Nollywood actress, Kate Henshaw, says she and her friends have made arrangement to return the funds raised for Michael Alvez, a two-year-old boy born with an ulcerous growth in the face.
Henshaw added that she had asked Nigerians to stop paying into an account opened for the victim’s treatment, adding that the development was as a result of the request of the family that she stopped assisting the family after disagreements over Michael’s welfare.
Journalists had reported that Henshaw’s attention was drawn to Michael and his mother’s condition through the social media.
The mother, Mary, had reportedly been using him to beg for alms in the Onikan area of Lagos State when some residents snapped their pictures.
Henshaw was reportedly tagged on Twitter sometime in March 2016, and she took interest in the case.
After locating them, the baby was admitted to the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, Idi Araba, after which the actress involved a non-governmental organisation, Project Alert on Violence Against Women, before the Lagos State Government was also notified.
After a strike action by medical workers at LUTH, the baby, who was only 14 months old then, was allegedly admitted to a shelter home of Project Alert, where the grandmother stayed with him.
His mother was alleged to have fled the hospital.
After some disagreements, Michael’s aunt, Sidi, volunteered to take custody of the child, while the NGO was saddled with the responsibility of paying his medical bill from funds raised for the purpose.
Journalists learnt that shortly after the aunt took over the baby’s custody, the mother, Mary, returned and Sidi handed over the child to her.
His condition was said to have deteriorated, leading to his re-admission to LUTH.
Project Alert said it was worried by the development and wrote the Lagos State Government on November 18, 2016, asking for a shelter for Michael.
The state government, in its response in December 2016, approved a home for Michael, which was allegedly rejected by the family.
The aunt, Sidi, was said to have again asked the government to release the child to her.
A letter from the Lagos State Government, dated February 23, 2017, and directed to Sidi, approved the request.
By March 3, a lawyer representing the baby’s family, E.G. Adelemoni, wrote to the management of Project Alert, demanding a statement of the audited account of Michael’s medical fund.
Adelemoni, in the letter, said the demand was to ensure that the money was used for what it was intended, including an overseas treatment for Michael.
He threatened legal action if the request was not acceded to within seven days of its receipt.
A reaction from Project Alert’s legal officer, Benjamin Odeh, stated that Henshaw, Aramide Kasunmu (another member of the fundraising team), and members of the public were the donors to the account, hence the fund managers were accountable only to them.
On Wednesday, Project Alert said it had agreed with Henshaw and Kasunmu to return the money to the donors.
The Chief Executive Officer of Project Alert, Mrs. Josephine Effah-Chukuwma, said, “The last one year of our intervention to help the baby has been very emotional and frustrating. The major frustration has been from Baby Michael’s family, who have been uncooperative, greedy and antagonising.
“In November 2016, Sidi briefed a lawyer to write us requesting information on the account and money raised. We had a meeting with the lawyer and at the end, he realised his client had wrongly briefed him.
“In February 2017, at a meeting called by the social welfare department at the state secretariat, Alausa, she refused to allow the governments take custody of the child. She also said she did not want any further medical assistance. She requested that the child be discharged from the hospital to her and the grandma. Michael was subsequently released.
“However, a week later, she got yet another lawyer, Adelemoni, to write us about the funds. The question is: Why is the family more interested in the money than the health of the boy? Why would Sidi, on behalf of the family, tell the government and the rescuers to back off, and then turn around to enquire about the money through her lawyers?
“The rescuers have with heavy hearts – considering that a sick child is involved – decided to refund the balance of the money raised to all those who were kind enough to donate to the fund since the family has rejected our assistance.
“As an organisation, Project Alert believes in transparency and accountability. In the last one year, we raised a total sum of N9.8m to help Michael, and spent N1.8m. The account has been duly audited by an audit firm– Bamisile and Co. Since the family has asked us to withdraw, we believe it is right that we inform the public and refund the money to those who donated it.”
Henshaw, in her contribution, claimed that she had received threat messages and curses on her children over the case. She added that she regretted supporting the cause.
“The baby is now in the care of the family and the government,” she added.
When our correspondent contacted Sidi’s lawyer, Adelemoni, he said he was forced to issue the threat to sue the group after Project Alert allegedly backed out of Michael’s treatment.
He said Sidi alleged that the NGO insisted on getting Michael to a motherless baby’s home, which did not go down well with the family.
A letter he addressed to the Lagos State Attorney General, dated February 21, 2017, stated that the family also felt betrayed by Project Alert after some government officials attempted to withdraw Michael from LUTH for onward transfer to a motherless baby’s home
He noted in the letter that the family was disappointed that the two-year-old was not flown out for treatment as promised by the group.
He said, “We are not demanding the money from them. We only asked them to give an account and once account is given, they can send the medical bill directly to the hospital in India where the boy will be taken to.
“Also, there are discrepancies in the money being declared by the NGO. The money was taken on behalf of Michael, so nobody has the right to sit on it. And yes, the mother is not of sound mind. Our client has been the one taking care of her (Mary’s) two children. Before the NGO took over, she has been contributing to the medical care of the baby.”
Project Alert, however, denied that it promised to fly the child abroad for treatment.