By Mohammed Bashir
Soldiers of the Joint Task Force (JTF) in Lokoja, the Kogi State capital, yesterday intercepted 20 vehicles conveying almost 200 people, including 103 children suspected to have been trafficked.
JTF Commander Lt-Col. Gabriel Olorunyomi said his men became curious when they discovered that the occupants of the vehicles were mostly children, accompanied by some adults.
He said the vehicles and the occupants had been taken to the Army Records Headquarters in Lokoja for screening to ascertain their actual destination, following which they would be handed over to the police.
Col. Olorunyomi said 103 in the travelling party were children between ages three and 16. He said 79 others were in the age bracket of 19 and 53.
He said preliminary investigations revealed that the vehicles were conveying the passengers from various communities in Benue, Cross River and Kogi states.
“Most of the passengers are from Obi, Oju and Gwer local government areas of Benue. The remaining few are from Iyala Local Government Area of Cross River and Olamaboro Local Government Area of Kogi,’’ he said.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that all the passengers, apart from giving similar excuses for their movement from their various communities, also said that they were all heading for Ondo, Ekiti, Osun, Oyo, Ogun, Lagos and Edo states.
It was learnt that most of the passengers conceded that they were heading for the southwestern states for the first time in search of vacation jobs. Some said they wanted to go and do some farm work.
Two of the drivers, Bolaji Olusola and Adedeji Oluwaseun, told reporters that they picked up the passengers at motor parks.
They said some of the passengers paid their transport fares at the loading points, while the others promised to pay on arrival at destination.
Last Friday, the JTF arrested a man, Sunday Agbo, at Itogbe, conveying 10 children (ages six to 16) in a Camry car to Lagos.
He was handed over to the police for interrogation.
Agbo allegedly confessed to being in the trade for close to a decade. He alleged that the children were moved with the consent of their parents with the promise of helping them secure maid jobs in Lagos and other western states.
Mr. Agbo, who said he worked as an agent for one Madam Janet Akpa in Benue state, said he only transports the children to the woman’s husband in Ikorodu, Lagos state.
Commander of Army Records, Maj-Gen, Alphonsus Chukwu said the children might be victims of child trafficking.
He said initial interrogation revealed that the children would be received at their destinations by some yet-to-be-identified persons, who would then pay their transport fares to the drivers.
Gen. Chukwu said the drivers were also suspected to be accomplices, as they failed to produce the passengers’ manifest and agreed to carry many of the passengers without collecting their transport fares at the loading points.
He said the vehicles, drivers and passengers would be transferred to the police for proper investigation and action.
Gen. Chukwu, said that the development indicated that many parents had failed in their responsibility toward their children’s upbringing.
He urged parents to take proper care of their children so as to ensure that they did not fall into wrong hands.
Blessing Jacob, one of the children, who said she had just finished her promotional examination to SS 2, said she was told to follow the suspect to Lagos for her holiday where she would work for a while before continuing her education.
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