‘It Is A Question Of Native Law And Custom’, Says Maternal Family. Our Grandchildren Must Be Released To Us Before Burial – Paternal Home
SAHARANEWS – A seemingly unending controversy has trailed the death of a couple – Mr. Robert Elobuike (Bob), an ex-banker and Mrs Nnenna Elobuike – both from Enugu but from different local government areas. While Mr Bob died of an undisclosed ailment believed to be HIV/AIDS in December, 2016, his wife Nnnenna died of complications from brain tumor in March this year, according to family source.
However, it was gathered that Mrs Nnenna may have also died of HIV/AIDS complications. Both couple left behind three children within the age range of 11, 9 and 8 (two girls and a boy). Mr. Bob and Nnenna were said to have had their wedding at St. Michael, Asata, in Enugu State December, 2008, upon the fulfilment of “all necessary marriage rites”.
Following the death of both couple, Nnenna’s family have held on to their children, allegedly refusing to release them to the man’s family as demanded. While Mr. Bob had been buried (though the family argued they are yet to give him a proper burial), the remains of Nnenna is still at the mortuary awaiting burial. It was gathered that Bob’s parents are insisting on having sole custody of their grandchildren, as the only condition to allow the burial take place.
While the woman’s family had allegedly refused to oblige late Bob’s family request, it was further gathered that the latter’s family is insisting on giving their late son (Bob) a “proper burial” before the wife (Nnenna) can be laid to rest. Although Nnenna’s family were said to have agreed to this, they are however not obliging the request of Bob’s parents to have their grandchildren participate in the processes of giving their father a “befitting burial.” The development, pundits say, may throw Enugu into crisis if no intervention is offered.
How Trouble Started
Trouble was said to have started after the wedding late 2008 as Nnenna’s mother moved in, almost immediately, with the bride’s siblings into the new couple’s home in Enugu, from Jos depriving them of privacy and full freedom. The claim was further collaborated by a family source of late Bob, who accused the bride’s family of “denying the couple every opportunity of getting to know each other, cultivating each other and flowing around and into the arm of each other, as normal marital life evolved.”
According to Chief JCP Elobuike, father of the now-deceased husband (Bob), “soon after the wedding, Nnenna’s mother and siblings virtually relocated from Jos in Plateau State to the couple’s 3-bedroom apartment in Enugu. Bob, then a struggling but progressive banker on few occasions, lamented the overwhelming burden and lack of privacy posed by overcrowded home and I did encourage him to endure.”
He accused Nnenna’s mother, Mrs Oba of having articulated plan from the beginning to destabilize the marriage and take over their children and property. “She (Nnenna’s mother) tried all she could to persuade my son Bob (then a banker) to seek transfer to Abuja and this was obviously in a bid to get closer to and subsequently, reunite with her then estranged husband (Oba),” he added.
“It was always after a matter of days each time Mrs Oba left Bob’s house, for Nnenna to under flimsy excuse, follow suit. It might have been coincidental but quite striking that if Nnnena’s mother had to take a leave from her daughter’s matrimonial home, Nnenna would sooner than later run away with their children and later urge Bob to bring people to come and plead with her father (Oba) to allow her to return home.”
Bob’s father accused Nnenna’s mother of evading his son’s home in company of others on 7th October 2012, and removed the entire wardrobe and furniture in the couple’s home with repeated threats and harassment to the late Bob. This, he said, came after her repeated pleas to Bob to work transfer of his employment to Abuja fell on deaf ears. “Nnenna and her mother left with the children and Bob’s property, from then until Bob died on Dec. 6, 2016, he was denied access to his three children,” he lamented.
“Up until the week that my son Bob passed on, a lawyer said to be Akpangbo by name and on the instruction of Mr. Oba harassed Bob through phone calls in which he demanded for the handover of some unknown documents belonging to Nnenna and a certain Camry Car which we are aware that Bob purchased for Nnenna at over a million naira although supported with two hundred thousand naira by Oba.”
‘How Bob died’
Bob’s father further accused Mr. Oba of tormenting his son to death by not allowing him access to his children. “During my son’s brief illness and hospitalization at the UNTH (University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital), Enugu, Nnenna was contacted and requested to visit him but she refused. After he died, she was again requested to make herself available for release of the death certificate as required by the hospital but she also refused.
“I called her father (Oba) on that December 6, 2016 and told him that my son, Bob had died at the UNTH and that his daughter, Bob’s wife was required to go for test, prior to the release of his death certificate to her. According to custom, a woman no matter the quarrel with her husband, on receiving the news of her husband’s death, would return for the funeral rites. Nnenna was informed when Bob was admitted at the UNTH, she and her father were informed on the day Bob died but she decided to absent herself until the burial day which meant she excluded herself from the funeral arrangements/preparations.
“Such intended mock participation of a widow at her husband’s funeral was not acceptable to friends and relations who feel that Oba’s cruel attitude towards Bob caused his death. Bob was buried on 15th of December, 2016 at Eke. No child of Bob, Nnenna or representative of Oba family attended the funeral,” Bob’s father, Mr. Elobuike lamented.
“Oba denied Bob access to his children for four years and close to four years after his death, he has continued to deny us Bob’s parents and siblings, access to the children,” he said, revealing to have insisted that the children be returned unconditionally to him (to learn the ways of their people) at a recent meeting at the instance of traditional rulers in the state, who had tried intervening on the matter.
Oba deny allegations
Contacted by newsmen on Wednesday, Mr. Oba, father of Nnenna, said he was driving and asked to be called back. When this reporter called again hours later, his line was busy but he returned the call almost immediately and pleaded to call much later as he was still on the road. But he was yet to do so as at the time of filing this report. A letter subsequently obtained by Igbere TV which he had addressed to Barrister and Solicitor (Chief Hon. Ray A. Nnaji) of late Bob’s father, dated May 12, 2020 however, denied the allegations.
In the letter, Oba admitted to have intervened in the dispute between his late daughter and husband, Bob on several occasion, saying “as in every home, there were squabbles and problems between the couple, this was in a marriage of less than four years. As a father, I always advised them to find their living formula as it was usual for every marriage to experience some tumbles and turns until they find their own living formula.”
On the allegations that he had ordered the couple’s home be invaded and Bob’s property be removed and moved to his house in Abuja, which was allegedly carried out by his wife, Mr Oba suggested it was merely an exaggeration. He said if the “invaders” had wanted to remove anything from the house, that would have been the Toyota Camry car he allegedly bought for her daughter. “But as I speak, the car is still with them,” he said.
Reacting to the claims that he had taken over his grandchildren and daughter, while still alive, Oba wondered where they could have taken “repose” if not in their maternal grandfather’s house. He accused late Bob of abandoning the wife and children while alive, saying he (Oba) had never prevented the family from seeing the children even after Bob’s death. The most recent visit since 2012 he has been fostering the children, according to Oba, was done by Bob’s eldest sister, Nwadi.
On the allegations that he prevented his daughter from going to the hospital to tend to her sick husband and even after his death, Mr. Oba said he was not aware of any of such request for her daughter’s presence, let alone the request that a “test” be carried out on her, to know if Nnenna had contracted the disease that allegedly killed her husband (Bob).
According to Oba, both him and Bob’s parents had planned the burial arrangements for the late Bob, only for the parents to later bar his family from the funeral. “I was astounded and asked them how my son-in-law could be buried and I would not be part of it. And this includes his wife and children. He told me that, that was their final decision even after I pleaded that the children be allowed to perform the dust-to-dust rituals.”
He, however, admitted that Bob’s parents called the following week to extend an invite to the children (without their mother Nnenna) to attend their late father’s funeral which he turned down. “I Informed them that there was no way I could send children who were then 7, 5 and 3 to Eke (Bob’s hometown) without their mother. A day before the burial they called me again and said that the children could come with their mother but that she will be confined in a room until they finished the ceremonies. I told them that my daughter was not a prisoner and in any case they could not expect me to arrange a trip at each short notice.”
Commenting on her daughter’s death, Mr. Oba said, “when my daughter died on the 24th day of March 2020 I informed my in-law immediately. On 25th March, 2020 I moved the copse to Achi-River and equally informed them. I do not want to elongate this story but my in-law informed me that if I was coming home for us to discus I should not fail to bring the children. I was aghast and told him that we were discussing a dead person and not the children and then he told me on phone that unless I brought the children he was not ready to hold further discussions with me.”
‘We were denied access to the children’, Bob’s family insist
But Bob’s father said he only insisted on having his grandchildren upon learning that the corpse of their late mother was already in Enugu for burial. “I decided to let him (Oba) know that my family would like to have the children with us during their mother’s funeral preparations. I therefore said to him and I quote “in-law, please, please, please, when coming for discussions on my daughter in law’s burial, bring me my grandchildren.” His response was “impossible!” I asked why it was impossible but he ignored the question to respond that he might as well carry the children along with their dead mother and come and dump in my small parlour. That elicited the response from me that without those children, there would be no discussion with him.”
In a letter exclusively obtained by Igbere TV, which he had written through his lawyer, Bob’s father insisted that his family (including Bob) were denied access to the children “until he (Bob) was severely depressed and died”. According to him, once, his late son Bob had the provisions he bought for his children thrown at him in the home of Mr. Oba. He said Bob’s eldest sister was also threatened with the police, accusing her of trying to kidnap the children, “just because she paid a visit to them in their Abuja home”. The lawyer said witnesses were on standby to attest to the claims in court.
Bob’s father accused the Obas of attempting to change the surname of his grandchildren into theirs, which he said Mr. Oba admitted to at a recent meeting conveyed by traditional rulers in their two communities and attended by many. He said the children had only gone to live with the Obas simply because of marital issues between their parents, and “not because they were fleeing from any threat.”
After their father died, Bob’s father said he agreed that their mother Nnena (whom his son sponsored in the university up to Law School) should continue as custodian of the children – while he contributed to the upkeep – even though they had been in their maternal grandparents home all these while. But now that their mother is dead, Bob’s father said he finds it strange that Oba has continued to hold on to them “as if he has forgotten that the Bob’s family are the first line of next-of-kin of the children”.
Mr. Elobuike (Bob’s father) insisted that he had communicated his son’s death to Oba, requesting the presence of her daughter Nnena for a test to be carried out, according to the Hospital’s standard procedure but which he (Oba) objected to. A family source had alleged that Nnenna was HIV/AIDS carrier even before her marriage to Bob, and that the late Bob had contracted it from her.
“…Which test? Whatever was the disease that killed him could not have affected Nnenna because they have now lived apart for over three years,” Mr. Oba was quoted as replying Bob father’s request on having his daughter-in-law (Nnenna) tested at the instance of the Hospital, following her husband’s death.
Admitting that Mr. Oba had called to inform him of his daughter-in-law’s death in March this year, Bob’s father, however, insisted that his in-law (Oba) had attempted to bury the late Nnenna without recourse to his own family. He accused Oba of by-passing his home in Enugu from Abuja to deposit the remains in Oji River, near Achi Enugu where he (Oba) hails from “knowing fully well that her daughter Nnena was duly married in fulfilment of the statute, customary laws and tradition and cannot be buried anywhere outside the husband’s community.”
Mr. Oba, however, did not deny the allegation, saying he has the “right” and “authority” to bury his daughter after the coronavirus-imposed lockdown with or without his in-laws. He said his plans to have her daughter buried before now hit a stalemate, following the insistence of Bob’s father that the grandchildren be handed over to him before a discussion relating to funeral arrangement for the late Nnenna can hold between both families. He also lamented that the family could be insisting on giving their late son Bob a “complete burial” and that the kids must all be present before any other thing.
Denying ever saying he would dump the corpse of her late daughter in the “wretched parlour” of his in-laws if they insist on having the grandchildren, Mr. Oba said he couldn’t have say so. “I do not know where that came from. Am I dumping her in their parlour that she committed an abomination by marrying into their family? Am I dumping her in their parlour because I don’t have any land in Ehuhe Achi where I can put her to rest?,” he retorted.
Mr. Oba said whenever he chose to bury his late daughter it won’t be hidden, as it will be all over the news. As for the children, Oba said he does not need anybody’s approval for his grandchildren to be with him, insisting he cannot be begrudged of such capacity. Accusing the Bob’s family of playing ostrich with that “fact”, Oba added, “they (the children) have been with me for eight years, as Igbo’s, we know how children who have been living in their maternal grandfather’s house are returned to their paternal grandfather. It is a question of native law and custom which is age long. It is not like that of completing the burial of my son-in-law which sprouted after his wife died. The children are children of both families,” he insisted.
‘You can’t bury our daughter-in-law without us’ – Bob’s family
Bob’s father said, “as for his boastings of exclusive rights to bury his daughter, Mr. Oba should remember that the daughter he is talking about had been married off with full rights to a family that should now take care of the corpse. We have not begged him to help us bury our wife. Oba should also be made to understand that the mother of my grandchildren is dead and so, the children should be taken care of by their paternal family. My three grandchildren had been in the custody of Mr. and Mrs. Oba for the singular reason that their mother who is now late, lived with them. The custodial background of children is of concern to any responsible parent. Tales of househelps repeatedly raped by a son of my in-law resonate in my memory, filling me with fear for the safety of my innocent and vulnerable grandchildren who are exposed to such a character as an uncle.”
VON DG Okechukwu, others ‘intervene’
Mr. Elobuike accused Oba of going ahead to ”conclude burial arrangements” for her daughter-in-law with Osita Okechukwu, Director-General of the Voice of Nigeria (VON) and his wife’s cousin. “I lost my cool and cautioned him against any arrangement for burial with anyone other than myself. Though my wife’s cousin denied reaching any conclusion with him, Okechukwu (whose grandfather happened to have married from my hamlet) canvassed an arrangement to bring my grandchildren on the day of their mother’s burial. I told him that the proper thing would be for the children receive their mother’s corpse at home and not attend her funeral like visitors. Okechukwu in his argument against the homecoming of my grandchildren, said that Oba pays N3 million as school fees for the children. I now had to call Oba. I requested him to bring home my three grandchildren before any meeting on the burial. He replied “impossible!”. Asked why it was impossible, he said he might as well bring along their mother (corpse) and deposit all four in my “small” parlour and drive off. I laughed and told him he was funny but should note that if I do not see those kids, there will be no discussion on burial.”
Igbere TV reliably gathered that the matter was already in court and may come up for hearing in the coming weeks. Several witnesses were also said to have been lined up by Bob’s family and ready to testify in court. But Mr. Oba, in one of his letters, bemoaned such moves, saying it was rather regrettable that an issue between in-laws bound together by children shall so needlessly result in intervention by lawyers. “Very regrettable indeed,” Mr. Oba, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), added.
But Bob’s family is, through their lawyer, requesting and insisting that the three children of their late son be released to them “to conclude the inconclusive burial of their father, Bob without further delay.” They said only then and after the “final rites” have been performed on Bob shall plans be put in place for the burial of his wife and mother of their grandchildren, Nnenna. They insisted that, having married into their family, in compliance with the entire requirements of law, customs and tradition, Nnenna’s corpse belongs to the Elobuike family and must not be sidelined in the burial.
Other prayers include, (a) that the threat of “dumping the corpse” of late Nnenna in the “wretched parlour” of Bob’s father must not be further contemplated let alone attempted; (b) that the children of the marriage between late Bob and Nnenna remains Elobuike (their paternal family name) and no further attempt be made to change their names to Ezenwa (their maternal family name) or any name whatsoever; (c) that the children, while still in their formative years, be returned to their “rightful family” to learn the ways of their people; and, (d) that the Elobuikes be given access to where Nnenna’s body is currently deposited. And whenever a burial is contemplated, a meeting be held between the two families to plan befitting ceremony upon the fulfilment of the above demands.