More facts are emerging about a syndicate that specialises in abducting children from northern Nigeria and selling them to human traffickers in the South East.
The Gombe State Police Command, in collaboration with the Anambra State Police Command, last week, busted the kidnappers den in an “orphanage” in Onitsha, Anambra State, where they rescued 12 children.
During the raid, seven boys and five girls below the ages of 10 were rescued, while one Nkechi Odulye, the “proprietor” of the orphanage, alongside one Ali Bala Shaukani from Taraba State, the “supplier” of the children, was arrested by the police.
The police said it launched the raid following information scooped from one Hauwa Usman from Gombe and one Faith Okpai from Anambra who were in detention at the Gombe prison following their arrest in November, 2019, in connection with two children abducted from Gombe and sold in Anambra, and that the children were rescued.
Hauwa and Faith operated from Gombe where they stole children mostly below two years and transported them to Onitsha from where they handed them over to Shaukani who later sold them to Nkechi.
The police said they gathered that male children were sold for N300,000 each, while female children went for N250,000 each, and that the children were subsequently resold between N750,000 and N800,000 to prospective buyers; mostly from the South South and the South East.
Daily Trust learnt that investigation led the police to Nkechi and Shaukani who were the masterminds and partners of Hauwa and Faith in the human trafficking business.
Although, none of the 12 children rescued is from Gombe State, one of the suspects, Hauwa, confessed of stealing about 20 children from Gombe, which she claimed she handed over to her boyfriend, Shaukani, who subsequently sold them to the syndicate headed by Nkechi.
The Gombe State Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development provided logistics to the police who went to Anambra to bring Nkechi and Shaukani, alongside the 12 rescued children, back to the Gombe State Police Command to allow for proper investigation.
The ministry took the visibly traumatised children into its custody and provided them with accommodation, feeding and clothing pending locating their parents.
Suspect sold two biological children
Speaking with Daily Trust, one of the suspects, Shaukani (39), a self-acclaimed graduate of Mechanical Engineering from the Taraba State Polytechnic, admitted taking his two biological children to Nkechi “to train them as Christians.”
He said, “Even though I was born and is still a practicing Muslim, I decided that my children – Abdulmalik, who I renamed Theophilus; and Hauwa, now Happiness – should be brought up as Christians to practice the religion of their mother, Martha. As the only practicing Muslim among my father’s 31 children and after Hauwa forced me to divorce my wife, I decided to allow my children, aged six and five respectively, to follow the religion of their mother.”
On her part, Nkechi denied being a human trafficker, as according to her, she owns an orphanage duly registered by the Anambra State Government.
Nkechi said after paying for the children from Shaukani and his partners, she trained them at the orphanage and sold them to prospective buyers who took them as foster sons and daughters.
She explained that, “I don’t know that they are abducting these children, because what they told me was that the children are orphans.”
She disclosed that she recently sold seven of the children to foster mothers in Asaba, Delta State, at the cost of N750,000 each.
Meanwhile, Faith said she was initiated into the business of human trafficking by Hauwa who she met in Gombe, and explained that it was Hauwa that was stealing the children, after which she (Faith) joined her to take them to the South East where they met their partners.
How we steal and sell the children
In her account, Hauwa said she was introduced into the business by her boyfriend, Shaukani, who collected the children from her and sold them to Nkechi in Onitsha.
Hauwa revealed that she accompanied Shaukani to sell his daughter, Hauwa, for N250,000 after he successfully sold his first son, Abdulmalik, for N300,000.
She said, “I agreed to join the business because he made me to believe that the children are not being used for ritual purposes, but adopted as foster children by women, especially those that do not have children after years of marriage.”
She further said after seeing “easy” money in the business she agreed to join the gang by stealing children from Gombe and moving them to the South.
She confessed that, “I always target toddlers while they are playing in a neighbourhood. I have never faced any resistance because they are too young to even realise what is going on and before their elder siblings find out I would have disappeared.
“When I get a reasonable number, I will then inform Faith who will arrange for our transportation to the South. I will disguise as a Christian and under the pseudonym Blessing John in order to avoid suspicion from other passengers.”
She further said after selling the children for N300,000 for boys and N250,000 for girls, they would board a bus back to the North to start searching for new victims.
Delta parents reunite with son in Anambra
Speaking with Daily Trust in Anambra, Pastor and Mrs. Florence Henry Osah (40 each), who came from Delta State to unite with their son, Joel Henry, said the boy was abducted when he was two years, seven months on July 19, 2019.
Mrs. Osah said Joel was abducted while playing outside their two-bedroom apartment at Emede in Isoko South LGA of Delta State.
She explained that she was heavily pregnant in July, 2019, when some people tricked her husband to go outside the house and that by the time he returned they could not find their son, Henry, who was playing with his toy.
She further said, “We searched everywhere in the compound but we couldn’t find him. I cried profusely and had to be admitted in a hospital before doctors saved my life and my unborn child because I went into forced labour. We informed the police and left everything to God.
“Last week my sister called me on phone from Lagos that missing children were found in Anambra State and that she identified one of them as Joel. We rushed to Anambra where I recognised him instantly by a scar on his forehead. Unfortunately he didn’t recognise me.”
Where are they taking our mummy to?
Most of the children – having been separated from their parents as infants – forgot their real parents. For instance, as the children were being ushered into a bus and the suspects into a cell, one of the children whispered to the other children in a low tone, “Where are they taking our mummy to?”
Over 20 children missing between 2017 and 2020
The Secretary of the Amalgamated Association of Parents (AAP) – parents who lost their children to human traffickers – Ibrahim Ardo, said over 20 children were recorded missing between 2017 and 2020.
Ardo said his two-year-old daughter, Hauwa, was abducted on December 12, 2018, and was yet to be found.
He explained that, “My daughter was abducted about two years ago while she was playing with her sisters and we have searched everywhere to no avail. Therefore, we have resorted to prayers for Allah’s intervention.
“When we heard that some missing children were brought to Gombe, we rushed to the police headquarters hoping that our children were among them. Unfortunately, none of the reported 21 that have been missing since 2017 was among the 12 rescued children.”
Police still searching for Gombe’s 21 missing children
Addressing newsmen while parading the suspects, the Gombe State Commissioner of Police (CP), Maikudi Shehu, said most of the children were abducted while playing in their neighbourhoods.
CP Shehu said the suspects confessed that several children that were reported missing from Gombe State since 2017 had already been sold to buyers in Delta State.
He added that the three principal suspects, Shaukani, Faith and Nkechi, had been on the run for three years before they were finally arrested by the police last week following an investigation that led the police from Gombe to Anambra.
The CP revealed that investigation was ongoing to unravel the suppliers, buyers and other culprits involved in the human trafficking business in the state.
He promised that the police would not relent until they found and united the missing children with their parents.