Orphanage of horror
Top police collaborator arrested. Why I burnt babies, proprietress confesses. Pregnant graduate still missing. Big names recovered from her handset.
Police investigations, so far, into the scandal involving the Okota, Lagos-based Good Sherpherd Orphanage and the report of the fact - finding panel set up by the Lagos State Government over the matter, exclusively obtained by Sunday Punch during the week, have unnerved more dirty deals. ROTIMI WILLIAMS and BAMIDELE ADEBAYO, report the latest.
The doctors at the Vineyard Hospital, located on No. 11, Pipeline Road, Idimu, Lagos might have thought they were dreaming in a broad daylight. Why? A staff of the Good Shepherd Orphanage, Okota, Lagos, had visited them with a strange request. The lady had gone there in the company of another ‘pregnant’ young woman. Pregnant, but there was no baby in her womb! It was a fake pregnancy, and the request to the doctors was that they should allow the ‘pregnant’ woman to be put on ‘admission’, so that she could be delivered of her ‘baby’ in the maternity ward. Under the arrangement, the staff who brought the young lady would return to the hospital the next morning with a-day-old baby, and the hospital was asked to pretend as if the ‘pregnant’ lady was delivered of the ‘strange baby’. Then, the ‘pregnant’ lady’s friends would be allowed to visit her at the hospital and congratulate her for bringing a new baby into the world?
The above was part of the revelations made by the owner of the hospital, Dr. Olusola Joshua Fashuyi, when a panel set up by the Lagos State government to investigate the allegations of scandals levelled against the now infamous Good Shepherd Orphanage, visited his hospital on a fact-finding mission. The medical practitioner, who claimed to have been giving free medical treatments to babies from the orphanage, told the panel that he experienced the shock of his life when the orphanage attempted to drag him into the crime. He turned down the request, because, as he claimed, his “faith would not allow him to collaborate with such a deceitful and illegal act.”
Established by a self-style shepherd, Pastor (Mrs) Gift John, the orphanage ran into troubled waters in the last few weeks after a complaint over the controversial adoption of Baby Collins to a Briton raised a whirlwind that has beclouded the integrity of the noble set up. The complaint by one of its former staff, Mrs. Bose Ejikunle, the mother of the adopted child, has helped the authorities to uncover the horror preserved under the roof of the expansive outfit in the heart of Okota, a sprawling community in Lagos State.
The outcome of the investigations carried out by both the panel set up by the Lagos State Government and a team of the Nigeria Police Force detectives have shown that Pastor (Mrs.) Gift, who, with her suspected collaborators, is under intense interrogation by men of the State Criminal Investigation Department (SCID), was clean outside, but putrid inside.
According to Mrs. Ajikunle, there was an effective channel of female trafficking, which was the live-wire of the orphanage. She told the government’s committee, headed by Mr. A.M. Balogun, that one lady called Blessing was one of the agents responsible for the trafficking of teenage pregnant ladies mostly from the Eastern parts of the country to the orphanage. Contrary to the supposition that the teenagers went to the orphanage on their own volition, it was revealed that most of them were lured to the Home, with a promise that they would be given the sum of between N25,000.00 and N30,000.00, if they surrendered their ‘unwanted babies’ to the orphanage.
Other unwholesome activities, which Pastor (Mrs.) Gift’s orphanage allegedly carried out, according to the government’s panel whose report, was exclusively obtained by Sunday Punch, included the following:-
-There was an established collaboration between the Good Shepherd Orphanage Home and the Juvenile Welfare Center, Alakara Police Station, Mushin, where the latter gave monetary reward for every abandoned child referred to the Orphanage Home.
-In the same vein, financial reward was equally given for the issuance of police extract to cover every abandoned child referred to the Orphanage Home. (Amount ranged from N20,000.00 to N30,000.00 per extract).
-There is no adequate record to determine the inflow and outflow of children at the Good Shephered Orphanage Home.
-There is no referral Hospital, visiting doctor and professionally trained social worker which are the basic requirements of operating an orphanage home.
-Those who approached the orphanage to adopt children were made to part with as much as N250,000.00 per child, else, they were given sickly children, whose tendency to live long was doubtful.
As many discerning minds would have guessed, Pastor (Mrs.) Gift wouldn’t have been able to sustain her evil deals for close to three years without the collaboration of many powerful individuals at strategic positions in the related institutions. Sunday Punch learnt that, already, police detectives’ dragnet has caught a big fish, a female Deputy Superintendent of Police, who was allegedly in league with the disgraced pastor. The DSP was accused of issuing police extracts that legalized the stay of abandoned children in the orphanage. Going by the law, she had no powers to issue those vital documents. The various pregnant teenagers taken to the Home accused the top policewoman of supervising the signing of letters of undertaking. Most often, the policewoman was the link between the illegal adopters of the abandoned children in the orphanage, without the consent and knowledge of the relevant government ministry. Police investigators said the policewoman collected an average sum of N30,000.00 from the Good Shepherd Orphanage Home for every orphan that a dubious police extract was issued. Because of the money she was making from the Good Shepherd, she allegedly gave preference to private orphanage homes, to the detriment of government-owned motherless babies home, in the transfer of abandoned babies to orphanages.
The woman further confessed to demanding N5,000.00 each from private orphanage homes, for the production of letter-headed papers of the Nigeria Police Juvenille Welfare Centre, Alakara Police Station, Mushin, Lagos without the approval of the police authorities.
The investigators are also tracking down some popular names and wealthy individuals whose mobile telephone numbers have been found on Pastor (Mrs.) Gift’s handset. The names include that of a Divisional Police Officer (DPO) and those of other top police officers, now being investigated to determine their culpability or otherwise in the scandal.
In her confessional statement to detectives at the Nigeria Police Station, Panti, Lagos State, the proprietress of the Good Shepherd Orphanage Home allegedly admitted to have been engaged in the burning of babies, but denied doing so for ritual purposes. According to a police source, the woman claimed that she was cremating only the babies who died at her orphanage in mysterious circumstances. She claimed that she did not seek government’s permission for such activities because she was sure that such requests would not have been granted.
The Lagos State Commissioner for Youths, Sports and Social Development, Opeyemi Bamidele, told Sunday Punch that the human parts recovered from the orphanage would be handed over to men of the State Criminal Investigation Department (SCID) on Tuesday to ensure that forensic tests are carried out on them.
He explained further: “As a matter of fact, we have been in touch with the police, almost on a daily basis. We held a comprehensive meeting in the office on Wednesday with a team of police officers from Panti, and, of course, principal officers within the ministry were also in attendance. We have streamlined the kind of information needed, the pieces of evidence and the things we are sending to the office of the Attorney General.”
As the police continue to investigate the saga, a new twist was introduced last week as one of the pregnant teenagers, Miss Grace Olotu, a graduate of Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ago-Iwoye, Ogun State, who had been at the orphanage is missing. After the publication of an interview the young Miss Olotu granted Sunday Punch at the orphanage a fortnight ago, she disappeared into the thin air. Her parents’ search mission to the orphanage and other relevant institutions has not yielded fruit.
Opeyemi, speaking on the strange development, declared: “The pregnant teenager has been identified as Miss Grace Olotu. It is instructive to note that her parents came to us on February 27, 2005 precisely on Sunday, while we were addressing a press conference at the Press Centre. As soon as the press conference was over, they wanted to talk to me. Both parents were there. They said they had been looking for their daughter for about five months. She had graduated from the university and the last they heard was that she was proceeding on her National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) programme, and since then, they have been looking for her. She did not report at the place of her primary assignment, where she was supposed to be, and that they had been looking for her until they saw her photograph on the pages of Sunday Punch newspaper on February 20..
“On getting to us, we gave them a list of the other pregnant teenagers that we had moved from the orphanage and they found that their daughter’s name was not on the list. But, definitely, she was at the orphanage as at the time that Sunday Punch went to the orphanage and took the photograph of those pregnant teenagers..”
As at weekend, the parents and the Lagos State government had not been able to trace the missing graduate. Ironically, a young lady, suspected to be one of Pastor (Mrs.) Gift’s syndicate was caught by the police, when she brought a new ‘client’ to the embattled home, apparently ignorant that the arms of the law had caught up with the proprietor. The 25-year-old lady, who identified herself as Juliet Iwochuku, had arrived at the orphanage hours after the place was raided, with a 14-year-old pregnant Jumbo. The two have been arrested and are now in the custody of the Lagos State Government.
Speaking in an interview with Sunday Punch, Juliet claimed that she was a nanny with the Good Shepherd Orphanage. She said: “I didn’t know that the Home had been closed down until the following morning, Thursday, when I arrived the Home with another teenage lady that I had been detailed to ferry at a designated point. My assignment was to get her to the Home. The lady was being expected from Rivers State. The teenage girl must have arranged with the person who facilitated her journey from Rivers State, concerning what would happen to her pregnancy. I asked her on our way to the orphanage, after picking her up at the designated spot, she told me that she did not want the baby and that there was nobody to take care of the baby. But that was not my brief. My assignment was to get the teenager to the Home. But, unfortunately, when I got there around 8.00am, I met the Home under lock and key. Before I could move away, I discovered that some people from nowhere had arrived and started asking me questions.”
The pregnant Jumbo, who spoke to Sunday Punch, also explained the circumstances under which she agreed to go to the orphanage, thus: “I arrived Lagos from Rivers State about two days ago. I didn’t know anybody in Lagos; somebody brought me and kept me in a place before this woman came. I was told that the orphanage would take care of me. The name of my boyfriend is Donatus. He impregnated me and absconded. The person who brought me to Lagos told me not to tell my parents where I was going. I did not tell my parents or any member of the family that I was coming to Lagos. I was told that it would be better to give my child to the government as soon as I am delivered of it, and that is what I want to do. I was told that I would be staying with the owner of the orphanage until I am delivered of the baby and handed over to her. I got to know the person who brought me to Lagos through another lady who had been to the home to be delivered of a baby in the past. A lot of ladies had gone through the system.”
Apparently, the proprietor of the Good Shepherd Orphanage had built a solid syndicate that would sustained her ‘business’ for a very long time, had the intrigue involving the adoption of Baby Collins not exposed her illegal activities. As it were, the Lagos State Government, the Nigeria Police Force and the Interpol are engaged in collaborative efforts to repatriate Baby Collins from the United Kingdom.
In an attempt to weed the social scheme of the dubious activities that brought down the Good Shepherd Orphanage, the Lagos State Government is auditing the orphanage homes in the state, and at least, seven of them may soon be visited with the sledgehammer.
Speaking on this, Opeyemi told Sunday Punch: “We have a list of the orphanage homes duly registered with the government. This will serve as a guide. We are sending out a warning, and we are also relying on information supplied by members of the public. We are calling on people to be vigilant as to the illegally operated homes in their communities. We are going after any orphanage home not duly recognized by law, both through registration by the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC), as well as registration with Lagos State Government. As a matter of fact, let me say this, the fact that an orphanage is registered with the CAC does not give enough authority or legal backing for such orphanage to operate in any part of Lagos. Any orphanage not registered with the Lagos State Government through our ministry will be closed down.”
The Deputy Commissioner of Police in charge of the SCID, Panti, Mr. Musiliu Lawal, told Sunday Punch that investigations into the alleged roles of all the suspects were going on.
Confirming the invitation and questioning of a female police officer over the matter, the Deputy Commissioner said that the police took the action in order to determine the officer’s culpability or otherwise on the matter.
He noted that the invitation became necessary as a result of the determination of the police to quiz all those whose names came up in the course of investigation.
Vowing to get to the root of the matter and ensuring that anybody found culpable was made to face the music, he said the police would quiz everybody, either directly or remotely connected with the matter, no matter how highly placed and ensure that justice was done at least for the sake of the little children involved.
SUNDAY PUNCH, March 6, 2005