By George Odok
The Marine Patrol team of the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) in Cross River has rescued a three-week old baby suspected to be a victim of child trafficking at the high sea.
The Cross River Comptroller of NIS, Mr Okey Ezugwu, who briefed the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) on the incident in Calabar, said that the suspected child trafficker, Mrs Maureen Awokara, was arrested on Dec. 19 at the high sea.
Ezugwu said that the suspect was arrested by the marine officers on patrol following her inability to give a comprehensive explanation on the true ownership of the baby.
“A few days ago, our officers at the marine patrol at the international waterways intercepted one Maureen Awokara, who claimed to be a native of Imo state with a three-week old child.
“During the arrest, she came up with all stories that were not adding up. Initially, she said the child belongs to her sister, yet we have carried out a preliminary investigation and all the lines she gave us to reach the sister, (name withheld), is not connecting.
“At this point, we are going to hand her over to NAPTIP for further investigations. Preliminary investigation gives us every reason to believe that the little child is been trafficked.
“The suspect claim she is going to Cameroon, Gabon and wherever. We are suspecting a cartel deal, because over time, we have had a lot of surveillance and serious checks at our border basis and the airport, making it impossible for any of them to use these routes.
“We are looking at a situation where they have now device a means of using the waterways, using small boats to take away these little children along,” he said.
He further explained that effort by the command to get in contact with other family members to ascertain if the family members were in agreement for her to take the baby away have proved abortive because the suspect was not willing to give them useful information on the matter.
Ezugwu told NAN that the NIS marine patrol team will continue to police the waterways with a view to ensure that all forms of child trafficking and other act of criminality are suppressed.
He urged parents to always watch over their children and shun any form of allowing their children to be trafficked for monetary purpose.
Responding, Awokara, 40, told NAN that the baby belongs to her younger sister who could not afford to take care of her after delivery on Dec. 2.
She told NAN that the younger sister decided to give her the child because she has been married for 18 years without a child.
“She gave me the baby in Imo state; since they brought me here, I have been trying to get in contact with her but her number isn’t connecting.
“The only time her number went through, I only heard a man’s voice, which was not her own,” she said.
When NAN sought to know if the father of the child was also in agreement for her to take the baby away, Awokara said that the father of the child denied the pregnancy even before delivery.
“My younger sister is between 18-20 years. This is not her first time of giving birth; but, we don’t know were the first child is as we speak,” she said.