A Catholic Priest in Anambra state, Rev. Fr. Nwaigwe Stephen, has been remanded in prison for allegedly raping and impregnating a teenager, All Nigeria Latest News reports.
The Awka Chief Magistrates’ Court, also known as the Children, Sexual and Gender-Based Violence Court in Anambra State, remanded the priest in prison until December 6, 2023.
The magistrate directed the prosecutor to send the original case file to the office of the Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice of Anambra State.
The Catholic priest is additionally accused of forcibly taking the pregnant minor to Benin City, Edo State, where she gave birth. However, police investigation has revealed that the whereabouts of the baby born under these circumstances are still unknown.
Engaging in sexual intercourse with a minor is an offense punishable under section 34(2) of the Child’s Rights Law of Anambra State, 2004.
Nwaigwe was among the priests expelled by the “Two Hearts of Love Congregation” (Ugwu Nso), a popular Catholic Faith-Based Religious Congregation in Orlu, Imo State, in 2018, due to alleged misconduct detrimental to the order’s image.
The priest reportedly encountered the teenager at St. Albert The Great Catholic Church Parish, Obosi, Anambra State, during a religious church program.
According to the victim’s testimony during proceedings on Monday, November 20, 2023, the priest took her from her parents to live with him at the age of 14, promising to sponsor her education while she served as his cook. She further revealed that shortly after moving in, he began sexually assaulting her, continuing until she became pregnant at the age of 17.
All Nigeria Latest News reports that the minor further stated that when she informed the priest about her pregnancy, the priest took her from Ihiala Anambra State, where they lived, to somewhere in Benin City, Edo, to the house of a man and woman who the priest introduced to her as his brother and brother’s wife.
“But when I gave birth to my baby at a native birth attendant’s house in Benin City, I was told that the baby died and when I made efforts for them to show me the dead baby, they said the baby had been buried”.
When court asked if she had been gang-raped before, the minor noted, “While on our way to Benin City, father told me to say that I was gang-raped. But I have never been raped before, except the ones he (father) did to me in his house”.
Also, during remand proceedings, the Police prosecutor informed the court that there was a probable cause to order the remand of the priest; witnesses were bound over to appear before the High Court to give evidence, whenever the case would be mentioned.
However, the defence counsel applied for bail of the defendant, urging the court to exercise his disrection of bail in favour of the defendant, while citing Sections 13(3), 71(3), 72 and 73 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Law (ACJL) of Anambra State, 2022, as well as, Sections 35 and 36 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, as Amended.
He also prayed the court to grant bail to the priest in most liberal terms; assuring the court that Nwaigwe would never jump bail, if granted.
But the police prosecutor prayed the court to refuse bail to the clergyman, stating that the case before the court was an offence against a minor who was supposedly under the spiritual guardianship of the defendant.
In ruling on the bail application, Chief Magistrate Genevieve Osakwe emphasized that the case at hand involved an offence punishable with life imprisonment. Expressing concern over the increasing prevalence of rape against minors in society, she underscored that the court would not tolerate such offenses.
The magistrate cited previous cases, including one involving a 75-year-old man accused of raping a minor, who was also remanded. She warned that the court is committed to addressing such issues, regardless of the individuals involved.
The case has been adjourned to December 6, 2023.