By Uche Amunike
The River State Government has taken over the case of alleged paedophile, Pastor Felix Okpara Duruebebe, after a conversation between him and the minor he defiled leaked on social media, serving as proof of all allegations leveled against him.
Pastor Felix Okpara, who is the founder, Mercy House Church International was accused of defiling a 16year old girl for one year, between the months of April 2021 and May 2022.
In late June, he was remanded by a Chief Magistrate Court in Port Harcourt, presided by Chief Magistrate N. Onugbum, who remanded him at the Port Harcourt Correctional Centre. He was arraigned on a two-count charge by the Police State Criminal Investigation and Intelligence Department (SCIID), his charges stating that he allegedly defiled the minor within a space of one year.
He was accused of committing sexual abuse with the teenager at Ray JPE Hotel, Rumuokoro, Mercy House Church, Branch Iwofe and No 42A Road 12, Rumuahulu, Port Harcourt.
His case was adjourned to August 18.
The magistrate stated that sometime in the month of December, 2021, the embattled man of God was said to have forcibly taken an oath with the minor, at the Mercy House Church International Headquarters in Eliozu, around the same magisterial district earlier mentioned, and unlawfully forced her to vow not to sleep with any other man or let anybody know about the illegal love affair between them, or else, she would lose her sanity and die.
In the leaked audio between the 39 year old Pastor and the 16 year old minor, a voice was heard scolding the teenager for not taking her bath and reminded her to ensure that she should always bathe to avoid having her lady parts smell. The girl apologized and promised to bathe regularly and take care of her lady parts. That was at the point where she informed the Pastor that it appeared her mother was aware of what was going on between them, thereby prompting him to threaten her that if she exposed their affair, she would run mad and die.
It is an offense that is punishable under Section 32(1)(2) of the Child Rights Act CAP 50 Law of Rivers State, 2003.
On the second count, the accused committed an offense that is punishable under section 208 of the Criminal Code, CAP 37, Vol .11 Law of Nigeria, 2004.
Pastor Felix Okpara pleaded not guilty and was granted bail with two sureties in the like sum of N2million. One of the sureties must be a bishop, while the second must be a relative that owns landed property within the magisterial district. He was however sent to the correctional facility because of his inability to meet with the bail conditions.
The Rivers state government will henceforth handle the case through the office of the Attorney-General and the Commissioner of Justice, following the leaked audio conversation between the cleric and the girl.
On their part, the International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA) in Rivers State expressed their joy at the bail condition given to Pastor Felix Okpara and went on to advice Nigerians to be careful of the religious centres they patronise. The condemned the idea of clerics encouraging the settlement of criminal matters. They have also cited the case in order to have him prosecuted.
Their Chairperson, Mrs Adata Bio-Briggs assured that the group will follow up the matter to ensure that Justice is obtained for the 16year old minor.