Nigeria: We Were Kidnapped, Renamed and Sold - Kano Rescued Children

19 October 2019

Kano — "I was playing with my friends in front of my family house one evening when one man (who I later came to know as Mr. Paul) grabbed my hand and I started shouting. But he covered my mouth with his other hand and took me to an isolated place. A woman (Paul's wife) later came and took me away from that place. When I got to their house, I saw Paul. And then, Paul took me from Kano to Onitsha.

"I was afraid when Paul's wife took me away. I thought she would kill me, but after Paul took me to Onitsha, I become comfortable staying there. I was the first person Paul took to Onitsha. I was handed over to Madam Ebere, who I was told was my mother. Whenever a new set of children was brought to Madam Ebere, people come around to buy them from her.

"I had seen where Madam Ebere collected money from her visitors more than two times. I saw her counting money when they brought the twin girls - Husnah and Amira, who were also brought to Onitsha from Kano."

This was part of the testimony of Farouk Ibrahim Ahmad, one of the nine kidnapped children recently rescued by the Anti-Kidnapping Squad of the Nigeria Police Force, Kano State Command.

Another victim, Amira Auwalu Ango, also recounted her ordeal in the hands of her kidnapper.

Little Amira, who was abducted alongside her cousin, Husnah, in Kawo Quarters a few months ago, told Daily Trust Saturday that, "We were on our way home when a woman stopped us and told us to follow her. Husnah grabbed my hand and agreed for us to follow the woman. I fell, the woman carried me and put me on her back, and took us to her home. When we reached her house, we started crying, but the woman threatened to kill us if we did not stop crying. She then cooked noodles for us, but I refused to eat.

"Later, the woman started consoling us to sleep. We all slept on the floor and the next day, she took us to a motor park where we entered a long vehicle that took us to Onitsha."

Although Amira has been reunited with her family, the trauma of what she went through still haunts her. According to her father, Malam Auwalu Ango, the little girl is still scared of associating with people.

"We are still battling to convince her to return to Islamiyyah School. Whenever she's asked to follow her siblings to Islamiyyah, she would say, 'I don't want to be abducted again'. Most times, she prefers staying on her own."

A popular saying that 'many days are for the thief, but one day is for the owner' practically happened in Kano recently when the police arrested a kidnapping syndicate that specialises in abducting and trafficking young Muslim children from Kano to Onitsha in Anambra State, where they are renamed, converted to Christianity before they are finally sold off.

Luck ran out on Paul Onwe, who is the ring leader, when he was apprehended in Kawaji in Yankaba Quarters while conveying a kidnapped victim, Haruna Sagir Bako, to a motor park along Unity Road Sabon-Gari area for onward movement to Onitsha.

Daily Trust gathered that little Haruna was kidnapped by Paul on September 11 this year at Kawaji Quarters while he was returning from an errand for his mother. Paul boarded a tricycle, with Haruna, to the motor park where he will board a luxurious bus to Onitsha.

After he bargained with the tricycle driver, they agreed on N100. On their way to Sabon-Gari, the driver tried to carry other passengers, but Paul insisted that the man will not carry any other passenger until he drops him.

The tricycle driver, however, insisted on picking additional passengers since Paul was not ready to pay more than N100. When the driver slowed down to pick some passengers, unfortunately for Paul, they turned out to be relatives of little Haruna.

One of them called his name and the boy answered. They immediately raised an alarm and Paul was apprehended.

They all headed to Dakata Police station where investigation on the matter commenced. Paul's confessional statement led to the arrest of eight other members of the gang, including his wife, Mercy. Others include Mr. Emmanuel Igwe, Louisa Duru, Madam Monica Orachaa and Madam Ebere Ogbodo.

Mr. Paul, who confessed to committing the crime, said within five years, he had kidnapped and sold seven children, noting that he earned about N200,000 per child and that for the five years he spent in the business, he realized over N2m.

It was a joyful moment at the Police Command on Friday, October 11, 2019, when parents of the eight rescued children finally reunited with them. However, while parents of the rescued children, their relations, friends and well-wishers were jubilating over their loved ones, the fate of 47 others that are still missing have opened a new chapter in the matter.

The affected parents under the umbrella of Protection Against the Abduction of Our Children, demanded a thorough investigation into the matter, intending to uncover the whereabouts of their children.

The secretary of the association, whose son, Isma'il Shu'aibu was also abducted and still missing, said his child was kidnapped at Tinshama-Jirga on December 16, 2016, at the age of two.

"My child was abducted during Magrib prayer. Before him, several other children, including the son of our chairman, Malam Isma'il, were abducted in the area. So, when we realized that the issue of missing children was becoming rampant in the area, eight of us, whose children were victims, formed an association.

"Our intention then was not only to recover our children but to end the ugly trend completely. In early 2017, the membership of the association rose to 37 and in 2018 the number again increased to 47. As a result of our struggle, a suspected child-kidnapper Amina Ibrahim Gara was apprehended in Kawo Bakin Lambu by some youths after she kidnapped a child, Aliyu Dauda. Amina's arrest also led to the arrest of seven other suspects," he said.

Ibrahim added that Amina and her accomplices spent two years in prison awaiting trial before they were granted bail by the court, noting that while they were in prison, child kidnapping completely stopped in the area.

"For the two years these people spent in prison, we did not record any case of missing children. But after the suspected kidnappers were released on bail, we again started recording cases of missing children in this area. So, sometime in 2017, we complained to the police, but unfortunately, the police did not help us at that time.

"Having lost confidence in the police here at that time, we took our case to Human Rights FM in Abuja where we were linked with the anchor of a popular programme - Berekete Family. Through the man, we were taken to the office of the current Inspector General of Police to lodge our complaint, but unfortunately, we could not meet the IGP because he travelled to Katsina State for an official assignment," he said.

The IGP, however, ordered that they lodge their complaint with the Kano State Commissioner of Police, Ahmed Iliyasu, who subsequently formed a committee with some of them as members, and directed the committee to swing into action immediately.

"In less than two weeks of the formation of that committee, the ring leader of the kidnap syndicate and his wife were arrested, while eight victims were rescued and reunited with their respective families."

A father of one of the missing children, Malam Abdulra'uf Kawaji, whose child Musa (Amir) was abducted in 2015, urged the authorities not to relent in their efforts to recover the remaining missing children, saying "one of the rescued children, Farouk Ibrahim Ahmad, has confirmed that my child is still alive. So, I still have hope that one day, I will see my son again."

"Amir was kidnapped when he was 7 and I strongly believe that it was the same Paul that abducted my child because he resides in this area. The distance between my house and his is just a stone throw."

He said after Mr. Paul was arrested, his wife told him that she now understands why Paul always feels nervous whenever she passes by his shop.

"My wife told me that anytime she passes by Mr. Paul's shop, he lowers his gaze or turns his face elsewhere. He will never make eye contact with my wife even if she greets him. That is a sign of guilt. I was the first person to be called by the police after they brought back the children from Onitsha, but unfortunately, my child was not among them.

However, he said Farouk had confirmed to him that his child Amir is still alive and that he (Farouk) was attending the same school with Amir, who has been renamed, Emmanuel.

Malam Kawaji called on the government to apply stiffer punishment on the suspects to serve as a deterrent to others to join the ugly trend, noting that "this incident is a serious slap to the entire north. Our leaders, as well as traditional rulers, should do something urgently to rescue the remaining children that are still in captivity."

He added that the government should also take measures in regulating the activities of house agents in the state, lamenting that "the house agents are the major causes of this problem because they bring in people of questionable characters into our communities without proper investigation about their backgrounds."

Alhaji Umaru Adamu is the village head of Kawaji where Mr. Paul resides with his family. He told Daily Trust that Paul has spent many years in the area, but they never suspected that he was responsible for the missing children because he was a peaceful man.

"The man has a shop attached to his house and people buy provisions (groceries) from him. When the problem of missing children persisted in the area, there was nothing else we could do but to resort to divine intervention.

" We heard that when Paul was interrogated at Dakata Police station, he said he found the boy wandering around his house and that he was taking him to a radio station.

"But the tricycle driver told the police that the man contacted him to take him to New Road in Sabon-Gari area at the cost of N100 only. The conflicting statements by both of them compelled the police to dig further on the matter, which led to the remarkable achievement of recovering eight abducted kids and the arrest of eight suspected kidnappers."

Chairman of the Protection Against the abduction of Our Children, Malam Isma'il Ibrahim Muhammad, confirmed to Daily Trust that the association is still receiving complaints of missing children from different parts of the state.

Muhammad, whose child Abubakar Isma'il was also abducted, called on the state and federal governments, as well as traditional leaders, to come to their aid in ensuring the rescue of their loved ones.

The chairman, who commended the police for their proactive stance, expressed hope that "If the government can intensify efforts, the remaining children would be found and subsequently rescued. We have 47 missing children on our list now and we want the government to find them and reunite them with their families."

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