After hours of sifting through paperwork for evidence that a child named Elizabeth Izevbekhai had ever existed, Irish officials and a garda detective inspector were stumped. Last month, they visited a birth registry office in Lagos, Nigeria, to determine if the child's birth in 1993 was listed. After finding no record of it, they went to a separate office to check if her death 17 months later had been catalogued, and searched for burial details. Again, they found nothing.
The story Pamela Izevbekhai had told the Irish authorities about her tragic infant's death from com- plications of female genital mutilation (FGM) wasn't standing up. Instead, it was unravelling fast. In her defence, Izevbekhai's supporters maintain that in Nigeria, unlike Ireland and other western countries, not all births and deaths are registered. "But that wasn't the only part of her story that didn't stand up. None of it did. The birth, the death, the burial, the doctor's evidence," said a source.
Before the trawl through paperwork in Lagos, the detective inspector from the Garda National Immigration Bureau (GNIB) and Irish embassy and department of justice officials based in Lagos made an unannounced visit to consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist Dr Joseph Unokanjo. He's the medical director at Isioma Hospital, Lagos.
"It's not a hospital like the ones we're used to. It's basically a GP's office with two rooms. It's in an old colonial suburb of Lagos. It's on the second floor of a building and there's a shanty shop at the front of it," said a source.
The doctor was shown pictures of Pamela and confirmed he had met her on several occasions and treated her for the birth of her daughter Naomi. But he knew nothing about the supposed birth and death of another child named Elizabeth. "He was quite adamant that her daughter Naomi [now 7] was her first child. As a gynaecologist, he was able to definitively say that she had never had a child before that. Pamela has spoken about leaving her son behind when she fled to Ireland. But as far as we can tell, that son is her husband's child, but she helped to bring him up."
Dr Unokanjo was shown an affidavit purported to have been sworn and signed by him in 2006 and a certificate of the cause of death, which purported to come from Isioma hospital in 1994. He was perplexed and said the signatures were not his and the documents were forgeries. The garda and government officials believed him – the hospital where they met was different to the address and phone number Izevbekhai had supplied on the documentation she presented.
"He was a real gentleman; he's a man in his 60s. When we heard the interview replayed on RTÉ with a doctor they believe to be Dr Unokanjo, we laughed out loud. It's a completely different man who's a couple of decades younger," added the source.
Unokanjo denied that he was ever interviewed by RTÉ radio or any media organisation in Ireland. In the RTÉ interview aired in 2005, a man claiming to be Unokanjo confirmed Elizabeth's death from complications of FGM. Philip Boucher-Hayes, the RTÉ broadcaster who conducted the radio interview, has said he obtained the phone number for Isioma hospital independently and believed he spoke to the doctor. Sligo-based radio station Ocean FM also aired an apparent interview with Dr Unokanjo in January 2007. The man in it reiterates what RTÉ was told, that the infant Elizabeth died at his hospital. In another bizarre twist, the man on the RTÉ interview and the person speaking on Ocean FM are not the same person, easily ascertained after listening to both interviews. "It's getting beyond belief at this stage. Now we have three doctors. Two fake ones that spoke to RTÉ and Ocean FM and the real one that the Irish authorities met last month," said a source.
The 'real Dr Unokanjo' has not helped his own reputation – or the Department of Justice – by demanding money from Irish newspapers that have contacted him since the controversy over the fake documents emerged two weeks ago. "If he's asking for money from newspapers for his story, how can we believe anything he says?" said Rosanna Flynn of Residents Against Racism.
Other sources dismissed the request for payment for his story as another cultural misunderstanding. "He never asked for money when we visited him at his hospital. He seems to believe that western media will pay for his story – that's how he believes the media works over here," said a garda source. "We accept the version of events he gave us completely. He was annoyed that someone had forged documents and put his name on them. He was more than happy to provide us with an affidavit outlining his position. In fact, he insisted on it."
Unokanjo recalled that Izevbekhai telephoned him at some stage over the last few years requesting him to issue a death certificate about a dead child he knew nothing about to enable her asylum application in Ireland. He said he immediately refused.
This could have serious consequences for Pamela Izevbekhai. If the Supreme Court accepts 'the real Dr Unokanjo's' affidavit as truth when it is submitted to the court on 1 May, the Nigerian woman could face perjury charges for deliberately misleading the court or even criminal charges.
Her supporters realise that her chances of successfully appealing her deportation order are now slim. Their last role of the dice will be to ask the minister for justice to intervene and reverse the deportation order, a scenario described as "nonsensical" considering she has admitted to using false documents.
Public support is also waning. With a full legal team, more than 22 high court appearances and the cost of sending a garda detective inspector on a three-day trip to Nigeria last month, the tab the taxpayer has picked up for Izevbekhai's case has reached €500,000.
Since the fake documentation scandal emerged, Izevbekhai has maintained that Elizabeth did exist but died from complications of FGM and that her husband's family insisted the illegal procedure be carried out on the infant. She insists that her daughters Naomi (7) and Jemima (6) face the same fate if returned to Nigeria.
Izevbekhai lived with her husband Tony in the city of Ibadan, about 90 minutes drive from Lagos. The family were by no means impoverished. They had four household maids and a comfortable existence.
Why, then, did she flee the country to live in poky asylum accommodation without her husband and a weekly allowance of €19.10? Because of the threat of FGM, her supporters say. The authorities maintain it's for an improved quality of life.
A lot of questions remain unanswered about the curious case of Pamela Izevbekhai. No one has yet been able to track down her husband's parents and discover whether it would still be traditional for the family to carry out genital mutilation. The Nigerian government told a UN committee last year that the prevalence rate of FGM in the country was 32%, and that in some regions the figure was as high as 65%. These facts cannot be ignored.
It's a fact that many asylum seekers issued with deportation orders often disappear rather than sign on at immigration headquarters on the date of their deportation. These people sometimes remain living here under the radar, working illegally. Others leave the country and travel to somewhere else in Europe. Neither of these is an option for Izevbekhai. She became a cause célèbre and pin-up girl for the scourge of FGM. She's not just recognisable in Ireland but in many other European countries too.
In the middle of this publicity storm, people have largely forgotten about her two daughters, innocent of all that's happened since their arrival more than four years ago to a country they now regard as home. "There is no doubt she'll be deported at this stage," said a source. "It's a matter of when rather than if. And there'll be no coming back for Pamela."
The Fake Doctor's Report
The Sunday Tribune has obtained the fake doctor's report Pamela Izevbekhai presented to the authorities that states her daughter Elizabeth died from complications of female genital mutilation (FGM).
RTÉ broadcast an interview with a man claiming to be Dr Joseph Unokanjo in 2005 and again replayed it last week. This newspaper has established that the man purporting to be Dr Unokanjo reads verbatim from this fake document (pictured right) that Izevbekhai now admits is a forgery.
Philip Boucher-Hayes is the RTÉ broadcaster who conducted the radio interview. Boucher-Hayes has sworn an affidavit supporting Izevbekhai's claims for her legal case. He said through a spokeswoman last week: "In 2005, I rang international directory enquiries and got a number for the hospital in which Dr Unokanjo works. I rang the hospital and was put through to the person whose interview was aired." A phone number for Isioma hospital in Lagos was not available from international directory enquiries when contacted on several occasions this week. The address on the fake document gives a fake address and phone number for the hospital. The hospital's actual address is 11 James Robertson Street, Surulere, Lagos.
In his sworn affidavit, Boucher Hayes said that when he telephoned Dr Unokanjo back some time later, he alleged to have been visited by a Nigerian army captain who threatened him for speaking publicly in support of Pamela Izevbekhai. Boucher Hayes was unavailable for comment.