By Osemeke . P. Ebele

Where do I start and where do I stop, is it the level of promiscuity in the society, or the height of decadence which has gotten to its apex. People no longer hold decency and decorum in high esteem rather corruption has become a norm which is highly celebrated in the society. A society where evil thrives and the good castigated. Indeed things have fallen apart and the center can no longer hold. I digress.

A fake Doctor, identified as James Ezuma who has a glassy signpost “Ezuma Women and Child Rights Protection Initiative. FG Approved NGO Motherless Babies Home” along a lonely street off Egbu Road, in Owerri metropolis was the epi-center of child trafficking, with a baby production home. Before he was arrested, the 65- year old claimed to have studied at the University of Jos, offers humanitarian services according to him by rehabilitating the teenage girls, while offering the children out for adoption, with a promise of good life and health care cover for the unborn child. These girls were coerced to give up their babies for pittance, sometimes as low as #50,000 to #200,000.

His physical wealth was complemented by a long list of clientele and friends in political and business circles. This probably explains why, with impunity, he could operate his purported hospital and Non-governmental Organization NGO, in a building for which proper building permit was never obtained.

It was revealed that anyone who challenges his baby dealer’s reptilian practices, suffered either physical harm or had his clinic shut down. His network of friends were believed to be in privileged positions of government who ensures that he never suffered harassments by any group, and when he did, they made escape routes available to him.

Before his arrest, eight girls were confined in each of the two rooms where he operates with neither ventilation nor permanent windows and doors. Conversation estimates indicates that Ezuma’s land in Owerri values at hundreds of millions of naira, the structures at various stages of completion in the compound are evaluated at over 20million which was gotten from the aftermath of the ‘baby factory’ business.

The nuisance baby factory has being constituting in Imo state cannot just be traced to a particular factor, rather it can be linked to several chains of societal problems of which ‘poverty and Ignorance’ are the basic factors which has rubbed negatively on the morality and chastity of individuals, notably women. Over 70% of a Nigerian lady lacks basic orientation of sexual education. They are not properly exposed to the rudiments of life, and this result to them falling into the dangers of unwanted pregnancy. Due to the high level of promiscuity in the state, the social life of the youths has become very appalling, the level of prostitution in the state has kept soaring higher and higher by the day of which the teenagers are the most vulnerable. The quest to belong among the elite and not be regarded as a down trodden has also contributed negatively on the lives of the ladies in the state.

Baby factory in Imo state is a serious issue that has attracted attention by the government, civil societies and the general public. In the past, the problem was not really known to people because of the confidential nature of the trade, but as a result of concerted efforts by all groups mentioned including the police, they were able to root out the problem from the front burner of public discourse. The issue which was discovered in 2013 is an extension /diversification of child trafficking which is a trade on human beings. Due to the needs/demands of babies from parents who are finding it difficult to have their own kids, or parents who want a particular sex of baby for family continuity, the demand of babies became quite on a high side. Because of these, those who need babies do not follow the official legal adoption of babies; this was achieved through the formation of “industries” that manufacture these babies where desperate wives buy and pay money. Therefore, these industries are called “Baby Factory”.

A media consultant, Mr. Charles Asoluka in an interview disclosed that the Frightening case of baby factory is that they “have emerged another group of people who buy babies not because they want them for themselves, rather for ritual purposes, it has introduced a frightening dimension in baby trade. Some of these babies are taken to juju men and other ritual purposes. There are many people involved in the trade of baby factory, the landlord/landladies who are owners of baby factories; Agents who play the role of intermediaries, they liaise between the baby factory owners and those who procure the babies for them; the ‘Hunter’ who disguise as pastors, NGOs looking for pregnant girls or those willing to be pregnant for a fee; the ‘Horse’ who receive babies from agents as they can kill to kidnap a child and sell them to the agent who have commissioned them”. He further submitted that the doctors are not left out as they work in collaboration with these factory owners by administering medications to these pregnant girls as well as deliver them.

However, there is a syndicate chain that operates in these industries; they work together in collaboration to make the trade effective. There are also those whose function is to convey the babies. The investigation made revealed that the difficulties security agencies encounter in tracking these culprits is that most times, these conveners do not know the buyer, the owner of the motherless baby home will not give the phone number of the buyer to the conveners, the transaction is usually between the owner of the baby homes and the ultimate buyer. Once the conveners locate the buyer, he puts the buyer online with the owner of the baby factory and he/she confirms it is the buyer, the baby is given and convener disappears from the sense. In such instance, when security agencies meet with the convener, they cannot trace the buyer or who the baby is delivered to.

It is also pertinent to x-ray other recorded cases of Baby Factories in Imo State. On Tuesday, 7th March, 2014, Imo State Police Command paraded one Mr. Dominic Ahejuonu from Amuzi Ahaizu Mbaise Local Government Area, Imo State for operating an illegal maternity in his home, where four teenagers believed to be giving birth to babies for sales where also arrested. It is also on record that 17 pregnant teenagers form Ahamefula Motherless Babies home, Umuaka in Njaba Local Government of the state were rescued by the police command, they were aged between 14 and 25. these visible exhausted girls said they were held against their wish by the proprietor of the so-called motherless babies home popularly known as “Madam One Thousand”, noting that their parents are unaware of their whereabouts. The account given by a 17 – year old Adaobi Akubueze affirmed that in realizing she was pregnant, the doctor that conducted the test lured her to keep the pregnancy that he will take her to a place where proper maternal care will be given without charges. “….. so I ran away from home without informing my people, but on getting to the center, I presented my letter of introduction given to me by the doctor and my phone was taken away from me, that was how I stayed there till the police came to rescue us. We are kept in a crowded room with little ventilation and a doctor came once a while to check on us. Nobody was allowed to go beyond the first gate also known as the Green Gate. And one man who we referred to as ‘Oga’ came around to sleep with the girls, especially those who were yet pregnant. After nine months, those who were due to be delivered of their babies were taken to another location and madam would only bring back news to us that our friend has given birth. But they never came back again”, she narrated.

Another case was the 14 pregnant teens rescued by security operatives who stormed a building located at Umuguma in Owerri West Local Government of Imo State. This time around, it was recorded that the owner of the Baby Factory home was a member of the Cherubim and Seraphim church, simply identified as pastor Chinedu. In an investigation conducted, the villagers who spoke on the grounds of anonymity hinted that the pastor hired an uncompleted building in the community and quartered the pregnant girls in the unhealthy environment before he was arrested by the State Police Command.
It was also discovered in a related published case when a woman, Mrs. Esther Akun Madu, aged 52 was arrested for running a baby factory in Umuchoke in Obazu Mbieri in Mbaitolu Local Government of the state. The Deputy Commandant of the NSCDC in Imo State, Mr. Ade Micheal said that the woman has been into the illegal business for over one year and at the period of the arrest, two male babies, a 2-day old and 2-weeks old were both recovered from her illegal maternity home. This they confirmed has been handed over to the State Ministry of Women affairs and social Development, and the operator of the baby home was taken to the appropriate authorities for further persecution. A 21-year old pregnant girl and one of the inmates told the reporter that her mother brought her to the place without knowledge of the dealings between her mother and the operator. This act is against the Child Rights Act 2003.

Baby factory in Imo state has grown to the level where some married women who are in need of babies disguise themselves to their husbands that they are pregnant through the use of hormone-altering medicines. These women had arranged with the baby factory owners and the pregnant girl who is prepared to get her baby. The factory owner will be in touch with the woman who wants the baby, on the day of delivering, the pretentious pregnant wife will be notified and she will pretend to be feeling labour pains and will insist she delivers in a special hospital where the pregnant girl will have her baby. Thereafter, the exchange is made and money paid to the real mother of the child, and the buyer disappears with the child to show her husband claiming is hers. This practice is encouraged because of the way societies view adopted children, couples now try to beat that situation.

In line with all these, the Imo State Commissioner for Women Affairs and Social Development, Mrs. Nma Love Onyechere while speaking to journalists at NUJ Press Center, Owerri. recently, posited that she would stop at nothing at fighting baby factory in the state, especially those who operate under the guise of motherless baby homes. In her words, “I have vowed to fight the scourge to standstill; I will raise a campaign against factory/child trafficking, illegal adoption and fostering of children. Trading of babies is punishable by law, every child deserves to live”, she affirms.

Continuing, the Commissioner revealed that the state shall look into the 36 registered motherless Homes with a view to determining those involved in the illegal act, adding that all the registered Homes have been revoked and that they shall go through a new process of registration, which is on-going to know the authentic ones. She further warned the staff of the ministry to desist from aiding illegal adoption/fostering, while reiterating that any staff found in that act will be dismissed from office.

However, the present Public Relations Officer in the State Police Command, DSP Andrew Enwerem has confirmed that for some months, there have been no case of baby factory in the state, this he said was achieved through identifying the root cause of baby factory and those engaged in the business. He averred that the Commissioner of Police Abdumajid Ali through intelligence has been able to combat it and has restored the state back to its glory. “… As I’m speaking to you now, we don’t have any case of child trafficking/baby factory in Imo. We will sustain the tempo by making sure we put surveillance all around with intelligence gathering. For now, we aresure that the police have blocked all avenues for baby factory and are hopeful that the crime will not resurface in the state”. While stating that the culprits earlier arrested has been charged to court, whereas some cases are being trailed in the court, some are convicted and serving prison terms.

Though there is no present case of baby factory business in Imo has confirmed by the Police, I can vehemently state that the negative effects posed by the act has constituted the dwindling fortunes of other motherless home who genuinely have the passion to help motherless children, orphans through their humanitarian services to the society. In an interview conducted, the proprietors of Mary Franca Foundation Home located at shell camp, Owerri, Imo State, Mr./Mrs. Hyacinth Chukwudiri stated that they are committed and dedicated towards the welfare of abandoned kids and will stop at nothing to ensure they are given qualitative education as well as good moral background. He further charged the state government to provide financial support to the registered motherless babies’ home to assist them in their quest to save lives. Another effect of baby factory is that the state has now become vulnerable to its citizens which babies are the main culprit thereby arousing fear of being a victim.

In 2011, the National Agency for the prohibition of Trafficking of persons (NAPTIP) said their investigation shows that babies are sold for up to $6,400 each. Therefore, government officials and institutions in charge to fight this scourge should not relent in eradicating the menace of baby factory in the society. The police and the Judiciary where these culprits are taken to must also work in synergy in their race to fighting this cause.

The ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development must not hesitate to inspect all maternity homes that have been established and further ensure that ensure that they stick to the terms of their registration.

In the same vein, couples who are genuinely in need of babies should follow the official legal terms to child adoption, instead of following the short-cut of buying babies which will definitely lead to ruin. Also, a 10-year jail term for illegal baby factory operators as proposed by the National Assembly should be adopted and implemented in order to end this crime.

Source: The Nigerian Voice