Indigenes of Arondizuogu in Ideato North Local Government Area of Imo State are still hiding their faces in shame, two weeks after one of their brothers, James Ezuma, was apprehended by the police for gunrunning, child trafficking and rituals. Ezuma, 57, had claimed to be a medical doctor.
A recent investigation into child trafficking had led the police to Ezuma’s residence, which doubled as an office for ‘Ezuma Women and Children Right Initiative’, a purportedly registered nongovernmental organisation. During a search conducted in the premises by the police,16 pregnant girls between the ages of 14 and 19 were found.
The ‘NGO,’ which was in a fenced compound surrounded by bushes and uncompleted buildings, turned out to be a suspected baby factory. The teenage girls said they were encouraged to get pregnant and take home the sum of N100, 000 at delivery, on the condition that they would abandon their babies who are eventually used for purposes ranging from child trafficking to rituals.
The girls tell their stories....
One of the girls, Chinaza Nnachi, 19, said she had come to the ‘NGO’ because of her baby.
Speaking in impeccable English, Nnachi said, “I got pregnant and the guy responsible denied it. Someone directed me to come here that they would take care of me and the baby.
“When I got here, the doctor (Dr. Ezuma) said the baby would be taken care of. I eventually gave birth to a bouncing baby girl at Ezuma Private Hospital.
“The baby was taken away from me and I got to know through one of the staff here that it was sold. Ezuma later came and gave me N100, 000 and without any explanation.”
She noted, “I didn’t agree that the baby should be sold out. I am crying because the baby was sold out without my consent. When I got pregnant, I came here to stay so that when I eventually deliver, the baby could be showered with care.
“It all started because I was pregnant and stranded, so one aunty directed me to this place. She said she would take care of us till we deliver.
“She said if I delivered the baby, I would balance her. But she did not tell me how much and now I am seeing the opposite and the disappearance of my baby is already making me die slowly.”
She added, “I was not comfortable with the whole drama and that was why I used one of the staff to reach out to the police.”
The story is not so different with Blessing Ubbah. She said, “I was two months pregnant when I came here. I met one aunty who said I would carry the baby and balance her some money when I eventually deliver.”
She said, “We were about eight persons and kept in one room at the Ezuma hospital or NGO.
“If the police hadn’t waded in before I delivered, I guess my case would have gone the way of Chinaza (Nnachi).”
The pregnant girls hail from different states and are Chinaza Nnachi (Ebonyi State) – 19 years old; Rita Nnanna (Anambra State) – 25 years old; Blessing Ubbah (Lagos State) – 20 years old; Joy Brown (Imo State) – 19 years old; Precious Anyajike (Lagos State) – 18 years; and Kelechi Wenwu (Imo State) – 17 years old.
They also include Chidinma Okoro (Enugu) – 19; Ihenkanma Onwubiko (Imo) – 21; Chinyere Ibenime (Imo) – 20; Nkiru Alozie (Abia) – 16; and Peace Effiong (Rivers) – 24.
The others are Victoria Udoh (Akwa Ibom) – 16; Ngozi Ike (Rivers) – 20; Chika Eze (Abia) – 18; Jecila Nwonke (Abia) – 19; and Chinaza Samson (Abia) – 14.
Aside Nnachi, the police said that Ubbah also gave birth to a baby boy on December 2, 2013 at the Federal Medical Centre, Owerri. “Both mother and boy are still healthy and under care at the hospital,” said the Imo CP.
Our correspondent gathered that 10 cars were found at the premises of the NGO. The cars are of different make. Two of the cars are not registered, while the rest carry Abuja and Lagos registered plate numbers.
The cars are Jaguar (Green) – PD 787 IKJ; Lincoln Navigator (Red) – DN 494 ABC; Jaguar (Ash) – BT 292 GWA; Chrysler 300 (White) – RBC 335 AS; and Chrysler (Red) – BH 168 GWA.
The rest are Chrysler (White) – JZ 608 ABC; Lincoln (Black) – EU 917 LND; and Honda SUV (Ash) – EZ 388 ABJ.
The Nissan Quest (Ash) and Nissan Pathfinder Jeep (Blue) were not registered.
The police had acted on a tip-off that Nnachi had given birth to a baby girl at Ezuma’s residence on November 24, 2013, two days before his arrest.
Saturday PUNCH learnt that Ezuma, had earlier been arraigned before an Owerri Magistrate Court – I on November 1, 2013 for the offence of conspiracy and unlawful possession of firearms.
The Imo State Commissioner of Police, Muhammed Katsina, disclosed that an automatic eight-loader pump action gun was also found in Ezuma’s residence, in addition to the teenage girls.
Katsina told Saturday PUNCH that the command and the residents in the state were worried about the pace of the investigation because Ezuma had refused to disclosed what became of Nnachi’s baby.
He said, “All efforts made to find out the whereabout of the baby proved abortive as the said suspect has persistently refused to lead the police to where he kept the baby. Though investigation is still ongoing, the presumption at the moment is that the said baby may have been used for ritual purposes.”
However, the indigenes of Arondizuogu community were reluctant to speak to Saturday PUNCH on the matter. Many of the residents approached declined to pass comments despite loads of pleas.
Matters were even made worse when Ezuma’s supposed relatives denied ever knowing him and also prevented our correspondent from taking pictures in the community, including that of a house believed to belong to the suspect.
One of the residents said, “I don’t think that man is from here because people from Arondizuogu are not known to be vultures.”
Not willing to disclose his identity, he added, “He (Ezuma) probably should be an Osu (outcast).”
The denial even stretched to Aba in Abia State where he had a five-storey building that was demolished last Saturday by the state government.
The five-storey building housed a hospital alleged to be deeply involved in producing and selling babies. It was known as Ezuma Hospital, located at 101 Okigwe Road, Aba.
A woman, Miss Juliet Kalu (not real name), whom sources said had worked there and was a mistress to Ezuma, denied knowing him.
Hours later, Kalu eventually bowed to pressure and spoke to Saturday PUNCH. She reluctantly said, “He (Ezuma) used to be my friend, but we stopped being friends a long time ago. I don’t know anything about him again. I don’t even know if he comes from Ndiokeke Akuwanta or wherever.”
But Mr. Okechukwu Mbadiwe, who is from Ndianiche Village of Arondizuogu, faulted this, saying, “Dr. Ezuma is well known and everyone knows he hails from Ndiokeke Akunwanta.”
Mbadiwe said those denying that Ezuma isn’t an indigene of Ndiokeke Akuwanta were just not telling the truth. “Moreover, people from there are the ones giving Arondizuogu a bad name. It is only in Ndiokeke Akunwanta that you could find characters like Ezuma,” he said.
He added, “It is there that you find men who sleep with other people’s wives and keep so many mistresses. It is also from there that you would find people who derive joy in stealing their brothers’ property and committing other atrocities. Take away Ndiokeke Akuwanta from us, then Arondizuogu would be a paradise.”
Arondizuogu is home of foremost nationalists like the late Kingsley Ozumba Mbadiwe, the late Green Mbadiwe, Mr. Ngozi Mbadiwe (WAHL Clippers) and Onyeka Onwenu. The place is known for its Ikeji festival held between March and April of every year, and features dreaded musicians like Pericoma Okoye and notorious masquerades.
While the denials and counter denials rage on, Saturday PUNCH recalls that Ezuma’s woes started on November 26, 2013. The Ambush Squad of the state police command, through credible intelligence, arrested him at his residence on 40 Egbu Road in Owerri, the Imo State capital.
Meanwhile, Ezuma insisted that he was innocent when brought out briefly from detention to speak with our correspondent.
He said, “I am the managing director of this hospital. It is just coming as a hospital. I graduated from the University of Jos. My medical license number is 30911.”
The alleged baby factory owner explained that his hospital only admits pregnant women, saying that in the case of Nnachi, she was brought in when she was one month pregnant.
On the missing Nnachi’s baby, he said, “The baby is at Ozoemena Street, Onitsha. The social welfare officer tool the baby from us in Aba and handed it to the foster parents since Nnachi had earlier declared that she wouldn’t have the capacity to take care of the baby.”
He said, “The baby was adopted and we have traced the foster parents to Onitsha. But the social welfare people would have to be the ones to retrieve the baby.”
Ezuma, however, noted that the 16 girls who were in his custody were the first batch of girls since he opened the hospital.
On the cars found at the premises of his ‘NGO’ or ‘hospital,’ he said, “I only use those cars for car hire services and nothing more.”
But the commissioner of police said Ezuma’s claims were untrue. He said, “The purported owner (Ezuma) has not been able to provide proof of ownership.”
He said, “The vehicles are unlawfully purchased or they were stolen. We have carried out our investigation. The Ezuma man can’t tell you any other thing other than he owns the vehicles and that he uses them for car hire services.
“The world would not be destroyed by evil doers, but by those who watch and fail to take action.” These were the words of renowned philosopher, Dr. Kevin Inston, and in them the Imo State Police Commissioner, Muhammed Katsina, seem to rely upon in curbing child trafficking in the state.
Having had to battle series of child trafficking cases in the state in the last one year, Katsina tells Saturday PUNCH that the crime could heat up the state again and even spread to neighbouring states should the public fail to partner the police to tame it once and for all.
The Imo State police commissioner said the vice was fast fading away as his Ambush Squad had not left any stone unturned in fishing out perpetrators of this crime. He, however, called on members of the public to assist the police by providing information where there are suspicions.
He said useful information from members of the public would assist the police ambush suspected child traffickers or raid their hideouts.
“Recently, one of our strategic partners discovered a baby at a bush in Mbaitoli Local Government Area of the state; and in a carton. The partner, who is a palmwine tapper, alerted us and the mother was later identified,” said Katsina.
The police commissioner argued that if it were in the old days it may not have been possible for any palmwine tapper to lodge such report with the police.
“But it is now possible because the transformation agenda of the Inspector General of Police is working, and we are catching up on this to totally rid Imo State of crime,” he noted.
Katsina beckoned on Nigerians not to criticise and condemn alone, but to look out for suspected child traffickers and their hideouts in Imo and neigbouring states.
He said, “The crime is not only Imo State, but in other states in the South-East. It is just that we have been fishing them out, that is why it seems it is just restricted to Imo.
“That is why it is important that as soon as anyone discovers a suspect or hideout for such crime, he or she should immediately alert the police.
“This is the partnership we need so that some of these children, who are born without knowing their fathers, or even their mothers, would not one day revolt against us.”
Katsina, however, assured that the state police was not resting on its oars in looking out for intending child traffickers and their perceived hideouts.
He said the Ambush Squad which he set up was seeing to that, saying, “It is the same Ambush Squad that has in the last one year tracked down the ones (suspects) we have in our custody.”
He said members of the Ambush Squad are being trained and retrained to check their personal integrity to shun corruption.
“We are also checking their personal integrity to be patient to do the job. We are checking their personal integrity to live above board,” Katsina added.
On his part, the Mayor of Owerri, Chief Gibson Njemanze, said the state government was committed to partnering the Imo police in fighting child trafficking.
He said, “We have joined the police to be on the lookout for a notorious child trafficker, Madam 1000, who was running her show in Njaba Local Government Area but managed to escape.
“Aside Madam 1000, there are several others we are looking out for and we would not relent in our efforts.”
Njemanze said that the Commissioner for Women Affairs, had already warned and de-registered all motherless babies homes and medical centres in the state.
“Today, I can say Imo State is a no-go area for such bastards any longer,” he added.