ANAYO ONUKWUGHA writes on the alarming rate of child stealing in Port Harcourt, and elsewhere in Rivers State.
Ogbogoro is one of the communities that make up the Akpor District of Obio/Akpor local government area of Rivers State. As one of the communities that lie along the banks of the New Calabar River, Ogbogoro has had a good measure of criminal activities that go on in riverine communities in the Niger Delta region, prominent among which is kidnapping, armed robbery and clashes between rival cult groups.
Recently, the community hugged the headlines in the state, not because of the regular kidnapping activities or cult clashes, but because of child theft, in which three women were arrested by vigilant youths of the community on suspicion of stealing new born children.
It was gathered that women were intercepted by a group of youths in Ogbogoro community while they were in possession of the three children and handed over to detectives at the Ozuoba Divisional Police Station.
A source in the community, which has had similar cases of abduction of children in the past, revealed that one woman was first arrested with the children and upon interrogation, she mentioned two other suspected accomplices.
The arrest of the three suspected abductors of children was made after five children were reported missing in the community within a space of one week.
Some residents of the community, who lost their children to suspected traffickers, recently narrated their experiences. According to Michael, a father of four, “I left my house for work and I was still at the bus stop 20 minutes later when I saw my son crying and running towards me.
“I asked what happened and he said he was looking for his younger sister, my last daughter. He said they were sitting in front of their mother’s shop and suddenly, they didn’t see her again.”
Another resident of the community, who gave his name as Linus said his own child got missing on February 11, 2017at about 7:00pm in the community.
He said, “My own happened on February 11 this year around 7:00pm. My wife called me on phone and said she couldn’t see my five-year old daughter.”
Also, speaking, Ifeoma, a mother of two said, “As we came back from the church one evening, I went to the back of the house and by the time I came back, I didn’t see my child again.”
Recall that in March 2016, the Rivers State Police Command busted a suspected baby factory syndicate in Isi-Ala Ngwa South local government area of Abia State, while trailing the whereabouts of a four-year old boy, Friday Alioma and eight-month pregnant woman, Happiness Samuel, who were abducted from Ogbogoro community.
The duo were allegedly abducted by four women and taken to the baby factory, where Happiness and other expectant mothers, aged between 21 and 25 years, were told that they would deliver their babies and sell them to the proprietor of the centre, simply identified as Nma.
The ugly development is not limited to Ogogoro community alone as the other parts of Port Harcourt, including Diobu and Borokiri areas of the state capital, have had their fair share of missing children, though mostly unreported to the police.
In Diobu, a three-year old boy, Soibifaa Isaac is yet to be seen more than two years after she was taken away by a strange lady, from their Akokwa Street residence.
Trouble started for the little Soibifaa in the early hours of April 27, 2015 when his elder sister took him to school. On getting close to the school, Soibifaa and his elder sister were accosted by a strange lady who told the young girl to assist her buy kerosene.
Early March his year, the Rivers State government shut down the Churchill Model Primary Health Centre in the Old Port Harcourt Town, following the disappearance of a new born baby boy from the facility.
Again, the story of a 10-month-old Daniel Malafakumo, who was abducted during a church service in the Borokiri area of Port Harcourt, was very pathetic. The little Daniel, according to his father, Captain Saturday Malafakumo, was stolen by an unknown lady.
According to Malafakumo, “On March 24, we had a programme in our church, God is Real Solution Bible Church. We left the house around 4.pm to attend the programme so as to come back on time. My wife, who is an usher in the church, was carrying the baby on her back during the service.
“At a point, the baby became uncomfortable because of heat and my wife handed him over to my younger son, who took him outside the church premises to get some air. He was accosted by a lady who asked him where she could buy water. After some time the lady said she was hungry and needed to buy fried yam.
“They accompanied the lady in a chartered vehicle to a place she could buy yam.
When they got there, she did not buy the yam but remained in the vehicle. My son became worried and insisted that he wanted to go back to church. The lady held my little boy in the vehicle. As soon as my son came down from the vehicle, the driver zoomed off with the lady and my 10-month-old boy.”
The disappearance of Daniel caused a big stir in the church as the pastor and other members constituted themselves into a search team. They combed the entire town area in search of Daniel without success. The matter was immediately reported to the Divisional Police Headquarters, Borokiri, but three months after, the boy has not been found.
Heart-broken Malafakumo said he and his family have handed over the issues of his missing son to God for intervention, saying, “We reported the incident to the police, but nothing has happened since then. They told us that they were working hard to rescue the little boy, but I don’t know how long it would take them to do that.
“We cannot sit down and continue to wait for the police. We are still searching for the boy on our own. As Christians we cannot do anything against our faith. We are relying on God, and we believe that prayers from men of God would do miracle for us one day.”
Disturbed by the fact that the little Daniel was stolen during a church programme, leaders of churches in Borokiri area of Port Harcourt began sensitization of their members on the need to avoid sending their children and wards who are below 12 years on errands unaccompanied.
To one of the church leaders, Pastor Akeem Idoniboye, apart from embarking on general sensitization of its members about the activities of child traffickers in the neighborhood, the church needs to speak out against evil that happen in the society.
Idoniboye, who is the senior pastor of Glorious Destiny Family Church (Destiny Chapel), with headquarters in Borokiri, said, “People should also try to make their children a little bit security conscious and try as I mentioned in the church, not to send children below 12 years on errands. Parents should just adhere to that.
“Churches can go on general enlightenment like we did in Destiny Chapel, Borokiri, Port Harcourt recently. Then, we should keep speaking against evil. One of the things that make evil thrive is when good people don’t speak up against evil. We have to keep speaking up against evil and then, when we see evil, we have to point it out, because you can’t see someone doing that around you and refuse to point it out.
“We have to speak out and then, involve the law enforcement agents when we see anything suspicious. Our challenge generally in this country is that we tend not to want to get involved in anything until it knocks on our door. We always want to avoid it as far as we are not involved. If we don’t stop it one day, truly, it will knock on your door and nobody likes a bad experience.”
He called on the state government to improve on its security system, especially within Port Harcourt, the state capital, saying that security with the state capital looks relaxed.
Worried by the rising cases of child theft in the state, the Rivers State deputy governor, Dr. Ipalibo Harry-Banigo, recently called on the National Agency for the Prohibition and Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP) to ensure that anyone arrested for involving in human trafficking is promptly prosecuted to serve as deterrent to others.
Harry-Banigo insisted that anyone arrested for trafficking in persons should be exposed and made to face the full weight of the law, due to the negative impact of human trafficking on the society.
She decried the prevalence of baby factories in the country and charged NAPTIP and other Agencies to work in synergy with a view to clamping down on their nefarious activities.
The deputy governor disclosed that the Governor Ezebunwo Nyesom Wike-led administration in Rivers State is committed to addressing the socio-economic problems that give rise to human trafficking as well as enforce existing laws as a deliberate effort to stem the tide of the scourge in the state.