Nigeria’s Notorious Baby Factories By Phillip Obaji

The government of Africa’s most populous country is trying to crack down on this hideous trade, which may include the sale of children for use in rituals.

ENUGU, Nigeria — Eze, as we’ll call him, is an agent involved in Nigeria’s notorious baby trafficking ring. In a local restaurant in Nigeria’s southeastern city of Enugu, where dozens of people gather every evening to eat the city’s popular goat-meat pepper soup, and where all kinds of gossip can be heard, I overheard him talking to a middle-aged woman about the possibility of getting her a newborn child of any sex she requires.

I walked up to him after the woman had left, and sought to find out if he truly sells babies.

“Do you want a baby fresh from the womb?” he asked me.

He thought I wanted to buy a baby, but in fact I was on a fact-finding mission.

Eze claimed to be able to get me babies in less than 24 hours. He said that a baby, due to be born in a couple of days, was meant to go to a couple in Sweden but could be mine if I paid the cash in full immediately.

“We’ll get another baby for this couple. They won’t even notice we’ve given them something else,” he said.

I then told Eze I wanted to be taken to the factory, to be sure if the business was genuine before saying anything.

“It wouldn’t work that way,” he said to me. “For security reasons, the women are kept in a hidden place. We don’t want any encounter with the police.”

When I insisted I needed to see the babies before believing him, Eze said he could only take me to the woman who runs the factory, but with a condition that I paid him 10,000 naira (about $50).

I was eager to find out how this trade was carried out, so I paid the money, and off we went—driving for about 20 minutes in a cab through slum neighborhoods late at night.

Eze may be the agent for the business, but he isn’t very familiar with the area where his employer lives. On the two occasions he’s been there, it was under the cover of darkness, he said. He told me his boss deliberately took him to her home at night so he would not recognize the location of the place. That suggests some of the secrecy that shrouds this business.

On the last part of the trip we were guided by a young boy who knew the woman we were looking for. He soon pointed at a gate, saying, simply, “It’s here.”

We met Eze’s “Madam,” a middle-aged woman who introduces herself as “Madam Sarah” and asks us to follow her to the sitting room. She bid us have a seat and then turned to me. “Welcome, my son,” she said.

“I have about six girls in my custody, and they are all heavily pregnant and expecting soon,” she said. “They are not here. I keep them in a secret location.”

As we were talking, a young man walked in and whispered to her. After he had left, Madam Sarah turned to me and said: “That man is the biological father to many of the children we sell,” apparently to convince me that the
babies she sells are not stolen.

“His job is to get the girls pregnant, and he knows how to get the job
done,” she said with a big smile.

She went on to tell me that she charges 400,000 naira ($2,000) for a girl
and 500,000 naira ($2,500) for a boy.

She talked about the cost of caring for the mothers, justifying the price
of the babies. “It’s expensive catering for these girls,” she said. “I give
them food and shelter and pay the guys who sleep with them, but I let them
go after they have given birth.”

She claims she can arrange court orders and is able to get children of all
ages, genders and complexions, and at any time. The police, she said, are
not a problem for her.

“What sex do you want?” she asked me. “A boy or a girl?”

“He just came to find out if what I told him about this business was true,”
Eze told her. She then turned to me and said: “Now you know it’s real. Come
back when you’re ready.”

I stood up and left, winding my way back to the waiting taxi, having
glimpsed up close how the child trade mafia operates in Africa’s most
populous country.

Every year, the Nigerian security operatives discover several new baby
factories. Young girls are held captive to give birth to babies who are
then sold illegally either to adoptive parents, into slavery, or, it is
said, for traditional rituals. There are rumors and fears that newborns are
being sold to witch doctors for rituals in a country where there is a
widespread belief in traditional communities that a powder made of infants
brings luck. But, such sensational claims notwithstanding, the vast
majority of buyers almost certainly are married couples struggling to
conceive.

A huge amount of the trade is carried out locally in Nigeria, but
authorities suspect that babies also have been sold to people from Europe
and the United States, and despite the controversy surrounding adoptions in
Nigeria, many foreigners continue to seek infants here.

There are several reasons given for the high patronage of baby factories.

Security agencies say most places where the illegal baby trade occurs masquerade as non-governmental organizations or charitable homes for marginalized women. Operators of these places present themselves as humanitarians who take care of the pregnant teenagers in need.

Human trafficking, including selling children, is prohibited under Nigerian law but almost 10 years ago a UNESCO report (PDF) on human trafficking in Nigeria identified the business as the country’s third-most common crime behind financial fraud and drug trafficking, and the situation certainly has not improved. At least 10 children are reportedly sold every day across the country.

The scourge has intensified in the southeast, which is populated mainly by the Igbo ethnic group. Security officials have several ongoing undercover operations targeting suspected baby trafficking rings in Enugu State, underscoring the severity of the problem in this region.

One measure taken by the government to check the proliferation o baby factories in the state has been to set up a committee on child adoption, and its research has suggested that the incidence of child trafficking and illegal adoptions has been on the rise because some security agencies and unscrupulous state officials aided the baby-sellers.

“They are now being sold like commodities and, as a responsible government, we cannot allow this to continue to exist in Enugu State,” Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, governor of Enugu, said while inaugurating the committee last month.

“While we acknowledge the right and the necessity for the childless or benevolent couples to adopt motherless children and orphans,” the governor declared, “we believe that there is need for strict compliance with due process and the provisions of relevant laws to guarantee the security and well being of the affected children.”

Eze and Madam Sarah, of course, have other ideas.

*Philip Obaji Jr. is the founder of 1 GAME, an advocacy and campaigning organization that fights for the right to
education for disadvantaged children in Nigeria, especially in northeastern Nigeria, where Boko Haram forbids western education.

Follow him on twitter @PhilipObaji

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Boko Haram Hates ‘Western Education,’ But The Nigerian Govt Kills It With Neglect By Philip Obaji Jr

Officials in Nigeria are always quick to attribute problems of education in the northeast of the country to the Boko Haram insurgency But figures show that the country had the highest number of out-of-school children in the world, and a very poor standard of education of any kind, long before the sect began its uprising in 2009. And the numbers today are frightening.

According to A World at School 40 percent of primary school teachers are not qualified; only 29 percent of students who start secondary school graduate on time at 17; almost half of students who have completed grade six cannot read; about 80 percent of children do not have textbooks for all subjects; there is an average of 49 pupils per primary school teacher; and 9 million children have never gone to school at all.

For all the talk about GDP growth and booming finances, Africa’s largest producer of oil and the continent’s largest economy lacks fully equipped primary schools, can’t adequately fund basic education, and, for that matter, can’t manage to rescue the Chibok schoolgirls more than a year after they were kidnapped by Boko Haram. Their tragedy is all the greater, it should be noted, because they were some of the relatively few students, especially girls, who did manage to get decent educations and they were just about to take exams important for university admission when they were abducted.

Although Boko Haram whose very name means “Western education is forbidden” in the Hausa language— has
made targeting schools and students a priority on its terrorist agenda, the sect is only one of many reasons why millions of children are without an education in Nigeria.

Nine-year-old Abba has spent five years steadily progressing through primary school. Like many students in rural Nigeria, he has no schoolbag, writes on just one notebook, and has very few textbooks. He still struggles to read and write, but, strangely, he passes his exams. He told me his teachers are more interested in seeing him complete his schooling than seeing him educated. So, he gets an undeserved promotion year after year.

To make matters worse, Abba and his school colleagues are sometimes taught in the local Hausa language, not official English. In fact, Abba can hardly construct a complete sentence in English. “I want more from attending school, but it’s hard for me,” he said. “I try to learn, but my teachers can’t teach in a way I understand.”

More sadly, his school in the northeastern town of Damasak, in a region where Boko Haram is active, has been shut to pre-empt attacks.

The record shows, ironically, that precisely the lack of education may have helped spawn Boko Haram. Almost 2.8 million children roaming the streets in northeastern Nigeria are easy prey for fanatics.

Let’s face it, it wasn’t Boko Haram that built dysfunctional school buildings and hired very poor teachers. This is a clear heritage of a failed system infiltrated by a handful of corrupt administrators who use their high offices to distribute patronage through jobs and contracts.

It wasn’t Boko Haram that refused to propagate laws stopping girls as young as 11 years old from getting married. It was Nigeria’s senators who rather than protect the country’s children, decided to protect the marriage of their colleague Senator Ahmed Yerima to a 13-year-old girl, and the marriages between influential men in the north and minors.

United Nations statistics show that virtually no married girls are getting an education: only 2 percent of married girls in the 15-19 bracket are in school, compared to 69 percent of unmarried girls. Some 73 percent of married girls received no schooling at all (compared to 8 percent of unmarried girls), and three out
of four married girls cannot read at all. That’s how Nigeria fails its daughters.

Major teachers’ unions have requested that at least 26 percent of the country’s annual budget be devoted
to education. But despite a 100 percent increase from what it was in 2011, only 9 to 10 percent (PDF) of Nigeria’s annual budget has been allocated to education in the last four years. The process itself has always been controversial. In the past, there have been allegations that certain senators demanded and received bribes from government officials to pass the budget for education.

Year in, year out, the country’s primary education program is interrupted by strikes, with teachers demanding better pay. In some states, teachers in public schools earn less than $100 a month. Meanwhile lawmakers take pride in being the highest paid parliamentarians in the world, earning above $1 million yearly in a country
where over 70 percent of the citizens live on less than one dollar a day.

Clearly, Nigeria’s children are the real victims of its failed educational system. Their only small consolation is the hope promised by the new administration.

Recently elected President Muhammadu Buhari has promised to improve the state of the country’s education, and do “everything possible to bring the Chibok girls back home.” But in a country where promises are not always met with action, hopes can easily be shattered.

For a problem that didn’t take only a decade, but decades to deteriorate, fixing it will take time. And if Nigeria’s elites wash their hands of this problem, its children will bear the cross.

*Philip Obaji Jr. is the founder of 1 GAME an advocacy and campaigning organization that fights for the right to education for disadvantaged children in Nigeria, especially in northeastern Nigeria, where Boko Haram forbids western education. Follow him on Twitter

**@PhilipObaji*

Culled from The Daily Beast

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How I Escaped From Boko Haram By Philip Obaji Jr.

Babagana was just 16 when Boko Haram militants invaded his town, slaughtered his parents, and abducted the local children.

It was midnight when Babagana crept out of the Boko Haram hideout that had been his home for three days. Once he made his escape, he walked through the forest for hours before he found help. Like the other boys conscripted by the militants, he had been told that he would be hunted
down and killed if he deserted.

“I didn’t leave with anything,” Babagana told me. “When the chance came to escape, I only had my pants on. I ran almost naked.”

Babagana was just 16 when militants invaded his town in northeastern Nigeria last May, butchering his parents as he watched, burning down his home, and forcing him to become one of thousands of Boko Haram soldiers.

Babagana still vividly recalls his involuntary induction into a world of misery. Boko Haram militants invaded the rural town of Gamboru in Borno State, burnt down houses and demanded that the local children be handed over to them. Parents who objected were killed, and a couple of children
were forcefully taken.

“They asked me about my parents,” Babagana said. “They then killed them in front of me.”

“That is how Boko Haram operates. They first take out your parents so you have no one else to fall back to.”

The six-year-old insurgency in northeastern Nigeria has produced a replay of the country’s civil war in the late 1960s. Thousands have died, and more than one million people have been displaced. Famine is threatening, and cholera has broken out in some places. Sexual violence is on the rise. And
attacks on soft civilian targets continue, carried out by child soldiers much younger than their victims.

For three days, Babagana, traveled with Boko Haram through the dusty paths of Borno, not knowing what his fate would be as the militants duplicated the horrors they’d visited upon Gamboru. Babagana witnessed many of his fellow captives and people from other villages murdered by Boko Haram.

“They killed people for no reason,” Babagana said. “I just couldn’t stand the horror. It made me terribly scared.”

Although he was only with the militants for three days, Babagana witnessed acts so brutal that he decided to risk his life to escape.

“They killed anyone who didn’t heed to their instructions,” he told me.

“Girls were often subjected to sexual abuse. Anyone who proved stubborn was shot dead.”

“I lost my mind with all that I saw,” he added. “I thought if I didn’t find a way of escaping, sooner rather than later, it would be my turn.”

Babagana tried to rally a handful of fellow captives to escape with him. He was unsuccessful, as they were too scared to make any move. “I tried to talk my colleagues into escaping. They wanted to, but were scared they could be caught and killed,’” he recalled.

Around midnight on the following day, Babagana made his move, running into the bush as his captors shouted in alarm and began to fire at him. He managed to escape without a bullet wound. Alone in the wilderness, he continued to move, not knowing if he was being pursued.

“I was lucky to have escaped,” Babagana said. “There were so many voices and bullets coming after me,” he said.

Babagana eventually made it back to Gamboru, but found himself ostracized by his kinsmen, who no longer trusted him. Unable to depend on the community for protection, Babagana again went on the move, traveling to from one village to the other across northern Borno and many times narrowly
avoiding recapture as militants kept invading new communities. He finally made it to a displacement camp in Maiduguri, a place he now calls home.

Hassan Mustapha, a child-protection specialist in Maiduguri, said children are often put to “test of manhood” once there are conscripted.

“Once a child is conscripted by Boko Haram, he is first asked to kill his parents, which is a symbol of initiation into the sect,” Mustapha said.

“They destroy everything of value to these children so they have no options.”

Many of the children captured by Boko Haram serve on the front lines, fighting for control of villages and looting the homes of the civilians.

Others children serve as spies, scouts, porters, cooks and bodyguards for officers. Girls are also kept as sex slaves.

Yusuf Mohammed, a Maiduguri resident who works with children affected by trauma, said children are often used as foot soldiers because they are too young to be afraid.

“Militants feel more comfortable working with children than with adults because they come cheap, are extremely loyal, and can be easily controlled,” he said.

“Unlike adults, it is easy to brainwash and intimidate them.”

*Philip Obaji Jr. is the founder of 1 GAME, an advocacy and campaigning organization that fights for the right to education for disadvantaged children in Nigeria, especially in northeastern Nigeria, where Boko Haram forbids western education.

Culled from The Daily Beast
<http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2015/03/23/how-i-escaped-from-boko-haram.html>

 

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