‘Baby factories’ may appear new as a ‘business’, but the illicit trade like a rampaging fire has continued to boom, despite the crackdown by security agents. But it keeps taking new forms, involving young girls and women sheltered under quasi-orphanages where they are encouraged to get pregnant, and after delivery, sell their babies to desperate and or willing childless couples at ridiculous fees. DAMOLA KOLA DARE, who was on the trail of these women and their homes, reports.
A tour of a baby factory
This reporter visited one of the ‘factories’ in Ikotun area of Lagos State.
The house, No 29, Olugbeyokun Street, Olakunle Bus Stop, Abaranje, had previously been used as a hotel. A nondescript signpost with the inscription: “Helsmotic International Hotel Limited”, fixed on the giant fence apparently to disabuse people’s mind concerning what is being done in the building. Expectedly, hell broke loose when men of the police force laid siege to the place.
The faded green paint on the giant fence and some green little flowers festooned the exterior. By and large, the building and its surrounding gave nobody the slightest hint of a seedy show albeit the area was lifeless. The black gate was locked just as a resident told this reporter. “Ever since the police raided this place, the gate had been locked, so the house stands out on this street,” he said.
A landlord in the area told The Nation that the entire community was rudely shocked when the police stormed the area and rescued young teenage girls camped in the building. According to him, nobody knew if the hotel had been sold or not, hence many people thought the hotel still operated.
He said: “It was difficult to know if such illicit thing was going on inside the place. We knew the place to be hotel. We were shocked when the police came and discovered a “baby factory” there. Normally with the high fence, no one could see the interior. It is hard to tell if the hotel was sold to the people operating the “baby factory” or not.”
Curbing the menace
President, Women Arise, Dr Joe Okei-Odumakin, noted that the grinding poverty in the land and the desire to survive amid the odds lead to variuos criminal tendencies. According to her, there should be active and serious campaign for the mass eradication of poverty, which would reduce the upsurge in crime and other social vice.
“Poverty and the need for survival are the compelling factors for such crime. People as a result of finding a means to survive resort to crime. To address the problem, there should be a serious campaign on mass poverty eradication in the country,” she said in an interview with The Nation.
While advocating for proper prosecution of offenders, she stressed the need to introduce toll-free lines to report such misdeeds in every part of the country.
She said: “All culprits must be brought to book; there should be proper prosecution of offenders. Then, in our communities, government should introduce toll-free lines to ensure that all of such cases are reported instantly. Thus, the authorities and the law enforcement agents will be able to tackle the scourge.”
She sought free, compulsory quantitative and qualitative education for the girl child, who has become an “endangered specie”.
She added that the establishment of Child Rights Protection Agency at the federal and state levels will also help in curbing the crime.
Okei-Odumakin said: “It is imperative to establish a Child Rights Protection Agency at the federal level and throughout the states of the federation to ensure that the crime is curbed.”
Lagos lawyer and Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Mr. Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa said the government has put measures in place to tackle the proliferation of “baby factories” across the country with the establishment of a specialised agency like the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking In Persons (NAPTIP). According to him, the agency has the capacity to curb the crime.
Adegboruwa said: “It is not a common crime, which should be handled by the regular police. It is a specialised crime which specialised agencies like NAPTIP should handle.”
On the major cause of such criminal activities, he lamented that the current high rate of unemployment saying: “The unemployment situation in the country is a major factor giving rise to multifarious crimes like cyber-crime, human trafficking and the likes. For instance, in Britain some 39 people died as they were being trafficked from Poland.”
While proffering possible solutions to the menace, he urged the government to have a record of young adults in the country and get them engaged in meaningful ventures. He added that when a larger percentage of the nation’s population is not positively engaged, it portends doom as such will have negative effects on the family and the society at large.
He said: “It is important that we take record of our young adults in the country. Then government should actively engage because the women are into “baby factory”, while the men are into “yahoo yahoo”, internet fraud. So when a larger portion of the population is not meaningfully engaged, something else will engage them negatively and it will have a far-reaching effect on the family and society.”
He also urged non-governmental organisations and civil society groups who are specialists in rehabilitating young people, who have engaged in various crimes, to be involved in order to reintegrate victims into the society and forestall an upsurge in crime.
He also called for the regulation and control of herbal homes and maternity centres springing up and without proper registration. He noted that registering such centres will be bring sanity to the system.
“Having a record of all herbal homes, hospitals and maternity centres will help in putting a stop to some of these homes springing up without government regulation and control. The data of these centres should be lodged in the local governments because these things also happen in the rural areas,” he said.
He advised the National Association of Nurses and Midwives and the Nigerian Medical Association to sensitise their members against being in cahoots with operators of baby-producing syndicates because some of the “baby factories” contact experienced and licensed nurses or widwives to help in their illicit operations. He also told them to deploy measures that ensure that fake maternity centres and herbal homes are uprooted from the country.
His words: “Professional associations like the Nurses and Midwives Association and the Nigerian Medical Association should sensitise their members against working with “Baby factories” because these things don’t go on without engaging some licensed and experienced midwives. Then the aforementioned associations should adopt measures that would stamp out the fake herbal homes and maternity centres in the country.”
According to Samuel, a resident of Abaranje in Ikotun, where one of the “baby factories” were discovered, many found it difficult to believe that a seedy show actually took place there. He noted that the said street, (Olugbeyokun), was always as silent as a graveyard and largely deserted.
While also decrying the level of gnawing poverty in the country, he said: “For those girls, the inability to cater for themselves led them to such. Poverty is a major factor in this issue. Let me say this, there is poverty in the land. Some people find it very difficult to afford three square meals. In fact, some youths these days now sell their kidneys just to be able to survive. And that is why operators of the so-called “Baby Factories” are having a field day.”
He, however, called on the government to create empowerment programmes for young women, who lack education in order for them to be independent.
An Islamic scholar, Dr Mahfouz Adedimeji, noted that the government alone cannot tackle what he described as an “existential crime that stabs directly at the heart of our humanity”. He said: “The issue is even beyond the government because this is an existential crime, a crime that stabs directly at the heart of our humanity, a sin against God, not just the society.”
While flaying this generation’s excessive love of filthy lucre and the desperation to amass sudden wealth in a jiffy, he lamented the inability of religious leaders to provide the right leadership for others.
“I think there is an urgent need for moral revolution and value orientation beginning from the family level. Materialism and inordinate pursuit of wealth are critical factors here. Unfortunately, many religious leaders are guilty and cannot provide leadership in this regard.
“Everybody talks about money as if it is the most important thing in life. There is desperation to make money at all costs with many people adopting the diseased Machiavellian dictum that the end justifies the means. It’s a philosophical virus because the opposite is the truth: the means that justifies the end!”
He also called on the government to ensure good governance while urging parents not to shirk their various responsibilities as regards training their children in the most appropriate and acceptable way, religion and culture wise.
He said: “Let the government provide good governance, but let parents stop shying away from their parenting responsibilities so that children, who soon become adults, know what is right and wrong from our religious and cultural perspectives. There won’t be change until we change. So, the way out is for everyone to clean their corners.”
The Team Lead, Live and Love Support Initiative (LLSI), a humanitarian foundation based in Lagos, Oyindamola Sanusi, said it would not be easy for government alone to eradicate illegal child-selling syndicates. She, however, called for stricter punitive measures for offenders, which according to her, will help in stemming the tide.
She added that the media also has a role to play as a societal watchdog, noting that LLSI would organise a walk to or seminar to sensitise young girls and women on the issue.
She said: “The government alone cannot eradicate them (Baby Factories ).Everybody has to be involved. Despite government efforts, the situation seems to be out of control. Over the years, we have been hearing different stories of the so-called factories springing up around the country. I believe the media has a huge role to play as a watchdog in the society. When all these cases are regularly reported, the authorities will swing into action to forestall a possible recurrence. However, our group is planning a sensitisation campaign and a walk for young girls and women to be sufficiently informed about the issue.
Then any offender caught should severely deal with to serve as deterrent to other operators of the illegal trade.”
NAPTIP steps in
Plans are underway to rehabilitate and re-integrate the victims into the society according to the Lagos State Zonal Commander of The National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP), Daniel Atokolo. He also noted that more facts will be sourced as regards the case while assuring that other members of the gang would be apprehended.
In its sustained drive towards curbing child trafficking, the agency recently constituted a task force in Agege Local Government Area of Lagos State. The task force which consists of other law enforcement agencies like the Police, State Security Service operatives, Civil Defence Corps and the likes is a collaborative effort towards curbing child trafficking. However, it would be a a relief of sort if the same can be established in other areas of the state to address the scourge of selling babies and children.
As the call from all and sundry reaches a crescendo, it is hoped that authorities will not treat the “baby factory” issue, which has been linked to “child/human trafficking, with kid gloves.
And for the rescued pregnant teenage girls and women, who have been handed over to NAPTIP for rehabilitation, their abduction and raw ordeal in the hands of libidinous men only served as a stark reminder of the invidious life of crime. To para-phrase Thomas Paine, they have the powers to begin the world all over.