need guarantee on my safety and that of the children.”

The lawyer further frowned at her decision to reach out to the media. “She is going about press. Don’t I also know press? She went to FIDA, when FIDA heard her story and my own side they started to drag in. She should have told you that also.”

Now, he blew his fuse again and punctuated it with more threats, “any journalist who attacks me and destroys my reputation, I will go after that journalist, I will go after that media organisation because that is criminal libel under the laws of FCT that I stand on; it is criminal libel, seven years imprisonment if you write something against somebody. I’m not any lawyer, I’m a senior lawyer”.

At exactly 1:11p.m, same Friday, September 4, he called back but this time, he took off on a more docile tone, which he could not maintain for too long.

“If you want the suit number of the pending case at the court of appeal I will send it to you. If you want to talk to the children and interview them as to when was the last time they spoke to their mother they will talk to you. You can also talk to the children on how often do they speak to their mother and secondly I will also give you a referral of the FIDA woman who called me last week and I had to narrate my account,” he highlighted.

In Nordi’s view, Ubebe’s fight is more than meet the eyes. “What this is about is not even about the children because even on their birthday she did not do anything for them, Easter she didn’t do anything for them but she spoke to them. On her own birthday the children called her and wished her a happy birthday. So, it’s not about the children. I’m the target. That is why I’m a bit aggressive, and I have responsibility for the children’s safety.”

He argued, however, that he will not let anything go wrong. He says, “I’m not going to allow anything to go wrong. Anybody who wants to get involved can come and give undertaking that nothing will go wrong then I will consider with my lawyers the implications, this and this is the case in court. That was what I told her. I said go to your lawyers let them meet my lawyers, let them sort it out or go to court and ask for order or report.”

Refuting Allegations of Violence in Marriage

Explaining why the case landed in court, he expounded, “She changed lawyers four times. she has gone to about five people now including you people so if she wants to keep making enemies good luck. When I get home I’m going to tell the children what transpired, what she has been telling people”.

More threats ensued as he said “If I see any publication, apart from going after that publication, if I feel I’ve been injured, I will expose the whole secret which I didn’t want to present to the court. That’s what I’m going to tell the children ahead of time. If she wants me to release everything, I will release it. what kind of a thing is this? Don’t I have the right to my peace of mind? She packed out without any violence or anything almost five years ago.”

“She is calling to tell you lies. She won’t tell you she went to Ikorodu High Court to file a divorce case and it was struck out. She won’t tell you she filed an application in court under the VAP (Violence against Persons Act). The moment the court made an order that we should produce our call log and conversations she knew she would be exposed, she abandoned it, before I now filed my divorce. She won’t tell you all that. I have documents. That is why it should be unfortunate for anybody to just get involved not knowing the general of the matter. She is not being sincere.

“What is the big deal she just badged into Abuja without any formal notice to me. Who will like that kind of a thing? I wasn’t even in town. I told her get the court involved, get your lawyers involved.”

Wife’s Initial Action Before Divorce

Still on his side of the story, he said he gave her access to the children and told her to do video calls, she refused, insisting that she must see the children face to face “because she wants to come and pass voodoo food over to the children or what? Abeg o (Please)”.

He added that before the divorce was settled, she didn’t let him see the children for almost two years and it was a year into that two years that the children called him with a distress call one day and said they had challenges, asking for his help.

Upon inquiry, he learnt they were in Lagos. He decided to open three accounts for them and asked how to send the ATM across and they told him their mother would go pick it up in ABC Ajah. He added that even when under her custody, he was sending pizza money every weekend, provisions and birthday things to them.

Nordi said along the line, somebody saw them at Bar Beach and sent their picture, afterwhich he couldn’t sleep for days because they looked malnourished.
He recalled that when his ex-wife left he wrote a petition to the police, immigration and DSS, which he presented to the court, including the police extract, to show he wanted custody.

He however said the judge out of sympathy for her gave joint custody. A move he didn’t like because bit would “be exposing my flats. I know what I’m saying. I don’t want to say a lot of things now”.

Nordi said the first time he went to pick the children, she frustrated him and she took the children and ran out of Lagos. “I have the documents. I was so bitter. I now reported to secret service in Lagos. She started befriending a police commissioner with the intention of putting me on arms way. I have the man’s name. Let me tell you something. I have call logs, core conversations that will implicate them. They know.”

His resilience paid off in the end. “When she saw that I was really going after her, she now released the children to me. I told her I would never stop her access to the children, that I would never do to her what she has done to me, because God in his infinite mercy has saved me from all what you people did.”

Turbulence

He explained what led to the turbulence. “The problem started about three weeks. I found out that when she called during the day time, at night she would begin to incite the children. I just got up one night to go round the house and make sure everything was okay. I thought I heard murmurings in the children’s bedroom. I asked the second twins what he was doing, he panicked. I picked his phone and went through call logs. She was telling them the man is poor, he cannot look after you. These things are documented. I’m not cooking it up. I called and say is this what you are doing? I will not allow you talk to the children again until we go back to court and let the court determine how we are going to do this.

“I went to do my investigation. I found out she stole the children’s international passport when she was taking them away, went to Lagos to change their native names from my tribe to her own and used it to enrol them in WAEC and NECO, and even applied for change in their international passport. You know if there is a query you have to do it in Abuja. She got stuck. A lot of years.

“All of these happened since she packed out. It was at this point I presented all the facts to the court and said joint custody would no longer work that the woman is plotting. If I win this case, she will carry the children and run away. I will start spending money to get them back. The best thing is let the court let me keep the children on some arrangements. I presented some applications to court. Her lawyers went to present applications to court that I committed contempt of court that the court should send me prison. You can imagine how mean this woman is.”

As a learned colleague, he said his colleagues were in sympathy. “I got angry and took the case to court of appeal. How can a court ignore 13 documents, including police extract and she didn’t file one. The custody of this children would be an avenue for them to harm me. The court then said that we should wait when the children are up to 18 they can stand on their own but for now that I should allow her access. But the judge did not define what access should be considering what’s at the court of appeal. I kept my cool,” he added.

Counter-allegation of Threats

“When she started threatening me”, according to Nordi, “because she is very notorious for threatening saying ‘I will dance naked’ and I told her that if only you knew you had changed me. I’m no longer the person I used to be. I’m ready to face anything now. At a point, my family said I have suffered so much, I should just fight fair. I should just let her have access to the children but that I should be careful”.

A Mother’s Desire

For the mother of three, her only dream now is to have equal access to her boys just as the court ordered.

“I want to have equal access to my children just the way he has access to them. We can have an arrangement whereby we know where the children will be at a certain point in time or where they will school. The most important thing is I just want to have equal access to them to obey court’s order. It doesn’t matter if he wants me to take them or he wants to keep them,” she said firmly.

Effects of Broken Home on Children

Sadly, while both parties are yet to find a common ground of equal access to the children, experts have decried the effect of broken homes on the development of children. They cited depression, mental health, and stunted development are some of the effects on children from broken homes according to experts.

The Project Operator, Advocates for Children and Vulnerable Persons, Mr. Ebenezer Omejalile told THISDAY, that children from broken homes suffer psychological trauma, low self-esteem, exhibition of high level of anger, poor academic performance, and trust-no-one syndrome.