By Josephine Agbonkhese
In this interview, the Director-General, National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons, NAPTIP, Dame Julie Okah-Donli, speaks on the growing menace of baby factory in Nigeria and urges Nigerians to imbibe the habit of reporting suspicious activities in their environments to appropriate authorities.
What can be done to curb this menace?
What we need to do is carry out awareness campaigns all over Nigeria. When we hear of such, on our part, we immediately clamp down on them and rescue victims. Right now, we have girls who were rescued and are in our shelter. We are persecuting the traffickers also. One of them is currently on the run.
Would you say NAPTIP has all that is needed to track down perpetrators?
All we need is information. We urge people to report suspicious persons and activities in their environments because these perpetrators are not spirits but are living within neigbourhoods. We need names, addresses and phone numbers; and once we get all the necessary information, we work with other law enforcement agencies to track down.
What do you think of the attitude of Nigerians when it comes to reporting suspicious activities in the environment; or do you think they are too absented-minded?
Thank God for social media right now; people are beginning to make very good use of it. We’ve had cases where people know what’s going on and they see things but don’t say anything. You even see cases where jungle justice is being carried out and nobody says anything. Women are stripped naked for whatever reason and people just film instead of stopping such actions and ensuring the arrest of perpetrators. They just film and start spreading around; I mean, that’s a very cruel way of reacting to such a scene. We still need people who will actually know what’s going on and report for proper investigation and prosecution.
As citizens, what do we need to look out for in our environments to identify properties used as baby factories?
When you notice so many girls going in and out of a house, or someone bringing in different girls who would go into a house and not come out, know that something is not right. Those are red flags. Also, if you keep seeing men coming in and out of that apartment, something is wrong. We need to be more vigilant.
What can property managers do?
They need to know who their tenants are, just like the banks that say “Know Your Customers”. What do they do for a living? What sort of jobs? Where do they work? Once in a while, they need to go into those properties to know what’s going on in there. In view of what is going on now, landlords and property managers should endeavour to carry out unscheduled visits to their rented properties.
People are of the opinion that this menace thrives due to lack of stiff penalties; is that correct?
It would be good to have stiffer penalties but I would tell you there’s more to it. Some people are just hardened criminals and just think they will never get caught—whether penalties are strict or not. You know, this trade is run by an organised criminal network that requires clamping down on perpetrators from the lowest up to the highest. You have drivers of vehicles that transport them, those who come to receive and take them away, those who harbour them in the house, and more.
Your advice to the general public?
My advice to the public, especially mothers, is that you don’t send your children away just because they are pregnant. They might fall into the hands of traffickers. For young girls too, if you’re raped, please report because the latest trend now is that these girls are gang-raped by boys in the area so that they get pregnant.
Then they come back to offer her help, telling her they have a place where they would take care of her and the baby, and still give her money. Some of them have the baby and are forced to keep having more babies. Girls therefore have to be very careful; don’t go into any strange home simply because you got pregnant.