Home of Illegal Baby Trade, Abortions
Home of Illegal Baby Trade, Abortions
Written by Joseph Onyekwere
Sunday, 04 January 2009
In Ezuma Hospital, Aba, Abia State, babies are freely sold to parents who cannot have children of their own, with scant regards for government rules and regulations
September 9, 2008, at the Abayi junction in the heart of Aba, a commercial city in Abia State, a group of vehicles, including commercial motorcycles, carrying passengers were waiting for their turns at one side of the intersection to move on. Suddenly, a young female passenger on one of the commercial motorcycles popularly known as okada in the queue slumped and fell on the road.
A group of sympathisers, including the policemen controlling traffic at the junction rushed to her aid. They tried to revive her but she died on the spot. What happened next was shocking. The lady, Chinenye Opara, as the hospital card she had in her handbag identified her, had just come out of Ezuma Private Hospital on 101 Okigwe Road, Aba where she had an illegal abortion. The police immediately went to the hospital demanding to see the doctor who carried out the abortion. But the doctor, simply known as Okon had fled. The police subsequently commenced investigation on the matter. The Umuojima police station, Osisioma Local Government area made some arrests at the hospital and later transferred the matter to the state criminal investigation, unit CID, Umuahia, the Abia State capital.
James Ezuma James, the medical director and chief executive of the hospital who was in Abuja when the incident happened came back. He was asked to produce the fled doctor but he could not do so. He was then arrested and taken to the state CID Umuahia and detained with some of his staff. Three hours later, Ezuma and his workers were released from detention.
Apart from performing illegal abortion, Ezuma Hospital is widely known in Aba as a baby factory. It is a place where the selling of babies and abortion take place daily. The hospital is noted for admitting under-aged pregnant girls whose babies are later sold when they are born. Newswatch learnt that the hospital has about 200 pregnant young girls on admission. The hospital enjoys good patronage from those who need babies. Pregnant girls whose ages are between 12 and 21 are brought to the hospital and those who introduce them to the hospital are allegedly rewarded with N5,000 each. For instance, on September 5, 2008, N5,000 was paid to an unidentified lady who introduced a pregnant girl to the hospital. The record of this payment is contained in the expenses booklet of the hospital for that month.
Between 12 and 16 pregnant girls are cramped in one room in the hospital. The rooms are small and dirty. Almost all the facilities in the rooms are overstretched. The toilet facility, which was meant to be a water cistern, is dilapidated. The pregnant girls live and cook in the same rooms where they sleep. The kerosene stoves and pots in the rooms are as many as the occupants. Those who cannot find space on a bed put their mattresses on the floor, while those who cannot find space in the rooms use the corridors. The management of the hospital looks after the pregnant ladies also called ‘social mothers’ until their children are born.
They are paid between N500 and N600 every week for their upkeep. When they give birth, they are paid off with about N50, 000 each, depending on the length of time spent in the hospital. The newborn baby would then be sold out to those who need them. Each male child is sold at N400, 000, while a female child is sold for N350, 000.
According to an inside source, an average of about five people die in the hospital weekly. The death, the source explained, is attributed to poor facilities and lack of qualified personnel in the hospital. “The health care facilities in the hospital are very poor. There are no qualified nurses and doctors. Laboratory technicians are the ones doubling as doctors. The equipment are not sterilised,” he said.
The source told Newswatch that about nine out of 100 ‘social mothers’ do not survive labour and delivery because there are no antenatal facilities for them. Instead, the hospital is only interested in scanning to ascertain the sex of the baby in the womb. Newswatch investigations showed that scanning is allegedly done at Body Check Ultrasound Clinic located at 29, Okigwe road, Aba. A man simply known as David who used to be a security man in the hospital disposes of babies which die during delivery.
According to the hospital’s evening shift expenses book dated June 7, 2008, David is paid N500 for each of such disposal. Newswatch learnt that dead bodies from the hospital were initially deposited at the General Hospital Mortuary in agreement with the mortuary attendants who assign fictitious names to the corpses. But concerned parents and relations who visit the mortuary in search of their loved ones usually trace the records of the dead to Ezuma Hospital. When the medical director was no longer comfortable with that arrangement, he allegedly started to pay off mortuary attendants so they would not keep any record at all. Those involved in the arrangement are paid handsomely.
These young pregnant teenagers are asked to make a declaration and swear to an affidavit stating that the men who made them pregnant are at large and that they cannot cater for the babies and so have willingly authorised Ezuma Hospital to give out the baby for sale. Among the teenage girls who swore to an oath are Chinasa Achunwa, 13; Uruakpa Chidinma, 17; Nnabueze Okwukwe; 16, and Esther Emezuruike, 14.
Ezuma, however, told Newswatch that the girls go to the court on their own to swear to the oath. But investigations at the Aba High Court showed that Ezuma takes the documents to the court himself and gets them stamped. An inside source said he pays N200 for each form stamped and that the girls don’t actually swear to affidavit.
When Newswatch confronted Ezuma with the allegation that he was involved in selling babies, he claimed that they were not being sold but adopted by willing foster parents in accordance with the Eastern Nigeria Child Adoption Law No 12 of 1965. He stated that the social welfare department of the local government issues papers to interested persons who take babies from his hospital. He has a prototype of the application for fostering an abandoned baby in his hospital. Surprisingly, the applications are usually not addressed to any particular local government’s Social Welfare Unit.
Newswatch investigations at the Social Welfare Unit of Aba South Local Government Area indicated that no applicant has passed through the council in recent times for any child adoption at Ezuma Hospital. In fact, a lady at the unit who spoke to Newswatch on condition of anonymity was shocked that the hospital still existed. She alleged that the hospital was notorious for illegal child trafficking. According to her, any foster parent who wants to adopt a baby comes to them for a temporary adoption paper, which would be made permanent at the end of one year. She said it is only when such permanent papers are issued that the foster parents can claim the baby as theirs.
The story was the same in Umuahia North Local government Area. One of the social welfare officers who simply gave his name as Uduma said legal adoption only attracts a fee of N25,600. According to him, when someone intends to adopt a baby, the applicant would be required to present age declaration certificate, evidence of medical fitness, two passport photographs, a marriage certificate as well as the birth certificate of the baby to be adopted. In his view, some people prefer to cut corners by avoiding the due process. It is uncertain if those who patronise Ezuma Hospital follow these procedures.
At Ezuma Hospital, a book of records is kept on the “adoption” of babies. According to one of the books kept by the hospital, N2,255,000 million was made from 17 transactions in June, July and August 2008. Some of the entries showed that an unnamed adopter deposited N130, 000 into the personal account of Ezuma on June 21. The same day, Ugo Orji, another adopter, paid N350, 000 for a baby. On June 23, Chioma Chigozie paid N150, 000 for a baby. On June 24, a couple entered as Sunny Ogbonna paid N300, 000 for a baby. Nwogbe Ndu paid an outstanding balance of N5,000 for an adopted baby on June 25.
On June 26, four people paid for babies. They are Michael Uchechukwu, N100, 000; Ebegoro Lazarus, N240, 000; Helen Umunnaegbe, N100, 000 and Comfort Ani, N200, 000. On July 9, Ihejeto Theresa paid N95, 000 outstanding balance for an adopted child. Chioma Kalu did the same with N50, 000 on July 11. But the money paid by Kalu was used to refund one Priye Ajumogeobia whose contract for a baby was unfulfilled. Ejieko Ibekwe paid N100, 000 on August 1. Umunnaegbe returned again on August 9 and paid additional N95, 000. On August 11, Aaron Patience and one Ifeoma paid N40, 000 and N140, 000 respectively for babies.
On a regular basis, Ezuma smiles to the bank. His deposit slips with Access Bank with account number: 0200020005707 detailed how huge deposits are frequently made into his account. Another evidence of the illicit deal is contained in the cash receipt booklets of the hospital. The booklets also contain the addresses of the alleged foster parents and how much they paid. In some of the receipts, the purpose of payment is recorded as treatment. But what was treated was not indicated.
Cecilia Chukwu bought a baby from Ezuma hospital in 2007. When she was contacted, she told Newswatch that she was not aware that Ezuma was doing illegal baby business. She claimed that she followed the due process in ‘adopting’ the baby. According to her, the woman in charge of child adoption in Abia State ministry of women affairs endorsed it. Chukwu said the adopted baby is still with her and is doing well. Chinyere Obidiegwu said she gave an advance payment of N60,000 on May 5, 2007. Her friend who had earlier bought a baby there introduced her to Ezuma Hospital. She told Newswatch that she has not collected the baby yet.
The story is the same for another couple simply known as the Ikes. They paid N400,000 deposit on May 22, 2008 as part payment for a male and female children but are yet to have any.
Another female client of Ezuma Hospital told Newswatch that she had to pad her stomach to fake pregnancy for more than one year before getting a baby boy she negotiated and paid for in 2007. She confessed that carrying the fake pregnancy for so long became so embarrassing that she resorted to staying indoors, adding that she did that to overcome the shame of childlessness. She claimed that she did not know that there are procedures to follow in child adoption. “I heard from people that I can get a baby from Ezuma Hospital, so I decided to go there. I did not know that there are procedures to follow in child adoption,” she said.
Ezuma told Newswatch that the amount of money paid by those who come to adopt babies was like a refund to him. He said it was to recoup what he spent in taking care of the pregnant girls during their stay in the hospital. According to him, he was keeping the girls to avoid a situation where they would give birth and throw the babies into the gutter or refuse dumps. But the process of the so-called adoption does not involve the social welfare department, though he may have some accomplices among the social welfare workers who introduce clients to him.
Ezuma hospital keeps shift report on the pregnant ladies. The report on shift duties contains the description of the activities among the pregnant ladies during the night or morning periods. Such reports included whether there was a new admission, when a pregnant lady had her last monthly period, LMP and the expected date of delivery, EDD. The attendants are also to record in the book if there is any delivery, whether such delivery was safe or otherwise, as well as to know if there were agitations among the inmates.
An 18-year-old pregnant lady in the hospital who preferred anonymity told Newswatch that her friend introduced the hospital to her. Her parents had sent her away in anger when they discovered that she was pregnant. The man who made her pregnant denied responsibility. She complained about the state of facilities in the hospital. According to her, staying in the hospital was a painful choice since she has no alternative. She said the hospital pays her N500 every Monday as feeding allowance for the week.
The young lady said she would have liked to keep her baby after delivery but regretted that she has been told that the condition was that she has to give out the baby for adoption. According to her, any attempt to escape with the baby attracts severe punishment, including police harassment. She told Newswatch how a young lady who had escaped to have her baby outside Ezuma Hospital but returned with a false pregnancy to attempt to collect her belongings was arrested and punished. As a result of the incident, the inmates are no longer allowed to go outside the hospital, especially those whose dates of delivery are close.
Newswatch learnt that the National Agency for the Prohibition of Traffic in Human Persons and Other Related Matters, NAPTIP, Enugu zone was disturbed when it first heard about the activities of the hospital. On July 23, 2007, NAPTIP raided the hospital and arrested some of the under-aged girls and staff. Consequently, Ezuma went to court to secure an injunction restricting further arrest and prosecution. It was not certain if the injunction was granted but the doctor in a substantial suit filed at a federal high court sued the inspector-general of Police, NAPTIP, the State Security Services and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Offences Commission, ICPC for violation of right of privacy. The case is still pending in the court.
A source told Newswatch that NAPTIP officials have allegedly compromised. “NAPTIP officials came from Enugu to Aba and allegedly entered into an agreement with the doctor to ensure that nothing comes out of the case,” a source told Newswatch.
But Ijeoma Okoronkwo, zonal head, NAPTIP, Enugu told Newswatch that it was untrue that the agency compromised. “We have not got into any arrangement with him. The court has been dragging but we expect that we would be through soonest so we can go on with the matter. The law will definitely catch up with him, though he thinks he is above the law,” she said.
According to her, NAPTIP got the information that Ezuma Hospital was admitting pregnant young girls in addition to sales of babies and decided to lay surveillance around him. “We laid surveillance around him and confirmed that he sells babies and issues birth certificate to his customers in their names. We also saw a lot of young pregnant girls that are kept there,” she said. Okoronkwo stated that NAPTIP was still investigating Ezuma despite the fact that he went to court to try to stall their investigations. She assured that NAPTIP would definitely prosecute Ezuma. She said that Ezuma was claiming that his fundamental human rights were violated for the fact that NAPTIP officials went into his premises. “We are authorised by law to go in there and carry out our investigative activities. We have the constitutional responsibility to do that,” she said.
She further stated that though the issue of abortion was outside NAPTIP mandate, some girls had during the raid confessed to her that they went to Ezuma to procure abortion. “They work on the psyche of the teenagers. When they get there to procure abortion, they try to convince them to keep the babies because they make more money in the sale of babies,” she said.
Top police officers including members of the dreaded Bakassi Boys, now renamed Abia State Vigilante Services are also said to be on the payroll of the hospital. A source said that this alleged security protection has continued to boost the ego of the doctor and his business. There are records of money given to unidentified policemen in the expenses booklet of the hospital. For instance, on February 12, 2008, a policeman was given N2,000 for unstated services rendered. On February 21, less than ten days before the last payment, another N7,000 was paid to the police. Okon, the doctor who allegedly performed the illegal abortion that resulted in the death of Opara, was given N20,000 on September 9, so as to settle a police. Incidentally, that was the day that the girl died.
Newswatch experience with the police in Abia State makes the complicity story more credible. The police area commander in Aba said he was not aware of the activities of the hospital. But before then, Newswatch had met the Investigating Police Officer, IPO, who handled Ezuma’s case. He declined to speak except the area commander authorised him to do so. Newswatch, therefore, insisted that the IPO, be invited. When he came before the area commander, he denied handling any such case.
The situation was the same in Umuahia. Ali Okechukwu, the state police public relations officer, told Newswatch that he has not been informed of any incident involving Ezuma Hospital. He asked to be given time to enquire from the state CID and by press time , there was no response from him. But Newswatch investigations at the state CID showed that the medical director of Ezuma Hospital and some pregnant teenagers were indeed arrested once and brought to Umuahia. A police signal dated September 15, indicated that copies were sent to the commissioner of police ‘B’ operations Umuahia, Area Commander State CID and Area Commander Aba. According to a police source, the man who initially handled the case in the state CID was recently murdered while on official assignment in a town near Azumini, Ukwa Local government area of Abia State.
The source expressed shock that the suspects who were still in their custody at the close of work could not be seen the following morning. Sources said about N2.2 million changed hands. But that could not be confirmed.
Ezuma is alleged to have been in the business of selling babies and helping young girls procure abortion for about 20 years. His mode of operation is to encourage pregnant teenagers to stay in his hospital and deliver their babies, which would be subsequently sold. All the same, he does not force those who wish to have their pregnancies terminated to keep to them. He gives them the freedom to make their choice. But either way, he makes money.
When Newswatch confronted him with this allegation that he was involved in illegal abortion, he denied it. He said he was not involved in illegal abortion of pregnancies in his hospital. According to him, the dead girl had her abortion with a quack doctor somewhere else and came to his hospital to obtain a card, which implicated him. But available documents indicated that the hospital does abortion daily. His card book contains daily records of the number of cards sold to those who come for abortion and the amount of money realised at the end of each month. A card is sold for N200.
Also, his D&C booklet contains the list of young girls who come for abortion daily during the morning hours, their card numbers, total bills (depending on the age of the pregnancy), deposits and balance as well as the total amount realised from the sale of admission cards. For example, on August 25, 2008, the hospital performed 23 abortions and realised N101,600 in cash while the total value of the admission cards sold were put at N4,600.
On August 27, the hospital did 16 abortions, realised N85, 200 and sold cards worth N3,200. Ezuma Hospital recorded 21 abortions on September 4, at the total cost of N66,100 while. N4,200 was realised from the sale of cards. About N300,000 was gotten from the sale of a baby. The following day, 15 abortions were performed. The money realised from the abortion and selling of cards were N80,000 and N3,000 respectively while a baby was sold that day at the rate of N350,000. The following day, September 6, the hospital did 32 abortions and realised N144,200. It also got N6, 400 from the sale of cards and another N350,000 from the sale of a baby. The hospital on September 9, performed 15 abortions. The money realised was N80,100. The admission cards were valued at N3,000. There was an adoption that day for which N350,000 was paid as recorded in the booklet.
Investigations showed that the room where these abortions are committed is an eyesore. There is no running water and the only suction pump in the room is obsolete and non-functional. The old standing fan in the room is comatose. Abortion equipment is not usually sterilised due to the high number of young girls on the queue and the floor of the room is covered with drips of blood. An artisan who works close to the hospital said his workshop is older than Ezuma hospital on that street. According to him, events within the hospital in the past 20 years are atrocious. The man who would not want his name to be mentioned for fear of victimisation told Newswatch that his concern was the safety of the babies that are taken from the hospital on daily basis. In his view, some of those who buy the babies from the hospital seemed to be using them for things other than keeping them as their children. He believes that ritualists also patronise the place and added that such a place had existed unhindered for these number of years because of the immense wealth and influence of the owner.
Eme Ele, a neighbour of Ezuma who had the effrontery to advise him to desist from such illegal acts would not forget his experience in a hurry. Young boys allegedly prompted by Ezuma stormed Ele’s premises on November 4, last year and damaged some of his household properties. Ele who promised to speak to Newswatch about the incident later changed his mind, citing legal advise from his lawyers. But it was gathered that Ele was apprehensive of further attacks.
Ezuma who described Ele as his good friend said it was Ele’s son who began the fight against his boys and wife. He accused Ele of conspiring with his first wife to poison him. According to him, that was the genesis of their face-off. Ezuma is separated from his first wife who is a lawyer and presently lives in Abuja.
Kingsley Enweremadu, the chairman of the Nigerian Medical Association, NMA, Aba zone, declined to speak on the activities of Ezuma. He told Newswatch that he would not react to verbal accusation unless it was documented. But another doctor who pleaded anonymity informed Newswatch that Ezuma is no longer a member of the NMA. According to the doctor, Ezuma is not practicing medicine in his hospital. The man confirmed that the illegal activities of the hospital are open secret in Aba and its environs.
When Newswatch visited the Abia State Ministry of Health, Umuahia, Sam Ahiwe, the commissioner who was visibly unhappy with the alleged activities of Ezuma, directed the relevant units to respond to Newswatch enquiries. The commissioner also authorised the relevant units to commence investigation into the activities of Ezuma hospital. Officials of the ministry’s department of medical services who responded to Newswatch enquiries said Ezuma Hospital was registered with the ministry based on Ezuma’s Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery, BM, Bch qualification which he obtained from the University of Jos in 1983. He also qualified as a general duty doctor and has no additional qualification. “His hospital was registered but he has not come for renewal since 2005. Since then, he has been functioning illegally. He is not a specialist in any field and so cannot perform the work of a gynecologist. His practicing licence which he is supposed to renew annually from the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria, MDCN, is not up to date,” a source of the ministry told Newswatch. The source added that the ministry would prosecute any hospital handling illegal abortion if proven.
MDCN, is charged with the responsibility of disciplining erring members. It is also mandated by the MDCN Act to register and de-register hospitals. S.K Gyoh, chairman of the council, had on July 2007, said that the council would soon ensure that doctors in Nigeria are not licenced to practice, unless they show evidence of continuing professional development. It is not yet clear whether this has been implemented.
A source said that every effort by the Church to dissuade Ezuma from continuing with his activities was rebuffed. As a result, the Knighthood conferred on him by his church was withdrawn. One of the priests in St Josephs’s Catholic Parish, Aba, where Ezuma was once a member told Newswatch that for the past two years, the doctor has not been seen in the church. He confirmed that his Knighthood was withdrawn. The priest stated that the church was inundated with complaints against Ezuma and his activities in the hospital. He admitted that the man was very influential and wealthy and so could not easily be controlled. He added that the church was only praying that God would change him.
Ezuma who graduated from the University of Jos in 1983 with Bachelors of Medicine, BM and Bachelor of Surgery, BCH indicated on his business card that he has P.H.H (London) as one of his qualifications. But this additional qualification is not in his file.
Sam Hatt, the chief press secretary, CPS, to the Abia state governor, told Newswatch that the state government was not aware of the activities in Ezuma Hospital. “We are not aware of such hospital. The state ministry of health has set up a special task force to comb everywhere so as to discover such hospitals where any act of illegality thrives. But we cannot rule out the fact that some of them may not have been discovered. However, this is an information which I can assure you we would act upon immediately,” he said.