A Catholic Priest from Anambra state, Rev. Fr. Nwaigwe Stephen, has been arrested and detained on charges of allegedly raping and impregnating a teenager.
In a ruling during the weekend, the Anambra State Chief Magistrates’ Court, which is also recognized as the Children, Sexual and Gender-Based Violence Court, ordered that the priest be held in prison until December 6, 2023.
Furthermore, the magistrate has instructed the prosecutor to send the original case file to the office of the Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice of Anambra State, Naija News understands.
In addition to the rape allegations, the priest is accused of forcefully taking the pregnant minor to Benin City, Edo State, where she gave birth. However, police investigations have revealed that the whereabouts of the baby remain unknown.
The cleric’s act, which is engaging in sexual intercourse with a minor, is a punishable offence under section 34(2) of the Child’s Rights Law of Anambra State, 2004.
Nwaigwe was previously expelled from the Two Hearts of Love Congregation (Ugwu Nso), a well-known Catholic Faith-Based Religious Congregation in Orlu, Imo State, in 2018. His expulsion resulted from alleged misconduct that tarnished the order’s reputation.
The priest was said to have met the teenager at the St. Albert The Great Catholic Church Parish, Obosi, Anambra State, where he was invited for a religious church programme.
According to the victim, while answering questions in court during remand proceedings on Monday, November 20, 2023, the priest took her from her parents to live with him when she was 14 years old, promising to sponsor her education while she equally served as his cook.
She stated that not long after she moved into the priest’s house, he started forcing himself sexually on her, saying he continued the act until she became pregnant at the age of 17.
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 whom 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,” the minor reportedly said.
When the 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 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 direction 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.
Ruling on the bail application, the presiding Chief Magistrate, Genevieve Osakwe, stated that the case before the court was an offence punishable with life imprisonment, regretting that the offence of rape against minors was becoming rampant in society.
She warned that the court would not fold its hands to watch the society decay, irrespective of whose ox is gored.
The court gave numerous instances of similar offences which had appeared before it in the past, mentioning specifically a case involving an a-75-year-old man who also allegedly raped a minor and was accordingly remanded.
She, therefore, adjourned the case to 6 December 2023.