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Dismissed Catholic priest remanded in prison for allegedly raping teenager

A dismissed Catholic priest, Stephen Nwaigwe has been remanded in prison custody for allegedly raping and impregnating a teenager in Anambra State.

An Awka Chief Magistrates’ Court, otherwise known as the Children, Sexual and Gender-Based Violence Court of Anambra State, ordered the remand when the matter came up in court.

Nwaigwe was among the priests expelled by a popular Catholic Faith-Based Religious Congregation in Orlu, Imo State, known as the Two Hearts of Love Congregation” in 2018, for alleged misconducts inimical to the image of the church.

However, in spite of his dismissal as a priest, Nwaigwe has continued to carry out religious activities at the invitation of groups and organizations and going from place to place.

He was accused of impregnating a minor and taking her to Benin City, Edo State where the baby was delivered, although the police said the whereabouts of the said baby is still unknown.

It was gathered that Nwaigwe met the teenager at the St. Albert The Great Catholic Church Parish, Obosi, Anambra State, where he was invited for a church programme.

According to the victim, Nwaigwe took her from her parents to live with him when she was 14 years old, with the promise to sponsor her education, adding that she equally served as his cook.

She added that not long after she moved into his house, he started molesting her sexually until she became pregnant at the age of 17.

She further stated that when she informed him about her pregnancy, the former priest took her from Ihiala, Anambra State, where they lived, to somewhere in Benin City, Edo State to the house of a couple he introduced to her as his brother and brother’s wife.

She said: “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 did to me in his house.

“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 it had been buried”.

During the remand proceedings, the police prosecutor informed the court that there was a probable cause to order the remand of the former priest.

However, the defence counsel applied for bail of the defendant, urging the court to exercise its discretion of bail in favour of the defendant, 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 former priest in most liberal terms; assuring the court that Nwaigwe would never jump bail, if granted.

But opposing the bail application by the defence counsel, the police prosecutor stated that the case before the court was an offence against a minor who was supposedly under the spiritual guardianship of the defendant.

The prosecuting police officer emphasized that the defendant had since been suspended by the authorities of the Roman Catholic Church, noting that the claim that the defendant had serious health challenge to warrant being granted bail, was never certified by a qualified medical personnel, as required by law.

According to the police prosecutor, the defendant could jump bail and leave the country without standing trial, if granted bail.

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 the society.

While urging Nwaigwe to seek his bail at the High Court, the presiding Chief Magistrate ordered the prosecuting police officer to transmit the original case file to the office of the Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice of Anambra State.

She subsequently adjourned the case to December 6, 2023, for report of compliance.

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