Chioma Okezie Okeh and Elizabeth Ogunbamowo
It was supposed to be a wedding made in heaven and manifested on earth between the Presiding Bishop of Spirit of Grace Ministry in Idi Oro, Mushin area of Lagos, Stephanus Enofe and Confidence Ukandu before a passerby realized that the bride could be a minor. Photos of the couple and a copy of their wedding invitation card were promptly shared on social media.
This led to an uproar on the social media with Nigerians calling the police to stop Confidence whom they claimed is 15 from getting married to Bishop Enofe who is 45.
Acting on a petition submitted by Advocates for Children and Vulnerable Persons Network (ACVPN), policemen attached to State Criminal Investigation Department, Panti, arrested Bishop Enofe on September 9. He was arrested alongside the parents of the bride, Joseph and Stella Ukandu, who were accused of conspiring with the Bishop to marry off their daughter when they knew that she was under-aged. It was gathered that both families had organized an elaborate traditional wedding at their village in Igbere area of Abia State and the church solemnization was to take place on September 12 before they were arrested.
According to a police source, Confidence had during interrogation claimed that she consented to the marriage. She is a chorister in the church and the Bishop approached her seeking for her hand in marriage. She agreed but insisted that the right thing must be done. This was how they ended up in the village where the traditional wedding was done.
Confirming the arrest, the state police spokesman, SP Olumuyiwa Adejobi said that the command acted on a petition by a concerned person who alleged that the Bishop married a minor. The matter was transferred to the State CID, Panti. “If after investigation and it’s confirmed that they are culpable, they will be charged to court. Both parents of the suspected minor were also arrested because they were accused of conspiring with the bishop and if true, that’s against the marriage act of Lagos State.”
I was told that she is 19, not 15-years-old -Bishop
At the police station, Bishop Enofe who was all smiles told Saturday Sun that he does not understand why he should be detained over his relationship with a 19-years-old woman.
“I am from Oredo in Edo State and a Bachelor’s degree holder in International Relations from the Lagos State University. I have been the Bishop of my church for 15 good years.
“Years ago, I had issues with my first wife who, as a result of the doctrines of the church decided to run away from home. She didn’t believe in taking Holy Communion, feet washing and anointing oil and all these are my foundations. She left three years ago. We pleaded, begged her, asked her to return, she refused. The church board, executives went to beg her, beg even her parents, all to no avail. It got to a time that the church board said as a Bishop, I have to take a wife so I don’t indulge in any form of unrighteousness. This happened in 2017 and I am yet to divorce her because it is against my doctrine. My family members planned to do it on my behalf before the white wedding will take place.
“The Bible says that if a woman leaves and you try to beg her to come back and she refuses, the Bible says in that 1 Corinthians 7:15, let her depart that the brother was no longer in bondage. Moreover, the Bible says that it is better to marry than to burn. If a woman says she’s not coming back, a man must not be in immorality. I never proposed to any other lady before then till I got conviction from the Holy Spirit that Confidence is the right one for me.
“I made my first approach to Miss Confidence who made me know that she’s 18-years-old as at late last year. She said she wasn’t interested and that I should give her time to pray about it. Glory to God, early this year, she said she had a revelation, a conviction that God said she should go ahead with the relationship. I told her we’d take it step-by-step because she’s still in SS2. I personally love education a lot, the position of someone who wants to be a Bishop’s wife is a very powerful one.
“I believe that education is a continuous thing; I also believe that if you love any woman you must educate her well. If a woman is not educated, you’re going to have stupid children; a woman is the custodian of education as far as the home is concerned.”
The Bishop said he made the approach formal by meeting with the father of the bride. “I told him that we should make it formal because if I’m not fast enough, someone else can make that approach and say that I didn’t come in time. He said she was still schooling. He also went to pray and he was convinced. We went further by having an elaborate introduction on August 26, at Abia State where the village of the lady is situated. We bought wine, drinks and even went as far as buying a goat to make it as elaborate as it should be. The whole villages of Igbere, Ohumola in Bende Local Government Area of Abia State were excited.
“Back in Lagos, I was planning a get-together which was to hold on September 12 when I received an invitation by policemen at Alakara Police Station. This was how I ended up in SCID Panti and was accused of getting married to an underaged girl. I was shocked because the girl that I got engaged to told me that she is 19. And if she’s 19, I do not see where I have gone wrong,” he narrated.
He insisted that the story in the media that he has been with her before now is false. “There was nothing like that. I have never had any sexual contact with Confidence because we believe in spiritual sanctity, we believe in the word of God and how it follows as far as relationship is concerned. We believe that until you’re married, you’re still single irrespective of the marriage rites done. The fact that we had an elaborate introduction didn’t give room for foreplay not to talk of sex.
“My house is beside the church, and Miss Confidence is involved in a lot of church activities. So, maybe because they’re seeing her in the church surroundings, they feel she’s already living in the house with me. Her father was only worried about her education. The first day I took drink to him to let him know my intentions, his response was ‘Holy Spirit, you’re a wonderful God!’, that he saw this in a dream. He gave his consent almost immediately. And there was no money given for whatever purpose because there was no need for any of such. Most importantly I had no plans to marry her until she graduates from secondary school. I only got engaged to her so that another man will not snatch her away.”
Parents weigh in
Trying to defend their action, both parents insist that their daughter Confidence is 19. Her father Joseph Ukandu, lamented that he finds it difficult to understand why people are reducing the age of his child who was born on January 7, 2001 in Mushin, Lagos State. He said his daughter had brought the Bishop as a suitor and after several discussions, had explained to the Bishop why he wants his daughter to complete her education before marriage. “Bishop then told me that he’s not here to stop my daughter’s education, that he is the one to benefit more from my daughter’s literacy because he needs someone who is educated to help him in ministry. I called my daughter and explained to her why I want her to complete her education is because I am not educated and I want all my children to go to school. She told me that she brought the man because Idi-Oro is a ghetto and she wouldn’t want to misbehave and bring shame to the family and since someone spoke with her as regards marriage, she decided to bring him to me first.”
Joseph said when he spoke with the Bishop and discovered that he is more educated than he is, he consulted elders who interviewed the Bishop for days and concluded that since it was just an introduction, the Bishop can go ahead while all other marriage plans were to be put on hold till the bride-to-be, who is in SS2 completes her education. “The elders told me that they have other people in the village who have to be contacted before the Bishop can go to the village and when this was done, I took him to our village for the introduction and he was accepted. There was never a time I kicked against the marriage.”
On her part, 35-year-old Esther Ukandu, the mother of the bride, said all she knows is that the Bishop is a pastor who said he was interested in her daughter and she alongside her husband already agreed to it. “Just as my husband had said, we went to the elders, considered it and agreed to it.”
Mrs. Ukandu who had been attending the church for the past eight years with her daughter claimed that Miss Confidence is a choir member in the church and was there when the first wife of the Bishop left.
“The wife just suddenly left. Bishop travelled to Israel and before he could come back, she left. Everybody had gone to beg her and she refused.” The mother of the bride said her daughter will marry the Bishop irrespective of the present challenges because Confidence told her she’s convinced that marrying the Bishop will be a success.
They are lying – NGO
Countering their explanations, Mr. Ebenezer Omejalile of the Advocate for Children and Vulnerable People’s Network (ACVPN), who drew the attention of the police to the matter, alleged that the white wedding was supposed to hold on September 12 but since the NGO intervened, the father of the bride became skeptical and the marriage plans were put on hold. “If we had relaxed, the wedding might have held. Already, the girl has moved into the Bishop’s house, living as husband and wife and she’s too young. The Bishop told us that he was married before but he told us that he travelled to Israel and before he came back, his wife had moved out but we know it’s a lie. The story we gathered is that the woman left angrily because she suspected him of infidelity. All efforts to bring her back were all in futility.”
He added that the father of the girl, Joseph Ukandu, confessed that he didn’t really give consent to the marriage but because of pressure and due to the fact that his wife was wholeheartedly involved, he had to give in.
“We even learnt that their Eze in Lagos issued a communiqué, marriage certificate to the Bishop and the girl. The Bishop is claiming that the Eze who issued the communique is in the village but what we saw shows that there’s a branch in Lagos.”
Omejalile said there are many factors yet to be unraveled. According to him, it has been alleged that the bride’s father had been abusing her, which made the marriage seem like a means of escape for the young woman.
“Some young women even came to visit Confidence, they are all adults. Two of them are identical twins, 24. They said that the Bishop has been the one paying their school fees and they’re all in higher institutions. We asked them why they couldn’t fight against such, they said they told the Bishop not to go on with the wedding but he was hell-bent on marrying the girl in particular.”
The Bishop, however, refuted this claim stating that he doesn’t have anyone who he sponsors in higher institution. He, however, said he could give a waiver in school fees for those in his primary school.
When Saturday Sun paid a visit to the area where the church is located, people in the neighbourhood said they were aware of what happened and revealed that there was no service held in the church since the incident happened. One of the people working in the Church’s primary school, SOG Glowing Angels Nursery and Primary School, said he knows Confidence very well and could tell that she wasn’t as young as some people claim she was. He said he had a debate with someone over if she was actually 17, 18 or even 19-years-old and believes that Confidence’s small stature is responsible for the problem.
Another resident of the area, who simply identifies himself as Papa Chinonso said that the Bishop was the architect of his own misfortune. Papa Chinonso who lives directly opposite the church said that the Bishop had publicized the wedding too much and went as far as hanging a banner with a picture of the Bishop carrying the girl in front of the church. “To be sincere with you, that was what attracted people’s attention to it. He was married before and moreover, he’s not a young man or someone who wants to marry for the first time so why all the paparazzi?”
He added that the Bishop was wrong by planning to marry someone as young as Confidence who is still in her teens. “Even if she is 19, she’s still too young. He’s a Bishop after all, he ought to go and beg his first wife who he hasn’t divorced. If he marries Confidence now, what will she be saying to church members? The man is a big man; he ought to look for someone who is more mature.”