Ordinarily, orphanages ought to be safe havens for children who have either lost their parents or are abandoned. It is a place that provides succour to the less privileged. However, orphanages in Abuja appear to be on the wrong side of history. There are few exceptions that are providing relief for orphans.
Recently, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Social Development Secretariat (SDS) evacuated 19 children from Famouskids Orphanage Home in Tungan Maje, Zuba, Gwagwalada Area Council, Abuja, over alleged negligence and other illegal activities. Also, the SDS officials accompanied by joint team of security personnel stormed and sealed off the premises of the orphanage, which also runs a school in the area.
SDS acting Secretary, Safiya Umar, revealed that the action followed a request by the police authorities asking the SDS to evacuate the children from the hitherto orphanage home. He added that following information from the police that the owner of the orphanage (name withheld) had abandoned the home, the SDS was given a directive to pick up the children, some of whom are teenagers, and transfer them to a government facility until her return.
Preliminary report revealed that most of the children were brought to Abuja from Cross River and Akwa Ibom states. They were left since February 2019, in the care of a 23-year- old, who claimed to be an undergraduate at the University of Abuja.
Umar said: “The police wrote to SDS to come and evacuate the children, meaning there are a lot of things happening in orphanages. We have come to realise that there are other linkages with some other orphanages in Abuja. It appears it is a big business in orphanages, which the government is expected to look into it. It is quite unfortunate that people are now using orphanages as their own personal businesses.
“They are using the children as personal business; here, a mother brought in her two children voluntarily and is asking for her children to be returned to her, but she (orphanage owner) has taken to her heels.
“As we are here, the police are asking us to resolve the issues, we don’t know which issue, the police here in Tundan Maje, the Area Cmmand reached out to us. And a child is missing and one child means a lot to the world.
“Orphanages are not meant to sell children. Reliably, from the police, the child might have been sold and she is in Lagos, which they are now trying to track. With this latest development, where children are being sold, we have started a clampdown on orphanages. We want to know where the children are coming from. It is not in our jurisdiction to collect children from other states. All the 36 states have social welfare as a department and they have facilities for orphanages.
“It is bothering us that the orphanages in the FCT are abusing the law. They are only supposed to keep the children only for three months and then give them out, either for adoption or fostering.”
In late March, the FCT Administration demolished Divine Wounds of Jesus Christ Orphanage and Rehabilitation Home, Kubwa, Abuja. The orphanage until its demolition, housed over 150 orphans. Although FCTA offered reasons for demolishing the facility, the operator of the facility, Bishop Victoria Nkiruka Ezemoka, is spitting fire. She produced a title document for the property, which the FCTA claimed she failed to produce after several notices and demands.
She claimed trouble over ownership of the property started immediately after her husband died, following her in-law’s claim of ownership of the landed property. She said the case was still in court, hence there was no need for further action by any of the parties, including Development Control Department of the FCTA.
Although there appears to be peace, the war against orphanages is far from over. The FCTA revealed that it would soon carry out an audit of all orphanages operating in the territory to ascertain the level of compliance with the Child Rights Act.
Coordinator of the Abuja Metropoli- tan Management Council (AMMC), Umar Shuaibu, maintained that establishment of orphanages must follow the guidelines of the master plan: “We are going to make sure that, henceforth, we will audit all orphanages in Abuja, to ensure that everyone conforms to the rules and regulations governing the practice of this activity, in order to forestall problems like this one (refer- ring to Kubwa orphanage problem) in the future.”