George Onyejiuwa, Owerri
News have emerged that of the 272 social homes in Imo State, only 15 are legal and registered with the state government. Special Adviser to the Governor on Non-Governmental Organisations and Allied Matters, Rev. Simeon Nwulu who dropped the bombshell also disclosed that during a recent clampdown on illegal orphanage homes, government identified about 157 of such places. From the foregoing, there is no doubt that Imo has become the unenviable capital of baby factory operators with the proliferation of illegal orphanages in the state.
Scandalised by the inhuman merchandising in babies, the state House of Assembly had passed a bill for a law to prohibit baby racketeering through baby factory operations and every other arrangement by which babies are illegally transacted on, and others.
The Bill sponsored by the leader of the House and member representing Ahiazu Mbaise state constituency, Mrs. Ihuoma, was supported by 11 other members, in the eighth state Assembly.
The Bill seeks to fully criminalise the activities of baby racketeers and plug the loopholes in the existing criminal law, making the usual legal manipulation of court processes by child traffickers difficult by introducing stringent punitive measures for offenders.
Despite efforts by government and security agencies, the issue of merchandising in babies in the state has continued unabated. Recently, Miss Oparaocha, aged 22 was docked by the police alongside a nurse, Mrs. Anyanwu who in company with her husband, still at large, had allegedly taken a six-hour-old baby boy to Port Harcourt, Rivers State for sale.
At a location in Port Harcourt, one Duru, an intermediary and the prospective buyer of the baby boy, Cynthia Williams, 44, were already waiting for the transfer of the innocent baby to his new “mother” at the price of N850,000.
However, luck ran out on them after concluding the transaction as they were nabbed by the operatives of the anti-child trafficking of the state police command that had reportedly been on their trail.
It was disclosed that the mother of the innocent baby, Chinonye was given the sum of N180,000 as part of her share immediately after being delivered of a baby boy at one of the numerous unregistered maternities in Nekede in Owerri West.
Commissioner of Police, Mr. Rabiu Ladodo revealed that on February 8, 2019, Chinonye Oparaocha, 22, was delivered of a baby boy at an undisclosed maternity in Nekede in Owerri West council.
The mother of the baby, he said, had colluded with one of the nurses, a native of Umuhu Okwuato in Aboh Mbaise council in company with her husband, now at large, had taken the baby to Port Harcourt where Duru was already waiting for them.
“On arrival at Port Harcourt, Duru Christian in company of one Mrs. Iyowuna met them at the hideout, took over the baby boy and handed over to a prospective buyer, one Mrs. William Cynthia and her husband, who eventually paid the sum of N850, 000.00, he stated.
Similarly, following a tip off, one Esther Akunmadu was arrested for supposedly operating a baby factory by officials of the state command of Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) in the Umutueke community in the state.
She was detained for harbouring pregnant girls and women for the purpose of selling their babies after birth, a claim the suspect denied.
Akunmadu, who claimed to be a retired midwife operated an unregistered maternity home that had no name.
However, when a search was conducted at the illegal maternity home, which was reportedly established about a year ago, four women and two one-week old babies were found in the premises.
A 21-year old pregnant girl who found at the illegal maternity home said that her mother took her to Akunmadu for treatment until the birth of her baby but she claimed ignorance about other agreements that may have been reached between her mother and the operator of the home.
Such cases are common in the state. In August 2017, one Miss Chibiko, a cousin to one Abigail had conspired with Abigail’s husband, Obinna and the duo stole two children of Abigail namely Francis Nwachukwu, 5, old and Chinazaekpere, 2. They sold the kids to one Mrs. Nwanedu for N1 million from Enugu who in turn resold them to one Mrs. Amadi from Udi Local Government council of Enugu state.
However, the lid was blown open when an attempt to eliminate Abigail by Chibiko and Eze through a hired assassin failed and the former reported the matter to the police.
Investigations by Daily Sun have revealed that the many teenage girls who get unwanted pregnancy are usually encouraged to seek refuge in any of illegal maternity homes masquerading as care givers. The method is that immediately they are delivered, they are paid off and the babies sold to “customers” who would always make bookings for them ahead of time.
The baby factory scourge is even more endemic in the rural communities where pregnant teenagers from Abia and Rivers states who want to hide from the prying eyes are easily given ‘shelter’ at any of the ‘orphanage’ homes where they are taken care of by the matrons of the homes who are either retired midwives or traditional birth attendants called ‘Nurse Eliza’ in local parlance until they are delivered of their babies. The pattern is also the same; once they are delivered, they are settled from the proceeds of their “labour” by the “benevolent matrons” who had rescued them from their difficult situations.
It was also learnt that the operators of these homes have prospective customers, mostly childless women who are desperate to have a child preferably male. Most childless couples who wish to have a child without going through the official rigours of legal adoption of children can easily get one by arranging with the illegal maternity homes littered across the state.
So far, the governor’s aide said that some babies had been recovered following their swoop on the illegal social homes, but he did not mention the actual number of children already recovered across the 27 council areas of the state.
“We’ve revoked so many fake homes. Out of 272 homes across the state, only 15 were genuine, others are fake. Some of them are registered with the government but their activities are not genuine and we’ve revoked their licenses. Very soon, we will be charging some of them to court over their nefarious activities.
“At the same time, this office has moved to ensure we stop illegal sale of children because the rate at which children are being marketed and sold like ordinary articles of trade is very alarming. For a peanut, the destiny of a child is destroyed and most of these adopters are not well-to-do to take care of these children,” he said
Rev. Nwulu has urged churches in the state to get deeply involved in building motherless babies and old people’s homes while encouraging well-to-do individuals in the society to adopt such children.
“I’m glad some churches have shown interest to partner government on that. Some of them have picked the forms to establish social homes. But we’re asking them to make the environment very conducive for the children and not to use it and make money because we know that nobody can take care of the children more than the church,” he said.
He also disclosed that his office was working hard to ensure NGOs such as churches start fulfilling their mandate by building institutions to help the needy and the poor.
He further accused the church of abdicating humanitarian or spiritual activities, but instead focussed on materialism and flamboyance.
“We want to ensure that churches start building hospitals. If you look around, churches are no longer building hospitals. They are only building schools that will get them quick money. So, we’re asking churches to start building hospitals to complement the effort of the state government. The government is ready to assist them to equip the hospitals so that they will be for the benefit of our people. That is what churches used to do in the past,” he charged.