Baby-Stealing In Nigeria

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Please do me a favour. Sit your grandchild who is four years or below on your lap and focus on how beautiful they are, their bewitching smile, their absolute trust in you, their complete innocence and what blessing they are to you and your daughter or son.

Think of what you would not do to make them happy. Then pause and think of what could happen to them and you if someone should kidnap them.

I have had to go through such a nightmare several times since February when a neighbour’s 10-month-old baby boy was kidnapped – yes 10 months old – and it dawned on me that child kidnapping had become the vogue in Nigeria.

Mindless criminals seem to have put their hand on the button which would hurt parents most and probably inflict on them a life-long scar.

The most notorious case given worldwide attention was that of 15 children who were seized from their school bus in Aba, south-eastern Nigeria last September.

The criminals demanded a five-digit US dollar ransom. The heart of the entire country went to the children and their grievously hurt parents.

The story ended “well” – the children were released unharmed, although the police refused to state if and how much ransom was paid.

The case of the baby boy hit my raw nerves because of his age, the proximity of the parents to me and the dastardly abuse of trust by the young house-help who was employed by the parents to look after him.

She strapped the baby on her back as she was wont to do and took the kitchen trash bag out to drop in the bin outside the gate. Nothing covert.

The alarm was raised only when she had not returned after several minutes and she could not be found in the vicinity.

It turned out that she had fled, without anyone suspecting, to deliver the baby to her much older accomplices elsewhere in the city.

Two days later the gang phoned the parents to demand a ransom.

The police were called in but the distraught parents chose to make independent efforts to secure their baby unharmed.

Two weeks later the family was re-united after one of them was forced by the criminals to make a dangerous midnight motorcycle trip to a village far from Lagos.

I am not privy to whatever agreements were reached between the two parties before the release of the baby but, as a parent, I rejoice with my neighbours.

Many such stories are being told in various parts of the country.

What started as a desperate effort by militants in the Niger Delta to secure economic and political concessions from the government has now become a scourge of families nationwide.

Two years ago the victims were foreign oil workers; today they are helpless babies and adults in top employment.The political glamour has yielded to human misery.

It seems like a long while ago when women stayed home as full-time housewives to look after, train and protect their children. They took up full employment only after their children were old enough to look after one another.

Today young couples leave home early in the morning and stay out till late in the evening in search of economic comfort while their children are committed to the care of house-helps. Some women wean their children from four weeks in order to return to employment early and to remain physically attractive.

They say that this is the age of gender equality, so wives must join their husbands in the rat race to prove that they are emancipated.

I am all for this new attitude, all I ask is that society should scrap the institution of marriage for women to attain full freedom and to shoulder the consequences of whatever they do or don’t do alone.

I stand confident in my outdated view that no law can make a man pregnant or breastfeed a baby.

Seriously, though, something is fast going wrong with the value system in Nigeria.

That something is breaking down our traditional society, our personal security and our morality. Think of it.

•Sola Odunfa wrote this article for the BBC.

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