Mother of the stolen baby being consoled by relatives

Mother of the stolen baby being consoled by relatives

Imo state has continued to enjoy its position as one of the peaceful and crime-free states in Nigeria, but the recent menace of child thieves is putting a serious dent on that record. Correspondent Damian Duruiheoma reports.
The growing insecurity situation in Imo State has continued to assume alarming proportion in recent times with the sudden upsurge of child stealing in different parts of the state.
Since the inception of the administration of Governor Rochas Okorocha in Imo State, crime situation in the state relatively reduced in the state. Before his assumption of office in 2011, kidnapping and armed robbery became the order of the day. When it was obvious that that business had been crushed through the instrumentality of the state government and the security agencies in the state, other forms of crimes especially illegal motherless babies? homes (baby factories) took the lead. This trade in human beings had been booming until it was exposed by the police last year. This was followed by revocation of the licenses of all motherless babies? homes in the state as a way of checking the illegal ones.
Since the ban on motherless babies? homes in the state, there appeared to be another form of crime. This time it is child stealing or snatching. Many nursing mothers in the state have lost their babies to the rampaging baby thieves and plenty others are living in fears because of the alarming rate of child kidnapping in various parts of the state. The ugly situation has also made them, especially (mothers) to now go to sleep with one eye open for fear of uncertainty.
In less than six months, precisely, since December 2013, there had been dozens of cases of child theft in the state. This occurs in many places including at homes, hospitals, places of worship, schools, markets, streets and events like burials, weddings, birth days and political gatherings.
Findings by The UNION showed that most of the child snatchings were done at gun-point while others were stealthily stolen at events.
The most recent one was the case of a 12-month old boy, Prince Oriaku stolen at wedding reception in Umuezeala Umuozu village Ngugo community in Ikeduru Local Government Area of the state on Sunday, June 1, 2014.
The little boy, according to eyewitnesses, was stolen when his mother, Peace Oriaku gave him to her younger sister so as to enable her take her birth for the event only for her sister to in turn hand him over to an unknown but friendly young girl of about 17 years to carry.
The child theft was said to have been discovered when the mother wanted to breastfeed him, but her sister to whom she gave the baby could no longer find the girl she in turn gave the baby to. It was then that it dawned on her that the baby must have been stolen and all efforts made by the youths of the village to find the missing baby proved abortive.
Similarly, about one month ago, one year-old baby girl, Febechukwu Egwuchukwu was stolen from a night vigil at Nnempi community in Oru West council area of the state but was fortunately recovered when she was being taken for dedication at St. Gregory?s Catholic Church, Amaigbo in Nwangele LGA.
Briefing newsmen in Owerri, the state commissioner of police, Abdulmajid Ali said that immediately the suspects sighted the presence of the police they quickly abandoned the baby and fled the church.
CP Ali stated that the police recovered the baby following a tip off from the public. His men had stormed the church in the middle of the dedication ceremony.
He explained that the mother of the child, one Mrs. Precious Egwuchukwu had gone for a church vigil at Nnempi Oru West Local Government Area of the state with her one-year-old baby girl. In the course of the vigil, two armed men stormed the church on a motorcycle and forcefully snatched the baby away.
In less than similar fashion, 16 month-old Emmanuel Onyekachi Alamanjo was reportedly abducted from Saint Mary?s Catholic Cathedral Parish, Okigwe council area of the state in February.
It was reported that the little boy was taken to the church for the 10a.m mass by his mother, Mrs. Salome Alamanjo and that trouble started when little Emmanuel became very uncomfortable with the temperature inside the crowded church.
His mother handed him over to his elder sister to take outside for fresh air because he was crying ceaselessly.
A lady was said to have offered to assist the little girl who was clutching her younger brother and thereafter tricked her to move to the church hall where members of the Catholic Biblical Instructors Union, CBIU, were giving children lunch, to collect some rice for her brother.
?On her return from the hall, the little girl did not see either the lady or her brother and broke down weeping. She relentlessly searched and hoped to find the fleeing lady. This gave the baby thief ample opportunity to escape?, a woman simply identified as Ngozi was quoted as saying.
Interestingly, there was also a report about a famous herbalist, Vincent Amafule,  from Ozara village in Mbutu, Aboh Mbaise Council Area of the state whose six-month-old baby was stolen by a stranger who pretended to be a patient and was admitted into their home late last year.
Reports had it that the yet-to-be-identified patient and his wife who claimed to have come from Bayelsa State for treatment vanished into the thin air with the six-month-old baby of the native doctor.
They had pretended to have come for treatment for fibroid and were given a room to stay only for them to steal the herbalist?s baby.
The trado-medical doctor narrated how their ordeal started. ?This whole problem started last Sunday morning(October 6, 2013) at about 7:30 am when an old Mercedes Benz 190 model drove into my compound and I saw Ifeanyi who is from Uvuru, our neigbhouring village with a man and a woman who I had thought was the wife. Ifeanyi told me that he had brought them to me because the woman had been suffering from fibroid and needed treatment. He said they would be spending a week for the duration of the treatment. I welcomed them because as a trado?medical doctor, I have been treating women with similar problems.
?I prepared one of the rooms in my house for the man and his wife to sleep and my wife also prepared food for them to eat and it never crossed my mind that the people were planning to steal my little baby girl.
?The following day, I commenced the fibroid treatment for the woman. In the evening, while my wife was preparing dinner in the kitchen, I was inside my room preparing another dose for the woman. My other daughter of six years was with her little sister, Esther in front of the house.
?Later my older daughter ran in to inform my wife that the strange woman said she wants to help her carry Esther. When my wife came out, the strange woman and my six-month old daughter had disappeared into the night. It was later that I discovered that the car they came in was no longer parked in the compound and I suspected that the man must have rolled the car out into the street because I did not hear any sound. It was then it dawned on me that the man and woman who claimed to be a couple were actually baby thieves. At this point, I raised the alarm.?
Unbelievably, the baby thieves also changed tactics, especially within the Orlu senatorial zone of the state where they snatch babies at gun-point and sometimes, killing the mothers of the baby instantly to have their babies.
Cases in point include one Mrs. Chikodi Nzerem of Umuakaje Umuseke, Okwudor community in Njaba Local Government Area of the State who was killed last April by the rampaging baby snatchers in her house, while her three-month old baby boy was snatched from her.
The deceased, until her death, was selling banana and cashew nuts at Okwudor Junction.
It was gathered that the late Nzerem, a widow and mother of three, was killed by the suspect, one Mr. Chidi (alias Gwobia), for refusing to let go of the child.
The about 40 year-old suspect, it was learnt, operated a car wash centre at the Imo State University Teaching Hospital (IMSUTH) Junction, along old Owerri Road, Owerre Ebeiri in Orlu local government area of the state.
He was said to have immediately sold the baby to a Yoruba woman.
According to the younger sister of the deceased, Miss Chidimma Ibekwe, the suspect had been approaching her late sister for marriage since the death of her husband two years ago, but the deceased and her parents refused the offer.
She said however that Chidi succeeded in getting the deceased pregnant and yet the family rebuffed all his efforts to take care of her pregnancy and decided to pay the hospital bills after delivery. Since then, the suspect, who had been arrested by the state police command, had been threatening to take back the baby dead or alive.
A week later in the same Njaba Local Government Area, precisely at Umuerim Umuoke, in Atta community, a nursing mother, Mrs. Basilia Nwagu, lost her four-month baby girl, Favour at gun-point to the child snatchers.
She told The UNION that she returned home from Ondo State to farm in her husband?s farm in the village and lost her four-month old baby girl.
?I returned home here from Ore, Ondo State to farm since two months ago with my new-born baby. On Saturday April 11, 2014 at about 8 pm, I was here (in the veranda) slicing the cassava I got from the farm earlier that day when three boys came on one motorcycle. I laid my daughter beside me here. They bought the groundnut I was selling here and entered their bike and rode down to Omuma Road.
?They came back again, riding towards Afor Atta and returned back again. They parked at the road in front of our house. Two of them came down and walked towards me while the other one stayed on the motorcycle. One of the two young men shot two times in the air and the other came into the veranda and went straight to where I laid my daughter and grabbed her and made to move.
?I held him tight and asked him why he was doing that. The one with gun told me he would shoot me dead if I don?t let go of the baby, but I held him. It was then the other one kicked and brushed me from behind and I fell.
?Before I could recover from the fall, they entered the waiting motorcycle and sped down the Omuma road. I started shouting, calling on the neighbours to come to my rescue. But because of the sound of the gun shots, only few could come out and before they did, my daughter had been taken away by people I don?t know.
She was however happy the police rescued her daughter in less than one week later.
Also in March, 2014, the people of Umuzike Autonomous Community in Orlu Local Government Area of the State were thrown into another era of confusion as a five-month-old baby girl was snatched from her mother at gun point in front of their house by unknown gunmen.
The baby, identified as Chidiogo, is the daughter of Mr. Kingsley and Mrs. Ugochi Igwegbe. The woman, it was learnt, was returning from a neighbourhood where she went to buy kerosene around 7.00pm before the three baby snatchers swooped on her and took her baby away.
The mother of the baby was said to have shouted to attract the attention of the neighbours and held on to her baby, but the gun men shot her two times on the laps.
Before this, similar incident took place at Durukwu Umuebele in Okporo also in Orlu LGA, where a little baby was snatched from its father, Mr. Ebere Chikodi, who was equally shot by the abductors before escaping with the baby.
There had been many other cases of child theft in the state with the fears leading to the closure of some schools in some parts of the state about two months ago
This is happening despite the effort of the state police command which had been aborting such attempts in some places, rescuing some of the victims and arresting culprits at the same time
However, the state police command believes that some of the stories were rumours peddled by those who do not investigate well before spreading them.
Speaking with The UNION, the state Police Public Relations Officer, Andrew Enwerem(DSP) said such cases had existed severally where some people raised false alarm over the abduction of the school pupils in the state especially, Owerri.
He said ?what can you make out of rumours making the round in Owerri that Boko Haram members invaded Madonna schools in Owerri and abducted some of them whereas it was officials of the Imo State Environmental Transformation Company (ENTRACO) arresting the children for throwing rubbish in unauthorized places?
Enwerem said while the police do not have to overlook any rumour in the state as it concerns security, some of them had been found to be baseless.
While promising to look into the fresh cases of child theft, the force PRO maintained that security situation had improved under CP Abdulmajib Ali, who he said had been bursting various crimes including such cases of child stealing in the state.
This is promoted by quests by childless women or couples to have babies of their own or what is believed in some quarters in the state potent shrines scattered across the land which are said to be demanding such babies for sacrifices and rituals from politicians running for political offices.

Good examples of the shrines are the infamous ?Ogwugwu Okija? in Anambra State and Ala Ogbaga in Chokoneze in Mbaise patronised by powerful politicians and moneybags.
Investigations revealed that child theft may not be as a result of desperate search to own a baby but for ritual killings, which it was learnt flourish most during election periods, wars or serious contests such as Ezeship Contests that require mystical or spiritual powers to outdo one another.
Speaking on the incidents, a resident of Owerri the state capital, Dr. Chuma Ude cautioned women against leaving their children in the hands of anybody they could trace their home or background.
According him, apart from the men who snatch babies at gun-points, the mode of operation of the ladies among the baby thieves is that ?they will pretend to be very friendly even in your own house. They will pretend to care for your baby and any step away from them, the baby will no longer be your own?.
He said most times, the baby thieves go to where events like marriages, burials, etc are taking place and participate in house chores ?behaving as if they are members of one of the families that visited. So if you are not careful, you will be accommodating a baby thief in your house?.
Ude advised family members to query anyone they do not recognize their faces so as to nip theproblem in the bud.


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