In the bubbling Ihiala village, in Anambra State, off the Onitsha-Owerri expressway, one massive compound, with high walls is always a beehive of activity. Teenage girls and flashy cars go in and out daily. From outside, it is difficult to see what goes on there.
However, checks revealed that the compound is a factory of sorts. Just as normal factories, where ordinary goods are made, this peculiar “factory” churns out special products. It is a place where babies are produced and sold. It’s Spormil Hospital and Maternity and/or Iheanyi Ezuma Foundation.
Director of Child Development in the Anambra State Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development, Mr. Emeka Ejide, said this of the place: “The foundation is registered under a non-government organization, but the latest discovery is not in the certificate given to the office.”
Following a tip-off, a police team led by Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) Okere Okey and Inspector Francis Ogbuonye, from the Criminal Investigation Department (CID), Awka, Anambra State, swooped on the facility on Friday, October 14, 2011. The police team made a stunning discovery:
About 30 teenage girls lived inside the compound. They were not related or from Ihiala. They came from various places. Three of them claimed to be students of former Alvan Ikoku College of Education (now Federal College of Education, Owerri, Imo State, while others were secondary schools dropouts. No matter what they are, they share a common destiny or fate: They were pregnant.
During the raid, the 49-year-old proprietress of the centre, alongside two security guards and two other unidentified men were arrested.
The police also made a similar raid on another ‘baby factory,’ Divine Mercy Motherless Babies’ Home, in Ibosi, where the proprietress, allegedly escaped before policemen arrived. It was gathered that the woman evacuated 20 pregnant teenagers in her ‘baby factory’ as well as eight babies.
New face of ‘baby factories’Investigations revealed that ‘baby factories’ are springing up in parts of the country with reckless abandon, especially in the South-East and Port Harcourt axis. Some of them operate under the guise of rehabilitation centres, orphanages and motherless babies’ homes.
According to Anambra State Commissioner for Women Affairs and Social Development, Dr (Mrs) Ego Uzoezie, there are over 51 illegal orphanages and motherless babies’ homes in Nkpo and Awada axis. And as some are being closed, new ones are opening shop.
Take this: Not long ago, soldiers burst a baby factory tucked inside the sleepy Ugwaku community in Okigwe, Imo State. Situated along the Enugu/Port Harcourt expressway, it was a haven for child tracking activities. There, scores of pregnant girls were camped until they put to bed, after which they are given between N50, 000 and N100,000 depending on how long they stayed at the centre, and their babies taken away. It was gathered that while some pregnant girls found their way there, some hired deviant boys and girls were also camped there to engage in sexual orgies with the sole aim of making the girls pregnant and the fruits of such exercises belong to the operators of the camp.
To facilitate access to the factory, the owner, an Ondo-born woman popularly known as Iyawo, allegedly built a bridge on old Okpara Road, Umumahia, to link the community so that her clients won’t pass through the Umuahia expressway.
Saturday Sun undercover reporter recently paid a visit to the area and discovered that the factory has been relocated from Umumahia village, in Ugwaku, to Umuagwu village, where Iyawo’s daughter lives with the husband. Ironically, her new base is the home of the traditional ruler of Ugwuaku autonomous community, Eze Emmanuel Igbojionu, Aku 1 of Ugwuaku.
When the reporter met the traditional ruler in his palace, he denied knowledge of such practices in his domain. He said: “If such a thing is in existence, I would have known because the vigilance team is working 24 hours a day. If they get any information, they will come and brief me. They cannot see such a thing and hide it.”
Despite the monarch’s denial, a source said: “The community is under siege. People here see no evil and speak no evil because powerful individuals are involved.”
Saturday Sun observed that every stranger into the community is subjected to some form of scrutiny. When our undercover reporter asked a young lady the direction to the house of Iyawo’s daughter’s husband, she feigned ignorance. In fact, she claimed not to know anything about the community, even though she was born and bred there. But unaware that the reporter was watching, she stopped in her tracks, ducked under a tree and began to work her mobile telephone frantically.
It was gathered that the woman, who also postures as a herbalist, has made a kill from the illicit business and uses the proceeds to intimidate the hapless villagers. Among other property, she owns a filling station on Enugu-Port-Harcourt expressway. An untouchable, she is also said to be in a dalliance with a former local government chairman and now serving member of the Imo State House of Assembly, who provides support.
Indeed, the Okigwe child trafficking kingpin is well connected. For example, shortly after the army team led by Major Obasanjo burst her former operational base and arrested her, high net worth individuals moved in to secure her release. Eventually, the Army officer was removed and she was released. And the business goes on.
A notorious baby factoryThere is also a notorious “baby factory” at Umunkpeyi Nvosi, Isiala Ngwa South Local Government Area of Abia State. The place, which has existed for several years, is like a phoenix. It has been raided many times by security agents but it usually bounced back.
Saturday Sun undercover reporter was at Umunkpeyi Nvosi recently and saw it bubbling. Pregnant teenage girls milled around the home owned by a nurse. Several raids in the past have not stopped the wheel of the factory turning, as it were.
According to the Commissioner of Police in-charge of the X-Squad, the ‘factory,’ which presents itself as a maternity clinic cum charity home and child care centre, operates a private mortuary and cemetery, where dead pregnant teenagers and/or their babies are buried unceremoniously. During a raid by police operatives, a grave was dug up, revealing a fresh body of a mother with the infant child.
Enyimba City involved: Aba, the commercial nerve centre of Abia State, is also home of “baby factories.” One of the most notorious is on Okigwe Road. Its owner is rich and drives cars with customised number plates. Security agents have raided the place in the past but it usually bounced back. A NAPTIP source described it as a pain in the neck. Another one is found along Aba-Port Harcourt expressway, by Osisioma junction. Both of them have been perpetually involved in the illicit business.
When Saturday Sun visited the factory on Okigwe Road recently, it was in full swing. About 10 pregnant girls were seen in the reception room watching television and chatting heartily. The “doctor,” who runs the factory at Osisioma is being aided by his wife, a foreigner.
Method of operationInvestigations revealed that while some of the “factories” operate clandestinely, others function with seeming force of law. Those in the second category usually register as charity organisations and motherless babies’ homes but they convert such to avenues for the trafficking of babies.
Speaking on Ngozi Ezuma’s operations, Uzoezie said: “What the woman is doing is not what she was registered for.” In the same vein, Anambra Police Public Relations Officer, ASP Chukwuemeka Chukwu, admitted that people are “taking advantage of these innocent girls for business rather than going into charity work they registered for.”
Checks revealed that some of these child traffickers registered non-governmental organizations, posturing as compassionate homes. A source said: “These non-governmental organisations lure or con young girls to camp with them. In some cases, the girls are subjected to unpaid hard labour while pregnant.”
According to 17-year-old victim, Chioma, inmates at a home in Okigwe are made to crack one bucket of palm kernel before they could eat. In the high profile factories, the pregnant girls are kept and fed miserly, particularly on beans until they put to bed.
The racketThe operators of the homes create the impression that they are on a charity mission and providing the shoulder for teenage girls, who tasted the forbidden fruit too early and got trapped with pregnancy, to lean on. For instance, when 49-year-old Ezuma was arrested, she declared: “Rather than encouraging them to do abortion, we take care of them.”
The inevitable questions are, what happens to the babies delivered by the teenage girls? How do the care providers recoup their expenses on the girls while pregnant?
A resident of Umunkpeyi Nvosi, said that none of the girls is ever seen leaving with a new born baby. However, while pregnant, the girls are sometimes seen in the village market or around the centre but when leaving, after putting to bed, they leave alone. Their babies are sold and they are paid off. Buyers are always on queue waiting for babies to be delivered.
The ‘baby factories’ also help women who buy the babies to cover their track and pretend that they are the biological mothers of the babies. These women are fed with some drugs that make them look pregnant. After nine months, it was learnt, when a delivery is due, they come to the home and pick a baby that has been arranged for them.
Fake adoption is also part of the business. Some prospective adoptive parents willingly or inadvertently connive with assessors without following due process and rules stipulated for adoption. Checks revealed that assessors who are supposed to be attached or posted to Magistrate’s Courts procure fake or forged court orders with which they sale babies. The operation involves tiers and layers of fraudulent activities. In some cases, it starts with a pregnant teenager being delivered at a hospital. Afterwards, the baby is deposited at a motherless babies’ home, where it would be sold using forged court order. Adoption by proxy, another illegal act, is also adopted.
For instance, one retired Chief Social Officer with the Anambra State Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development and an assessor, was recently nabbed for his alleged involvement in an attempt to sale a baby with a forged court order. The baby in question was said to be from the Crowther Motherless Babies’ Home, Onitsha, which gets its supply from Concord Hospital and Maternity, Onitsha.
It was gathered that when girls are delivered of their babies at the hospital, such babies are trafficked to the home, where they are adopted using illegal means. Meanwhile, the teenage mothers, when asked, claim that their babies died shortly after delivery.
When apprehended, the man said: “I am owing up to this crime because I prepared the order. It is a mistake. As a man with family and they have not paid me since two years, that’s why I am doing some illegal jobs to survive. The child is from Concord Hospital and Maternity, Onitsha to Crowther Motherless Babies’ Home, Onitsha. My offence is the court order for adoption I forged; nothing else.”
The 65-year-old man added that his financial benefit was only N20, 000, which he got from Grace Esebameh, a nurse at the motherless babies’ home. Esebameh, from Edo State, however, claimed that her involvement was only to keep the babies in the home for the medical director of Concord Hospital and Maternity, Dr Odili Ossai.
While the Crowther Motherless Babies’ Homes and its like try to put up seeming adoption process, some of the ‘baby factories’ have no time for such pretensions. They simply sell the babies, like ordinary products, such as bread or groundnut. One of such places where the illegal sale of babies thrives, as reported not long ago by Saturday Sun, is the back streets of Iponri area of Lagos, near Costain. There, new born babies are sold to whoever is interested. There, the transaction could be concluded within minutes. The moment the buyer doles out the money, the baby is handed over to him or her.
Price tagInvestigations revealed that there is no fixed price for the sale of the babies. It all depends on who is buying and who is selling as well as the place where the transaction is taking place. However, in all instances, male children are costlier than their female counterparts. At the Iponri market, a female child could be procured for N250, 000 while males go for about N350, 000. But at the homes, male children are sold for N450, 000 and N500, 000 while females go for between N350, 000 and N450, 000.
Mothers for rentChecks revealed that some ladies bear children for men just for a fee. In other words, such ladies are hired to conceive for men not as wives, but for commercial purposes. And after they are delivered of the babies, they hand same over to those who contracted them for the purpose. End of business. Undergraduates of tertiary institutions are mostly involved in such arrangements.
Conception, under the arrangement, could be through sexual intercourse or insemination. The ladies that play the role charge between N200, 000 and N500, 000, even as the person contracting them also shoulders the ante-natal bills. Depending on the arrangements, the rented mothers could live with her ‘customer’ for the period of the pregnancy or an apartment would be secured for her. Her upkeep during the period is also the responsibility of the ‘customer.’
Indeed, there are no hard and fast rules to the deal. It all depends on the agreement reached by both parties. For instance, the payment could be made in two or three installments, but the ladies readily relinquish custody rights over the babies they are rented to bear once they put to bed and/or paid off.
In the course of this report, our undercover reporter encountered a student of Delta State University, who was willing to carry a pregnancy for a fee. The 25-year-old lady, who identified herself as Christiana, said: “I can do it if you can pay me N350, 000. You will give me N100, 000 once it is confirmed that I am pregnant. When the pregnancy gets to four months, you will give me another N100, 000. I will receive the balance when I put to bed. You will not see me again after that unless you want me again.”
Christiana also insisted that accommodation will be secured for her outside Delta if the reporter does not want her to stay with him. She added that the reporter will take care of her upkeep and medical bills for the period of her pregnancy.
A stripper in Owerri, who claimed to be a graduate from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN) accepted to do the pregnancy-for-money deal. Mary, as she identified herself, is ready to accept N250, 000, which must be paid in block after she is delivered of the baby. She, however, insisted that she will live with the reporter for the duration of the pregnancy. She said that she will use her pay off to start a business and give herself a new life.
Saturday Sun gathered that many childless couples are favourably disposed to the arrangement. In some cases, a husband’s sperm is used to fertilize eggs harvested from the wife and subsequently implanted in the rented mother. And with this arrangement, the surrogate mother cannot come back in future to lay claim to the child because the DNA test will show who the biological father and mother are.
A top medical practitioner told Saturday Sun: “A neighbour of mine did it. The girl they rented gave birth to set of twins. Perhaps, to cover their tracks, the family relocated to Europe shortly after the kids turned one. They have been married for about 18 years without a child.”
Police connectionThose who operate baby factories are usually well connected. They are said to have the security agencies on their payroll, so that they can operate without hindrance and even when they run into trouble, they are not consumed. According to a police source, operators of the ‘baby factory’ at Umunkpeyi Nvosi have “bought over all the security agencies in the state.”
A recent encounter with the police at the Lagos Local Airport Police Station, Ikeja appears to support the complicity theory. Take this: On Saturday November 12, 2011, a female passenger aboard a mid-morning flight from Owerri to Lagos reported two fellow elderly passengers carrying a new born baby in a suspicious manner to security operatives at the Sam Mbakwe Cargo Airport but within minutes, they were left off the hook.
Undaunted, the woman reported the matter again at the Lagos airport on arrival. The women were subsequently arrested and taken to the Lagos Local Airport Police Station, Ikeja for questioning and investigation of how they came about the baby who they appear too old to give birth to. One of them said to be the wife an Ota traditional ruler claimed to be the mother.
When contacted, a police source disclosed that the matter was being investigated, adding that the hospital mentioned as place of delivery would be visited to ascertain the veracity or otherwise of the claims. But each time the reporter enquired about how far the police had gone in the investigation, they claimed not to have raised the money and vehicle to embark on the trip to Aba, where the woman said she was delivered of the baby. Meanwhile, she was allowed to go with the disputed child pending the conclusion of the investigation. However, last week, the source said that the matter had been handed over to the National Agency for the Prohibition of Traffic in Human Persons and Other Related Matters (NAPTIP) without further details.
Another development that tends to give credence to the complicity theory involves a woman standing trial in Owerri on allegation of child trafficking. It was gathered that during investigations, it was discovered that a certain nurse, Blessing, operating in Port Harcourt was involved. But rather than being arraigned with the suspected child trafficker, the nurse was allowed to slip away.
An impeccable source said: “When the woman was in detention in Owerri, she mentioned the name of the nurse as Blessing Ngozi, but they took money from her and asked her to varnish. By so doing, the supply has been broken, so conviction is now remote because no one is claiming maternity.”