Sunday, 7 February 2016

Child Theft On The Increase In Benue

A suspected kidnapper, Daddy Scooper, speaks as the child buyer (sitting), his 7-year-old victim, the victim’s father, Governor Ortom and others listen.

A sudden increase  in the theft of children in Benue State has left the authorities, NGOs and security agencies bewildered.

Simon Alfa, 11, was reported missing on Sunday, December 27, 2015, he had earlier left home with his father on that fateful day to go to a church along Joseph Tarka way in Gboko, but was nowhere to be found at the close of service.

Alfa is one among similar cases of missing children since the new wave of crime, child-kidnappings and baby  theft hit Benue State in nearly one year now. The peace of several families in different parts of the state has been shattered.

These sudden disappearances of  children mostly below the age of 10 years, has become a source of worry for not only parents but security operatives, non-governmental organisations and the state government.

The Benue State police command in a recent press conference said it had successfully smashed a kidnap syndicate which specialised in the abduction of children from the state, and rescued seven kidnapped victims.

State Commissioner of Police, Dibal Yakadi said the feat was a warning to other criminal elements to flee the state or have themselves to  blame, as the command would not leave any stone unturned in its determination to rid the state of crime.

In a related development, the commander of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) in Benue State, Ugwumba Igwe, said his men acted on a tip off by a good spirited individual to arrest two kidnappers  and rescued seven-year-old Suurshater Agber, who has since been reunited with his family resident in Kastina-Ala Local Government area of the state.

While Agber and few other rescued victims have been fortunate to regain their freedom from their abductors, the search for the likes of Alfa is still going on, even as prayers to the Almighty by their families are offered daily for their safe recovery.

Speaking to our correspondent, Alfa’s maternal uncle, Akoji Adah explained that his nephew was discovered missing after the church ended  its service between 11am and 12 noon on December 27 last year.

According to Adah, while relatives immediately intensified search for the boy, his devastated father an employee of Dangote Cement Factory in Gboko, was knocked down by a vehicle and is currently receiving treatment at the hospital.

He said that Simon who is the youngest of Alfa’s three children, lost his mother 10 years ago, and that the family had been in pain since his disappearance few days into the new year.

Adah further explained an interesting twist to the boy’s sudden disappearance, which according to him was the testimony given by one Silas, a paternal uncle of the missing child.

“One of his paternal uncles named Silas narrated that he saw the boy trekking along the road near a former residence  where they had lived, on the afternoon of the same day he went missing. So, he gave him a ride on his motorbike and that they both stopped over for lunch at his (Silas) house before he returned him to his father’s house, some streets away from his in Gboko at 9pm.

“Silas said he never knew that the family was looking for the boy, and that he rode away after he successfully took him home, only to be told later that the child had not been seen after the day’s church service,” Adah said.

However, he added that Abraham, the immediate elder brother of the missing boy, in a way collaborated the story of Silas, by saying that at about the  same 9pm, his brother Simon stormed into the house with two cans of a  malt drink, which he said were gift from his uncle Silas.

Continuing, Adah stated: “Abraham told us that his missing brother had said the uncle met him along the road and took him to his girlfriend’s place, where they both had lunch in a hotel before he was brought home at night. After that brief interaction with his brother, he never saw him again.”

The worry in the estimation of Akoji is the fact that a  certain mystery surrounding the JSS 3 student of Excel Grace Academy, Gboko, needs to be unveiled by the security operatives which the matter was reported to, following the inconsistency in the two angles to the story as to when the boy was last seen.

For Ngodoo Paul Amaise, Wandoo Henkyaa, Charity Otumala and Doosuur Aer, all residents of Makurdi metropolis, whose children went missing within the same period last  year, the nightmare has continued as to  the whereabouts of their sons.

Amaise, 30, who sells fresh cassava (akpu) in Wurukum Market, explained that her four-year-old son, Terdoo Paul, went to play within the market on August 29 after school, and has not been seen despite her frantic search for him.

“He usually played with his mates about 4pm around where I sell akpu. And he would come back to me by 5 pm,” she narrated.
“When he didn’t return on that particular day, I searched everywhere in the market until 6 pm before going to the police. And up till now, he has not been found.”

Amaise, whose husband is a commercial bus driver, stated that Paul, who is her third child, is a pupil of Jewel Model School, situated along Gboko road where members of her family also reside.

On the other hand, Fortunate Mimidoo Abakyo, who works as a petrol attendant at a filling station in Otukpo left her three-year-old son, Peter at her mother’s place in her Ikpayongo village near Makurdi before going to her workplace.
But on this particular weekend in October last year, she was back home to spend time with the family, while her mother traveled to  nearby Alaide town for a meeting, when the enemy struck.

She had attended a birthday party on a Sunday afternoon before retiring to bed, not knowing that evil was lurking around for her child who slept in her younger sister’s room. And at about 4am, prior to her preparation to return to Otukpo by Monday, she was greeted with a different and unsavoury story.

Abakyo, 24, was told that her son could not be found. This incident happened on Sunday, October 25 last year. The single mother added that the incident was immediately reported to the police and the vigilante in the area, who mounted a search party at strategic spots around the surroundings.

“To the glory of God, my baby was recovered that same Monday by security operatives along Alaide road, while he was being  transported out of the town. He was actually stolen at 11pm while sleeping beside my sister by our next door neighbour, a lady that nobody believed could do such a thing,” elated Abakyo narrated.

As for Mrs Shiminenge Iyorhemba, a strange uncle had taken her three-year-old boy away in the guise that he was going to buy Bobo juice for him at a Sunday market in Ikpanyongo, where he went in company of his slightly older relative. The incident was said to have occurred at 2pm on August 30, last year.

The bewildered mother said Sunday Iyorhemba, the youngest of her two children, had been missing ever since then, despite combined efforts by security men and his ex-service father to locate his whereabouts.

Also, Otumala, 25, and Aer, 26, who live in the same compound, as well as Henkyaa, a Wadata resident, are all victims of the wave of kidnappings. Their seven, and four-year-old sons respectively, who were playing together along Yongo Street in Wadata at about 11 am on September 10, were whisked away by an unknown person.

Similarly, Mrs. Joy Abuchi, 23, had her three-month-old baby girl, Chiamanda, snatched from her back by some fierce-looking gunmen along Amokachi Lane in the Low Level area of Makurdi metropolis, while on her way to church.

She said amidst sobs: “I was on my way to 6am Mass service of St. Peter’s Catholic Church in Low Level when some people in a red golf car accosted me. Two men stormed out of the vehicle and asked if the baby strapped to my back was  male or female. But I didn’t reply.

“They then pointed a gun at me, pushed me into the gutter and forcefully took away the baby and drove off at  high speed. By this time, the other three women who were walking with me to the church, had taken to their heels.”

As the women continued to grieve over their missing loved ones, Governor Samuel Ortom has severally assured that their children would be recovered. To this end, he charged security agencies in the state to step up vigilance, in order to track down the kidnapping syndicate.

“Benue cannot afford to be a safe haven for kidnappers and other criminals. We shall do all in our power to support the security agencies, to track the kidnappers and rescue the children,” he had said repeatedly.

The governor advised parents to closely monitor their children so as to shield them from danger, adding that with sustained prayers and cooperation from the public, the kidnapped children would be rescued.

In the same vein, the Executive Director of a non-governmental organisation in Makurdi, known as Jireh Doo Foundation, Ms Josephine Habba, has called for collaborative effort to find the missing children.
She noted that her organisation has mounted sensitisation campaigns in communities where they work, to encourage parents and guardians to take extra caution in safeguarding their dependants, especially children from kidnappers and questionable relatives.
Habba further advocates for the banning of commercial motorcycles in the state, which she said should be replaced with tricycles for security reasons, pointing out that most of such kidnappings are usually committed with the help of motorcycles.

She also advised parents and guardians to ensure that children were always accompanied by adults, and educated to reject gifts from strangers, including food  and drinks.
Our correspondent gathered that most of the stolen kids were usually taken to South-eastern states of the country for trading purposes, and sold for some paltry sums of money.
The Benue police command had recently trailed such stolen children to Umuahia in Abia state and rescued them, while the NSCDC arrested two suspected kidnappers,  Daddy James Adepila, a Benue indigene, and his alleged collaborator (buyer), Nnamdi Jude who hails from Imo state.
Daily Trust on Sunday recalled that 10 suspects arrested by the Benue police in connection with the abduction of several children in the state, when presented before Governor Ortom at the government House in Makurdi, claimed to have procured the children from an alleged social welfare official, whom they paid between N500,000 and N700,000 per head of a child.
Some of the apprehended buyers explained that they had no biological children, so they paid for what they thought was a  legal adoption, while their collaborators said they were nabbed in the course of rendering assistance to those who cared for or needed the babies.
Meanwhile, the governor  has warned criminals to steer clear  of the state,  as it could no longer be a safe haven for criminal elements, even as he expressed happiness with the arrests and recovery  of the children, while commending the security agencies as well as informants for the feat.

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