• Behind-the-scene operations of child trafficking cartels, where disabled children are leased out to beg for alms and used to provide for their families as breadwinners
Unknown to a nine-year-old crippled boy simply identified as Idris, motorists and passersby observed how he and others crawled around begging for alms along Mobolaji Bank Anthony way, Ikeja in Lagos state. Of major concern was how they repeatedly moved towards a man under a tree by the road to remit whatever they were able to raise on hourly basis. Those who observed the trend alerted the police.
After a discreet investigation, operatives of Rapid Response Squad (RRS), Lagos State Police Command recorded a major breakthrough following the arrest of five suspected child traffickers. The stock in trade of these men is to recruit helpless disabled children and also force them to beg for alms along the streets of Lagos.
Five of the children between the ages of 9 and 14 were last week rescued under the scorching sun along Mobolaji Bank Anthony way in Ikeja alongside five adults who claim to be their parents or contractors. The adults who are suspected child traffickers were identified as Sani Isiaku, Abubakar Gabo, Nasiru Usman, Mato Abdulahi and Sagiru Ibrahim.
In the course of investigation, detectives realized that most of these children were used by their families to raise funds for the entire family upkeep. They are their family breadwinners. Idris who was amongst the five children that were rescued was actually leased out by his mother who is currently in Kano state.
According to a police source, the State Command has a platform where Lagosians are allowed to raise concerns over security issues in the state. Amongst several complaints was that some physically fit persons were exploiting disabled children for their own selfish gain. They specifically drew attention to the plight of Idris, the 9-year-old crippled boy. Consequently, the State Commissioner of Police, Imohimi Edgal ordered the RRS Commander, Tunji Disu to investigate the claim and also rescue the children.
Instantly, an undercover team was deployed to the area and at the end of one week intensive monitoring, five able bodied men were arrested while monitoring the crippled children.
From the surveillance video clip made available to Saturday Sun, about three children who are crippled were spotted along the road begging for alms in traffic.
of the suspects, Abubakar was seen severally changing the position of the children to traffic areas while he screams at the child to intensify effort by reaching out to passengers in every car. Every hour, the child will be seen moving towards his contractor and remitting every kobo collected.
In return, they will be given water and a satchet of gala and asked to return their duty post. Sometimes, street food hawkers will give them their native food. During the period of monitoring, the children were only fed once. This was the pattern throughout the whole week of monitoring. Everyday at about 7am during traffic rush hour, about seven men will appear with crippled children and drop them off. While some of the men will disappear immediately, about three or four of them will find a strategic point where they will monitor the children from a distance.
It was also discovered that the kids were loyal to their contractors. One the children who spoke with the undercover policeman said he was better off as a beggar. He lamented that if they do not co-operate, they will be dumped in a room from morning till night with little or no food.
They expressed their happiness to be seen as the breadwinner of their various families. Also spotted was an elderly man who usually comes around in the afternoon to collect a certain amount of money from the supervisors.
According to the supervisors, the elderly man who is referred to as Baba is the agent of the association whose sole responsibility is to collect the daily dues and remit to the crippled beggars association. It is also his responsibility to contact their lawyer in case they are arrested by any security outfit.
At the police station, all the children who are from the northern part of Nigeria could only communicate in Hausa language. Yusuf Nassir who is 12 years old told this reporter that they were warned not to talk to anyone. “We don’t need your help because tomorrow you will keep us in a place where they will not give us food. We are happy, they are taking care of us and our parents are aware. Please let us go home; we will not do it again. Please, keep quiet and don’t talk to these police people, baba will come and rescue us”, he said, warning the other children to keep mum.
Our only hope of survival
One of the suspects, Nasiru Usman, a petty trader from Jigawa state said he had no choice but to use his son to make money. “I have a wife and five children and by the will of Allah, my son Yussuf is a cripple from birth. I did everything I could do for him to be better but it did not work. God also blessed me with three other healthy children but life is so difficult for us to feed.
I was in the market one day when one of my kinsmen visited. He was the one who told me that Allah blessed us with a crippled child to save me from poverty.
“He took me to one man in Agege where I registered with 2000. They told me that I will be paying dues weekly if I want my child to beg for alms with ease without any interference. This was how I started and I can comfortably pay my house rent, and send the others to school.”
Mato Abdulahi aged 40 claimed that he was contracted by the family of Kabiru to use him to raise alms. “I am from Kano and in the north such children are common. Kabiru also have a sibling that is a cripple while his parents are farmers.
Those children cannot help their parents in the farm. I told them the opportunities in Lagos. They agreed to allow me carry him with a promise that I will be sending a percentage of the money to them every week. I have been sending money to them ever since we started. I did not steal their child, you can call them and confirm.”
On the alleged existence of an association controlling their activities, Mato said that they have an association. “Because they are crippled, they need normal people like us for their business to succeed. We help to move them from one location to another and they pay us a percentage of the money we generate. If you don’t pay your dues to the association, they will report to the police who will come and arrest you. I am even shocked that they alerted the police to arrest me because I do not owe them a kobo. ”
Another parent, Sani Isiaku said that the survival of his entire family depends on Bello, his son. “We ran away from Jigawa to Lagos during the Boko Haram crisis. I am a farmer and do not know how to do any other type of work. My wife is not working and we are six in the house. Things became so difficult that we can barely feed. Although there is free education, I could not afford to buy books. We were happy when a brother told me that Bello my son can actually make money for us. He is our breadwinner and we are proud of him. He has promised to help save money to train his brothers and sisters up to university level. I am sorry if it is against the law. Since I am his father, I did not see anything wrong in what I did and besides, I took good care of my son.”
Yet another parent, Abubakar Gabo from Sokoto state said Aminu, his son has been their source of survival for the past five months. “He is the one feeding us and am grateful to God. I did not commit any crime because he is my son and most importantly, I did not force anyone to give us money. I promise to return back to my state as soon as the police allow us to go home.”
Another supervisor, Sagiru Ibrahim, who claims he was contracted, said he has not made much from the business before he was arrested. “I am from Kano state and also based in Agege area of Lagos state. I used to be a cobbler before I got the contract. What I normally do is to pay N3000 before I can carry the child to any area of Lagos I want. Idris was recently given to me by her mother. We agreed that I will be sending N25,000 to her every month.
“This is why we work hard to make sure that they make more than that a day. If you don’t make more than that you are at loss and this is why we go to areas where people are rich and merciful. It’s only in Ikeja that people can give you N1000 or N500 note. I am sorry if I committed any crime but it was the mother of the child that allowed me to carry her son.”