Magnus Eze, Enugu
For the Ejikes in the remote community of Enugwu in Aguleri, Anambra East Local Government Area of Anambra State, the dawn of November 16, 2019, came just as every other day. Rising early enough to face the business of the day, Mrs. Ejike, a food vendor, had no premonition of what fate had in stock for them.
She set out to prepare what would constitute the menu of the day for her customers. Her husband opted to assist her in the cooking to make the job less tasking. This cleared the coast for the enemy within who had been lurking around, waiting for the slightest opportunity, to strike.
By the time they raised their heads, their two kids, Confidence and Blessing, five years and nine months old, respectively, were nowhere to be found.
The couple told Saturday Sun that they initially had no cause to raise the alarm since their neighbour, Chisom Ani, had elected to have Blessing, the nine month old in her custody to enable them concentrate in the cooking. They felt their neighbour might be in the neighbourhood, perhaps to get some snacks to distract the baby from crying.
Seconds moved into minutes, minutes into hours; neither Ani (the neighbour) nor the kids resurfaced. Panic then set in; and by the time the sun set without the kids returning, it dawned on the Ejikes that they were in for a big trouble, and they raised the alarm. They began the search and ended up reporting to the police.
It was gathered that Police Intelligence operatives on November 22, led operatives to Nkpor in Idemili North Local Government Area of the state where they arrested Ani; her accomplice, Ahamefuna Udodili and the kids, as well as a baby boy, who Ani claimed was her own child, while they were negotiating to sell the kids.
Having foiled the dastardly act, the police paraded the suspects and also reunited the kids with their parents at the command headquarters, Awka on November 25. Police Public Relations Officer, Haruna Mohammed at the event described Ani and Udodili as a syndicate who specialized in stealing children.
“People should be very conscious of who they leave their children with. What this syndicate does is to rent an apartment and monitor their victims, and once they steal the child, they abandon their residence for another location”, the PPRO warned.
Mohammed said the police even suspected the baby boy whom Ani claimed was hers may have also been stolen from another victim. He urged members of the public who had lost their children to come to his office to check if the boy belonged to any of them.
The allure for child theft
Ani confessed to the crime, but said her intention was to sell only Blessing, the nine-month old baby girl. According to her, Blessing’s elder sister, Confidence, followed her as she made away with the nine-month old. At that point, the 28-year Ani said she had no option than to bolt away with both kids.
According to Ani, she had approached a man she simply identified as ‘Onye Army’ to lend her N1,000 to solve a problem, but on declining to give her the money, the man allegedly made a proposal to Ani which could fetch her the sum of N50,000. She said that ‘Onye Army’ claimed he had a man in dire need of a child to buy for N400,000, out of which Ani would be given the sum of N50,000. Ani therefore set out for business.
“I went to borrow money from ‘Onye Army’, N1,000; it was then he told me somebody wants to pay N400,000 to buy a child. He promised me N50,000 if I could get a child. That was why I decided to steal the baby. The baby boy is my child; the girl is the one I stole from my neighbour. The other one followed me after I carried her little sister, so I decided to take two of them”, she submitted.
Ani took the kids to Onitsha where ‘Onye Army’ was based. The first setback she encountered was that Monday, November 18 was a public holiday. The Anambra State Government had declared it public holiday in honour of the birth of Nigeria’s pioneer President, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, whose birthday, November 16, fell on a Saturday this year. On getting to Onitsha, the woman said that the buyers complained they could not withdraw money due to the public holiday. It was then they decided to lodge Ani, the kids and Ahamefuna Udodili in a hotel. The 32-year old Udodili, who hails from Orodo, Mbaitoli Local Government Area of Imo State, came with the buyers.
On the fate of the five-year old Confidence who Ani said was not originally in her plan, she said that ‘Onye Army’ had promised to return her to the parents on the claim that he found her wondering aimlessly on the road and decided to bring her back after finding out where she hails from. In such arrangement, the evil man would pose as a concerned citizen.
“I took the kids to Onitsha and contacted ‘Onye Army’ who was to bring the buyers. When the buyers came, they complained that they didn’t have money, and since that Monday was a public holiday in Anambra, they lodged us in a hotel so that they would get the money the next day.
“I told ‘Onye army’ about the elder sister of the baby who followed me and he promised to take her back to the parents. He said he would tell them that he found her on the road and decided to bring her back”, Ani stated.
While in the hotel room, Udodili who came with the buyers ironically developed interest in the baby boy Ani claimed was her own child. According to Ani, Udodili began claiming that what they negotiated for was a baby boy and not girl. She insisted on buying the boy, a demand Ani vehemently refused, maintaining that her own child was not for sale.
Her words: “When we were in the hotel, I noticed that another woman who came with the buyer took interest in my own baby. She changed her mind and said she wanted a baby boy. I told her the baby boy is my own and not for sale. At a point, she asked me to allow her carry the baby to go and buy something outside.
“That was when I noticed that they were not genuine, and that they wanted to take my baby instead of the one I brought to sell. So, I refused. It was the next day that police came and arrested us because our hotel accommodation expired, and the man who was to pay for the baby had not come”.
What about ‘Onye Army’? What has happened to him? Ani said she had not heard from him since they were nabbed by police.
Udodili who was arrested alongside Ani, kept sobbing. She could barely say anything one could comprehend.
However, parents of the stolen children, Mr and Mrs Ejike who were reunited with their children said Ani, their neighbour, was always coming to their house, even when they never suspected anything.
“She came that Monday while my wife was cooking, and offered to help us take care of the baby while I helped my wife in preparing food because she is a food vendor. That was how she took away my two children. For six days, I was looking for my children. I searched everywhere and later reported to the police.
“We thank the police for helping us get back our children. May God reward them abundantly”, Mr. Ejike said. He then said that they would henceforth be more careful in protecting the children.