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Parents, hospital bicker over alleged detention, threats to sell baby

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parents,-hospital-bicker-over-alleged-detention,-threats-to-sell-baby

By Precious Igbonwelundu

IS 13-month-old Olohunwa Michael being held at a Lagos hospital since birth because of his parents’ inability to pay the N86,000 balance of his delivery bill? Is it true that the hospital seized the baby and threatened to sell him to recoup all the expenses incurred since he was born?

Did the mother abandon him weeks after delivery and the father asked the hospital to keep him because he could not look after him? Did a church group offer to care for the boy by taking him to a shelter where he would be kept for an initial five-year period?

The foregoing are questions that investigations by the police and the Lagos State Government agencies would have to answer as the baby’s parents, Yusuf and Kudirat Michael, Mojol Hospital and the Saint Vincent De Paul group of the Catholic Church trade accusations.

The Nation gathered that since October 12, last year, Olohunwa, whose delivery was done through a caesarean procedure, has remained in the hospital located at 20B, Church Street, Sasa Bammeke in Shasha, Lagos.

While the parents are alleging that the hospital withheld their son over non-payment of the N86,000 balance, the clinic vehemently denied this, insisting that they took custody of the baby on compassionate grounds. The hospital alleged that the mother fled the hospital six weeks after she was delivered of the baby while all entreaties it made to the father, Yusuf, to take custody his baby fell on deaf ears, as he insisted that the baby could die from lack of proper care.

But Yusuf, a guard at a gas station at Obadeji in Idimu told The Nation that Olohunwa has remained in the facility because of his inability to pay the balance of an initial N230,000 bill. He claimed that they had paid the bill in instalment until it remained N86,000, adding that he had to cry out for help because of threats by the clinic that he would not be allowed to see his son any longer if he didn’t pay up the balance.

According to him, trouble began following alleged plans by the hospital to sell his son or give him to a church association without his consent; an allegation the hospital and the group has vehemently denied.

Yusuf said he became disturbed after he learnt of a meeting between the hospital management and the church group, without his consent. Prior to this, he claimed there had been moves by the hospital to prevent him from seeing the baby, adding that the facility also told him they didn’t want to see his wife.

Narrating how they got to leaving their son in the hospital for that long, Yusuf said his wife was in her father’s house when she started having labour pains and was rushed to the private hospital where she was operated on.

He said it was about two weeks after she gave birth that he went to the hospital and was told that their bill was N230,000. He said that since he could not afford to pay the sum, he reached an agreement with the hospital to pay N10,000 monthly from his N20,000 salary. Unfortunately, he said, the COVID-19 lockdown affected his ability to keep up with the monthly payment, causing him to cut down the amount to between N6,000 and N9,000 while ensuring that he provided diapers, food and a few other items for the child each time he visited the clinic.

Yusuf said: “When I got to the hospital after my wife put to bed, I pleaded with them that I did not have that kind of money and that I would pay by installment. I work at Lamitex Petrol Station at Obadeji around Osunbare, and I collect N20,000 per month…

“What happened was that my wife ran away from the hospital to her father’s house, leaving the baby in the hospital. When her father asked why, she said it was because she was always feeling cold. Her father begged her to go back; I also begged her, so she went back.

“Those ones (hospital staff) followed her here. They asked if she was my wife and if she was okay. They asked why she left her child and ran away because of cold. They begged her. I even got angry and threatened to slap her. They gave her a thick cloth to sleep on the floor with the baby.

“Later, she left the hospital again, despite appeals from all. It was the hospital workers who were bathing the child. They fed and took care of the child till I left.

“A woman in the hospital asked if I would pay and I said ‘yes’. But when I went there again, they had hidden the child. I asked them why and they told me they had given him to another person to take care of him. I refused and shouted at them.

“When I got home, I explained what happened to my people and they said I should make a report at the police station. I explained what happened to the DPO; that I was not the one who took her to the hospital and that I was not even aware it was a big hospital. I thought it was a traditional birth centre.

“When the policemen got to the hospital, they told them to give me the baby because I had tried to pay some of the money. But they were insulting me, saying that I impregnated my wife but did not want to pay.

“Because my wife did not go to check on the child after she ran away, the woman there (Iya Mojol) was really angry with her. She said she is not a good person for leaving her child and so she did not need her there anymore.

“One day, I went to the hospital with my wife. Immediately the woman saw us, she said I should not bring her to the hospital anymore. I begged her not to be annoyed; that it was because of the money I owed that I had not been coming.

“But she started shouting, asking why I brought my wife to the hospital. My wife also started shouting that she came because she gave birth to a child in the hospital. I even knelt down for the woman that day. I believe if my wife too had knelt down for her, she would have given us the child. But she was being stubborn.

“Any time I went there, the child would come out and I would see him. But he does not even know that I am his father. The policeman said I should go there with the money. He even said nobody would to stop me from visiting my child there. That is why I have been going there.

“I would go there, sit and play with my child for a long time even though he does not know I am his father.

“On his birthday last month, I went there with my brother. He was looking so handsome. It was there that they told me that a church wanted to be taking care of him. They even bought cake , but I insisted I wanted my child. A woman there started insulting me, calling me a bad person and asking why I wanted to take my child away. They asked who would take care of him; I told them I would bring my wife, but the woman said I should not bring my wife. I told her that no matter what, she is still the mother of the child.

“Truly she (Iya Mojol) was helping me. But what is getting me worked up is that the church wants to take the child away. On the boy’s birthday, they bought so many things for him that I was even scared. They held a meeting but did not call me into it. People told me that they want to sell the child while the church is insisting that they want to be the ones to take care of the child. I don’t know how you can be of help to us.”

Asked the name of the church, Yusuf said: “I don’t know the name of the church. But it is located at Bambeke Street, Ajasha Road.

“The hospital management called me three days ago (last week) that I must complete the payment otherwise I would not see my child again. I have not gone there since I don’t have the money yet. But if I can get the money before month end, I will go there. We already had a baby girl before this particular child.”

Asked why she abandoned her newborn baby in a hospital, Olohunwa’s mother, Kudirat, claimed she wanted to go with the baby but could not because they were yet to make full payment. She said it was two months after delivery that she fled and that she fled not just because she was sleeping on the floor but because of some unpleasant words uttered by her husband when he came visiting.

She said that each time she tried to follow her husband to the hospital, he would tell her Iya Mojol (Managing Director) did not want to see her.

She said: “Don’t mind Baba (Yusuf). Ever since I got pregnant, I told him that he should let me go to the health centre at Orisunbare here but he refused, saying he was only going to take care of his male child.

“So, when I was about to go into labour, it was my neighbour who took me to a place where they prayed for me and they later took me to Mojol Hospital. When she took me to the hospital, I gave birth through caesarian operation.

“It was my father, Musbau Shonimade, that signed the form so I could be operated on because Baba was not there. Three days after the operation, they brought a bill of N230,000.

“When Baba came, he started shouting, asking why I came to a private hospital to give birth. He was insulting me. So the people around there spoke to him and said he should look for the money.

“It was because of everything he said that I left the hospital in annoyance. I wanted to take my baby along but they didn’t allow me because I had not paid the bill. I left the hospital two months after I gave birth. We slept on the bed for about three weeks and then they took away the beds.

“When I gave birth to the baby, Baba told the woman at the hospital that he would be paying the money in installments of N10,000 per month but she should let me take the baby with me. The woman agreed until she suddenly requested for the full amount again, insisting that she would not allow me take the baby unless the full amount was paid.

“I don’t know her name, but they call her Iya Mojol. It is true I was made to sleep on the floor when we could not pay the money. In fact, there was a woman there as well who had appendix (appendicitis) operation but because she could not pay, she was also made to sleep on the floor. There were many of us in the hospital who were made to sleep on the floor because we didn’t pay on time.

“When I came home, I was really sick because of the cold I got from sleeping on the cold tiles. They took away the baby’s bed as well. It was a woman in my ward that gave up her bed for my son.”

Asked why she never went on her own to see her child or take any action expected of a mother, Kudirat said she reported to her father and called her friends to beg her husband to no avail.

She said: “On the baby’s birthday (October 12), Baba said I should not follow him there; that the woman there did not want to see me. My friend even pleaded with him but he insisted that they said I should not come with him.

“If I should follow him there by force, he might start saying something else. That was why I stayed back.

“I explained everything to my dad and he interceded but he still said the same thing. I don’t know what he has told them over there for the woman to say I should not come there.

“Each time Baba comes back from the hospital, he will let me know the condition of the baby and how he is being treated…

“However, I am not okay with the hospital keeping my baby with them or with the church taking care of him. I am still alive and there is nothing wrong with me. So, I want them to give me back my baby. I gave birth to him and should be able to take care of him,” insisted Kudirat, who said her husband is from Badagry while she is from Ogun State.

We never threatened to sell baby

Denying allegations that they threatened to sell the baby and were detaining him for the family to pay up the balance, the hospital’s Managing Director, Mrs. Omowunmi Ogumade, told The Nation that the baby was still in their facility because Yusuf pleaded with them to keep him.

She said he told them the baby would die if he should take him home; adding that the man was in tears when he begged them to care for him since his wife usually left home for many days and it would not be good for the boy.

Ogumade said she had since asked the boy’s father to forget about the balance, adding that she had been caring for the child and even enrolled him in school just to ensure that the boy was well taken care of.

She said the hospital invited the Saint Vincent De Paul group to help in providing care for the child, adding that when they saw the child, they insisted on seeing his father.

Ogumade said: “We invited them to see if they can help us with the baby. They usually help in cases like these. They came and we told them that we have this boy here and they saw the boy and said they would need to talk to the father. I told them we had even gone from Area M to Shasha Police Station and to the Commissioner of Police in Ikeja on this matter.

“We were asked to go to Justice and Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development. We did so that they can take the child but the father was not forthcoming. We were told to come with the father but we kept calling and could not get him on the phone.

“Later, he came and said his phone was bad or stolen and that he had got a new number. We have not gone back there. Yes, the father agreed for him to be taken to a public shelter. He was there.

“The church people came on October 12 this year, which was the boy’s birthday, to celebrate with him. The father came and the father’s elder brother came too. The boy’s mother was not there. I don’t know what is going on in their family. They don’t even owe us. I think the family is divided and they have a problem.

“The mother dropped the baby when he was six weeks and ran away from the hospital. So, it is the father that has been coming to see the boy and we told him that he should come and take his child. I never said the woman should not come. It is a lie that we threaten to sell the baby if they don’t pay the balance.

“As I speak to you, I have to pay his school fees tomorrow so that the boy can be going to school and not loiter around the hospital. I have spent more than the balance they are talking about since the baby has been here. So, why will I keep the baby because they are owing me?

“I have told them many times to come and take their child. I am spending more money to care for him. I have bought clothes, school bags, uniforms and all, so that the boy will be fine pending when they are ready to take him.

“The hospital is not detaining the child at all. The father told us to keep the child until they are ready to come and take him. He said the mother was not ready to take care of him and that the boy would die if he took him home because the mother would go out for three or four days before coming back and there was nobody to take care of the boy.

“The money was about N160,000 and I told him to bring N50,000 and take his child. Since I said he should bring N50,000 and take his child, he has deposited N4,000 and N6,500. It’s a lie that he was paying N10,000.

“I even called the admin officer to tell him we have to ensure the boy goes, because he is very friendly and I am afraid he might follow a stranger and we won’t see him again. I do not want to go to jail because I am helping another man’s child.

“We have told him to take his child, but the Catholic mission, after meeting with him, said they wanted to get a home for him; that they would keep him in a home for five years and take care of him. They called us that they needed one letter to take to the Red Cross before they could take the child. They asked the father if he wanted them to take care of the child, and he said yes.

“Call the father, tell him to come to the hospital and you should come too. We will call the Catholic people, because they even thanked me and said it is only God that can reward me for all I have done for these people.

“We didn’t talk about the balance at all. They just said they wanted to take the boy to Red Cross; that the Red Cross said they should get one letter and it is the letter they are running after now before they take the boy.

“I have asked him to take the boy for the past three months, but he said he could not take him back; that the mother is not even at home.

“A week to the boy’s birthday, when the father came with the mother, I asked why she had not been coming and what she came to do. She said she was not the one that came to visit but the father.

“I called the father and said he should look at the way his wife is talking. He said I should not be annoyed that she was not sensible and that she would just abandon the boy if she had taken him home.

“I did not take money from anybody (referring to the church group). I just said he should come and take his child because I am fed up. I have forgotten the balance and I told him so. He was even begging me that I should circumcise the boy but I said no; that when he’s ready to take the child, he should come and take him, and if he wants circumcision, he will pay for it.”

She said: “The woman’s father was the one that signed the consent form when she was brought in and we did not take a kobo from them before the surgery. After a week, they didn’t bring money. When we asked, they said it was the woman’s brother that would pay.

“I called the brother when her father gave me his phone number and that of the younger sister. They said they had done enough for her; that it was the second or third child she would have for the man after they told her to leave him and that they had been the ones paying the bills and could not continue because they had their own issues.

“They said they gave their father N50,000 to deposit when he called them but their father deposited N20,000. I told them the money issue was a matter for the family and that I was calling because the mother and the baby were in the hospital. It was two weeks after delivery that her husband started coming.

“The day the husband came, she said she wanted to buy something down the street and dropped the baby for the husband. That was how she left the baby with the father in the hospital. It was around 11pm when we could not find her that we called the father and asked what the matter was.

“The father was crying that he had the key to the place where he was a guard with him. He begged that we should allow him to go, so I asked some members of my staff to follow him out maybe they would see the mother.

“They followed him and saw her. They spoke to her and she followed them back to the hospital. Two weeks later, she left the hospital again. The baby’s father did not bring any money. Later, he started bringing food, because I told him we were the ones buying the baby food.

“What you say the father told you is different from what we discussed. If the Catholic people were ready to take the boy on that day, they would have done so because the father consented to it. We did not call him to come for the birthday. He came to visit the boy as he normally does some days before the birthday and I reminded him his son would be one on October 12, and that he should celebrate with him and the Catholic people that said they were coming.

“I am expecting him this month. I even said that when he is coming this month, he should not bring anything because the boy has enough presents that the Catholic people bought.

“We had called him more than twice to come and take the child but he kept saying he was not ready; that if he should take him, he would take him to his first wife in the village. That was when we told the Catholic mission people.”

Our reporter contacted the Saint Vincent De Paul, an association in the Catholic Church that caters for needy persons in the society, and the group denied it wanted to buy or take the child from his parents.

The group’s President in Ipaja, Lauretta Uwak, told The Nation that they knew about the child in August or September when they visited the hospital, following a report they saw in the newspaper about one Blessing who could not pay her bills.

She said when they got to the hospital; they discovered that the case for which they came had been settled. But on their way out, they were told about Olohunwa’s condition.

She said the group sought further information from the admin officer of the hospital, who told them he was abandoned by his mother a month after delivery.

“We said this is part of the job we do; that since the lockdown did not allow us visit prisoners or equip vocational centres, we could help the family. We asked for the child’s father and he gave his consent that we should go ahead to help care for the baby in any way we could.

“We told him we could help him get a home to keep the boy for four or five years, and that he could take him when he grows older, and the man said no problem. We told them that when we were ready, it would be in writing with his thumb print and signature.

“I am therefore surprised to hear that we want to buy baby.

“The Catholic church is big and does not tolerate things like this. We were out to help. I did not even know that the man has money to contact press people but he cannot take care of his child. We are a charity group that focuses on widows and the less-privileged in the society. In fact, I am surprised to hear this. I am going to call our lawyers to notify them.

“Get this story very well, because if I see any publication against the Catholic Church, I won’t take it easy or lightly with you. We will sue for libel.” She fumed, before hanging up the phone.

A few minutes later, Mrs. Uwak called again, but this time with a calmer mien, to explain that the group had been going round to secure a shelter for the boy, adding that the Nigerian Red Cross, Yaba, was aware of the issue.

“I want you to know that Red Cross is aware of this issue and I have been asked to go to the Ministry of Youth and Social Development, Alausa. That is the process that was on before your call came in. At this point, I do not even know what to do.

“The father asked what name the child would bear if taken to the Red Cross and we told him it is his name; that the day we would taken, he would be there with his family members and the hospital representative would be there as well.

“We also told him that it would be on paper and he would sign with his thumbprint, and he said no problem. His brother was with him.”

Asked why the association did not consider the option of providing care for the child while leaving him in his father’s custody, she said: “The man said he does not have the capacity. Should we leave the child with someone who cannot provide for him and who abandoned him for a year?

“The man told us point blank that he had a little daughter with him that he could not even fend for. We even went as far as saying we would help him secure a job, but we discovered he was a security man in a street.”

Checks with the Nigerian Red Cross confirmed that the Catholic group was there two weeks ago in respect of the boy and were advised on what to do.

Secretary of the Red Cross, Lasisi Lakunle, said: “They came to us two weeks ago and I told them to go to Alausa. They told us that they have an NGO that does that. They observed that the baby was birthed and the mother fled; that the hospital was taking care of the baby.

“I told them that what the hospital has done is a crime because they cannot take care of anybody without reporting to the appropriate authority. That the hospital ought to have reported to the police and the police would channel that to the juvenile police who would now seek a home for the child.

“I told them it was the man who could carry the child to Alausa and report that he could not cope; that the moment they go through the normal channel, we have the facility to take the child. But they cannot go on behalf of the parents. It is the parents that can complain and that they should let the hospital know it is wrong for them keep a child to themselves.

“There is nothing like humanitarian work in that. It is criminal. That the moment NAPTIP got hold of them, they would be dealt with.”

Our correspondent also contacted the police but was told no such matter was reported. According to the spokesman of the Lagos State Police Command, Olumuyiwa Adejobi, both the Area M Command and Shasha Police Division said they were not aware of the incident.

He however said, “The parties can come forward with a petition so we can look into it.”

The Lagos State Ministry of Women Affairs also said there was no such case before them, but referred our reporter to the Youth and Social Development Ministry for further investigation.

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