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Arrows of God orphanage

10.08.2023 Featured ARROWS OF GOD: One of Nigeria’s Biggest Orphanages Is Trading Babies for Cash

Published 10th Aug, 2023

By 'Fisayo Soyombo

For 19 months, investigative journalist ‘FISAYO SOYOMBO studied, trailed, investigated and eventually penetrated a Christian orphanage that had been selling babies under the table. When he first received the tip-off in December 2021, one baby cost N1.5 million. Nineteen months later when he finally bought his, the ‘cost’ had jumped to N2 million, excluding a list of sundry pre-purchase expenses and covert requests for the greasing of palms. This investigation exposes not only how a popular Lagos-headquartered orphanage home was attracting donors with its religious tenets, longstanding existence, media mileage and strategic positioning in Nigeria’s commercial capital before diverting them to the South-East for backdoor cash-for-baby transactions, it also reveals how the sales were executed with the collusion of the police and the judiciary.


FINDING A WIFE: ONE STORY, THREE WIVES

A tip off concerning an orphanage home selling babies
A tip off concerning an orphanage home selling babies
A tip off concerning an orphanage home selling babies
Arrows of God (Full Documentary)

The first woman who consented to becoming my ‘wife’ chickened out just a few weeks after accepting. Her family had feared she was grossly underestimating the risks of busting an infant trafficking ring; their reasoning was that the rot was deeper than just a suspected baby factory masquerading as an orphanage. They believed the orphanage’s more dangerous collaborators would come after her in vengeance if we managed to crack the story. They would reluctantly allow her to proceed only on one condition: she must be permanently relocated out of Nigeria after the story. Unable to afford that, I watched her walk away from a project that thoroughly excited her.

The damage of her exit was minimal, almost negligible. ‘Reverend Lieutenant-Colonel D.C. Ogo (retired)’, the President and Founder of the orphanage home, had not answered our calls the few times we dialed the number I peeled off the Internet. However, when Ifeoma, a fair-complexioned beauty with glistening skin, chubby cheeks and voluptuous build, accepted to be my new wife, we opted not to call but physically present ourselves at the headquarters of Arrows of God Orphanage located off Oke Ira Nla Road in Eti-Osa East local council, Ajah, Lagos. There, Oluchi Onyia, a diminutive, dark-complexioned administrative staff, redirected us to Rev. Lt. Col. D. C. Ogo, an ordained Minister, a former Principal of the Nigerian Army School of Nursing and Midwifery, a former Chief Matron, and a retired Army Colonel. We did not find Rev. Ogo during the visit, but Onyia passed her number to us with the caveat that we couldn’t tell her how we secured it. It took us 18 months to discover it was all a game.

Unlike my first wife, the new Ifeoma was a journalist. She was still seeking her big break in journalism and was more risk-tolerant, despite acknowledging that this story could alter her life forever: she would have to start looking over her shoulders, a discomfort she had never experienced. 

Luckily, the first time Ifeoma dialed Rev. Ogo’s number, she answered. This was on Monday January 17, 2022, three days after our visit to Oke Ira Nla. It was a brief conversation during which she asked a few expected questions: Why do you need a child? Where are you from? Where is your husband from? How old are you two? They were questions I had anticipated. As Rev. Ogo’s name gave her out as someone from the South-East, I knew it would be easier to break the ice if my ‘wife’ was Igbo. My ‘ex-wife’ is from Imo, but the current one hails from Enugu.

‘THE IMPORTANT THING IS YOU’RE FROM THE EAST’

When Rev. Ogo asked Ifeoma where she hails from and she answered that her father was from Ogun but her mum Enugu, she instantly switched to Igbo, consequently consigning me to the dark. Rev. Ogo described Ifeoma’s Igbo heritage as crucial to our chances of buying a baby. 

“You see, it is in the East that you are going to buy this one,” she said, much to our suppressed shock considering this was our very first phone conversation and we had never met in person. “Alright. Now, today is Monday, there is a bit of a challenge going on in the East right now. I am in Lagos now, but I’ll return [to the East] at the end of the month. Will you call me back next week? Next week, towards the end of the month. Hmm? Then I’ll tell you what to start preparing. The important thing is that you’re from the East.”

But she wasn’t done. “The important thing is that you have somebody in the East. Your mother is from Enugu?

“Yes, ma.”

“Then you have an address in Enugu?

“Yes, ma.”

“So, when you call me, I’ll tell you what to do, how to go about it.”

“Yes, ma.”

As the call wound down, Rev. Ogo again asked to know Ifeoma’s full name. When she mentioned a Yoruba first name and surname, Rev. Ogo reminded her to “put your Igbo name when applying, because I will send you the requirements for adoption”. 

It was the last time we heard from her, for several months.

Ifeoma and I rang her the next week as instructed, but she wouldn’t answer. We dialed the following week, but her two lines rang out. We dialed again towards the end of the third and fourth weeks; still, there was no luck. We then limited the calls to once every week and, finally, monthly. We did not make the calls in June and July. In August when I reached out to Ifeoma about resuming the calls, a lot had changed. Ifeoma informed me she had found love in the arms of a foreign-based Nigerian, and they were going to be married soon.

“In real life or in the world of the undercover investigation we were planning?” I asked, to be sure.

“In real life.”

SEARCHING FOR THE NEXT IFEOMA

The marriage rites were a matter of weeks away, to be followed by Ifeoma’s permanent relocation abroad. I had become wife-less; and even if Rev. Ogo was finally ready to take my calls, I had to produce Ifeoma herself — or an Ifeoma, any Ifeoma, anyone who could become Ifeoma. On the surface, this looked a straightforward task, save for that January 13, 2022 visit to the Arrows of God in Ajah. Two staff in Ajah had seen and interacted with Ifeoma at close range. It meant that not only did I need a third wife, she needed to share some physical resemblance with Ifeoma. The search for ‘Mrs. Right’ began all over again.

Sometime in 2021, a lady had messaged me on Twitter asking for an opportunity to work with me on an investigation. I retrieved that message, scoured her Twitter timeline, found her on Instagram and Facebook, and randomly asked our mutual contacts about her. Satisfied, I engaged her a number of times without declaring my specific plans, then offered to meet up. She was excited we would finally work together; I was relieved my new Ifeoma was almost here. Well, when she showed up for our meeting, she was, by my estimation, five to six months pregnant. How could a pregnant woman request a baby from an orphanage?

It wasn’t long before I found Chidinma, another late-20s lady who shares both similarities and dissimilarities with Ifeoma. Like Ifeoma, Chidinma is fair and her skin shiny. She wasn’t a journalist in that sense, but she had been on its periphery for years in the hope of someday breaking in. Like Ifeoma, who found me on LinkedIn, Chidinma had found me on Instagram. Like Ifeoma, Chidinma also wanted us to work together. But unlike her, we had no mutuals; as a result, my private checks were lengthier and it took almost forever for me to finally decide to work with her. I did not mind the wait at all; I needed many months of gap between Arrows of God’s contact with the old Ifeoma and the new one; I needed the gap to be long enough for them to have forgotten her name, voice and looks. Finally, Chidinma was low-risk, having voluntarily opted to adopt a pseudonym rather than use her real name. Nobody was ever going to find out who she really was. Well, unless she divulged the information to someone.

IF MOHAMMED WON’T GO TO THE MOUNTAIN…


Reverend D. C. Ogo, Founder, Arrows of God way back in 2007
Reverend D. C. Ogo, Founder, Arrows of God way back in 2007

Chidinma and I rang Rev. Ogo on the final day of October 2022 but there was no answer. Therefore, on Friday November 4, 2022 we showed up in Ajah to re-present our case for adoption. I was unsure if the administrative staff who attended to me was the same I met in January, but it felt so. I only became sure when I asked her to remind me of her name and she answered Oluchi Onyia. She herself was uncertain if she had seen me before or not, so I figured there was no way she would remember Ifeoma’s face, much less her name. Restarting the conversation with Chidinma playing my ‘wife’ proved far easier than anticipated. 

Onyia apologised profusely for the months of unanswered calls, explaining that Rev. Ogo’s phone had been bad. This seemed inconceivable, seeing the number was never unreachable whenever we dialed. It always connected, and it always rang out. Still, we needed access to Rev Ogo; and since the bad phone had been presented as the only obstacle, it felt like nothing would change unless we addressed it. At that point, my ‘wife’ and I offered to immediately buy Rev. Ogo a new phone. Excited, Onyia asked to be excused so she could ring Rev. Ogo. To our utmost shock, she returned within five minutes with a phone clasped to her right ear, Rev. Ogo on the other end. Hadn’t she called Rev. Ogo on the same phone she just said was bad?  

Onyia handed us the phone to speak with Rev. Ogo, who thanked us profusely for our magnanimity and linked us to a certain ‘Deborah’ with whom we were to check our phone options before paying for one. We headed to the SLOT outlet in Ajah to select two phones. We then placed a WhatsApp video call to Deborah to present her our shortlist. Her choice was a Tecno Spark 9 that cost N133,700 at the time. 

From SLOT, we returned to Arrows of God to hand them the phone. With that singular action, we raced several steps upwards on Rev. Ogo’s priority list. The talks progressed at an accelerated pace from that moment, starting with the issuance of a list of documents we needed to file for adoption: four passport photographs, two full-length photographs of the couple together, marriage certificate, medical fitness from a government hospital and birth certificate. The final five documents to round off the list were an application letter to the Founder of Arrows of God; another one to the Commissioner, Ministry of Women Affairs, Awka, Anambra State; and three reference letters from the couple’s pastor, head of family and any important person. The paper handed to us by Arrows of God showed we were to pay a registration fee that was originally typed as N10,000, erased and re-typed as N15,000, then erased and handwritten as N20,000. An extra, unwritten, N5,000 was to go to the young man who would take the documents from Lagos to Anambra. We were told his trip to the East was scheduled for Wednesday, November 9, 2022. It meant we had only five days to forge 10 documents.

FORGING THE DOCUMENTS

requirements for baby adoption in Arrows of God orphanage

To figure out the documents in such a short notice was never going to be problematic. I forwarded the e-version of the list to a contact on Friday evening and by the following morning, Saturday November 5, 2022, it was his knock on my door that roused me from sleep. After a brief period of debriefing and with a fairly healthy budget of N85,000, he went to work. My ‘wife’ and I timed my phone and struck a couple-like pose, then slipped into new attires and repeated the process. We forwarded the pictures to him. Till date, I do not know exactly where he headed, but by evening he was back with every single document on that list! There were a few typos; these he fixed on Monday. 

Birth certificate
Birth certificate

On Tuesday November 8, 2022, my ‘wife’ returned to Arrows of God to submit them. Onyia momentarily stared at them with faint interest one after the other, and passed them all without verifying any of the information. All the phone numbers on each document were fake and unreachable; nobody at Arrows of God attempted to dial any of them. Neither Onyia nor Rev. Ogo nor her right hand man Monday dialed the phone numbers on the reference letters by my supposed pastor, head of family, and the important person.

Marriage certificate
certificate of medical fitness
certificate of medical fitness

My ‘wife’ and I listed a fake address in Ikorodu as our residence; nobody from Arrows of God visited it. Nobody from the orphanage made the journey from Ajah to Ikorodu to physically confirm the address of a couple they were going to sell a baby to. Nobody from Arrows of God met anyone who could testify to my character or my wife’s in our family, office, neighbourhood or church. Nobody verified if we were not child traffickers or ritualists!

After Onyia accepted the documents, payment was next. My ‘wife’ and I desired an account number to process it into, but we were instructed to use the personal account of a certain ‘Olakunle Adeniyi’ with Zenith Bank. Onyia told us the money would be withdrawn with a Point of Sale (PoS) machine, hence costing us an additional N500 charge. We paid a total of N25,500.

‘ONCE YOU HEAR PACHA, RUN!’

“Once you hear kpem,” Onyia warns us, snapping her fingers, “pacha; remove your slippers like this, run. You go go there o [to Anambra]. You and your husband, when the time comes, two of you, go there.  But she [Rev. Ogo] will give you the right one [baby].

For reasons my ‘wife’ and I do not understand, Onyia urges us to be flexible in our choice of a baby. “Whether it is a boy or a girl, you and your husband will decide,” she says. “But don’t say [a particular] one. Whether it’s a boy or girl, I am for it.

“At times, money can be a problem. God will give you the money. God will give you the money. Just prepare yourself.

“Please, just be readying yourself [for a child]; don’t say it must be a girl or boy, because once you catch it now [sic], all the stress is over. Once the baby enters your hand [sic], that’s all. You are done; you are done. The baby has become your own.”

By Onyia’s unintended revelation, buying a baby at Arrows of God is not as difficult as it sounds if you let your money do the talking for you. “You did wonders; you tried,” she says in reference to the Tecno Spark 9. “It’s just like one lawyer sometime ago. As the lawyer came, we were talking about school fees. He just took the school fees off mama.” 

“Immediately,” she adds with a bang on the wooden table, “within a few days, mama called him straight up [for his baby].” 

Returning her gaze to me, she adds: “As we are saying, before the end of this year, you would have gotten your own [baby]; you have tried.”

Onyia’s words filled us with hope. This was eight weeks until the end of 2022. Little did we know we would wait more than eight months!

THE ETERNAL WAIT

My ‘wife’ and I gave Arrows of God a few weeks before resuming the calls. They were seamless this time. If we called, Rev. Ogo answered. If she missed our call, she rang back, even if it sometimes took days. The year ended without any noteworthy development. We talked in January and again in February. By then, the conversations had become routine: be patient, I haven’t forgotten you, just keep praying, God will do it soon. And so on.

March was stalemated; and by April, I had started to wonder if my cover had been blown. Had they found me out? Did they call one of the fake numbers on the letters and found it unreachable? Did they call another, and then another, all unreachable, and then began to suspect me? Had they discovered my real name, that I actually wasn’t Paul Runsewe? 

On Friday June 2, 2023, my ‘wife’ woke up to 11 missed calls from a strange number: This was followed by two more calls from the designated Arrows of God phone number. Our baby was ready. Until this point, nobody from Arrows of God had given us the slightest hint of how much we were buying the baby for. Just before they kick-started the conversation on money, they sent us a picture of the baby — something in the realm of proof of life sent by ransom-seeking kidnappers to families of their captives.

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Everything about the baby exuded peace. Her hair was dark and lush, her two hands in an unconscious tangle as she gazed knowingly into space. I fell in love with her at once.

THIS BABY WILL ‘COST A LOT OF MONEY’

transaction receipt of payment made to Arrows of God Orphanage

“What is left now is to start processing the documents,” Rev. Ogo announced to me on the phone, “but it will cost a lot of money.”

“How much exactly are we looking at?” I asked her.

“Well, it’s a lot of money.”

“No problem, mummy. But how much exactly?”

Rather than answer, Rev. Ogo summons her right hand man’s name: “Monday! Monday! How much will it cost?”

Monday takes over the phone and tells me I would have to cough up N2 million. I tell him I would send a million ahead and then complete the payment on the day I pick up the baby, but he kicks, saying: “You have to pay the N2 million at once.”
My verbal confirmation of my intention to pay the sum marks a remarkable turnaround in the tone and frequency of our phone conversations. In the past, we were the only ones who called Arrows of God. Over the course of the four weeks that followed, they called at least once a week, sometimes even every other day. On Monday, June 5, 2023, I made a N2 million transfer to beneficiary name, ‘The Arrows of God Orphanage’ with Zenith Bank.

‘WE WILL GIVE THE POLICE AND THE COURT THEIR ENTITLEMENTS’

FIJ's conversation with staff of Arrows of God orphanage
FIJ's conversation with staff of Arrows of God orphanage

The next challenge was how to get myself to Nigeria; there were two impediments. I was outside the country at the time, so I needed to figure out flights and duration of a trip to Nigeria. I was also on the verge of applying for a visa for a separate, imminent transatlantic trip; this would require submitting my international passport to an embassy in London, thereby rendering me ineligible to enter Nigeria. To aid my planning, I asked Rev. Ogo and Monday to give me a sense of how long it would take to process the documents.

“Two to four weeks,” Rev. Ogo answered during a phone conversation witnessed by Monday.

“Can’t it be done within a week or two?” I asked.

“Yes, it is possible,” Rev. Ogo tells me confidently. “We just have to give them their entitlements. You see, the police and the court, once we give them their entitlements, they will be fast with the documents.”

In a matter of days, work on the documents had progressed significantly. “Hello, good morning. Sorry for coming late,” Monday wrote me in a WhatsApp message on Tuesday June 13, 2023. “Your documents are in process. What name do you want to give your baby? Write them in full, with the surname.”

I named the baby ‘Oriade’, because I imagined she was predestined to be great in life; my undercover ‘wife’ named her Uchechukwu, that is ‘God’s will’. Monday would call multiple times over the next two weeks, until June 24 when he delivered the all-important message: “Good morning; your paper is ready.” By that, he meant we could finally come take Oriade away.

HARVESTED FROM LAGOS, DIVERTED TO ANAMBRA

From then on, I could make pinpoint plans for the trip. On Wednesday July 5, 2023, my ‘wife’ and I flew into Anambra from different states. I was first to arrive but I was literally stranded at the Anambra Airport, Umueri, because Monday and Rev. Ogo had repeatedly failed to send us the address of Arrows of God in Anambra. I rang them as I awaited my luggage at the carousel but they did not answer. When my ‘wife’ did, they simply said the orphanage was in Nkwelle. But where exactly in Nkwelle? They only danced around the question. They subsequently offered to arrange a lodge for us close to the orphanage but we rejected it, fearing it could compromise the investigation.

The following day, Thursday July 6, 2023, we left Awka for Nkwelle Express in Oyi Local Government Area. Monday’s instruction was for us to ring him when on the expressway. When we did, he told us to keep driving until the road bifurcated into two. He said he would be waiting for us at that junction, but he wasn’t. After a fruitless 10-minute wait, we compelled him to tell us which of the two turns to take. It was the right one. We then drove for some seven to nine kilometres until we seemed to be in the middle of nowhere; it was half-road, half-forest. We sighted an ‘Arrows of God Orphanage’ signage, suggesting we were no longer far from our destination. But there was no building in sight, much less a childcare home.

‘WHERE BLOOD IS WASTED…’

In our confusion, we spotted a hilly road to our right. From our spot, we couldn’t pick out any building on it. But there was no habitable structure ahead of us, either, so why not try the right turn? It proved a test of roadworthiness for our taxi driver’s rickety car, but after advancing and then faltering as though it would roll back, the car managed the climb, leading us to an expanse of cleared forest, a fraction of which housed a small, gated compound. 

From outside, we could neither see nor sniff what was going on inside, thanks to the pale walls and faded black gate with splashes of brown and rust. Splashed on the gate were six stickers, one of which read: “Where blood is wasted, mine shall never be wasted.”

Inside, we were welcomed by two contrasting individuals — a thinly-built teenager who patently cut an unhappy figure, and a tough-looking adult with a bulky build, probing eyes and suspiciously black lips. A few more teenage eyes aimed furtive glances at us as they glided past. Seven minutes after we were offered a seat, Monday walked in, followed by Rev. Ogo another 12 minutes after.

“We have been looking for you,” Rev. Ogo exclaims in pidgin, accompanied by a tired laughter to announce her entrance into the waiting room. She holds out her right wrinkled hand to me in greetings; I accept it with my two hands. The wrinkles are no surprise; Rev. Ogo is quite elderly. She looked aged in the few clear pictures of her on the internet, published in 2007; she could not be less than 60 at the time. Right now, Rev. Ogo must be nearing 80, if she hasn’t already crossed it.

extract from crime diary of the nigerian police

Once settled in her seat, a plastic yellow chair stationed against a bare, wooden table, she hands me an envelope containing the adoption papers. The first of the documents is a police crime extract diary claiming that at about 13:10 hours on March 29, 2023, a certain Victoria Onoja Anita of Otupo Village in Benue State filed an affidavit with the police stating she lacked the capacity to nurture her then seven-week-old baby, as she was jobless. She reportedly handed the child to the Ministry of Women Affairs and Child Development, Awka, Anambra State, through the Arrows of God Orphanage.  

The second suggests that my wife and I sat with the Social Welfare Officer of Nnewi Local Government  before ‘His Worship’ L. S. E Uzuodu, the chief Magistrate of Nnewi Magisterial District court, and Okoro Joy Obiageli, the Assistant Chief Registrar 1, on Friday June 16, 2023. On the said date, I was not in the country, while my ‘wife’ was in Kano, faraway from Anambra!

‘GOD IS INVOLVED’ IN  THIS CRIME

“Nanny!” Rev. Ogo calls out while I peruse the documents. “Tell her to bring the baby.”

After examining the documents, I ask her if Victoria Onoja Anita would someday disturb us. 

“No, no,” she says, pointing to the documents. “They should refer to this. This is Anambra State court. That’s all; nothing else. God is involved, the police… see the next paper, the police are involved, I am involved, the ministry is involved in the second paper. Our names are there; I think you understand.” 

I nodded.

The nanny appears with the baby and hands it over to Rev. Ogo. Rev. Ogo pats her on the back, pets her and motions her towards us. 

Arrows of God orphanage mission statement

“Go and take your baby,” I tell my ‘wife’. She receives the baby from Rev. Ogo, and hands her over to me, giving me the first close-up view of the innocent girl. Oriade would prove to be the most peaceful baby I’ve held in my arms. For instance, during the over 10-hour road journey from Anambra to Lagos the following day, Oriade cried only once, for less than a minute, and it was hunger-induced. For the rest of the lengthy journey, she did not whimper, much less cry.

The handover starkly contrasted to Arrows of God’s declaration in its promotional pamphlet to “strictly adhere to adoption rules” or to “work hand in hand with the government to see that the children are given the best”. 

‘IN THE NAME OF JESUS’ AFTER SALE OF BABY TO UNKNOWN WORLD

In no time, Rev. Ogo announces she would hand over the child to us “physically and spiritually”.

“Father in the name of Jesus, we want to thank you for this family. We thank you for journey mercies and for bringing them here safely. We thank you for their lives; we thank you for their desire to have a child,” she begins.

“I hand over this child spiritually, physically. We thank you in the name of Jesus. Father, as we release this baby onto them, the baby will bring them joy in the name of Jesus. It [sic] will bring all your heart desires into your home in the name of Jesus. All that they need to raise this baby, father, release upon them in the name of Jesus. You will never lack any good thing in the name of Jesus. The baby will be a point of contact for other babies to enter into the home in the name of Jesus. I release joy, laughter, and all that they desire in the name of Jesus. 

“As they go back, we ask that you grant them journey mercies. Let the angel of the living God guard and direct them in the name of Jesus. They will never lack any good thing in the name of Jesus. Go before them in the name of Jesus. No weapon formed against them shall prosper in the name of Jesus. It will be well with you in the name of Jesus. Thank you, Father. We close this prayer with the blood of Jesus. In the name of the Father, in the name of the Son, in the name of the Holy Spirit. In Jesus’ mighty name we have prayed.”

Returning to Lagos by road was on Rev-Ogo’s insistence. “Enter motor, e no far,” she said when we told her we would be flying back to Lagos. “I don’t want this baby on a plane. We are not happy to see the baby on a plane… we are not happy; that is, the ministry.” 

An Air Peace staff who asked not to be named subsequently told us we would have been arrested if we tried to fly with the baby. “Those documents with you would have been scrutinised; and since you did not get the baby through the right channel, you would have been arrested.”

ADOPTING A CHILD FROM THE LAGOS GOVERNMENT

During the week of our second visit to Arrows of God Orphanage in Ajah in November 2022, my ‘wife’ and I had attempted to adopt a child from the government. When we visited the Lagos State secretariat at Alausa, we were directed to the Ministry of Youth and Social Development, where we were told to write an application letter and sign it off with our phone numbers. With the exception of a December 2022 text message acknowledging our application, we have not heard from the ministry. No word at all in the following eight months! 

SMS from Lagos State adoption office
A text message from the adoption office on December 29, 2022. This remains the only communication from them till date after our adoption application of November 2022

Meanwhile, that process that never kicked off is actually multi-layered. Our application to the ministry would be followed by mental, physical and medical assessments of my wife and me, then an application to the court, an investigation of the applicants on the court’s instructions, a recommendation by the welfare officer, then a court order and, finally, the documentation. So, while adoption is cheap (it costs an estimated N80,000 only in administrative fees), it is a gruelling and complicated process that can last several years. Yet infertility is a big problem in Nigeria, Chelsea Polis of the Guttmacher Institute, a think-tank, and her colleagues estimate that 31% of Nigerian couples fail to conceive a child after 12 months of unprotected sex — a rate at least as high as in the West.

Our experience at Alausa was far from isolated. One woman who applied for adoption told us she did not get a first phone call from the government until two years after her application.

“When we tried to apply. We applied to the government in 2016,” she says. “And it took like two years before we were called after submitting. Even after they called us, it was in March 2021 that we eventually got the letter to adopt. So it took us like four years.” 

The four years she referred to was not the end of the adoption cycle but the beginning, in fact; it was only a letter authorising her to liaise with orphanages to get the profile of child she wanted. From one orphanage to another, it was hard luck.

“We happened to get a letter that they [the orphanage] have instructions from above, that they [government] have a couple up there that they want to give it to, even when we offered to pay more,” she recalls of one orphanage. 

“In all the orphanages, the government knows the number of children and has their details; they are the government’s children, so the orphanages have no right or connection to say this is who they want to give it to.”

The complications with attempting adoption via the government route leave people like me and her with no option but to turn to the likes of Rev. Ogo.

“They [the government] made the people who want to go the right way… they made it somehow taxing and difficult and a lot of people are going through the other way and they are having it fast,” she adds.

BLANK CHEQUE TO BUY MORE BABIES

On Sunday July 15, 2023, when I returned to Arrows of God Orphanage in Ajah on a ‘thank you’ visit, Oluchi Onyia told me I could even come back for more. After asking if I had been communicating with Rev. Ogo and my answer was negative, she objected.

“Call her, call her. She is your mum. She is your mother,” Onyia said. “I know you  have your biological mother but she is part of your mother now [sic]. Please go close to her. You know why? Tomorrow, you will come back.”

“I may even know somebody else that wants a baby,” I replied.

“You see! So you have made a way for that person. Do you understand?”

THERE IS REAL DANGER, SAYS OJENIKE

Abimbola Ojenike, a child advocate
Ojenike: There is real danger if the court can approve an adoption without setting eyes on the parties involved

“The possibility of securing a court order for the adoption of a child without appearing before any court is worrying,” says Abimbola Ojenike, a child advocate and Partner at Slingstone LP. 

“Applications for court orders for adoption or care and supervision of a child are considered cautiously based on relevant child protection principles, laws and regulations. Ultimately, the fundamental goal is to preserve the best interest of the child.

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“A court’s evaluation should raise questions such as who is the person applying for adoption? Does the person have the legal and economic capacity to adopt and care for a child? Is the person a suitable person to be assigned with parenting responsibilities in the best interest of the child? What social investigations have been conducted about the person and what facts are known to government social workers and the social worker of the organisation that currently has the ostensible custody of the child?” 

Ojenike questioned the court processes presented before the court in support of the application for adoption, saying: “Who signed the affidavit on behalf of the actual person applying for custody? What facts did they place before the court to persuade a court to give a child to a person whose actual identity is not known and who did not appear before a Commissioner for Oaths or the court that granted the adoption order?”

“It’s a real danger that a transaction for the sale and purchase of a whole Nigerian child was concluded in 2023 with a veneer of judicial authority. We have to go beyond just saying that children are important to actually putting in place processes and systems that effectively safeguard and advance their rights. If we address the red tape and racketeering that frustrate people with legitimate intentions who want to adopt children, we can effectively shut down the market for babies which many good-spirited people have patronised without knowing.”

THIS SHOULDN’T BE ARROWS OF GOD

Arrows of God orphanage

Of the numerous orphanages in Nigeria, Arrows of God should scarcely be the ones selling babies at inflated sums and with blithe disregard for due process. One of Nigeria’s oldest orphanages, Arrows of God is the product of a vision given to Rev. Ogo in Kaduna on October 18, 1990 to “go feed babies with the milk of human kindness”. 

Arrows of God orphanage

Since its eventual establishment in January 1998, it has grown in leaps and bounds, and has received donations from home and abroad. After her performance in Lagos in 2006, American pop star Beyonce visited Arrows of God and gave them so much money they moved into an entirely new facility afterwards. Perhaps due to its strategic location on the island, and its presence in multiple states, including at least four outlets in Lagos alone, Arrows of God is a favourite of Nigerian donors.

Founder, Arrows of God orphanage
Arrows of God orphanage
Arrows of God orphanage

Among the celebrities to have donated or influenced donations to the orphanage are movie stars Tonto Dike, Bolanle Ninalowo, Omowunmi Dada and Chika Ike. On the 10th anniversary of her husband’s death, Victoria Ezeokoli-Taylor, a former Director of the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA), raised funds for the orphanage.

THERE ARE STILL HONEST ORPHANAGES

To check the preponderance of cash-for-baby transactions among orphanages, my ‘wife’ and I opted to repeat the Arrows of God process with other orphanages. 

The first we phoned is the House of Mercy Children’s Home at 44 Prince Abiodun Adebambo Street, Egbeda, Lagos. The woman who answered the call told us no orphanage had powers of its own to give a child out to anyone. She politely directed us to the ministry. 

Next, we visited Little Saints Orphanage located at 6B, Da’alberto Road, Palmgrove Estate in Onipanu, Lagos. The feedback was the same: only the government could tell an orphanage home to hand their babies to anyone. 

Finally, we visited Heritage Homes Orphanage at 45 Faramobi Ajike Street, Anthony, Lagos, where their professionalism was evident right from the entrance. We knew before we were told, even though we eventually were, that nobody in that place was going to pass a baby to us through the back door.

MOVING ON

Since releasing Oriade to us on July 6, nobody at Arrows of God has had contact with her. Other than a missed call from the official Arrows of God line on July 11, nobody from the orphanage has made any effort to reach me or Oriade. Nobody at Arrows of God can say for certain if she is dead or alive, or if I have resold her or processed her organs for ritual purposes. And they will never be able to reach me via secondary sources since they do not possess the phone number or address of anyone else with links to me. 

We have also made moves to hand her over to the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP) and the Police. As of press time, neither of them has taken the baby off us. So, Oriade, a six-month-old with no knowledge of the strange goings-on, continues life without permanent parentage. The rest of us remain in a limbo, not knowing what the future holds.

Independent, public-interest journalism has never been more vital than in times like this when truth is constantly being suppressed. With your support, it will be easier for us to continue speaking truth to power and preserving your right to know

This report was produced with support from the Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism (WSCIJ) under the Collaborative Media Engagement for Development Inclusivity and Accountability project (CMEDIA) funded by the MacArthur Foundation

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Published 10th Aug, 2023

By 'Fisayo Soyombo

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