When Mr. and Mrs. Chukwudi Mbaoma moved to their new apartment in Umuaku town Uli, Anambra State, after their successful marriage and birth of a baby boy, they had no premonition that danger was lurking in their compound.
April 15, 2016 was the day that marked the beginning of sorrow and anguish for the family.
It was the day their first child, fivemonth-old Chimsimdi Mbaoma was abducted by a woman identified as Sarah Zainab Umeh. She acted alongside her husband, Obinna Mohammed Umeh.
Sarah, 29 (although she was 24 at the time of the incident), had intentionally established a cordial relationship with the unsuspecting family by constantly visiting and cuddling the newborn baby, an act believed to be an attempt to make the baby get used to her.
Sarah and Obinna were neighbours to the Mbaomas, and both families lived in Jehova Jireh House, Umuaku village, Uli/Ihiala Local Government area of Anambra State at the time of the incident.
Chinelo, mother of the stolen baby, had gone to work that fateful day. Her husband was alone with the baby when Sarah found her way in as usual, ostensibly to help cuddle the baby.
Chukwudi allowed her take the baby to her apartment. A few hours later, he went out to enquire how his baby boy was fairing. But to his utter amazement, Sarah and her husband had hurriedly packed out of the compound. They had disappeared with the baby.
The distraught parents of the missing child rushed to Central Police Station, Uli, to make a report. The Police, however, asked them to wait until after 24 hours to be certain that the suspect had truly absconded with the baby.
Dissatisfied with the Police’s manner of handling the matter after the expiration of the 24 hours, the Mbaomas reported the matter to the Department of Security Service (DSS) Awka division.
Armed with information provided by the Mbaomas, DSS officials successfully arrested Ndidi, the divorced first wife of Sarah’s husband, from her house in Aba where she stayed with her four children.
Information obtained from Ndidi led to the arrest of Sarah and Obinna in Badagary, the boundary of Cotonou, Benin Republic and Nigeria. Obinna had gone to withdraw a sum of money DSS officials intentionally deposited to his account as bait when he was arrested.
SOLD FOR N200,000, RE-SOLD FOR N800,000
At the DSS office in Awka, the couple confessed to stealing and selling the baby to Chim’s Motherless Babies’ Home in Aba, Abia State. The DSS raided the motherless babies’ home at 132 Uratta Road, Aba, and successfully arrested some members of staff. Some of the people arrested confirmed that the suspects sold a baby boy to them and that the baby was again sold to Leticia Gambo Mofus, a Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) officer, at N800,000. Leticia, however, returned the baby, a week later, claiming she saw its photograph on Facebook as a stolen baby.
The suspects initially gave the immigration officer’s name as ‘Chinwedu Petty’, possibly to confuse the investigators, but her real was later established.
Police investigation had revealed that Leticia visited the motherless babies home on Sunday, April 18, 2016, in an official vehicle marked ‘NIS 001’ and accompanied by Sunday Babahaja, her husband’s aide and immigration officer serving at Rivers State command.
Leticia, wife of the Comptroller of Immigration in Rivers State at the time, was said to have demanded the refund of her money, having returned the baby. Elijah Nwokolo, father of one of the suspects, paid into the account number provided by Leticia after she allegedly abducted two workers of the motherless babies home, as a way of forcing a refund of her money.
It was learnt that Leticia quickly travelled to London on hearing that the suspects had been arrested. Her husband, identified as Compt. Ishiaka Abdulmumini Haliru, was, however, invited for questioning although the police did not detain him for reasons yet unknown.
When interrogated by DSS officials, Ishiaka denied knowledge of the deal, maintaining that his wife did not “by omission or commission discuss the issue” with him. He, however, promised to invite her back to Nigeria when he was through with his programme by December of that year so she could clear her name and state what she knew about the allegation. It was May 2017. Ishiaka had not fulfilled his promise as of the time of filing this report in February 2021, as his wife was yet to present herself for questioning
When contacted by this reporter, Ishiaka claimed the said Leticia was no longer his wife. “Well, you see, a wife that’s no longer your wife, what do you call her?” He asked.
When reminded of a police statement stating that the suspect was his wife, he said: “No, She is not my wife.”
Efforts to reach Leticia proved abortive, as calls made to her line did not connect. Text messages sent to her mobile number had also not been replied as at the time of filing this report.
The six suspects arrested in connection to the case are Obinna Mohammed Umeh, 55; Sarah Zainab Umeh, 29; Ugochukwu Steve Nwokolo, 41; Emmanuel Chigozie Nwokolo, 48; a worker at the motherless babies home who sold the baby to Leticia, Elijah Chukwudi Nwokolo, 74; proprietor of the motherless babies home; and Esther Ekwutosi Iwuoha, 37, a cleaner at the Chim’s Motherless Babies Home who received the baby on arrival to the Motherless Babies Home.
DSS HANDS OVER TO ANAMBRA POLICE
With the case taking a new twist, Barrister Frank Moulokwu, legal representative of Chim’s Motherless Babies’ Home, asked DSS officials to transfer the case to the Police as it had gone out of its jurisdiction.
The DSS transferred the case and the suspects to the Police on July 11, 2016. A few days later, the troubled couple got an invitation from Anambra State Criminal Investigation Department (CID), Awka. A team of detectives from the department, under the supervision of SP Mabel, visited the scenes of crime in Uli and the motherless babies home in Uratta.
In her confessional statements, Sarah admitted to the Police that she stole and sold the baby to Chim’s Motherless Babies Home alongside her husband, Obinna.
Sarah, a native of Ozokwor village in Isiukwuator Local Government Area of Abia State, explained that she was travelling to Aba when she met Aloama, a taxi driver who lured her into the business of trafficking with a promise of N3million for a baby boy.
She said she was disappointed when she took her neighbour’s son to the motherless babies home alongside her husband and was given only N200,000.
Sarah, who claimed to have worked as a prostitute before meeting her husband, said although they had been experiencing financial difficulties, their problems doubled after the trafficking business and, consequently, she used the proceed to pay for house rent in Cotonou, Benin Republic, on her husband’s advice.
She confessed: “One of my neighbours kept her baby boy called Chimsimdi of about five months old. I took the Child to Alaoma, the taxi driver at Aba. And I told my husband where I was going with the child. Later, my husband met me there because I directed him on how to locate us.
“And the child was given to Esther who was also arrested. Then, we went to Century Hotel and lodged there for two days to enable us collect the money. Instead of the N3 million, we were given #200,000. This money was paid to my husband in my presence.
“The mother of the child was calling and disturbing us. My husband decided that we should relocate to Cotonou, where we lived. Things were difficult for us after the business. We used the money to pay for house rent there in Cotonou. My husband was arrested before me.
“I know we have committed the offence of child trafficking, with others involved. I didn’t know about child trafficking before untill I met the taxi driver who pushed me into this child trafficking business. I am begging for forgiveness and that I will not try it again.”
AND THE BABY DIED
In his own confession, Obinna corroborated his wife’s statement, but insisted that the plan to abduct baby Chimsimdi was initiated and masterminded by Sarah.
Obinna said he engaged in a quarrel with his wife when she told him of the plan to steal and sell their neigbour’s son.
One other suspect, Emmanuel Nwokolo, who said he sold kitchen equipment in Aba, also admitted to committing the crime, although he claimed that Sarah told him she was the baby’s mother and that she wanted to sell it because she couldn’t shoulder its care.
Emmanuel told the police that the baby fell sick soon after it was returned by Leticia and later died after treatment by the Chief Medical Director of Kelechi Hospital located in Uratta, Aba, Abia state.
When the Police interrogated Dr. Ndubuisi Okpokiri, the medical doctor who treated the baby, he confirmed that a six-month-old was brought to his hospital on May 17, 2016, but explained that the baby was placed on infusions and medications after which the baby was taken away. He added that the baby was only at his hospital twice and that the hospital did not issue any medical report as the patient was not admitted.
The third and fourth suspects, Ugochukwu and Emmanuel, indigenes of Ebenezer-Amadum village in Nnobi, Anambra state, had claimed that the baby died at the hospital while receiving medical treatment.
The doctor said the baby experienced body weakness, watery tooling, fever and dehydration. Curiously, Dr. Okpokiri told the Police that Emmanuel had given the name of the child as Daniel Nwokolo apparently in an attempt to beguile the hospital management into believing that the child was his.
FOUL PLAY BY ANAMBRA POLICE
Shockingly, despite these revelations and confessional statements by the suspects, the police detectives, on the orders of the DC of the state CID, Awka, without informing the complainants, arraigned the suspects in Ihiala Magistrate Court on July 21, 2016. The suspects obtained court bail.
This was even as the police investigations revealed that Emmanuel “is a perpetual child trafficker who was once involved in a similar matter in the year 2014 and was still under the umbrella of the Chim’s Motherless Babies Home”.
The complainants suspected foul play and consequently petitioned Force Criminal Investigation Department (CID), Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory, which is the highest investigating arm of the Nigeria Police Force.
The petition, which was addressed to the Deputy Inspector General of Police of the FCID, Area 10, Abuja and dated 12/07/2016, was subsequently approved and referred to Anti-Human Trafficking Unit of the Force CID, Abuja for investigation.
SUSPECTS REARRESTED, BABY’S CORPSE EXHUMED
Based on the directives of the Force CID, Abuja, the Awka office rearrested the suspects and handed them over to the Anti-Human Trafficking Unit of the Force CID, Abuja, for further investigations and prosecution.
The CID, after investigations, ordered the suspects to lead the police to the place they claimed the baby was buried, for exhumation. The CID had suggested the exhumation to allow for a post-mortem examination and DNA test on the corpse in order to ascertain whether or not the buried corpse was that of the missing baby.
Although the Force CID Abuja, in its report, had claimed the DNA test was footed by Inspector General of Police, Chimsid’s father told this reporter that he and his family funded the exhumation and DNA test after he was told that the Police had no money. According to him, exhumation and DNA test cost N1,200,000.
In December 2016, the police, alongside Chukwudi’s family, proceeded to Chim’s Motherless Babies Home, where the baby was said to have been buried. After the exhumation, the Police initially insisted that Chukwudi’s doctor would not take the sample of the corpse’s bone for testing. However, the Police and Chukwudi’s doctors eventually took samples of the corpse’s bone for testing after much argument.
According to the police investigation report prepared by Force CID, Abuja, and obtained by this reporter, the post mortem examination and DNA test conducted by the two doctors were unsuccessful, as the comparison and matching could not be done.
Dr. Emeka Agbasi, one of the doctors, said that the result of the DNA analysis showed that the sequence of genes from the samples of bone was not complete, as there were missing strands of the gene, which frustrated medical efforts to determine whether or not the exhumed body was Chimsimdi’s.
Consequently, the Anti-Trafficking Unit of Force CID took the matter to Anambra High Court sitting in Ihiala where the suspects were arraigned on four counts charge of criminal conspiracy, child stealing, selling and buying of a baby and murder.
Before court, the state CID had exonerated and released two suspects of the six arrested suspects, Ugochukwu Nwokolo and Esther Ekwutosi. The Police said their investigations revealed that the duo were victims of circumstance because they were not in the picture of the whole deal.
Earlier, while speaking with this reporter, Chukwudi had expressed disappointment over the failed promise of the police at Force CID, Abuja, to collaborate with INTERPOL in ensuring that Leticia was extradited to Nigeria from London to face charges.
Mohammed Azare Sarkin, the Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP) who was the head of Anti-Human Trafficking unit at Force CID, Abuja, was said to have assured the troubled family that he would do everything humanly possible to ensure they got justice.
When this reporter contacted the ACP for comments, he claimed not to remember ‘anything’ that happened at the time, maintaining that the detail of the case was in the police file and that he could not access it as he had been transferred to Gombe State.
“Sorry, Go make enquires there,” he said. “I can’t remember anything that happened that time. I cannot, because the issue is: I am a Police man to investigate a case. Everything that a police man does is in the file in that place and if you leave the place to another formation, you carry on your job to another place.”
When this reporter reminded him of his promise to collaborate with INTERPOL to ensure that Leticia was extradited to Nigeria from London to face charges, Mohammed maintained that he could not remember.
However, in 2017, at the resumed hearing in court, Sarah, the female prime suspect, again pleaded guilty to three count charges of conspiracy, stealing and child trafficking.
Justice Okey Raphael Onunkwo of the high court consequently sentenced her to 10 years in prison. She is currently serving her sentence at Onitsha Prison, Anambra.
Surprisingly, the other three suspects, including Obinna, the male prime suspect and husband of the convict, pleaded ‘not guilty’.
This was in spite of the confessional statements by the suspects to both the DSS and the police in the course of their investigations wherein they admitted to committing the crime.
Frequent Court Adjournments Frustrate Case as Victim’s Father Seeks Assistance
Although the three other suspects are currently being held in different police facilities, the case has witnessed slow pace with series of adjournments almost pushing it to oblivion.
Chukwudi, father of the abducted child, told this reporter that the case had drained his pocket and rendered him jobless, as his business collapsed while he pursued a case that has lingered for about five years.
“Since that time, this case has taken a lot of money from us,” he lamented. “Even as I am talking to you now, I don’t have anything doing.”
Asked to estimate how much his family had spent on the case, he said, almost shedding tears, “almost N6 million”.
Chukwudi also appealed to well-meaning Nigerians, human rights organisations and the Federal Government to come to the aid of his family so they can find his son, whom he believes is still alive. He said he would not gain anything by sentencing all the suspects to death or jail without seeing his son.
“I am pleading with the general public, NGOs, the Senate, President Muhammadu Buhari and people of goodwill and conscience to help me anyhow you can, so that I can get justice and find my son,” he said.
“I know that my child is very much alive — because I have been to many places like churches and confirmed that my child is still alive. I don’t think I will be happy or benefit anything from jailing the suspects for life or sentencing them to death without seeing my child. The only thing I need is my child. If I see my child, then I will be happy.”
This reporter sought to speak with Chinelo, mother of the abducted child, but was told that she had been a shadow of her former self since the incident as any mention of it made her shed tears uncontrollably.
FIVE YEARS AFTER, BABY CHISIMDI NOT YET FOUND
Although the suspects claimed that Chimsimdi had died and had since been buried, the claim is yet to be proven as the unsuccessful DNA test analysis could not confirm that the exhumed corpse was his.
As of the time of this report, five years after the abduction, there was no reliable evidence that Chimsimdi is either dead or alive.
On Monday, February 1, 2021, the absence of Justice Okey Onunkwo of the Anambra High Court, Ihiala, again stalled continuation of the suspects’ trial. No official reason was given for his absence; the court registrar simply said the judge was “not around”.
Barrister Charity Madukife, the prosecuting counsel, declined to comment on the matter when this reporter sought to speak with her on the details of court proceedings so far. Series of text messages sent to her were also not replied.
In March 16, 2021, the family of Chim’s Motherless Babies’ owner approached the Mbaomas for an out-of-court settlement. Talks were still on as of the time of filing this report.
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