By Lillian Okenwa (Law and Society Magazine)
Gender activist and Executive Director, Women Advocates Research and Documentation Center (WARDC), Dr. Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi, has again called on the police high command to expedite action in unravelling the whereabouts of Baby Joseph who was allegedly stolen when he was only six-hour-old by a police officer Inspector Samuel Ukpabio.
Although the Lagos State Police Command has announced the dismissal of the accused officer identified as Inspector Samuel Ukpabio, the baby boy’s location at the moment remains a mystery.
A 35-year-old Fortune Obhafuoso had accused Ukpabio, a police officer attached to the Child Trafficking Department, C.I.D. Panti, Yaba, Lagos, of conniving with others to forcefully take away her six-hour-old baby on December 23, 2022. He then transferred N170,000 to her with a warning to never return or risk being arrested for child trafficking.
Announcing the dismissal on his verified Twitter handle thus: “The recommendation for the dismissal of Inspector Samuel Ukpabio has been approved,” the command’s spokesperson, SP Benjamin Hundeyin, said it would pave the way for his prosecution.
There had been a series of petitions to the Office of the Inspector General of Police by legal advocate/rights activist, Dr Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi, Founding Director, Women Advocates Research & Documentation Centre, WARDC.
But reacting to this development, Akiyode-Afolabi said the baby’s whereabouts still needed to be known.
“We are happy that a commendable step has been taken so that this case did not follow the story of impunity that we normally see when a police officer behaves in such a way that is unbecoming of a member of the Nigerian Police Force. However, we are still very worried about the fact that we are yet to be given the right information about where the baby is”, she told Sunday Vanguard.
“The police need to come out publicly to tell us where Baby Joseph is; whether they are closing the case or there is still hope for the mother about seeing her baby.
“The mother needs to know what happened, the public that is also aware that a six-hour-old baby was abducted, also needs to know. Even as a not-for-profit advocating and supporting Obhafuoso, we are also curious to know what really happened. As a mother, I know this is not going to be easy for any woman who had a baby and the baby just disappeared into thin air without any connection,” she lamented.
Disclosing that the mother, Obhafuoso, had suffered a lot of trauma and has had to see a lot of psychiatrists, Akiyode-Afolabi said it had, in fact, been very difficult handling her situation.
“She had been in the custody of the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons and other Related Matters, NAPTIP, but has now been relocated to another place because we also know that her life is at stake since things like this usually involve a dangerous ring from whom victims require protection”, the activist said.
“I particularly think the knowledge of what has happened to the baby will give her more succor and help her to understand whether she needs to do a closure or not. There should at least be evidence of what happened so that the mother can also be given the appropriate therapeutic need. Joseph might be a baby, but he is a human being. Is he dead or alive? If alive, where is he? If dead, where is the evidence?”
Dr. Akiyode-Afolabi had initially raised the alarm when Baby Joseph was allegedly forcefully taken away from his mother on December 23, 2022, by Ukpabio.
Indicting the police high command over the issue, given that her organization had since sent a petition, she said: “We are alarmed by the month-long silence of the Inspector General of Police.
“On February 6, 2023, a petition, addressed to the Inspector General of Police to transfer the case against Ukpabio for abduction and human trafficking of Baby Joseph to the National Agency For The Prohibition of Trafficking In Person, NAPTIP, was made by 141 human and women’s rights organisations led by WARDC but there has been no response since then.
“We were reliably informed by the victim that she solicited assistance on social media sometime in October 2022 due to her condition, being a single mother of two kids who were at that time about seven months pregnant. She was offered assistance by one Mrs. Tosin Jeremiah who claimed to be a Matron.
“The said Mrs. Jeremiah invited the victim along with her kids over on December 16, 2022, and directed her to her friend’s place at Agbara, Lagos. The victim stayed with Jeremiah’s friend (Mama Rachel) for one week. On December 22, 2022, the said Tosin’s friend ordered an Uber taxi that took our client from Agbara to MR BIGG’S at Abule-Egba, where a doctor and a lady came to pick the victim to one hospital annex located at Ajegunle Bus Stop, Alakuko, by Abeokuta Expressway, Lagos, where the victim delivered a baby boy on December 23, 2022.
“Few hours after the victim’s delivery, the same doctor took her back to MR BIGG’S at Abule-Egba for the same Uber driver to take her back to Agbara. There, the victim met with two ladies and Mr. Ukpabio, who introduced himself as a police officer from Nigeria Police Force, Panti C.I.D, Yaba Lagos.
“The officer arrested our client on the spot, alleging/accusing her of child trafficking. She was thereafter taken to the State Criminal Investigation Department, Panti, same day, through a back entrance, where Mr. Ukpabio threatened her to write a statement which she wrote under duress, following which her one-day-old baby was forcefully taken away from her and handed over to the woman who accompanied Mr. Ukpabio to carry out the arrest at Abule-Egba.
“The victim reported that the officer released her after her baby was taken away and she was offered N15,000 to order a ride home with her other children; he thereafter threatened her never to show up or demand the whereabouts of her baby, claiming that government will take responsibility for the baby.
“The victim has further informed us that on 24/12/2022, she called Mr Ukpabio to demand her baby and the said officer threatened her again on the phone to report her to NAPTIP on allegation of child trafficking.
“The victim reported calling him again on 25/12/2022, challenging him to produce her newborn baby. At this point, Mr. Ukpabio requested for the victim’s account number and forwarded the sum of N170,000 (one hundred and seventy thousand naira) for her to take care of herself.
“This action of the unsolicited money transfer points to a suspicion that the baby has been sold. The victim is distraught as a result of the trauma of the near loss of her baby. An officer of the law, Mr. Ukpabio, and his syndicate have taken advantage of her situation and circumstantial vulnerability.
“She, therefore, pleaded for immediate intervention, demanding that Ukpabio and his alleged syndicate be apprehended and made to disclose the whereabouts of the victim’s newborn baby boy.”