IRELAND: Postcard 'Thread' Leads To Pamela Going Solo On Case
LAST October, a postcard from Spain arrived in the offices of a solicitors' practice in Dun Laoghaire, Co Dublin.
The firm, Murphy McElligot, had just taken over the case of Pamela Izevbekhai, the Nigerian asylum seeker whose attempts to fight deportation on the grounds that her daughters will be genitally mutilated has made her a cause celebre.
The card, posted in Alicante, warned: "Take my advice, back off. She is making a fool out of everyone. She is costing tax to Irish people. I know. I am Nigerian."
The solicitors took the card seriously. When Pamela Izevbekhai went to the Supreme Court on Friday in a last throw of the dice in her bid to stay in Ireland, McElligot Murphy asked the three judges if they could withdraw from the case.
The two female solicitors in the practice regarded the postcard as a threat and took it seriously enough to report it to gardai. They felt rather exposed, their barrister explained.
Before retiring to consider their request, Mr Justice Adrian Hardiman witheringly summed it up as an application by solicitors to come off record, on the grounds that they received a postcard that made derogatory remarks about their client and asked the solicitor to "take my advice, back off".
Many lawyers have received threats. In the main, he said, they have considered it their duty to the client to surmount them.
Lawyers had received more explicit threats and had never even contemplated making an application to come off record, he said. Pamela Izevbekhai needs professional advice more than ever, given the allegations in the case, he said. This was not a time to leave her alone.
But Ms Izevbekhai let the solicitors off the hook by insisting, against the advice of the Supreme Court, on representing herself in the final leg of a long-running and extraordinarily convoluted legal battle to remain in Ireland with her children, Naomi and Jemima. Murphy McElligot were the fourth legal team to withdraw from the case.
The allegations she faces are grave. Pivotal to her case is the death of her first-born child, Elizabeth, whom she says died of blood loss as a result of female genital mutilation, after being forced to have the procedure by her husband's family. If she was deported, she says, her husband's family would ensure that her daughters would face a similar fate, the Nigerian authorities being unable to offer them protection.
The State claims that she gave the courts forged medical records and death certificates to support the claim that Elizabeth died and questions whether the child ever existed.
Ms Izevbekhai insists that she now has genuine records that prove her first born died as a result of complications arising from female genital mutilation. On Friday, the State applied to the Supreme Court to have the whole case struck out as an abuse of process, claiming it was based on a lie.
Mr Justice Hardiman described Pamela Izevbekhai's decision to represent herself as folly and foolishness. She struck a lonely figure as she listened from a row of benches bereft of wigs and gowns, while counsel for the State, Eoin McCullough, wanted to include four affidavits, which ripped asunder the documents she relied on to prove her daughter's death, as evidence.
He told the court that late last year, as the case attracted enormous publicity, the Department of Justice decided to re-open it.
In February, Cormac McHenry, an Irish diplomat, was dispatched to Lagos to inspect the death certificate at a local government office. None was on file.
Gardai travelled to Nigeria in March and interviewed Dr Joseph Unokanjo at Isiona Hospital. He claimed she had her first child in 2000 and that the documents supposedly signed by him were forgeries. The hospital's address was incorrect, and a stamp purporting to be from the hospital was wrong. Mr McCullough quoted from what Dr Unokanjo said were her medical records, supporting his claim.
At one point, Mr Justice Hardiman turned to Ms Izevbekhai and urged her to listen carefully.
On another occasion, he said that if the claims were true, they were utterly destructive of her credibility.
In her defence, Pamela Izevbekhai has drawn heavily on the corruption of Nigerian life and the secrecy that surrounds the practice of female genital mutilation.
She insists she had Elizabeth in 1993 as a private patient in Dr Joseph Unokanjo's Isioma Hospital, and she also attended him with her subsequent births.
She had rung him in 2005 to ask for a death certificate to prove that her daughter had died as a result of female genital mutilation. He told her to get her husband, Tony, to phone him. He was in England, as he had a visa to travel there from Nigeria, so dispatched an unnamed friend to go to Isioma Hospital to collect the certificate.
She said she had no idea they were forged until last March. She asked her brother to make enquiries and hired Nigerian lawyers. It transpired that her daughter had been taken from the private clinic to the general hospital in Lagos for a post mortem after her death. That was where they found Elizabeth's medical certificate, which said her primary cause of death was circumcision, and was signed by Dr E Oni. Her brother also tracked down all the documents required to get an official attestation of Elizabeth's death, last April, from the National Population Commission. An official there told them that as the earlier death certificate was not issued by that office, they must have been victims of a tout.
The State picked holes in her account. Eoin McCullough highlighted that her brother's affidavit said Elizabeth died in the general hospital. Ms Izevbekhai said she died in Isioma Hospital in the presence of Dr Unokanjo.
Ms Izevbekhai insisted the affidavits were untrue. I know Dr Unokanjo has been under tremendous influence, she said. The Nigerian chief justice and the Nigerian ambassador to Ireland have already said her case is causing the state embarrassment, she said.
The case to dismiss Ms Izevbekhai's appeal will be heard in full at the Supreme Court next Thursday.
AUTHOR: Maeve Sheehan
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