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How traffickers connived with Gombe LG officials to sell baby for N400,000

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CHIMA AZUBUIKE writes about the arrest of an alleged child trafficking syndicate by the police in Gombe State and how the victims were sold to buyers with the connivance of government officials

I have boys as children; I only wanted to have a girl-child,” was the excuse given by Mrs Tina Raphael, a 60-year-old woman from Anambra State who was arrested by the Gombe State Police Command over her involvement in a case of suspected child trafficking.

In an interview with Saturday PUNCH, Raphael said she adopted the baby from a suspected trafficker she identified as Khadijah for N400,000, adding that she was introduced to the ailing child who was dying from malnutrition.

“I had been wanting to adopt a baby girl since January 1, 2024, and was told that one was available by Khadijah. The baby is one year old and she was not walking and was sick, so I asked her (Khadijah) to bring the baby to me to see what I could do to help her.

“After looking at the baby, I noticed that she was suffering from malnutrition and needed medical assistance; that’s why I asked her to bring the child after which I asked her how I could get legal papers for the custody of the baby since she works with social welfare (in the Ministry of Women Affairs) because she told me she works there.”

Narrating further, the 60-year-old woman disclosed that she was charged an amount for the documentation of the baby’s ownership and denied buying the baby.

“She (Khadijah) told me to bring N400,000 which I did. This happened on January 1, 2024, and I was hoping that she would come on Friday and hand over the papers to me, only for me to see her with police in my house and (the police) arrested me without the papers; that was how I got involved.

“I didn’t buy the baby with the money I gave her because she said she would hand over papers to me and that was what I had been waiting for,” Raphael added.

When our correspondent asked her whether she knew who the little girl’s mother was, she said she was told that the baby’s mother had died.

“The baby’s mother is dead and nobody is there to take care of her. She is sick and cannot walk and my husband welcomed the idea too because I have only male children,” she added.

Like Raphael, another resident of Gombe also from Anambra State, Ukamaka Ugo, who was also arrested for baby racketeering, claimed she was innocent.

Ugo said Khadijah had promised to ‘give’ her baby for a fee when they met in a market.

“There was a day I went to the market and met Khadijah carrying a baby girl on her back. We exchanged greetings and I told her that the baby she had on her back was beautiful and that I wished she could let me have her since I did not have any.

“She said she would not give me this one (the baby) but that she was a worker in the hospital with the social welfare department. She said any time she got a baby she would let me know,” she said.

Ugo told Saturday PUNCH that in April 2023, Khadijah informed her about a woman who recently had a baby but did not have money for the child’s well-being.

“Khadijah called in April 2023 that there was a girl and the mother was in the hospital, that she gave birth but didn’t have the resources to take care of the baby. When I heard what she said, I told her that I was interested.

She told me to buy some baby items and take them to the mother of the girl at the hospital so she (the baby’s mother) would hand the baby over to me. I gave her N50,000 to process everything,” she said.

While arguing that the child wasn’t sold, Ugo noted that the N50,000 included the child’s medication and other needs. She, however, admitted that the baby was later handed over to her to keep as hers.

“She (Khadijah) told me that she would not hand the baby over to me until she had processed everything at the social welfare office. She called me after a week on the phone and told me that she was through with the social welfare processes.

“When they came to carry the baby, she said the paper was not yet out from the social welfare office and that anytime that the paper was ready, she would hand it over to me.”

“After a week, I started training the baby like mine, that’s all I know. I didn’t steal any child; I thought I was dealing with the right person and from the right source because she told me she worked with the social welfare office,” she told our correspondent.

Ugo disclosed that the parents of the child had signed an undertaking to hand over the child to her.

“The mother of the baby, the grandmother, the baby’s father, and his brother all went to the social welfare (office) and signed that they had handed the baby over to me; that was why I agreed to take care of the baby. The N50,000 was for the delivery (hospital bill).”

But the family of the baby denied selling their child to the suspect. The father of the baby, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told Saturday PUNCH that they chose to involve the police when Khadijah’s movement and actions became suspicious.

“We didn’t sell our daughter’s child, though we received some money from Khadijah. We were prevented from seeing the child, so we alerted the police because that was not what they (Khadijah) told us,” he added.

Babies not taken without parents’ consent – Khadijah

However, the prime suspect debunked the allegations of child theft and trafficking. Khadijah said she didn’t commit any crime. She told our correspondent that while she collaborated with some social welfare workers, none of the children were forcefully taken away from their families.

“I’m not a trafficker. I only linked the person who saw the baby with me to the social welfare (office).

“I didn’t sell any child but the person I linked them up with was given N400,000 and I gave the office N200,000 and got the other (half). I have never sold any baby before nor have I bought from anyone.

“None of the children were stolen; they unfortunately had poor parents who couldn’t take care of them or their mothers died. So, in such a case, the baby needed to be given ample support and care to survive,” she claimed.

Child abduction in Nigeria

Child abduction is fast becoming a major problem in Nigeria, with several cases reported in Gombe and other parts of the North.

In September 2020, the police in Gombe disclosed that they uncovered a human trafficking ring and rescued 12 children

The then-Commissioner of Police, Shehu Maikudi, while parading four human traffickers, said the arrest of the syndicate was done by the police with support from parents.

“Some parents complained that their children were abducted. One of the suspects was arrested last week. Investigation took police to Anambra where they recovered two children,”

“The suspect we have in our custody today took to her heels since 2017; she has been on the run, changing locations, and in her custody, we found 12 children from various locations.

“We can’t comfortably say they are all from Gombe. This breakthrough was done painstakingly by the combined team of the police and parents in conjunction with the state government because they provided all the logistics.”

In December, 2023, the police in Anambra State said they arrested a couple trafficking a one-month-old baby from Lagos. According to a statement issued by the state Police Public Relations Officer, DSP Tochukwu Ikenga, the interception was made at the River Niger Bridgehead in Onitsha on December 17.

In June 2023, five children were rescued from two suspected child traffickers in Auchi, Edo State. The children, all girls, aged between seven and nine, who travelled unaccompanied, were said to have arrived at Auchi in the evening from Kaduna and were trying to establish contact with the two suspected female traffickers to take them to Onitsha before they were rescued.

In September 2021, the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons, Makurdi Zonal Command, said it arrested two suspects in connection with the sale of babies in the state.

The Zonal Commander, Mrs Gloria Bai, who disclosed this in Makurdi, the state capital, said two young victims were taken from Gboko and sold out in Lagos.

Khadijah did not act alone – Police

The Gombe State Police command explained that Khadija colluded with 15 others, including staff of Gombe Local Government Area, involved in the sale of babies, stressing that they were arrested following an intelligence report received from the Barunde community.

The Police Public Relations Officer, ASP Mahid Abubakar, said, “The community claimed that sometime within last year, one Khadija Shehu-Manzo and 15 others were involved in selling young babies to people in need.

“Upon receipt of the report, detectives attached to Low-Cost Division swung into action where a full-blown investigation was carried out and the said Khadija was arrested.”

While Khadijah strongly denied her involvement in the crime, the police spokesman said, “The remaining suspects arrested confirmed that Shehu-Manzo allegedly sold two babies to Ukamaka Ugo on different occasions.

“Shehu-Manzo sold one child (for) N400,000 (and) out of the money (that came) from Tina Raphael, she gave N200,000 to one Haruna Abubakar, who is working with the social welfare (office in) Gombe in that he was going to make relevant documentation available for proper handing over of the child.

“Yahaya Sulaiman was the person who received the money on Abubakar’s behalf.

 “Ukamaka Ugo bought two children; they are presently in Lagos and Anambra. We are working to see how to recover them as well,” he added.

Council official denies wrongdoing

But Abubakar, the Head of the Education and Social Development Department responsible for legitimising child adoption process in the Gombe Local Government Area, said the N200,000 he received from Khadijah was a gift and not a proceeds of crime.

The 50-year-old, “I work with the Gombe Local Government in the Education, Social Development Department. I was involved in a case through Hadisah (Khadijah) who came to our office to tell me that her sister was given a child for adoption and that they sent them to come to our office for us to document everything.”

“I told them since the mother of the child had passed away (died), she should invite the grandfather to come so that I can interview him. When he came, he said the same thing. So Hadisah (Khadijah) said she needed paper (documentation), but I objected saying there were procedures to getting a paper as there was a need to write applications for fostering, which included giving the paper to the ward head of their area to sign,

“It also included the passport of the woman who needed the child and the husband before one can proceed and it must be addressed to the Chairman of the Gombe Local Government Area then we can process the document to give you paper.”

On the alleged sum received, Abubakar added, “I told her to apply for the letter as we couldn’t give her the paper without proof. The money she gave I used N20,000 out of the money to give to the grandfather, and the rest (was) for us to share.

“She didn’t bring the application. I didn’t charge her N200,000; she decided to give me the money, I didn’t charge her anything as we don’t charge to process documents.”

When contacted by our correspondent, the state coordinator of the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons, Aminu Shira, declined comment.

He said, “After completing the investigation, we will call the media for a briefing. Anything I tell you will tamper with it (the investigation).”

Child adoption without due process is human trafficking, says HRC

However, the Human Rights Commission taking custody of a child without following the process back by law was tantamount to human trafficking.

Speaking with our correspondent, the Public Relations Officer of the Gombe officer of the NHC, Alola Alfinti, said, “You can’t just pick someone from the street or just take a child and adopt them. There are laid down procedures, and legal processes up to a court.

“You can have legal custody of a child if you follow the process but there are gatekeepers in the state when it comes to this, including the Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development which has a registry. If you go there, they would give you the child but you would have to complete the court processes.”

Alfinti, explained that a child adoption process could take many years to complete.

“I remember there was a time when one child was adopted in Gombe. It took about 10 years and they (foster parents) wanted to fly him abroad.

“They were caught at the airport (with the child) but they had to come back to Gombe to find out whether they followed laid down processes. Fortunately, when they came, documents were backing the child’s adoption. If you follow the processes, there wouldn’t be problems,” he added.

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