The Nigerian Child Rights Law 2003 specifically prohibits the sale or procurement of a child but in the world 31-year-old Gideon Ani lives in, no such law exists.
Ani, an unemployed indigene of Abia State, who is currently being quizzed by investigators at the Department of Criminal Investigation, Yaba, Lagos had just had his first child, a boy, from his second wife, 23-year-old Joy.
His first wife, Victoria had no child yet.
If one expected that Ani’s newborn son would be a bundle of joy for him and his family, one would be right. Unfortunately, the joy that came to Ani’s heart was for a totally different reason.
“I am jobless, I had no money and was suffering along with my family. Then a strange thought entered my mind,” he told police investigators.
Ani’s strange thought was not about urgently looking for a job to take care of his family and the new addition; neither was it about obtaining a loan that could help him resuscitate his business.
He had found a way out of his dire financial troubles – looking for a buyer for his son.
“I thought about it for a while, and I realised that since the baby was mine, I could do whatever I wanted with him,” he told the police
But Ani realised he could not broker the deal alone and thought about the closest person he could share such a strange thought with – his first wife.
Victoria, an Ebonyi State indigene, who had been married to her husband without a child for more than three years, instantly jumped at the idea.
She was saddled with the responsibility of finding a buyer.
A police source who was privy to the case, told our correspondent that Victoria found a buyer who agreed to pay N500,000 for the baby.
“The husband brought Joy from Abia State and lodged her at a motel in Orile area of Lagos. He took the baby from her under the guise of taking the baby to the clinic for treatment,” the source said.
Our correspondent learnt that if not for the employees of the motel, Joy would have died in the room in which she was lodged.
It was learnt that in order to ensure Joy did not venture out of the motel, her husband locked her in when he left with the baby.
She was only rescued four days later, when a motel employee who was concerned that the room had not been opened for a while, asked a floor manager to unlock the door.
“By the time they found the woman, she could not even speak properly anymore, she was too weak. She had no phone with her. She had not eaten for a long time,” the police said.
It was after Joy was stabilised that she managed to narrate what had happened and gave information on how her husband could be found by the police from the Orile division.
Our police source said, “We eventually found him and he also led us to where we arrested his first wife. The woman told us that she only agreed with the husband after he pressured her to go along with the plan.
“The first thing the man said was that he only gave the child out since it was his to give and that he did not actually collect money. But we later learnt that he gave him out N500,000 was agreed.”
The police have arrested the buyer of the baby, whose identity is still being kept secret.
Saturday PUNCH learnt that Ani and his first wife still maintain that no money had exchanged hands but the investigators at the DCI told Saturday PUNCH that whether they had been paid for the baby or not, they would get to the root of the matter.
When our correspondent visited the DCI, it was learnt that investigators had prevented journalists from photographing the suspects.
A relations of the first wife, whom our correspondent saw at the department explained that he could not comment as efforts were being made by their families to settle the issue.
The spokesperson for the Lagos State Police Command, Mr. Kenneth Nwosu, told Saturday PUNCH that the baby had been recovered unharmed and reunited with his mother.
Sale of children by parents now a trend
It is true that Ani’s case is indeed a strange abomination but it is not unheard of. In recent times, The PUNCH has reported a couple of cases in which children have either been sold like a mere commodity or given out as collateral for loan.
Just last week Friday, February 27, 2014, PUNCH reported how a middle-aged farmer, George Maduabuchi, in Owerrinta, Abia State allegedly sold his 14-month-old son for N300,000.
The man, who already had three children connived with another suspect to sell the child to a herbalist when the baby fell ill. When the herbalist told him he could not heal the child, he simply sold him to the man.
In another report, a Bakassi refugee father, 40-year-old Edet Okon, gave up her 12-year-old daughter, Mary, as a collateral for a loan of N600,000. One of the many reasons cited by the father at the time was that his first daughter was battling blood cancer and the loan was for her treatment.
Also, much earlier than this, in May 2013, there was a report on a pregnant woman and her husband that sold their unborn baby for N200,000 even though the pregnancy was still seven months old at the time.
There seems to be a shift in the worrisome trend of baby factories which came to public knowledge in 2013 in Nigeria.
Between 2013 and 2014, not less than 10 baby factories were uncovered in the south-east of Nigeria.
The girls and young women who were recovered in baby factories in the past cited both poverty and unwanted pregnancies as reasons for falling victims of ‘baby merchants’ in the country.
But what happens when parents resort to selling off their children?
Sociologist, Mr. Monday Ahibogwu, explained that this signals a dangerous trend that calls for concern and an urgent intervention.
But for him, the problem does not originate from the parents who decide to sell off their children or lapses in law enforcement in the country.
He said, “These are all signs of modern slavery. The problem is not about those who sell their children or the law enforcement agencies in the country but the people who create the market by patronising black markets.
“There are reasons why human traders operate successfully. They take advantage of the fact that there are many childless women looking for children.
“No evidence has actually come up but there are reports that children actually go missing in hospitals where they would have been stolen by people who sell them off.”
Ahibowgu explained that some of the strange crimes seen in Nigeria can be attributed to population explosion.
The sociologist said as society becomes more and more metropolitan in nature, certain vices rear up their ugly heads.
He said, “The demand for survival also comes into play. The high level of decadence in bigger cities cannot be compared to that in the smaller communities.
“Poverty sometimes brings a warped sense of vindictiveness. It is just the decadence in the society. Even with all the decadent behaviours even in developed countries, there are clear-cut rules against selling of a human being. Sanctions against such are usually heavy.”
Rev. Christianah George, who is the founder of Little Saints Orphanage, Lagos had explained that it is ignorance that makes people go into the criminal act of buying children when there is the option of legal adoption.
George, who expressed surprise about such a trend, simply explained that it was an abomination that should be stamped out before it becomes a common crime in Nigeria.
She said, “I don’t think it means that wives should now become careful whenever their husbands handle their babies. It is simply a very unique crime.
“What we see most of the time is that pregnant homeless and unemployed young girls look for people to buy their children and use the money to rehabilitate themselves.
“But this is a terrible case that must be stamped out and dealt with urgently. We have to be careful so that this ugly trend does not fester in our country.”
What the law says
Section 30 (1) of the Nigerian Child Rights Law, 2003, states: “No person shall buy, sell, hire, let on hire, dispose of or obtain possession of or otherwise deal in a child
The law goes further in subsection 3 that a person who “contravenes the provisions of subsection (1) of this section commits an offence and is liable on conviction to imprisonment for a term of ten years.”
The police spokesperson in the state, Mr. Kenneth Nwosu, who frowned at the father’s action, told our correspondent that efforts were being made by the investigators at the DCI, Yaba, Lagos to ensure that Ani is diligently prosecuted.
Child rights activist, Esther Ogwu, who reacted to the case, explained that selling one’s child means that the father no longer viewed the child as a human being but a mere commodity that could fetch him money.
She said, “The truth is that one cannot totally rely on the police to prosecute the case diligently. The human rights office should have been informed because the child has a right, which has been violated.
“First, the police have the responsibility to prosecute this man, his first wife and any other person culpable in the case earnestly. Then if the man is lucky to leave prison one day, he must never be allowed to see the child ever again. A man who can sell his own child will not think twice before killing the child for rituals.”