Bittersweet end to stolen 3-year-old’s search for family
Bittersweet end to stolen 3-year-old’s search for family
By Sesan Olufowobi
Published: Saturday, 7 Feb 2009
Whispers of “see Abubakar” seized the air as three-year-old Abu, the toddler rescued from child traffickers in Togo in November last year, stepped out of a Federal Government vehicle at Sango Seme on Monday. Officials of the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons and Other Related Offences had taken him with them to the community in search of his parents.
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But while the team of NAPTIP officials were successful in locating the town and home of Abu’s parents, the venture turned out an anti-climax–Abu’s mother had died from the shock of his disappearance.
As exclusively reported by Saturday Punch in its January 3, 2009 edition, Togolese policemen had rescued Abu from a female human trafficker and handed him over to the Nigerian embassy in the French speaking country, which in turn handed him over to the Nigerian Immigration Service. NIS officials then handed Abu over to NAPTIP in the last week of November.
According to the head of the Lagos office of NAPTIP, Mr. Godwin Morka, the officials of NIS who brought Abu had two letters with them; one from the immigration service and the other from the Nigerian Embassy in Togo. The two letters described Abu as a victim of human trafficking, stating that Abu was brought to the embassy by a terres des homms (motherless babies’ home).
The woman from whom Abu was rescued was charged to court in Togo and subsequently jailed. But while NAPTIP was armed with the two telephone numbers with which Abu’s abductor said his parents could be reached, locating them became an uphill task. The agency’s officials could only go as far as ascertaining that Abu hailed from a community near the Nigerian/Benin border at Seme. From the few words he could utter, they were also able to determine that Abu is Hausa.
Armed with these facts, the team headed for the Seme border on Monday, with the Nigerian Immigration Service office in Seme as their first port of call. Indeed NAPTIP had been liaising with the service, which in turn had pleaded with the Hausa community in Seme to be available to help the agency in locating Abu’s relatives.
From the NIS office, the team moved to the palace of the Sarkin Hausawa who was already waiting with other Hausa elders.
Sango Seme is nothing but a ghetto. With the exception of the Sarkin’s palace and about three other houses, all other homes were made of palm fronds.
The first sign that something was amiss came from the women who had been attracted to the palace by the whispers concerning Abu’s appearance. Many of them burst into tears and wailed Abu’s name. They were further moved to tears when they realised that Abu could not recognise any of them.
But while the women were busy crying, Morka was busy narrating Abu’s plight to the Sarkin Hausawa, Muhammed Fasal Ali, and his council. “We are here to see if the community could help us locate the child’s parents or relatives or get the person who owns the telephone numbers that were given to us,” he said.
The council members then told the NAPTIP officials that before their arrival, they had made consultations and realised that Abu was a member of the community. At that point, one of the women who identified herself as Rashidat stepped forward and, speaking in Hausa language, narrated how the toddler was stolen.
She said, “I know him (Abu) very well. His mother’s name was Amama Yehusa. She was my friend. This boy was taken away by a woman who used to come and play with us. Before then, she had become very familiar with Abubakar. In fact, his mother used to leave him with her. But on the day she disappeared with Abubakar, she said she wanted to go and wash her clothes and that was the last time we saw her.”
Rashidat said Abu’s mother fell ill because of the agony of losing her child. “We were taking care of her, but when she would not stop calling Abubakar’s name and her health was deteriorating, I took her to another of her friends’ place,” she said.
The friend, who was identified as Kasala, told the Sarkin-in-council that they took Abu’s mother first to the Salvation Army Hospital in Seme and later to the General Hospital, Badagry, but she died before she could be treated at the latter. “It was the loss of her child that killed her. From the day the woman took the child, Amama was never the same again. And it was like that till she died,” she said.
Saturday Punch gathered that Abu’s disappearance was particularly hard for the mother to bear because he was the only child she had. Abu’s father was said to have been arrested by the police four days before he was born, and that was the last time Abu’s mother saw him before she died.
It was gathered that Abu’s father, whose name was given as Yehusa, was a driver who helped other drivers to move goods from Cotonou in Benin Republic to Lagos. He also augmented his income by driving imported used vehicles to Lagos from Benin. “We heard that one day, the police arrested him and they said the car he was driving was a stolen vehicle. The owner of the vehicle ran away, so Yehusa was arrested. We learnt that he was remanded in prison and since then has been awaiting trial. We are not sure he has ever seen Abubakar,” one of the residents said.
Also shedding more light on the mystery surrounding Abu, Kasala said she hailed from the same place in Nassarawa State as his father. She said she actually helped Amama to get a casual job at Alaba-Rago in Ojo on the outskirts of Lagos. “At times she would take Abu with her, at other times, Abu would be with us,” she said. She also recalled that in the evening, Amama would come and sell tuwo (a Hausa delicacy) at Sango. “We (all the women) are one. That was how we got to know the woman that took Abubakar. But I learnt that she said she took him away to Togo, not to sell him, but because the mother was not around.”
It was discovered that Kasala and Abu’s mother were no longer the best of friends before he was stolen. “That was why she came and started staying with me,” Rashidat said. “The woman stole the child. She should have kept Abu with any one of us if his mother was not around.”
The various tales were, however, not enough to convince NAPTIP officials that Abu belonged to the community. The matter was made worse by the fact that no relative of the mother or the father could be found. Also, there was no picture of the boy with his mother. The only picture that was found was that of the mother alone.
The officials decided to go to the place where Amama was selling tuwo and sleeping, but it was the same tale as everybody hugged Abu but none could produce any evidence linking him with them. The fact that the community did not report the kidnapping of Abu to the police also did not help matters.
A woman, Salamota, who also had a makeshift stall beside Abu’s mother where she sold tuwo wept as she hugged Abu and spoke with him in Hausa language. Curiously, Abu responded. In the end, Kasala said there was a picture of Amama and Abu that the mother used to carry about when she was looking for him, but she said it was in a place called Alaba Rago. The NAPTIP officials decided to go there. “We have to explore all the angles and get 100 per cent assurance that Abu truly belongs here,” Morka said.
At Alaba Rago, however, it was another round of hugging and wailing as friends of Amama hugged Abu. Unfortunately the picture could not be found.
Another woman, Fatimah, told Saturday Punch that none of them could receive Abu because they were not his mother’s relatives but her friends. “May be it is Allah’s will that Abubakar will have a better life than we,” she said.
Morka said his agency would not give up yet on the search for Abu’s roots, saying that his father would be traced to the prisons. “We will see if there is any resemblance,” he said adding that the toddler might be put up for adoption if his relatives were not found.