By Bamidele Kolawole
The joy of a Lagos-based cleric, Prophet Obayan, knew no bounds on Tuesday when a Grade ‘A’ Customary Court in Akure, sitting at Oke-Eda, granted his prayers to reclaim his four children who his estranged wife changed their names to her new husband’s name.
Prophet Obayan, who could not hide his joy beamed with smiles, as his relations congratulated him for the victory at last.
The court presided over by Magistrate Segun Stephen Rotiba, laid to rest the six months legal tussle and dissolved the 23-year-old marriage between Obayan and Prophetess Chibuzor Lilian.
Obayan had filed a divorce suit against his wife on grounds that she changed his children’s surname to her lover’s name.
According to the petitioner, he is the Prophet and founder of Divine Prophetic Solutions Prayers Ministry, Ladipo in Lagos State.
He is a Yoruba man, while his wife is Ibo from Abia State.
The petitioner,Obayan had approached the court for the dissolution of his union with his estranged wife, alleging her of disobedience, misunderstanding, lies, manipulation, abuse, hate and rage.
He also dragged Prophetess Chibuzor to the court in Akure, to challenge the snatching of his four children by a member of his church, and seek the return of the paternity of the children.
The petitioner prayed the court to grant him the custody of his four children whom his wife had changed their surname to Obi.
During the hearing, the petitioner called three witnesses, including himself, while the respondent and five others testified for the defence.
The respondent’s lawyer, T.B. Odudu, while addressing the court submitted that all the six witnesses she called corroborated their testimonies that there was no marriage between the petitioner and the respondent.
She canvassed that the plaintiff lacked the five elements of customary marriage in Ibo land, which include; treaty, concept of parental agreement, handing over of bride and payment of bride price, not in the relationship.
However, the petitioner’s counsel, Bosun Otitoju, told the court that his witnesses had testified in court that there was marriage ceremony between Obayan and his wife.
Otitoju cited the case of Agbeja (1985) 3 NWLR (Pt.11) 19, which held, “in proof of customary marriage, the evidence of the Head of the family is desirable to prove an eyewitness account of the transaction is essential.”
In his judgement, Magistrate Segun Stephen Rotiba, dissolved the marriage on the grounds that the parties have lost interest in the union.
According to him, with regards to the relief two in the petition, the Court had already given a well considered ruling that the children whose custody were sought have already attained adulthood.
He held, “As regards reliefs three and four, which are ‘inpari materia and mutatis mutandis,’ the ruling of the Court dated April 26, 2023, has made a reservation to look into the propriety of the said action in the substantive suit.”
The Court noted that from the evidence before it, the Respondent alluded to the fact under cross- examination that since the Petitioner did not pay her bride price, her new husband who paid same has the right to have them bear his name in accordance with Ibo custom.
It held further, “In the same breathe, I find the Ibo custom exuded by the respondent and her witnesses that the children of the union can bear Mr Abua Obi as their surname, atavistic, barbaric, evil, ungodly, irrational, unsensational, crass, gross, crude, unwary, provocative, ungodly, discriminatory and insensible.
“The custom that tends to punish one person when two consenting adults are involved in the act is nothing but the highest element of insensitivity and servitude.
“I condemn this custom in the strongest terms. While the matter was on, a publication was made on February 2, 2023 in Vanguard newspapers, changing the surname of the first two children of the parties to Abua Obi.
“Aside the fact that complicit to change the surname of the first two children has been established against the Respondent, it also amounts to subjudice as no action is expected to be taken on the subject matter by whoever, when the matter is pending before the Court.
“This is a complete affront to the Court. I say no more. In conclusion, the Court hereby dissolves the union between the parties, having broken down irretrievably.
“The Court, hereby declares personal non grata, the custom of the Respondent awarding paternal personality to a man who is not the biological father of the children.
“The Court hereby invalidates and render null and void the publication changing the surname of the 1st and 2nd children from Obayan to Abua Obi.
“The Court also invalidates any other publication or whatsoever changing the surname of the Children from Obayan to Abua Obi during the pendency of this case.”