The recent discovery of baby factories in various parts of the country has become a source of concern to Nigerians who believe that the federal and state governments are not doing enough to stem the embarrassing trend
| By Vincent Nzemeke | Apr. 21, 2014 @ 01:00 GMT
IT IS like a fairy tale on everybody’s lips. In the last few months, the story has been the same. From Abeokuta in Ogun State to Ekiti in Ekiti State, and to Uyo in Akwa Ibom State, the story is the emergence of baby factories in different parts of the country where young girls are being used as surrogate mothers. The rate at which these settlements are discovered is not only baffling but also alarming and, as well, questions the integrity and pre-emptive role of Nigeria’s security agencies in nipping the ignoble business in the bud.
One of the latest of such factories was discovered in Abeokuta, Ogun State on Thursday, April 3. The bubble burst when one of the inmates of the illegal settlement escaped from a building in the ancient town and raised an alarm that people should save her. The lady, who claimed to have come from Abia State, alleged that her elder sister sold her to the people in the suspected building for N100,000. The matter was reported at the Adigbe Police Divisional office and, thereafter, the victim was taken to a nearby hospital. The police have since searched the building, where three other pregnant women and five children were rescued.
When information filtered to residents living around the area about the nefarious activity in the building, the youths took the law into their hands by setting fire to the place. It took the intervention of the police to stop them from causing more damage. The youths also refused to disperse until the police used tear-gas canisters to forcibly scatter them. Eyewitnesses said that the youths initially thought that the building was a ritual den hence their reason for forcefully breaking into it and setting two vehicles and one storey building ablaze. Among the items found at the premises were a blood filled basin, a coffin, assorted charms and other fetish items. Abimbola Oyeyemi, Ogun command’s deputy police public relations officer, said two suspects were arrested in connection with the incident. Oyeyemi said the suspects, one Muibat Yusuf and her brother, claimed to be indigenes of Kwara State.
About two weeks earlier, eight pregnant women and teenage girls were rescued by the police at another suspected baby factory in Akute, Ifo Local Government Area of Ogun State. In the process, the police also arrested a middle aged man and a 26-year-old woman responsible for the running of the centre. While parading the suspects at the Ajuwon divisional police headquarters, Ikemefuna Okoye, commissioner of police in the state, described the development as inhuman, insisting that the command would get to the root of the matter. Angela Chigoeze, 26, one of the arrested suspects, claimed to be operating a divine herbal clinic at the place. According to the police chief, Chigoeze was the one responsible for selling of the babies, which she confirmed when she told the press: “If they give birth, I will sell the child for N300,000. I sell it to women who cannot give birth.”
The Ogun State raid was still fresh in the minds of many people when the Delta State police command informed the public that it had discovered another baby making factory in the outskirts of Asaba, the state capital. According to Celestina Kalu, the state command’s police public relations officer, police officers smashed the baby factory which was located in a large compound and arrested a 40-year-old woman who was running it. Like what obtained in other centres, 10 pregnant girls were found in the building. Many of them claimed that the woman had promised to buy their babies for undisclosed amounts after delivery.
In February, Akwa Ibom State police command had arrested one Grace Akpan, a prophetess and owner of Jubilant Garden Ministries, for allegedly operating a baby factory. Akpan was arrested alongside five young ladies and four men around 4:00am on Friday, February 21, at the supposed baby factory on High Tension Street, Edet Akpan Avenue, Uyo. Umar Gwadabe, state commissioner of police, said that Akpan operated the baby factory under the guise of running a religious organisation, Jubilant Garden Ministries. He explained that Akpan accommodated teenage ladies and young men for the purpose of raising babies for sale and human trafficking.
Said the police commissioner: “Following an intelligence report, which was monitored by the State Criminal Investigation Department operatives, a woman, Prophetess Grace Akpan, was arrested at about 4am on High Tension Street by Four Lane, Edet Akpan Avenue, Uyo. The woman was arrested for operating a baby factory under the guise of a religious organisation called Jubilant Garden Ministries, where teenagers and young men were housed for the sole purpose of raising babies for sale and human trafficking. In view of some reported cases of child stealing and abduction of children in the state, we have resolved to act decisively by arresting these criminals. They will soon appear in court to serve as deterrent to others.”
The girls found in custody of Akpan were Blessing Paul, 14 (pregnant); Patience Etim, 17 (pregnant); Margaret Effiong, 20 (pregnant); Emmanuelle Effiong, 18 (pregnant) and Esther Effiong, 21, who had already given birth to a male child named Unos Effiong (one year). The male suspects were Ndifreke Umana 31, Ezekiel Umana 29, Godstime Johnson 18, and Ukeme Etim 20.
But Akpan has insisted that she had not committed any crime. She claimed that the pregnant girls were married and were brought to the church by their parents for spiritual assistance. “They (the police) said people told them that I have so many pregnant women in my care and that they don’t know the reason. For goodness’ sake, I am a trained birth attendant. I have a certificate from St. Louis Hospital. The pregnant women were brought to the church by their parents, who saw that their problems could only be resolved spiritually. Some had swollen legs, some of them were bleeding before their parents brought them to us. Some of them were brought to the church by their husbands,” she said. Whatever is the true situation, when the case goes to court as promised by the police, what appears to be hidden would be unveiled.
In the meantime, the shocking testimonies from various parts of the country point to the fact that baby factories are gradually becoming a booming trade in Nigeria. What started as a hush-hush affair, has become a monumental national embarrassment and a huge moral burden. Hardly does a week pass
Although trading in babies is not new in Nigeria, the recent discovery of baby factories in many parts of the country has raised fresh questions about the possible reason for the upsurge in the crime. Realnews haslearnt from experts that one of the reasons for the boom in the illicit trade is the desperate quest by many married couples to have their own biological children. Many cultures in Nigeria place heavy premium on biological children and as such when couples have difficulties in producing children, they resort to buying from some of the factories and nursing them as their own.
Earlier in the year, the Lagos State police command paraded one Folake Adekoya, a Nigerian, who came all the way from the United States to buy a one-week-old baby from the country. In her confessional statement, Adekoya said she took the decision in order “to cover the shame of being barren.” Adekoya alleged that her in-laws had threatened to throw her out of her marital home if she did not give them a child.
Patrick Obi, a consultant at Lifewire Medical Centre, Abuja, said more baby factories were springing up because of the decline in the reproductive capabilities of Nigerian men and women. According to him, many people have infertility issues and the pressure from the society forces them to seek help from baby making factories. “The cases of infertility are rising these days. We also find that the male factor is also rising. Previously, the teaching used to be that one-third of infertility used to be caused by the male factor. But now, I’m sure it has risen to 45 per cent and may be up to 50 per cent of the number of cases that are reported here. There are lots of people today with infertility issues and because of the societal pressure they face, some of them have to make that hard choice of approaching baby- factory operators for assistance”, he said.
Obi’s submission also tallies with the confession of Angela Chigozie, one of the baby factory operators arrested by the police recently. Chigozie told the police that many of those who patronize her are wealthy people with infertility issues.
More revelations from those arrested show that babies are sold for between N300, 000 and N400, 000 depending on the sex. A less than one week old male baby sells for as high as N500, 000. A consultant gynaecologist at the same clinic who declined to be named, also links the problem of infertility to long-distance relationships. He explained that “a situation where a spouse meets his or her partner once in a while and sometimes outside of the woman’s ovulation period, is bad enough. Such sexual engagements will not produce a child and the woman could attain menopause without knowing it.” According to him, when a woman then discovers that she can no longer give birth, she is tempted to patronise the baby factory owners.
Unwanted pregnancy among teenage girls is yet another reason why baby factories have continued to spring up. Findings reveal that some of the baby factories are usually non-governmental organisations where teenage girls who get pregnant run to. Once there, they are catered for until they deliver the babies, paid a token by the owners of the organization and allowed to move on with their lives.
One of the girls arrested during the Ondo raid by the Nigeria Immigration Service, NIS, officers said: “When I got pregnant, I went to my father who is a pastor. At first, he demanded an abortion but I refused. One of my friends told me I can stay in this place till I deliver the baby so that no one will know anything. I have been here since the pregnancy was one month old.”
There are also those who have brought a religious perspective to the matter of baby factory business. To such people, the quest by humans to do things that are beyond them is the only reason why someone will decide to buy a baby. Daniel Efuruka, an Abuja based pastor, posited that because children are gifts from God, it is wrong for human beings to try to get them their own way.
“I think it is the height of desperation. The Bible says children are gifts from God; that means God is the only one who can decide if anyone will have or not have children. When people get so desperate, they resort to self help and that can be very dangerous,” Efuruka said.
Some people are also of the view that the cumbersome process of adopting a child in Nigeria is another reason why baby factories have become very rampant. Those in this group believe that the long list of requirements to be met before a couple can adopt a child in Nigeria may be a discouraging factor.
Whatever reasons anyone may adduce for the boom in baby factory business, some human rights activists believe that it is simply a case of economic depression and loss of societal values. According to them, many of those involved in the business are doing it strictly for the money.
Funmilayo Osho, a staff of the African Development Network, ADNET, opined that some of the girls used in the baby making factories are forced into the trade in order to make a living. “We have testimonies to show that some of these girls arrested are doing it for the sake of money. In one the factories discovered in Imo, the girls were village girls who had no other means of livelihood. One of the girls told us she was saving money to go abroad, she had already sold two babies and had about N400, 000 in her bank account,” she said.
Osho’s claim is similar to the submission of Mohammed Musa Katsina, police commissioner of Imo State, who said the many baby factory operators consider what they are doing as a full-time business.
Osho also alleged that some people also operate orphanages to cover up the illicit practice. “Let us not deceive ourselves, this is a business for these people. The woman we arrested in Owerri was very organized. She has somebody who cooks for the girls, a nurse to take care of them when they are sick and another person who brings the client. The woman’s son was in charge of getting the girls pregnant. So this thing we are talking about is a serious business. From outside, you may think they are running an orphanage but they are actually selling babies,” she said.
Indeed, the so-called orphanage discovered in Imo State in December was actually a baby factory. The illegal orphanage was uncovered by the police on December 3, last year. James Ezuma, the operator of the orphanage, was arrested by the police. Ezuma, owner of the illegal orphanage known as Ezuma Women and Children’s Rights Protection Initiative, was paraded before newsmen alongside 15 pregnant teenagers and several vehicles including Jaguar and Honda jeeps. Muhammad Katsina, the state commissioner of police, while addressing the press, expressed concern over a missing baby who was sold to unknown persons. He said the child was delivered on November 24, by one Chinaza Nnachi, a native of Ebonyi State, who came to the home when she was pregnant. The commissioner said all efforts to locate the child had proved abortive because the suspect refused to lead the police to where the baby was.
“He took us to Abia State where he said the baby was kept, but we were unable to recover him,” he said. Katsina said though investigation was still on, the assumption at the moment was that the baby might have been used for ritual sacrifice. When we conducted a search on this home, 16 pregnant girls between the ages of 14 and 19 were found. We also recovered an automatic eight loader pump action gun which is a prohibited firearm,” Katsina said.
Chinaza Nnachi, a 19-year-old mother of the missing child, said in an interview with the press, that she was directed to the home by a lady who assured her that she would be taken care of. She added that her baby was taken away two hours after he was born without her consent. Nnachi said she was given N100,000 by the doctor when she asked about the whereabouts of her child.
There are also those who opine that baby factories have become popular for ritual purposes. In some of the baby factories that have been raided by the police, items such as calabash, cowries and other ritual materials were recovered.
To address the problem, many activists have advocated that a clear law against baby factories such as the ones recently discovered be put in place. There are also calls for stiffer punishment for the operators of baby factories. Onyemelukwe Onuobia, an expert in health law, ethics, and policy, in a recent article published in a national newspaper said: “a clear identification of the law against the sale of babies must be made. Baby sales are not an offence if there is no law to the contrary. Where those laws are lacking, they must be enacted and any criminal penalties must be applied vigorously on those who establish baby factories. Harsh sentences must be imposed to serve as deterrent.”
However, whatever measure the government is going to adopt to deal with the booming trade without giving consideration to finding a way of ameliorating the harsh economic situation in the country, may certainly not achieve the desired goal.