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10.11.2021 Featured After Nigerian Baby Was Stolen From Cote d’Ivoire Hospital, Police Threaten to Jail Father

Published 10th Nov, 2021

By Tola Owoyele

Chinedu Onyenwenu’s initial distress was met with both relief and happiness when in the early hours of August 3, a nurse emerged from the operating room to announce that Chioma, his wife, had successfully undergone surgery and birthed a baby girl.

Chinedu leapt for joy on receiving the news, asking the nurse if he could go in to see both mother and child. The previous three days had been harrowing for him. He had first taken a heavily pregnant Chioma to a hospital in Koumassi, a suburb of Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire, hoping for a hitch-free delivery.

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Chioma developed complications in the birthing process, forcing the hospital to refer the Onyenwenus to the General Hospital in Port-Bouet in Abidjan.

When Chinedu was eventually allowed to see his wife and newly born daughter, he took pictures and sent them to friends and family members, asking them to join him in celebrating the arrival of a new addition to his family.

He also made a payment of 25,000 CFA francs to the hospital for the medicines that were prescribed for his wife after giving birth.

When Chinedu felt the day was bright enough, he left the hospital in order to bring clothes for the mother and child from home.

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While he was rummaging through Chioma’s belongings at home, trying to get all the things he would take to the hospital, his phone rang.

It was a call from the general hospital. A familiar but sobbing voice spoke to him from the other end of the phone. It was Chioma, and she was telling him that the baby, whom he had just named Munachiso, had been stolen from the hospital.

CHINEDU ONYENWENU’S IMMEDIATE REACTION

Baby Munachiso

“Still in a state of shock, I raced back to the hospital and demanded to see my wife immediately. Upon seeing her, I tried everything I could to calm her down. She had lost a lot of blood during the protracted labour and seeing her go through a much bigger pain wasn’t what I was about to allow,” Onyenwenu told FIJ.

After assuring his wife that all would be fine in the end, he went back to the hospital’s reception and demanded to see the nurse on duty when he was leaving the hospital.

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“They told me that she had gone home. I also got to find out that despite being aware of our baby being stolen, she did not report the matter to the hospital authorities before her shift ended. She left my wife in tears and a precarious condition and went home,” Onyenwenu added.

Onyenwenu said his next step was to visit the police station attached to the hospital to lodge a complaint about the stolen baby. However, his complaint was met with a stiff response from the gendarmes on duty. They told him they could not do anything until they received a directive from the hospital’s director. They also told him that even if a directive was in place, a search would not be conducted until 24 hours after the incident.

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“As we speak, our baby has not been found. The hospital management never cared. The police in Abidjan claim they are still investigating the matter, but nothing concrete is being done to help us bring our baby back. As a matter of fact, the police here are indirectly protecting the hospital staff and management. They are covering up for their fellow Ivorians,” tearful Onyenwenu said.

CHIOMA ONYENWENU’S SIDE OF THE STORY

“After giving birth to my daughter, the sedatives I was given before the surgery still had a strong effect on me. So, I asked my husband to place the baby beside me before going home,” Chioma told FIJ.

Chioma said she slept off after the baby was placed by her side.

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“The moment I woke up, I discovered that the baby was no longer beside me. I quickly asked the nurse, who was on duty, about the whereabouts of my baby but she said she knew nothing about where she could be,” she added.

Chioma said it was at that point that she knew the baby had been stolen. She also told FIJ that the nurse on duty never reported the incident to the hospital management till her shift ended.

CALLS FOR HELP BY FELLOW NIGERIANS AND THE NIGERIAN EMBASSY IN IVORY COAST

The General Hospital Port-Bouet in Abidjan

In his quest for a better life, Chinedu, an indegene of Ukwuani Local Government Area of Delta State, migrated to Cote d’Ivoire in 2015.

He started a business in Abidjan the same year, selling women’s clothes, and immediately associated himself with fellow Nigerians who were residing in the city.

When nothing was forthcoming from the police in Abidjan regarding the search for his infant, Onyenwenu ran to the Nigerian community in Abidjan for help.

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“I had initially gone to the Nigeria Embassy for help the moment the incident happened, and they told me they would look into the issue. Unfortunately, I am not sure they did anything to help me and my wife,” he said.

When I saw that help was not forthcoming, I engaged the Nigerian community here and they assisted me in organising a two-day protest tagged ‘Bring-Back-Muna’ in front of the hospital.”

According to Onyenwenu, the Nigeria Embassy sent out an official to address the gathering, promising it would help, but till date, Munachiso has not been found.

THREATS OF IMPRISONMENT FROM THE IVORIAN AUTHORITIES

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is MIA.jpg
Chinedu and Chioma Onyenwendu with Michael Onwuchelu, the president of the Nigerian community in Ivory Coast.

“Presently, the members of the Nigerian community are beginning to get tired of the assistance I once enjoyed from them. Most of them no longer support me in the search for Muna. The embassy also said it would only offer legal help on the condition that I foot the bill. Right now, I don’t know who else to turn to for help,” said Onyenwenu.

The Nigerian also said he has been receiving threats of imprisonment from the Ivorian authorities.

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“They are saying they would jail me if I don’t stop spoiling the name of their country. I need Nigeria and Nigerians to come to my aid. I want my daughter found,” he said.

NIGERIA EMBASSY’S RESPONSE

Martin Senkom Adamu, Nigerian Ambassador to Cote D’Ivoire

“We have been with Mr. and Mrs. Onyenwenu since the incident happened in August. We have also written to the Ivorian authorities and the police regarding the case,” a Nigerian diplomat in Abidjan, who asked not to be named, told FIJ.

“The unfortunate situation however is that the police have not been able to make any headway or significant progress in the search for the baby.”

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The source also said the embassy was not in the position to provide legal aid to Onyemwenu in the event of a lawsuit against the Ivorian government.

“Since the matter is a criminal case that is already with the police, it is not the function of the embassy to provide any legal assistance that would be aimed towards making the police do their job. If Mr. Onyenwenu wants to file a civil suit against the hospital and the government, he would have to do that in his capacity as a private citizen. The embassy does not give funds to private citizens to sue the Ivorian government over their actions,” he stated.

The embassy official also said Martin Senkom Adamu, the Nigerian Ambassador to Cote d’Ivoire, was aware of the incident and that the consulate had been in constant touch with the Ivorian Commissioner for Trafficking of Minors to ensure that the baby was found.

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“The embassy has used all the tools at its disposal to ensure that the baby is recovered,” the official said.

THE NIGERIAN COMMUNITY AND THE COTE D’IVOIRE POLICE

Michael Onwuchelu, president of the Nigerian community in Cote d’Ivoire, said his association is still working with the Ivorian Police to make sure that the newborn is found.

“Despite the many challenges being faced on this case, we have not given up hope in the search for the baby. We are very hopeful that she would eventually be found hale and hearty,” Onwuchebe said.

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FIJ made several calls to Captain Djodjo Eme, a Children Police Research Officer who has been working on the case, but they were unanswered. Messages sent were also not responded to.

Published 10th Nov, 2021

By Tola Owoyele

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