N.J. Girl in Custody Battle Dies
Sep. 03, 1998
NEWARK, N.J. (AP) _ State Department officials have learned that an 11-year-old girl who is caught with her sister in the middle of a bitter custody dispute died of malnutrition 10 months ago in a Lagos, Nigeria, hospital.
Now officials are pressing Nigerian authorities for the whereabouts of the dead girl's 13-year-old sister.
Longy Anyanwu has been jailed for a year on contempt charges for refusing to say where his children have been since he left them with relatives in July 1997. His estranged wife, who also has family in Nigeria, said the girls _ who are U.S. citizens _ had disappeared.
In a telephone interview from jail on Wednesday, Anyanwu told The Star-Ledger of Newark he believed both girls _ the late Ogechi Anyanwu and her sister, Uchechi _ were still alive and described the allegations against him as ``a modern-day lynching of an African man.''
``If I am guilty for anything,'' he said, it's ``for marrying the type of person I married.''
Edith Anyanwu, who won full custody of the girls in New Jersey last fall, has said that Ogechi could die without proper medical care in Nigeria because of a rare intestinal disorder that requires a special diet and constant monitoring.
``Ogechi is dead, are you rejoicing?'' Mrs. Anyanwu asked her husband Tuesday at a court appearance.
The former computer professor at Montclair State University left his daughters behind with family members after returning from Nigerian in July 1997, and has said he wanted them to stay there.
Anyanwu's brother-in-law _ Christopher Ohuruogu _ was charged by Nigerian police with murder in July in Ogechi's death as well as concealment of a death, conspiracy and providing false information to Nigerian police.
Superior Court Judge Herbert Friend told Anyanwu, 49, he could face child endangerment charges even if Uchechi is returned to the United States. No charges were filed against him Wednesday, although Friend said he would remain jailed until he returned the surviving daughter.
Mrs. Anyanwu, a 41-year-old nurse, learned of her daughter's death on Friday from the State Department. Ogechi died on Nov. 2, 1997, at Lagos University Teaching Hospital of malnutrition, Nigerian police told the State Department.
Authorities could not say how long she had been hospitalized, provide other details about her death or say why it took so long to disclose it. Nigeria is not bound by an international agreement addressing child custody disputes.
In a January letter to a Nigerian judge, Anyanwu said his children would face ``a lifetime of emotional devastation'' if they returned to their mother.
He said he wanted the girls, U.S. citizens born in Maryland, to learn more about their Nigerian culture.
The girls traveled with their parents in June 1997 to Nigeria, where the couple planned to work on their marriage. Mrs. Anyanwu said she was thrown out of Anyanwu's home and forced to return to New Jersey in July without her children. Anyanwu has said his wife abandoned their children.
Ogechi was born prematurely and developed neonatal necrotizing enterocolitus, which kills bowel tissue. Doctors removed 80 percent of her small intestine and 50 percent of her colon.