Image via Sun News Online
It was yet another twist to the recurring incidents of baby factories when seven pregnant young women were rescued by the police while wandering about in the early hours of October 2, begging for money to transport themselves out of Lagos State.
This latest batch of victims claimed they were tricked from various locations to come into Lagos with a promise of a better life. However, upon arrival, they were locked up for weeks and months by suspected child traffickers. They, however, resolved to break out of their bondage when they overheard a telephone conversation regarding negotiations for their unborn babies.
The women identified themselves as Joy Jonathan Amarachi Samuel, Blessing Iwunna, Confidence Uwaegbu, Chinma Destiny, Chidinma Nnaji and Obi Esther.
Lured with sweet promises
Although their story is riddled with contradictions (for example, they all denied foreknowledge of the fact that their unborn babies will be sold after birth and they couldn’t also identify the photograph of the woman who supposedly lured them to Lagos), nonetheless, their accounts, similar in plot, are credible. Their common denomination was their vulnerability at the time they met Madame Trafficker, who exploited their insecurity to dangle irresistible offers to lure them to Lagos. Once the trap was sprung and they were in, firmly in the Safe House, she showed her true colour.
In flawless English, the youngest of the victims, Joy Jonathan, calmly explained her decision to run away from her village was an attempt to save her family the shame of raising a bastard when she became pregnant after she was gang-raped.
The 13 years old from Ngor Okpala, Imo State, was a Junior Secondary School student.
“As a young girl, I normally get advances from men in the village especially the boys in our area. I always refuse them because I know that I am a small girl and I don’t want anyone to destroy my life. I wanted to be a doctor.
However, her world turned upside down seven months ago.
Her poignant recollection: “My mother sent me to buy groundnut oil around 9 pm. I was on my way back when I ran into four boys, they grabbed me and dragged me into the bush. They took a turn to rape me. I tried to scream but they used my blouse to tie my mouth.
“When I got home, I told my mother and she took me to the hospital the next day. I was given some drugs. My mother reported the matter to the village head, but the boys ran away when they heard that I had reported them.
Three months later, her mother noticed signs of pregnancy.
“I was so sad and wanted to kill myself, but my mother encouraged me to keep the pregnancy. She said she will do her best to support me until I give birth. I had to drop out of school and join my mother to sell tomatoes at the market.”
It was in the market that she met a woman who introduced herself as Madam Happiness who offered to help her.
“She told me that she will take me to Lagos to serve a family that will pay me N30, 000 a month and also take care of my baby. She told me that they live in a big mansion and I will have my room.”
The unhealthy situation in the village made her gullible.
“The village people were already making a mockery of my family because of my situation. They don’t even believe that I was raped. I don’t know who amongst the boys that impregnated me, so my child will be seen as a bastard. I planned to go to Lagos, become rich and come back and change the destiny of my family.”
Desperation to escape the shame in the village made her amenable to the suggestion to vanish without informing her family or friends.
“At my age, I know that my mother will not allow me to travel to Lagos; besides, that woman warned me to keep it a secret. Without the knowledge of my family, I carried my bag and followed the woman to Lagos.”
No sooner did she arrive in Lagos than it dawned on her that she had been deceived.
“We got to Lagos at night and were taken to a very big compound. It was when I got there that I saw about 20 pregnant women. Amongst them were some of my village girls that are also pregnant.”
Still, Madam Happiness assured her that she was also helping them to get work.
A few days later, the truth was revealed.
“We were all kept there and locked up. Our phones were taken away, if you have any problem, you will talk to one woman that we all call Mummy. If you complain, she will shout at you and threaten to kill you.”
She spent not less than five weeks in the building before their ‘jailbreak’ of October 2.
Amarachi Samuel, a 17-year-old, also fell to the wiles of Madam Happiness who sold her a dummy about sending her abroad after birth.
The teenager from Isialangwa, Abia State, was married and was living with her husband in Aba.
Her circumstance too was what rendered her vulnerable.
Her story: “While I was in the village, I started dating my present husband when I was 14 years old. Unfortunately, I became pregnant and my father forced me to marry him. He paid part of the money and promised to complete it when he gets a job. I dropped out of school and stayed in the village until my baby was born.
I moved to Aba to live with him. He is an apprentice and because of that marriage, his boss drove him away, because he said that he would start stealing from him. Life became difficult and I started learning how to make hair. Two years later, I became pregnant again. I wanted to abort the baby but the doctor said that I was already five months.”
She was out on an errand for her mistress one day when she met Madam Happiness.
“She asked why a young girl like me that should be in school is pregnant. I told her my story and she promised to help me. She asked me not to tell my husband or my family because they will be envious and try to discourage me.”
She was in Lagos before she informed her husband of her odyssey. “I called my husband and told him that I am in Lagos. I did not want him to worry since I was already seven months pregnant. I also needed him to concentrate and take care of our son.”
The reality of the camp contradicts her hopes and expectation.
She recalled: “I was surprised to see so many pregnant women in that house and all of them said that they were invited the same way that I was invited.
“We were always locked in and fed once a day. If you are so hungry, there is a bag of Gari and water. She took away our phones and started threatening us. If you try to shout, the other women will tell you to keep quiet.
Blessing Iwunna, who came to Lagos with her son, claimed she informed her husband before embarking on the journey. The young girl from Mbaise, Imo State, got married at the age of 14 when she was put in the family way.
She dropped out of school and started selling fruits in the village market. Like a shark smelling blood in the ocean hundreds of miles away, Madam Happiness found her.
“She bought the entire basket and I was so happy to go home early because I was already six months pregnant,” she recalled. “She promised to change my life if I follow her to Lagos. I told her that I have a two-year-old son and she asked me to bring him along. I told my husband and he did not refuse because I am his second wife and he is very poor.”
In Lagos, she realized she had been duped when they walked into a camp full of pregnant women.
The circumstance of escape
According to the rescued women, the escape plan was hatched by Chinma Destiny, the oldest among the camp’s inmates. Chinma said it became imperative for them to run away for fear that they might be killed after the birth of their baby.
The 27-year-old Rivers State indigene was a hairdresser and also learning how to decorate event centres.
She began her narration with the misfortune that befell and made her vulnerable. “I started dating one of my customers who normally come to our shop to do pedicure, As soon as I got pregnant, he disappeared. I lost my job and could barely feed myself.”
Again, the “omniscient” Madam Happiness came into her life.
“I told her my problem and she asked me to follow her to Lagos. She promised to get me a job in a big mansion. It was when we got to Lagos that I realized what it was all about. A compound filled with more than 20 pregnant women. I have heard so much about their activities and I was wondering why Madam Happiness did not discuss that with me before bringing me to Lagos. I confronted her and she denied it.”
Her passivity, however, changed the day she overheard her negotiating with someone over the phone.
“She said, “most of the women here are pregnant with baby boys.” She told the woman that each will go for N500, 000 and that about 10 of us will be due in the next one month. I am eight months pregnant and I knew automatically that I am one of those she was referring to.”
She informed the others and they hatched a plan.
“As soon as she drove into the compound, while the driver was about to close the gate, we opened the gate and ran away. They tried to grab some of us, but we ran away and walked for about 30 minutes before we boarded a bus to Cele.”
However on alighting at Cele, a bus stop along the Oshodi-Apapa expressway, they explained their predicament to an old man at the taxi park, soliciting for help to travel back to their respective states.
“He allowed us to sit down and beg for money. We planned to raise enough money to pay for our transport fare back to the East.”
But the people at the park called the police.
Only one of the rescued seven, Esther, admitted where she was being taken. She affirmed the reason she agreed to come to Lagos was to get rid of her unwanted baby.
“I am an auxiliary nurse in Port Harcourt. By the time I realized that I was pregnant, I was already four months and it’s dangerous to abort,” she narrated.
“I met Madam Happiness and told her my situation; she was the one who asked me to join her to Lagos that she will hand me over to a family that has no child. She said they will take care of me and give me a job.”
Treatment inside the camp
Life inside the camp however dispelled any delusions they had before arriving in Lagos. According to Chinma, throughout the two weeks she spent in the house, no doctor or midwife came to see or give them any form of medication. “We were only fed once a day. She (Madam) said it was not necessary to take medication because we are all healthy. She also said that if we eat too much, it will be very hard to have a normal birth.”
By the time they succeeded in breaking out of their incarceration, they had only thoughts of going back to their home and to resume their previous lives before the disruption.
“Please, I want to go home. I know that I am too small to have a child but I cannot sell my baby,” Joy pleaded. When asked of her native name, Joy said, “I have disgraced my family enough, if I tell you their name the shame will double.”
Blessing too spoke of her intention to go back home: “I want to go home and manage my husband. Life was better for us in the village.”.
Chinma said: “I am aware that babies can be sold but I do not want to sell my own. I want to work and provide for my child because I know that he will be great. Please, we want to go home,” she pleaded.
Even Esther, who went into the gulag on her won volition, had no regret leaving the place abruptly.
“I decided to run because Madam collected our phones and was not feeding us well. I have spent three weeks in that camp and she has not connected me to any wealthy couple. I was scared because I do not know what she intends to do with me after the birth of my baby. I know that I need help but I don’t want to die or be sold,” she stated.
According to the Lagos State Police Command spokesman DSP Bala Elkana: “At about 1 am on October 2, Isolo Police Station received an alert that seven pregnant women were seen stranded at Cele Bus Stop along Oshodi-Apapa expressway. A team of policemen led by the Divisional Police Officer, CSP Folorunsho Gabriel went to the spot and rescued them.”
Saturday Sun reliably learnt that the seven women were amongst those who escaped when police recently raided their camps at Ikotun (No 14 Adisa Street, Ayanwale area and No 32 Owosho street, Governor Road Ikotun) and Abaranje area (No 29 Olugbeyohun street, Olakunle bus stop and No 4/6Anomo street). They allegedly ran away from their location when they learnt of the news of the raid of other locations.
Two suspects, Happiness Ukwuoma from Mbano in Imo State and Sherifat Ipeya from Lagos were arrested in connection with the case.
The suspects told the police that their responsibility was just to take care of the girls and help to transport most of them from their locations to their camps in Lagos. They were locally trained as midwives and under the payroll of one Madam Oluchi who comes around to visit them once in a week.
Initially, they were operating in Rivers and Imo states but they relocated to Lagos last year because security operatives were always raiding their camps.
Meanwhile the Commissioner of Police, Zubairu Muazu has deployed detectives from the State Criminal Investigative Department, Panti to fish out the principal suspect Madam Oluchi from Mbano.