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Rising paternity fraud as metaphor for dysfunctional society

By Eno-Abasi Sunday
12 September 2021   |   4:14 am
Of late, the nation has been replete with sour tales wafting from every corner. Starting from widespread insecurity (occasioned by violent crimes- terrorism, banditry, kidnapping) to corruption, weakened economy, worsening human development index...

DNA Test. Photo: Dreamstime

Of late, the nation has been replete with sour tales wafting from every corner. Starting from widespread insecurity (occasioned by violent crimes- terrorism, banditry, kidnapping) to corruption, weakened economy, worsening human development index, heightened unemployment and sparse infrastructure, the country has simply been assailed from all fronts.

As if all these do not constitute enough impediments to decent and peaceful living, perverts and cheats are burrowing deep into families, baring their fangs in a manner that worries sane members of society.

The sheer number of rapists that are on the prowl, the quantum of fathers aggressively abusing their daughters sexually, as well as worrisome dimension that paternity fraud is taking, has left very many befuddled.

Over the years, genetic discrepancies never constituted such a headache in Nigerian society until strange tales began oozing out from troubled marriages and unions.

Indeed, the most common mode of determining paternity (especially outside wedlock) has remained acknowledgement of it by the man involved. In other words, once a man admits that he is the father of a child, all is well and good.

Beyond this, a man is presumed to be the father of a child or children that are born within wedlock.

Other than these two means, the other way of determining the paternity of a child in Nigeria is by way of scientific proof.

In the last couple of years or thereabouts, Nigeria has been grouped among countries with a very high incidence of paternity fraud.
The current statistics, which puts the country as second in the world only behind Jamaica, and experts are not entirely discountenancing the data.

DNA Diagnostics Centre (DDC), the parent company of HomeDNA is one of the most highly accredited and recommended DNA paternity test laboratories in the world. It said that “paternity fraud occurs when a mother or father deliberately and falsely claim a man is (or isn’t) the child’s biological father.”

According to the outfit, research featured in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, rates for incidents of paternity fraud range anywhere between 0.8 per cent to 30 per cent, with a median of 3.7 per cent, across the world.

Not long ago, the Chief Executive Officer and Co-founder of Stack Diagnostics, Dr Abasi Ene-Obong, who commented on the data was quoted as saying that, “As with most health-based statistics in Nigeria, they are either under-reported or exaggerated because the problem typically lies in how the sample is collected. It is possible that there was some sampling bias to this 30 per cent number but even for sampling biases, that number is quite high.”

That notwithstanding, he added: “We can’t be sure of this. It is a possibility if you take the study at face value because 30 per cent equates to 3 out of 10.”

Pressed on whether the figure should be discountenanced, he added: “It isn’t fake news but at the same time, the only way we can know for sure is if an independent study is done that seeks to eliminate sampling biases.

“In other words, the only study we have about this phenomenon puts it at 3 out of 10, so to a large extent that is factual. An independent study that shows us less or more will also be factual and will dispel the 30 per cent number.”

In November 2018, Abasi Ene-Obong, while addressing stakeholders at a meeting at the instance of Stacks Diagnostics, in Lagos deplored Nigerians’ lethargic attitude towards verifying the paternity of the children, stressing that lack of adequate information should be blamed as against the high cost of the tests.

While deploring the practice, he said: “Now a lot of Nigerians do not even know where to get a paternity test done, so it is not about price, but because they don’t know where to go to.

“I think the first thing is access – it is to know where to go to and then the next is price. So, I wouldn’t say paternity fraud is high because we cannot afford the cost of the paternity test. Most of us spend the value for a paternity test in a restaurant each night and paternity tests lead to something that saves a life.”

He cautioned against leaving things late saying: “So, you don’t want to start discovering something when there is an emergency, otherwise it will be too late to save a life. So, be prepared, know your family and don’t take chances because Nigerians many times like to take chances. But I would want to believe that many people don’t know because they haven’t checked and they don’t even know where to go and check…”

In the recent past, some paternity fraud cases have already made headlines.

On December 16, 2020, a certain Tunde Thomas, was said to have died of depression after his wife, Moyo Thomas, relocated from the country to the United States, from where she allegedly called Tunde to inform him that the children do not belong to him.

Following the allegation, thousands of Nigerians signed a petition asking the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to sack Adam Nuru, then managing director of First City Monument Bank, who was alleged to be the father of the kids.

The lady is breaking her silence for the first time since the scandal broke insisted that on no occasion did she tell her deceased husband, Tunde, that he was not the father of her two children.

In a statement authored on her behalf, by her friends, entitled: “Tunde is the Father of My Kids,” she wrote: “On no occasion did I ever tell him he was not the father of our two children. It is, therefore, deliberate falsehood and certainly malicious to allege and insinuate that I informed him that the children are not his.”

In the latest scandal, which broke out this month, on-air personality (OAP) Chinedu Ani, better known as Nedu of Wazobia FM, alleged that the first son given birth to by his ex-wife, Uzoamaka Ohiri, during their marriage was not his biological child.

The talk show host went ahead to post a DNA test result, complete with the child’s name, on his Instagram page to buttress his claim. The result, which was endorsed by the president at Viaguard Accu-metrics, Ontario, Canada, one Dr Harvey Tenenbaum, on June 24, 2019, stressed that the possibility of Nedu being the father of the child was zero per cent.

But Miss Ohiri fired back swiftly saying she never intentionally gave another man’s baby to her ex-husband, stressing that she did not cheat on Nedu during their brief marriage, but was in a relationship before meeting her former husband, adding that she was not aware that she was pregnant for her ex-boyfriend before the marital journey with Nedu began.

With the country already one of the most depressing places to live on earth, Emeka Nnorom, a cleric maintains that “rising paternity fraud cases are pointers to the fact that the society that we live in is waning in values, morals, fidelity, and trust. And this should worry of right-thinking members of the society since we will all bequeath a part of us to our offspring.

“When people worry about the several factors that are today causing heartbreaks, misery and distress in the country, we should be quickly reminded that the seeds for these unfortunate happenings were sowed years ago in our respective families. In other words, Dysfunctional families must necessarily give rise to dysfunctional societies; societies where little or no premium is placed on fidelity; societies where integrity and truth quotients keep depleting, and societies where all sorts of imported behaviours are nurtured to fruition,” he said.

He said apart from preaching fidelity, moral rectitude and truth among married couples, efforts should not be spared in ensuring that no one is made to suffer to raise a child or children that are not biologically his. Therefore, I recommend free and compulsory DNA tests at birth to stem this evil and ugly tide.”

Like Nnorom, Samuel Ajayi, a sociologist, believes that there is a nexus between rising cases of paternity fraud and the waning moral or integrity quotient in society.

“Yes of course there is a connection between them, and the general moral decadence does not exclude paternity fraud. Paternity fraud is a higher level of the manifestation of the failure of marriage and family as a vital unit of society.

He noted that the unfolding scenario is “so scary that many men do not want to imagine, but unfortunately, it has become a recurrent phenomenon. However, we must be careful not to create a false image of its widespread nature. Future family, as a serious institution, can become eroded, and in no time it will make no sense to be married, or to be in true love.

In pointing out that many marriages fail because parties involved went into it for the wrong reasons, he added that building and establishing trust before marriage remains a vital ingredient for a successful union. “Both parties must play by the rules of marriage, that is, love your partner as yourself and trust.”

On whether paternity tests should be made mandatory at birth in the country, he summarised, “paternity test is good, but how many can afford it? It can be made optional, and if compulsory, should be free.”

Even though Dr Martin C. Igbokwe, a surgeon at Zenith Medical and Kidney Centre, Abuja, agrees that “paternity fraud is a reflection of how much decadence we have witnessed in our moral values over the years,” he does not, however, “encourage routine DNA testing for all children. This is not right. Having a child suggests that the couple has reached a level of maturity to understand the responsibility expected of parenthood. In more than 90 per cent of cases, a paternity test is not required because it amounts to breaking the trust in a home, and unnecessary costs if this is done for all the children involved. So, it should be an exception rather than the rule.

Admitting that, “paternity fraud has been in existence since time immemorial,” he attributed the recent increase to several factors, including increased absorption of Western culture, which liberalises casual sexual intercourse. A few decades ago, stronger morals and lack of exposure discouraged indiscriminate sexual intercourse, which was seen as a taboo, unlike what obtains today. Many artistes have multiple children from ‘baby mamas’ and this has become more acceptable to this day.

“…Higher rates of failed and failing marriages due to degrees of incapability among couples may drive some married persons into extra-marital affairs in search of solace. After years of the husband’s inability to impregnate his wife, maybe due to male infertility, some women may decide to try other options, especially when some men refuse to seek medical consultation for their infertility, “ he added

On options available to men, who do not want to be caught in the trap, Igbokwe, a consultant urologist said: “They should be encouraged to marry women that are compatible with them on many levels, and to maintain good communication with the spouses, just as it is unhealthy to live with partners whom they do not trust.”

On the figures in circulation regarding the prevalence of paternity fraud in the country, and the need to criminalise such behaviours to serve as a deterrent to others, he said: “I believe that the statistics being bandied around are likely exaggerated significantly. The truth is that there is no way to really know the incidence of paternity fraud. I would be unable to comment on the need or not for legislation to criminalise such behaviour. It would certainly be a welcome development. However, we must also think of men who impregnate women who aren’t their spouses. Is this also to be considered a crime?

Dinma Nwobi, the Chief Happiness Consultant at Ultra Bliss – The Happiness Place, is saddened by the growing trend of passing off a child to a man, who is not his biological father and pretending that he is, and allowing the man to take responsibility for the child. It is one thing for a man to adopt a child that is not his, biologically and raise him as a father, but to deceive a man into believing that he is the biological father when is not, is an inhumane act that violates what marriage should represent.”

Giving perspectives on factors that predispose people to such fate, she listed the following: ineffective parenting, unnecessary societal pressure on singles to marry, ignorance of marriage flourishing skills, unhealed traumas and toxic feminism.

Shedding light on ineffective parenting, she said, “the home is the place where a person learns life and relationship building skills that are required to make a marriage flourish. We have parents who are ignorant of what it takes to raise responsible adults who have a healthy value system, and these adults get married without being assertive and making choices that they will be responsible for.”

On “ignorance of marriage flourishing skills,” she explained: “There are skills required to make a marriage flourish. We are a society that does not prioritise pre and post-marriage coaching; where couples understand how marriage promotes their individual and collective wellbeing, and how a thriving relationship contributes to the whole and responsible children, who give the world peace.

Until couples begin to seek professional help before marriage to know if their values align, and adopt a continuous learning attitude to periodically evaluate their relationship with access to quality mentoring and coaching, our society will continue to suffer the effects of unhappy, depressing marriages.

“Marriage is innocent of the accusations levelled against it. The issues we see in marriage are usually cases of one or both unresourceful spouses in unresourceful states. To heal marriages and reduce cases of paternity fraud, individuals need to be empowered with skills to increase their level of resourcefulness,” she added.

With society getting worried about paternal discrepancies becoming widespread, Nwobi, an emotional intelligence practitioner, said the trend is really scary because as humans, we tend to focus more on negatives and what is not working. This triggers fear in us and we know from research that fear cripples and limits a person’s ability to make decisions, or have doubts about the sincerity of their dating partners or even spouses. Whilst there are marriages plagued with infidelity, it is important to also know that there are flourishing marriages as well. Therefore, I’d advise young people and couples to adopt a faith-based, value-centred, solution-focused approach to marriage and relationships, rather than resign to fear and worry about their relationships.”

Asked what preventive measures would-be husbands should take to insulate themselves from falling victim to paternity fraud in later life, Nwobi, the Director of Studies at the Institute of Family Engineering and Development Africa, said husbands should adopt the following: “Every man needs to know who he is; what matters to him, why he is living, and the need to live a meaningful life even before considering marriage. If the man has unresolved hurts and traumas from life experiences, he should not bury it but should deal with it through therapy and coaching. It takes a whole man to build a whole relationship. If a man is not existing, marriage cannot fill that void. Marriage is one relationship that meets our core psychological needs for love, connection and sense of belonging, but until a man loves himself; feels connected within, and belongs to himself, he may not successfully love, connect and share a sense of belonging with someone else.

“We need positive peer influence and role modelling for our young men. In our macho man culture, it is easy to assume that a man has everything figured out. We should normalise men asking for help and encourage them to have mentors and life coaches as they navigate life. We all need one another to succeed in life.

“I encourage would-be husbands to commit to learning about themselves and acquire relationship-building skills. During courtship, they should focus on other aspects of growing intimacy with their partners such as intellectual intimacy and social intimacy, and not just be consumed with exploring sexual intimacy alone. A dating couple that learns and grows together is more likely to navigate relationship issues through courtship and in marriage, than those who do not intentionally increase their awareness of themselves and relationship building skills.

She also recommended engagement in pre-marriage coaching to ensure that they marry spouses that they can build with and that they are committed to living life with. Afterwards, they should have periodic marital relationship checks and be intentional about building friendship and intimacy.

On whether paternity tests at birth should be made mandatory in the country, Nwobi said: “Maybe the question should be how can we raise whole, responsible citizens, and what requirements should be made mandatory before people can get married? Like the sage, Rumi is known to have said, ‘Maybe you are searching among the branches for what only appears in the roots.’ Until we become a people who are intentional about raising whole children, who will grow into responsible adults with essential life skills, we would not need to be discussing if paternity testing should be made mandatory. We should focus more on empowering our citizens with family systems and human flourishing skills such as resilience training, emotional intelligence, and effective communication and conflict resolution skills.

“We can also make professional premarital coaching mandatory as well as encourage mental and emotional health assessments before marriage, and routinely throughout a person’s life just as we advocate regular comprehensive health checks. However, if for any reason a person suspects that his children are not his, and is curious to confirm, then going forward a paternity test may just be what he knows to confirm and whatever be the outcome, make informed choices that will promote his mental and emotional wellbeing.”