…Three out of ten Nigerian men are not biological fathers of their children…
By Sola Ogundipe, Yetunde Arebi & Evelyn Usman
A DNA test revealed that Christopher Johnson wasn’t the biological father of the three children he had nurtured and invested in for almost two decades. The children, Esther, 19, Shirley, 17 and Stephen, 15, were born by the same mother who unfortunately was deceased.
Christopher, a successful but retired architect, was compelled to find out the truth about the paternity of the children after a stranger turned up one day to claim he was their biological father and challenged him to a DNA paternity test.
Christopher received the shock of his life when the result proved that the stranger was indeed the children’s real father. It turned out that the man and his late wife had been involved in a long-secret love affair that produced the three children he erroneously assumed belonged to him.
DNA paternity tests are unraveling a lot of buried family secrets. Keeping family secrets isn’t as easy as it used to be and just one DNA test could change everything for better or for worse.
Many children are experiencing paternity scandals by learning that their father is really not their biological father.
The perception that paternity fraud is high in Nigeria is not unfounded. Reports have been making the rounds that Nigeria has the 2nd highest rate of paternity fraud in the world after Jamaica. Many men have been unknowingly raising children that are not theirs and to curb the trend, there have been calls for introduction of mandatory DNA testing at birth
“The issue of paternity is a trilogy. It’s moral, scientific and legal issue,” a concerned commentator noted. “Series of DNA tests carried out in laboratories are showing that a number of children are being fathered by men who are not their biological fathers.”
Saturday Vanguard investigation revealed that traditionally in Nigeria, paternity of a child is commonly determined by acknowledgement, presumption or by proof.
Probably the most common mode of paternity is by acknowledgement. Once a man admits he is the father of a child, the case is closed.
A man is presumed to be the father of a child once the child is born within wedlock.
It is often said that a woman is in the best position to identify the father of her child, so once a woman fingers a particular man, case closed. However, developments show that proving paternity is often not as straightforward.
But rampant cases of denials, disputes and counterclaims of paternity have been making the rounds.
When the DNA test of their children failed to match with that of the men believed to be their fathers, several women were accused of unfaithfulness and condemned into the abyss of marital ignominy, but the resulting scandal snowballed into one of the most shocking revelations in the history of parental disputes.
But for the confession of a dying Zambian nurse, Elizabeth Bwalya Mwewa, who owned up to swapping about 5,000 babies over 12 years “for the fun of it”, these women might never have restored their ruined homes or removed the garb of unfaithfulness and adultery as the truth behind the genetic discrepancies of their children’s paternity might never have been unravelled.
Meanwhile in Nigeria, according to available data, at least four out of 10 men are not the biological fathers of their children. Lagos-based DNA experts confirm that many men do not know that they are not the biological fathers of their child.
One expert noted that currently, the situation in Nigeria is quite high and the majority of first-borns are affected.
According to the American Association of Blood Banks, globally, a third of all men are not the actual fathers of their presumed children.
“My life has crumbled. Living means nothing to me now than a pack of trash. It would have been better for me not to be born than to face such miserable and uncanny situation.”
These were the shattering words of Mr Shogunle, who recently discovered that the four boys whom he witnessed their birth and catered for as a loving father would be, after all, not his biological children.
The startling discovery has not only betrayed the trust and confidence he had in his wife of 12 years, Betty, it has also stolen the happy atmosphere in the family.
The genesis of this startling revelation began in October 2017, after a heated argument between the couple over Betty’s refusal to perform her conjugal responsibility. Her husband, a banker, had to involve their pastor, having endured sex starvation for seven months.
His decision to bring the matter to their pastor’s knowledge was mainly borne out of news making the round that his wife was having a clandestine relationship with their former driver, a Master Degree holder, identified simply as James, who later got a job with one of the leading Oil & Gas firms in the country. This was after much confrontation and persuasion for his wife to tell him the truth.
According to Shogunle, “ Each time I confronted her, she would rebuff me. At a point she told me to do my worst. And as punishment, she deprived me of sex for six months”.
But the truth came to limelight on November 30, 2018.
Explaining how he received the news that plunged him into a world of confusion, psychological and emotional trauma , Shogunle said,
“ I had come home early because I was not feeling too well. I also did not drive because I was too weak to do so. I did not know they were signals to danger ahead.
“ I tiptoed into the sitting room to surprise my wife. Just then, I heard her speaking with someone on the phone. She was telling the person that she did not know how to break the news to me because it would destabilise me. She begged the person to let me have ‘them’. By then it did not dawn on me who she was referring to as ‘them’.
“And then the bombshell! I heard her say ‘James darling, please leave him and my children out of this since you still have me’.
“I was still glued to the spot I was, waiting to allow her finish her conversation. Then she said: ‘ you put yourself in his shoes. If you were told you’re not the biological father of four wonderful children, all boys, that have grown to call and know you as daddy, how would you feel?’ She burst into tears at that point, begging the person at the other end to let her husband and the boys be.
“ At that point, I screamed and fell on the floor unconscious. By the time I woke up, I found myself in our family hospital with my four children of ages 11,8,5 and 3 years respectively, by my bedside, with my elder sister.
“ To cut the long story short, I insisted we went for a DNA test to ascertain the paternity of my children. Lo and behold, the result showed none of them was mine.
“ It has been four months now, my children are with my elder sister and her family while my wife fled, saying she was too scared to face me. She confessed to my sister that James was her boyfriend in the university and that she never enjoyed sex with me. This may sound as a Nollywood story but it happened to me. “Now the problem is how do I start relating with the four boys? Each time they come around and ask where is mummy, I would secretly look for where to cry”.
The Shogunles are not alone in the this, as another couple are at the moment experiencing dark clouds in their marriage , owing to a claim by a man who just returned from Europe that their 22-year-old son, who just graduated from the university, is his.
The Germany based Nigerian claimed he had a relationship with the woman while he was preparing to leave the country, adding that she was few weeks pregnant before she married her present husband.
The claim has sparked up an issue , that is threatening to break the 22 years union. A DNA test to determine paternity had been carried out, with proof of the result favouring the stranger.
There are more cases.
After his marriage of 13 years came to an end on a very traumatic and ignoble note, Toyin was more relieved than sad. The divorce ended several years of living with a cold and uncooperative partner who under the guise of the slighted excuse would take time off from her matrimonial home to cool off outside the country.
He had always been grateful to her boss who’d also tolerated her tantrums and allowed her to walk in and out of her job as she wished. Being an old family friend, he was like an uncle to Bisi, his wife and had practically watched her grow up, so Toyin had assumed they were all making sacrifices towards achieving a common goal, the success and wellbeing of Bisi and her children. His illusions came crumbling when he woke up one morning to realisation that his wife was pregnant. By all calculations, the pregnancy could not have been his, since they had not been intimate for many months.
Her cold confirmation of his observation was mind bugling and he wasted no time in telling their parent and close family friends what was brewing in his marriage. Definitely fed up with hiding, Bisi told everyone that the pregnancy belonged to her boss and parents’ friend of many years, technically bringing the man’s marriage down with hers. Unremorseful about her actions, she returned to London away from the condemning eyes and tongues, taking all three children of the marriage with her.
It was a very traumatic time for Toyin who succumbed to mild depression. It affected both his social life and business such that he had to abandon everything and returned to America to start life all over again. He decided he would take his time with women since he already had three children from his failed marriage.
Little did he know that Bisi had more up her sleeve in store for him. After his first child, a boy graduated from high school in London, he decided to cross him to the USA for several reasons.
It would be cheaper for him as a citizen, he would have some time to bond with the boy and probably from there his two other children, and also secure American citizenship for the boy. So, he applied for the boy and tests were carried out to ascertain his claims.
Alas! Toyin received an invitation by the police. He was charged with attempted child trafficking and several other counts. His main offence being that he’d lied under oath that his son was his.
DNA tests taken by the immigration department had proved that he lied. But for the divorce papers and the proof of Bisi’s previous adultery which had produced a baby girl for her boss, Toyin might have been jailed. It turned out that both his supposed first child and his wife’s last child were fathered by the same man, her boss at the office.
Another case in question. Why would a man keep quiet for over two decades before renouncing paternity of his children? And why would his wife not contest such a shameful accusation but rather accept it as her fate?
These are some of the questions the Ogunnaike family and their friends have been trying to find answers for since Chief made the announcement at a family gathering over a year ago. Chief had explained that he was doing it because he did not want to leave anything for the children in his will and wanted everyone to know why, so that no one will contest his will or abuse him after his demise.
He explained that when he took the children’s mother as his second wife, it was not planned. He’d thought he was just having another fling. Attempts to deny paternity at the time was difficult because of the intervention of friends and family. Besides, abortion was not a common option as it is today. So, he accepted. He would have reconciled with his first wife and moved on but for the poor health of the child. In their pursuit to find a solution to her problem, the lady became pregnant with a second child and he concluded that it to be his destiny.
However, visit to the clinic where the child was receiving treatment in England led to a big revelation, someone else was listed on the documents as the child’s father.
He was only paying the bills. His wife explained that since the man listed as father lives in London she had appointed him as guardian, besides, he’d donated blood for her during an emergency in the past.
Chief said his suspicions were confirmed with those document and the fact that the child looked nothing like him, all his children from his first wife and no member of his family, adding that even her condition was a first in his family history. He was even more surprised that the second child looked exactly like the first and both of them like the man whose name appeared on the hospital document.
As fate would however have it, the other two younger ones looked exactly like him and different from the first two. He said he kept all these in his heart all these years and was convinced by the way the children turned out that they just could not be his.
When asked if he had carried out a paternity test on them, Chief dismissed the idea and insisted he did not need one to know his child and that his wife was free to prove her innocence.
It was interesting to note that Mrs Ogunnaike sat quietly in the hall and avoided eye contact with everyone during the discussion. Afterwards, she simply announced that she was glad that her husband at least acknowledged two of the children as his, and that it was a pass mark for her. End of story!!!
Why paternity disputes thrive
Saturday Vanguard gathered that there are several reasons why paternity issues are on the increase in the country. They include premarital sex/fornication and adultery. Married women are now considered safer to date.
Chances of an STI/HIV are slim, just as pregnancy might not be a serious issue. A married woman is not likely to want to cross the line with her partner’s marriage. They also understand the issues at stake better than a young single girl would.
Also, the high emphasis on biological children in African society is a factor. A childless marriage is not a blessed marriage. Women are usually considered as being responsible when there are no children. The onus is on her to prove that she is fertile and has not messed up her body before marriage.
The pressure for pregnancy before marriage is also a factor. Here, there are two categories. Those who insist on pregnancy as a precondition for marriage and those who decide to get married to anyone who becomes pregnant for them.
There are times parents and family accept pregnancies on behalf of their children, even when the children deny being responsible.
The practice of multiple sex partners by young women is now commonplace. Some women keep two or three relationships juggling them until one of them is ready for marriage. The one who is first to be ready will bear it all.
Rape is also an issue. Here, the culture of silence prevails. Hardly will you find a big girl who has been raped step forward to confess it. Most women are raped on dates and other circumstances by people known to them or strangers due to no fault of theirs. Confessing to rape by a friend may be misconstrued while it may even jeopardise the relationship one is trying to protect.
Error in identification by the hospital cannot be ruled out. The recent revelation by the East African nurse who confessed in having fun by swapping babies in the children’s ward is a rare but classic case. Such a child might become a burden to the mother who will not be able to explain what went wrong.
A lawyer explained that paternity tests have a significant legal impact when it comes to establishing child custody and support.
“In a contested paternity case, a party must submit to genetic tests at the request of any other party. If the father could be one of several men, each may be required to take a genetic test to determine paternity. There are several different ways to establish whether an alleged father is the natural and legal father of the minor child, such as the use of paternity blood tests and DNA paternity tests,” stated
Paternity blood tests were first performed in the middle half of the 20th century, by comparing blood types of tested parties but the testing did not provide for a very powerful test.
In the 1970s a more powerful test was developed using white blood cell antigens or resulting in a test that was able to exclude about 95 percent of falsely accused fathers.
However blood types alone cannot be used to determine who the father is, but they can be used to determine the biological possibility of fatherhood. Enter DNA paternity tests.
The DNA test
DNA (Deoxyribonucleic Acid) is the genetic material present in every cell of the human body. Except in the case of identical multiple births, each individual’s DNA is unique. A child receives half of his or her genetic material (DNA) from the biological mother, and half from the biological father.
DNA paternity testing is the use of DNA profiling (genetic fingerprinting) to determine whether a man and a child or children are biologically related. The test can also determine the likelihood of someone being a biological grandparent to a grandchild. Experts say DNA paternity testing is the most accurate form of paternity testing possible. It is argued that if DNA patterns between a child and the alleged father do not match on two or more DNA probes, then the alleged father can be totally ruled out. If the DNA patterns between mother, child, and the alleged father match on every DNA probe, the likelihood of paternity is 99.9 percent.
To conduct DNA testing, a blood test or a procedure called a Buccal scrap is used. A swab is rubbed vigorously against the inside of the cheek to provide a DNA sample for testing. Children can be tested at any age even while in the womb. Paternity DNA testing can even be done on an umbilical cord blood specimen at birth. Since DNA is the same in every cell of the human body, the accuracy of testing performed on cheek cells utilizing the Buccal swab is the same as an actual blood sample.
Saturday Vanguard established that the science behind determining a child’s father has come to stay and in many instances, it is a lifesaver.
Experts at major centres offering DNA testing facilities such as DNA Centre, Synlab and Paternity Test Nigeria, confirm the high rate of tests that turn out negative. A forensic geneticist told Saturday Vanguard that about 3 out of 10 men that under go paternity test are not biological fathers of their children. He warned that the implications are often potentially serious and significantly damaging to parties involved.
According to the geneticist, DNA testing is currently the most advanced and accurate technology to determine parentage.
“In a DNA parentage test, the result (called the probability of parentage) is zero percent when the alleged parent is not biologically related to the child and the probability of parentage is typically 99.99 percent when the alleged parent is biologically related to the child.
“However, while almost all individuals have a single and distinct set of genes, rare individuals, known as “chimeras”, have at least two different sets of genes, which can result in a false negative result if their reproductive tissue has a different genetic make-up from the tissue sampled for the test.”
Basically, a DNA test is performed by collecting buccal cells found on the inside of the cheek using a buccal swab or cheek swab. The collector rubs the inside of the cheek to collect as many buccal cells as possible and the cells are then sent to a laboratory for testing.
Saturday Vanguard gathered that technically a birth certificate is not proof of paternity, when compared to a DNA test. “No doubt a birth certificates is an important identification tool, however it is not recognised as legal document to establish paternity.
“If a child is not born within a marriage or the parents do not sign a paternity affidavit, a father can only ensure rights and obligations as a parent by filing a paternity lawsuit to obtain Petition to Establish Paternity. According to legal counsel, if a father alleges that a minor (under 18) is his or a vice versa, a DNA test may demanded to prove or disprove the claim all in the interest of the child.
Establishing paternity gives a child a legal father who is then bestowed rights and obligations relating to the care of his child. Paternity can be established if the child was born in wedlock or if the man and woman are unmarried but sign a paternity affidavit, or a court establishes paternity.
Paternity can be established by agreement between the man and woman (parents) or through genetic testing. However, DNA or genetic testing is essentially used to establish paternity when there is dispute about the identity of the child’s father.
Cases of stolen or missing babies add to the problem. The case of a sperm bank owner who allegedly fathered 60 children after he secretly switched donors’ semen with his own, also comes to mind.
After the 89-year-old doctor passed away families have come forward with the shocking claim and pursuing DNA tests to see if he used his own sperm to father their children.
Dr Abayomi Ajayi, Medical Director, Nordica Fertility Centre, Lagos notes that practice of mixing eggs is unethical. “How do you determine which egg belongs to who and now we’re already doing three parent conception. I don’t think it’s ethical. “The identity of the baby matters and that is why now in the UK when you use donor eggs you’re required by law to tell the baby once he attains 18. That law doesn’t apply here in Nigeria for now maybe with time it will be applicable because there should be no hush hush about anything concerning parenting.”
According to Ajayi, many fathers are not just suspecting that they may not be biological fathers of their children. There are situations coming up that desire the need for DNA testing such as American or Canadian visa lottery.
Ajayi said: “I had a friend who was elderly, his children are my age mates. His wife died many years ago and he remarried . The children reside abroad and invited him to America to settle down. The man was excited and decided to take the three children from the 2nd wife along with him, but the mandatory DNA test showed he wasn’t the father of any of the children. He had to travel to the US alone and just left the children in his house in Lagos. It was after his dearh that the truth was revealed.”
Further, Ajayi narrated the story of the vanishing twin. A woman and her husband had divorced. She was pregnant and they had gone to court, which asked for the DNA tests result as evidence of paternity of the children because issue of child support was involved.
“The woman got the shock of her life when she learned that none of the children were biologically hers but confirmed the man was their biological father.
“Of course the woman was insistent that she gave birth to the children, but the test showed they were not hers. Her lawyer went to research medical history and discovered that such case had occurred before.
“He then got the court to be present at the delivery of the new baby. So the court was represented, and saw her deliver the baby. The DNA test was carried out, but again and like before the result shower she wasn’t the biological mother.
It took some time before medical experts could explain the bizzare development.
“What happened was that the woman was a twin, but had been born as a singleton. She had actually absorbed her to while inside the womb. Her ovaries were actually those of her non-existent twin sister and the DNA from her ovaries were different from her own DNA.”
In essence, according to Ajayi, the woman was bearing the children of her sister. She had two sets of DNA and since it’s the ovaries that make eggs, the children she was making actually belonged to the twin sister that was never born
“All this is genetics and it is something that we have not fully unravelled. Sometimes everything is not as it seems and that why sometimes when. people say they know their wife or know their husband I just laugh and say they don’t really know.
“ It’s only what you see that you know. because what we are discovering about human beings and genes is sometimes beyond belief.
“The way DNA testing, doing your paternity and ancestry are getting cheaper and affordable by the day and you may not even need to leave your house. More people are getting interested and sot it’s going to become more affordable.”
Currently, millions of Black Americans want to know their origin because one can tell from one’s DNA where one is from.
“Communities tend to have the same DNA sequence it will just be the one that differentiates you that’s unique and specific and can be dated to know where you have come from. But while you’re looking for that, you might get some other information that you do don’t want,” Ajayi cautioned.
Accuracy of DNA test
Many people often wonder how accurate is DNA paternity testing? “DNA paternity testing is reputed to be 99.99 percent or higher accurate when done properly,” according to Salami Abiodun, Senior Geneticist with DNA Centre for Paternity Test, Nigeria.
He explained that DNA paternity testing (sometimes called parentage testing) uses DNA (Deoxyribonucleic Acid), the biological basis of inheritance, to prove or disprove the relationship between a child and an alleged father.
Noting that paternity can even be established before the baby is born using a prenatal paternity test, he said the test can also be performed even if the alleged father is missing or deceased.
As explained by Abiodun, “If two possible fathers are related as full brothers or father and son, they may share many of the DNA markers used in paternity testing. This means that if proper precautions are not taken, both men could test positive as the child’s biological father.
“DNA testing is strong enough to determine paternity in a case involving related alleged fathers, but the laboratory must be aware of the situation before the testing process begins.”
He said DNA Centre offers two options for cases involving alleged fathers who are related.
“Option 1: Test both alleged fathers, the child, and the mother at the same time. By comparing both alleged fathers’ DNA profiles with the child’s DNA profile, our expert laboratory staff can achieve accurate and conclusive test results.
“Option 2: Test one alleged father with extended analysis. This option can be taken when only one of the alleged fathers is available for testing. To produce a conclusive result, we must perform extended testing and statistical analysis. There is an additional fee for the extended testing and analysis.”
Explaining the difference between legal DNA test and informational DNA test, Abiodun said both tests are exactly the same. “The difference is that legally-binding tests require a witness, proof of identity, and special chain of custody procedures. The Peace of Mind test is for informational purpose only, therefore is not legally binding. It is intended as a discrete and private way whereby families can resolve questions without involving outside parties.
“Whether for legal or personal purposes, the DNA test results and testing are the same. When testing for legal purposes, a third-party must witness the DNA collection process and verify the identity of each person being tested.”
DNA doesn’t change. It is set at conception and generally does not change, a paternity test can be performed on a person of any age—even on a sample from an unborn child (through prenatal testing). At birth,buccal swab can be collected from the newborn.
Looks alone are never proof of paternity. Many parentsinsist that their child looks just like an alleged father and so they can’t understand why a paternity test would show that the possible father and the child are not biologically related. A child could be biologically related to a possible father when they look nothing alike.
A child gets half of their DNA from each parent.
The traits of a child are determined not only by what their parents look like, but all the genomes that came before, on both sides of the family.
This genetic soup either can create a child that looks exactly like one or more parents, or a child that looks like neither, or something in between.
The way DNA is written is such that it is the arrangement that changes. “When it is specific for you, your brothers DNA can look like yours but will never be the same all through the sequence even if you are twins. it is even better than fingerprint. DNA testing is very accurate except those carrying out the analysis are not experts.
There are no age restrictions for DNA test participants. When collection is performed by an adult as directed, the cheek swabs are even safe for infants.
If the father isn’t available for a paternity test, paternity can still be determined by testing relatives of the deceased father, such as the possible father’s parents. Testing can also be done for a brother or sister of the child or a brother or sister of the possible father.
It’s a fundamental right to know where one came from. Paternity is a question of identity; it helps someone to form their personality.
**This story was originally published in the Saturday Vanguard of 4th May 2019
Vanguard News Nigeria