Children, the most vulnerable members of the society, seem not to have any place to hide from demented Nigerians whose stock in trade is stealing of minors, even day old, for the purpose of making quick money. The epidemic is a variant of the scourge of kidnapping, which the Nigerian state has laboured to staunch for more than a decade but to no avail. Serious attention needs to be paid to this anomie with a view to finding a solution to it.
An unsavoury police bulletin from Imo State Police command last week stating that it rescued 11 stolen kids within a few weeks should trigger alarm bells. Among them were two children from Akure, Ondo State. The victims, Unmi Ishaku, five, and Habib Awalu, seven, were kidnapped by one Mary Paul and sold for N200, 000. The suspect, who hails from Cross Rivers State, had rented accommodation in the same compound where the two kids lived with their respective parents, for the sole purpose of stealing them. The Imo police boss, Dasuki Galandanchi, who paraded the suspect, said, “She stayed for only four days before she stole the kids.” Besides missing from their parents’ homes, children disappear on their way to school, inside churches, on hospital beds as soon as they are born and so on.
Imagine babies stolen in Ondo, in South-West, being salvaged in far away Owerri, in the South-East. A search for them might not have gone beyond Akure or the entire Ondo State. In July, a four-year-old child, Elo Ogidi, disappeared at a Christ Embassy Church parish in Lagos, but was found a month later at a so-called orphanage in Benin, Edo State. These kids are lucky to be alive; some end up being victims of ritual killings, a barbarity that the 21st century society is unabashedly becoming accustomed to. The tendency to move the babies to states far away from where they were stolen is an important dimension, which should enlighten the police and other law enforcement agencies on the imperative of broadening their search beyond their locale.
But the most bizarre aspect of this nefarious merchandising in juveniles is the involvement of biological parents. The practice is becoming rampant, given frequent media reports. Poverty is used by some to justify the obnoxious act. Other vendors include commercial sex workers, victims of rape, teenage mothers, who had hidden their pregnancies from parents, and illegal orphanages that operate baby factories.
According to a 2006 UNESCO report, the South-East states of Abia, Anambra and Imo have most of such homes, just as Akwa Ibom, Ogun and Ondo have high rates of the incident. “It is a well organised crime, sometimes with medical doctors involved in running the factory. They operate like a maternity home and the babies produced are sold out. Some bring their babies to be sold, while others are brought to the factory without pregnancy and able-bodied men are made to impregnate them forcefully,” say the Police.
One of such illegal orphanages was discovered in 2013, located at Umuozuo, Osisioma Local Government Area, in Aba, Abia State. It had 32 pregnant ladies, whose babies were sold. A male child was sold for N450, 000, while a female attracted N400, 000. A teenage mother was paid N100, 000 if she was delivered of a boy, as against N90, 000 paid to one that had a girl child. Undoubtedly, more of this bastion of criminality is outside the radar of law enforcement agencies and the media.
Illicit activities such as these were reasons why the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons Act 2003 was enacted, with the power “to coordinate all laws on trafficking in persons and related offences.” While NAPTIP’s rescue of 4,810 females trafficked between 2004 and 2012 and another 1,750 males is remarkable, it needs to pay closer attention to trafficking in minors. It is estimated that 27 million people are trafficked world-wide annually, generating $32 billion illegal profit, thereby making it the fastest growing global black market. Another UNESCO 2011 report ranked trafficking as the third most common crime in Nigeria after financial fraud and drug trafficking.
The illicit trade, in whatever form, calls for adequate policy, legislative and law enforcement response from government and Civil Society Organisations to compel those involved in it to retrace their steps. Parents should be extra careful for the safety of the children, while schools should be made to operate within a framework that makes their pupils less vulnerable to attack. Orphanages should be subjected to serious legal scrutiny throughout the country to ensure they are not involved in this vice.
However, in all, the Nigerian state should be blamed for its apparent weakness in enforcing its laws. Institutional frailties and corruption in law enforcement provide the leeway for these atrocities to fester. According to Control Risk, a United Kingdom-based consultancy that tracks kidnapping globally, Nigeria is ranked fifth behind Mexico, India, Pakistan and Iraq. This malevolence is not likely to change any time soon; though 15 states passed laws making kidnapping a capital offence to serve as a deterrent, they have been indifferent to enforcing them. By all means, this evil mercantilism must be pulled down; it is an assault on our humanity.