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Custody War : A young marriage bursts at the seams and degenerates into

  •  At 2, my baby too young to be taken from me – Woman
  • Lagos govt steps in

    By MUSA JIBRIL

    When Juliet Onyebujor Osamor wedded at 25, she was looking forward to a sunny life and a happily ever after. What fate had in store, however, was a far cry from her dream. At 28, her marriage suffered an irretrievable breakdown. Like the tragic heroes of Shakespearean tragedy, her life recorded a swift reversal of fortune: her six-month pregnancy ended in stillbirth, the dead foetus evacuated via caesarian section; her matrimony already jaundiced, in tatters. Worst of all, her two-year-old daughter is taken away from her. This last, she found unbearable.

    Helpless and heartbroken, she cuts a good picture of a damsel in distress.  Sadly, for her, there is no valorous prince to come to her aid. For the hapless, whey-faced, distraught young woman, her problem goes by the name Bernard Onyebujor Osamor. Her husband. 

    Promising start

    Many who knew the young Lagos-based couple are shocked by the sudden breakdown of a marriage that was barely three years old, a marriage which appeared rosy from the outside. Husband and wife––indigenes of Delta State from Ogwashi-Ukwu and Igbodo respectively––married in September 2014 at the Ikoyi Registry after a one-year courtship, their nuptials, attended by members of both families.    

    Bernard, 34, appears to be a self-sufficient man.  A clearing agent at Apapa Port, he owns his company, BonaPaul Venture. The couple lived at No. 2, Alhaji Kao Street, Oja bus stop, Agric, Ikorodu, before moving to their own house at Mawere. Juliet played her wifey role, which included attending the Jehovah Witness church of her husband.

    So, what caused the marital meltdown?

    Trouble in May 

    It was on May 3, 2017, trouble sneaked into the family.

    Juliet gives Saturday Sun her perspective. “I was six months pregnant when I woke up bleeding in the night. My husband took me to Ikorodu General Hospital. The doctor told me I was hypertensive. Within 30 minutes, I was inside the theatre for an emergency caesarian section because the fetus was dead.”

    While losing the pregnancy was devastating and traumatic enough for her, little did she know it was just the tip of the iceberg of the tribulation on the way. 

    She continues: “I was to be discharged eight days later. My husband came with his uncle and paid the hospital bill. I kept asking about my daughter, but he didn’t give me a satisfactory answer.  His uncle told me I’d be going to my mother’s home from the hospital so she can take proper care of me. I asked again: what about my daughter? They told me she would be fine.  His uncle called my mother-in-law on his phone. Her statement was: “I am not chasing you. I want you to go and take care of yourself first. As for the child, you are not bringing her up properly,” she terminated the conversation abruptly. My husband then opened his car, brought my bags, dropped them at the hospital premise and drove off. I was shocked by the turn of event. From the next day, May 11, he stopped answering my calls.”

    With the benefit of the backstory, the discord, after all, was not a bolt from the blue but a crisis that had simmered for a year before it finally erupted in May 2017.

    A year ago, when the couple’s daughter took ill, her father asked that she be taken to his sister who lived two streets away. Her mother, alarmed by her condition, took her to the hospital instead.  Expectedly, the husband was furious at his “stubborn” wife.  He called his mother in the US, whose order to still take the child to her father’s sister.

    That singular act opened up a Pandora box of complications. “My husband called his sister to instruct her that I was not to return home but to stay with her indefinitely,” Juliet narrates. “He said he was having a rethink about our marriage.  His mother called shortly after and ordered that I be ‘detained’ there for six months so that I could be retrained.”

    From May to August, she was ‘remanded’ with her sister-in-law, Felicia Babep. Her ‘training’ included household chores––and on one occasion, a slap, she claims.

    “I kept calling my mother-in-law trying to appease her so she would allow me to go back to my husband’s house. To my mum, I downplayed the severity of the situation. Anytime she called, I’d assured her it was nothing serious.”

    A turn for the worse, a reprieve and the final straw

    Juliet’s hope of succour was soon dashed when one of her in-laws who lived in Germany arrived with bad tidings.

    This new dramatis personae in the vexing family drama was her mother-in-law’s sister.

    “She told me my mother-in-law, called her and instructed her to ‘return’ me to my mother’s house.”

    With her belonging packed in a hired taxi, “they insisted I should leave my daughter but I refused,” she says. Instead of going home to her mother, she went to stay with her aunt at Ijegun for six weeks.

    Soon after, her husband came with the olive branch. He called, provided for mother and child, and distanced himself from the extreme action of his family––he had only wanted her to stay with his sister for a short while and had planned to bring them back home.

    He wanted his wife back home, but a stalemate ensued. “I told him he never caught me in infidelity, and he asked me to leave his house, my family deserves an explanation.”

    He eventually brought a few relatives, including his sister in Ikorodu.

    When the Onyebujor-Osamor matriarch in America heard about the parley, she forbade Juliet’s return to her son’s house. For once, her son defied her, leading to a cold war between mother and son.

    For three months, the couple’s lives had some equilibrium, so much so that by November, Juliet was pregnant. The miscarriage precipitated a full-blown crisis.

    What precisely is her sin?  Juliet could only think of one: “They accused me of going to the embassy with my husband to apply for a visa without informing the family. Such act, according to them, connotes that I regarded my mother-in-law as a witch; otherwise, why would we be discrete about it. In truth, it was their son who said I should not utter a word of it to anybody, including his own people.” 

    Fight for custody

    Juliet is not kidding herself she still has a marriage to go back to.  “My mother-in-law has been asking me to leave her son.  Now, I have left him alone,” she says.

    Her marriage, as far as she is concerned, is kaput. “He is under the influence of the family,” she says of her husband. “He can never change. He is not a man of his own. His parents controlled our house.”

    She continues: “I have had two children, both by caesarian section; one died. The one that survives, how can they just take her away from me?”

    She claims her over-the-phone entreaties to her husband to let her see her daughter were ignored, just as her appeals to the Jehovah Witness church to intercede for her had been futile. 

    At her wit’s end, Juliet who lost her father on November 15, 2009, turned to her uncle whose efforts has also failed to bring about a change. 

    Eventually, she sought sanctuary at the Office of the Public Defender (OPD).  Though invited, Bernard had so far spurned the summons.

    “I am not contesting his paternity,” says Juliet, “The baby is too young, to be taken from me. She turned two on January 15, 2017.”

    At the moment, the two-year-old Stephanie Onyebujor Osamor has been stopped from going to school.

    “When I heard of plans to take her out of the country,” says her mother, “I reported at the OPD.  When they called him and enquired about the child, he said she is in America, whereas a few of my friends he spoke to, said he told them the child is in Germany.  Till date, he cannot fully explain where my daughter is. That is why I am calling on the whole world to help me.”

    Every effort by Saturday Sun to reach Bernard Onyebujor Osamor ended as an exercise in futility. He either failed to pick his call or terminated it abruptly. Similarly, he stonewalled OPD with one excuse or the other.

    The latest attempt on Monday, July 3, was truncated with an excuse that he travelled. On the same day, her mother’s relative sighted the two-year-old at the resident of one of her father’s sisters, at No. 44 Forsythe, off Okesuna, Lagos Island.

    Luckily, she was able to retrieve her daughter with the aid of the police a day later. With mother and daughter reunited, the idea of the family reuniting as a whole unit is farfetched.

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