Oduke area of Asaba, a surburb in the growing capital of the oil-rich Delta State, is a no man’s land, densely populated with all the characteristics of squalor and abject poverty. Indeed, all the indices of under-development are present in Oduke.
Government presence is not felt in the area that is populated by the low and medium income earners, who flood the place to get cheaper accommodation, compared to what is obtainable in the city centre.
However, one thriving business in this seemingly forgotten area is the nurturing of unwanted pregnancies to the stage of delivery, after which the baby is sold a la baby factory.
Baby merchants, most of who come from the Eastern part of the country, have found Oduke area of Asaba as a safe haven for the illegal trade, maybe, because of its porous security situation and the kind of lifestyle of residents.
Tucked away from the prying eyes of security operatives, Oduke has no traces of such illicit business of nurturing unwanted pregnancies and sales of babies.
The mode of operation by the baby merchants is usually to camp pregnant ladies within the age bracket of 18 to 25 years, cater for them until delivery, and thereafter sell the baby to wealthy but childless couples in most cases.
No fewer than four baby factories have been uncovered in the area by security operatives, who usually act on a tip-off. In one of the breakthroughs, a teenage pregnant lady, Blessing Aondoseer was the whistle blower, after her two-week son was sold off.
The victim, who was tricked all the way from Benue State, disclosed how she was paid only N2,000 from the proceeds of the sale of her baby. She was said to have found herself in the unusual terrain, after her legitimate husband ditched her and her unborn child, on the grounds that he could not take full responsibility for the pregnancy.
Blessing, a product of a broken home, was with her mother in Benue State, when a young man approached her for marriage, promising to take her to the city, where she would enjoy a good life.
Blessing and her mother fell for the bait. The young man brought her, with about eight months pregnancy to Asaba, where one Jennifer Obi posed as estate agent, to secure an apartment for them.
Narrating her ordeal through an interpreter, Blessing further said: “I was married and got pregnant for my husband who could not take responsibility. He brought me back to my parents to take care of the pregnancy until after delivery.
“But when I got home, my parents had separated, I was able to locate my mother, who could not take care of the pregnancy. Then, a young man came, having heard the story about the pregnancy, approached my mother in the name of marriage.
“He took me from my mother and brought me to the city(Asaba). He did not take me to his people but brought me to this woman, Jennifer Obi. The pregnancy was already eight months old. He said he would come back for proper marriage, after the delivery.
“As soon as I delivered the baby, the young man came, connived with the woman to take my baby away. He told me that my baby will be sent to a special place, so that the baby will not be an obstacle to our marriage, since he was not the father.
“I resisted, but they threatened to abandon me at the maternity, to take care of the bill, hence, I succumbed. They took me to Onitsha, Anambra State. I am a stranger here. As soon as we got to a place in Onitsha, they said this is the place. I came down, then, they drove off immediately with the my child.
“So, I ran to my supposed husband, who gave me N2,000 and brought me back to Asaba, rented a new apartment for me, bought three tubers of yam, five tubers of sweet potato, and stayed with me for just three days before disappearing. That was how I started looking for a way out.”
Blessing’s alarm prompted the arrest of the said Jennifer Obi and one Osita Okafor, who claimed to be a driver. They nabbed by detectives from ‘B’ Division of the State Police Command. Seven other girls, out of which, six were pregnant, were also arrested in the house of Osita Okafor in Oduke.
The pregnant ladies included; Joy Chinwedu, Amaka Emeka Joy, Deborah Ogbona, Ifunanya Agu, Chinechere Agbo, Ogochukwu Okwe and Chioma Emmanuel. The arrested girls allegedly confessed selling their babies after delivery.
But most residents of the area are not in the know of the illicit business going on there, until security operatives stormed there to raid the suspected factories.
“People around here are not aware of what was happening because, what we think most of the time is, how to keep body and soul together. Our mentality here is different because, this place is not developed, so, we least expect such criminal acts,” a resident said.
Although, there are other places in the capital, where baby factory business is operated, most of them however traced their roots to Oduke.
One of the suspected operators of baby factory, Uju Okonkwo, who is a native of Anambra State, said she started the business at Oduke before she moved to Okpanam, where one Ezurum Joseph is her accomplice posing as estate agent.
When the bubble burst, three ladies with advanced pregnancies, including 19-year-old Chniyere Udem, 20-year Happiness Igwe, and 17-year-old Esther Frank, were rescued from the hideout.
Uju Okonkwo, who has been in the business for quite some time now, had gathered her latest victims, promising to reward them handsomely when the babies were delivered. She also deceived the ladies (victims) that their babies were not for sale, but to be taken to Orphanage Homes for proper upbringing.
However, Uju Okonkwo had been making brisk business from the illicit trade, as she admitted that she recently sold a baby for N500,000.00, to a wealthy Lagos-based couple.
“I started last year, and it is only one baby that has been adopted to a woman in Lagos. She paid only N500,000.00,” she said, in futile attempt to deny that she was not a baby merchant, adding that she is a widow with three children.
“I don’t sell human beings, I send them to Motherless Babies Homes. I saw the pregnant girls, some come on their own because, they don’t have any helper and they don’t want to abort the pregnancies.
“Abortion is not good, that was my advice to them, that they should deliver the babies and send them to Motherless Babies Homes. So, I give them food, but I don’t run a Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) for now.”
She said her accomplice in the illicit trade, Joseph Ezurum, who claimed to be a lawyer, gave her the house where she accommodated the pregnant ladies and nurture them to the delivery stage. Ezurum did not deny the role he played, but added that he was not aware of the illicit business.
“I am not advocating for her, the only thing is that, she told me that she had a problem. There is one building I am managing, she asked me for a room where she would keep her ladies, saying they wanted to commit abortion but she advised them to keep the pregnancies. I rented a house to her to keep the girls.
“It is not legal, in the sense that if they are selling the babies but what she told me was that she takes the babies to Motherless Babies Homes, when they are delivered,” Ezurum said.
Ezurum displayed some paraphernalia that qualified him as a lawyer, insisting he graduated from the Nnamdi Azikiwe University in 2011, but was not admitted into the law school.
“I enrolled into the faculty and graduated. My admission number is 2005/39/017. I was not called to bar because, the law school could not admit me.
“When we filled the Council of Education form, my name was among the elligible students, about four courses were waved for us. But when a new Dean came in, he nullified the waiver, he said we have to clear the courses and that there is nothing like waiver.”
“Since then, I have not been able to clear the papers. I am not claiming to be a lawyer but I keep all these things around me, I don’t go to court. The wig and all these things were what I will use when we are called a lawyer…, so I kept them,” he said.
Forty –year-old Chinelo Ezeugo, who is said to be a habitual human trafficker in security circles, started her trade from Oduke from where she extended the business to a neighboring suburb, Oko.
Investigations revealed that Ezeugo kept five pregnant ladies and four kids, when security operatives came looking for her, following the sound of a whistle blower.
Further checks revealed that most victims, pregnant ladies, were deceived into the illicit business after their boyfriends got them pregnant and abandoned them. Precious Ihemine and Blessing Okafor, who were got pregnant by their lovers in a certain village in Enugu State fell into this category.
They found themselves in Asaba, while looking for a job to keep body and soul together after their respective parents disowned them.
They were rescued from home allegedly operated by one John Mary Ihezue, who denied using the place as a baby factory. He claimed using the house as as polythene bag factory and computer business, where he employed workers who he said, earned legitimate income.
Narrating her ordeal, Blessing Okafor said her parents chased her out of the house when she got pregnant, and revealed how one of her friends brought her to Ihezue in Asaba, where she could work and earn income, pending when she will be delivered of the baby.
“We do nylon work. He (Ihezue) has nylon-making machine and computer business. I got pregnant in my village and the boy responsible for it ran away. I asked his friend, and he told me that he went to Abuja. This is my first pregnancy,” she said.
For Precious Ihemine, her sister , who stays in Asaba brought her to Ihezue as her sister’s husband disallowed her from staying with his nuclear family.
“My sister is staying in Asaba and when I got pregnant, she brought me to this man’s house because, her husband refused my staying with them. She asked me to stay with this man, until I’m delivered of the baby.
“The man responsible for my pregnancy is Emeka, and he denied it and ran away. I was not promised any money after delivering the baby, and I have been in his house since March this year. I do not go for antenatal and no doctor comes around for such care.
“He (Ihezue) cooks for me and I work for him, and he promised to be paying me N15,000 every month as salary. He employed us and gave us accommodation,” she said.
Other suspects, including Ihezue Nkemjika, Imezoma Okeke, Chioma Oje and Nzube Chukwu, whom our correspondent spoke with, denied involvement in the alleged baby factory business, insisting that they were working in the polythene factory.
Nkemjika told our correspondent that her employer (Ihezue) was her relative, adding that she was about to dispense oil into power generating set before she was arrested.
“I am not pregnant. The house is my brother’s house and they arrested me in the house when I wanted to put oil in the generator so that I can put it on because boys were not around. I was not making babies, and I am 19 years old,” she said.
Imezoma Okeke also denied being pregnant, said that she came in contact with Ihezue while looking for a job.
“I came to Asaba for water proof business. I am not pregnant. I came to the house and I saw the pregnant women there. Nobody directed me to the place, I came on my own. I saw a poster in Onitsha, advertising for workers and I called the phone number and they directed me to Asaba. I live in Onitsha.
“I came to Asaba and they gave me employment, but they said they want to repair the machine, which they have done. But I have not started work yet. The employment came with accommodation. I stay with my co-workers and I noticed that some of them were pregnant,” Imezoma said.
Meanwhile, the man in the eye of the storm, Mr. John Mary Ihezue, who hails from Ideato Local Government Area of Imo State, said he was a care giver and a reverend brother in the catholic church.
He maintained that the polythene business was his source of income, adding that he uses the proceeds to pay for the rented apartment where he and his workers are staying. He insisted that he was not operating any illegal business.
“We have started production of polythene. We have been working, just that the machine broke down. All the workers are new and we are just trying to start. It is not true that we operate a Baby Factory where pregnant ladies come and deliver their babies and we sell for an agreed price. It is not true.
“I am a reverend brother in the Catholic church. I am not married. As a brother, we are consecrated to God, to give our lives wholly and entirely to God. I trained as a reverend brother at Ohum Monastery in Enugu. I was made a brother in1994,” he said.
Asked why he was not serving in any Catholic parish, hospital or school, the suspect, said, Rome gave him “a sort of concession so that I can live alone and help people. I am somebody who is a care giver, I love helping people.
“I cannot boast about it, it is only God that I am serving, who knows what is in my mind. I am not married and I am not insane. I know that the only thing that will take me to heaven is doing charity work.
“I don’t think there is anything that can attract me in this world since I am not married. I am not operating anything illegal, it is my home, where I am staying and I have factory from where I generate money to pay the rent.”
He explained that the pregnant ladies came seeking for help and he decided to help them because of his philanthropic gesture, adding: “if they have nobody to help them, and I have the heart to help, I think, I can help them.
“For this one (pointing to one of the pregnant ladies), the sister brought her here because her husband could not accommodate her, as a result of the pregnancy. She begged me to allow her to stay here because, they know I always help people. She brought her here for me to protect her.”
Meanwhile, a security source, who preferred to remain anonymous attributed the growing rate of baby factories in Oduke to the isolated nature of the area, adding however that security had been beefed up in the area since the recent discoveries.
“You know, that the place is isolated, and people don’t come around to give information to the police. Also, you will not rule out the economic situation in the country. People are driven into crime these days, in order to make ends meet.
“But that is not an excuse before the law because, there are several legitimate ventures that could yield income to sustain homes. However, those with criminal tendencies and the inordinate desire to get rich can do anything for money, without considering the security implications.
“As we speak, I know that the State Police Command has beamed its search light on that area, following the recent discoveries that baby factory business is thriving in that area,” the source added