Story by Timothy Ojo
(Photos by Biodun Adeyewa)
The Association of Operators of Orphanages and Homes in Nigeria, ASOHON, Tuesday, raised the red flag about a new but extremely dangerous dimension that kidnapping and abductions of innocent citizens for ransom has taken in the country.
At a press conference in Lagos, the association raised an alarm about the rising incidents of kidnappers and sundry criminals now raiding orphanages and homes to abduct hapless orphans and vulnerable staff for ransom.
The alarm by ASOHON came in the wake of the recent abduction of hundreds of students in two secondary schools, first at Kankara in Katsina State, and Kagara in Niger State. Although the abducted students have been freed after negotiations and payment of ransom to the bandits who held them captive in horrifying conditions, the problem has spread to orphanages and homes. Since 2019, at least three orphanages had been raided by career criminals and the whereabouts of some of the victims remain unknown.
“This is a new cancer,” says Rev. Gabriel Oyediji, the National President of the Association of Operators of Orphanages and Homes in Nigeria. “(It is) a horrible phenomenon threatening the future of Nigerian orphans. If orphanages are now being targeted and, therefore, made unsafe, then where else is safe? This is a new cancer traumatizing children. It needs an urgent cure before it begins to spread like wild fire.”
To illustrate the depth of the spread of the ‘new cancer’, Dr. Oyediji, a pastor, and founder of the Compassionate Orphanage and Home, Lagos, cited the unfortunate case of Jehovah Jireh Orphanage, Orlu, Imo State, where two babies were stolen in 2019, as well as another orphanage in Ibadan, the Oyo State capital that was raid towards the end of 2020.
In the Ibadan incident, Oyediji further revealed, the robbers went on rampage when they couldn’t get the age grade of the children they wanted. They reportedly destroyed properties of the affected home and damaged many things even as they attacked the staff members in that moment of madness.
Still, that’s not all. Oyediji named another orphanage, the Rachael Home and Orphanage, Abuja, that was raided at gunpoint and at midnight, with seven children kidnapped.
All these unfortunate incidents, he continued, had impacted negatively on the psyche and general disposition of children in most orphanages across the country.
“The menace of kidnappers (in orphanages and homes) is a pointer to the new trend in crime and criminality threatening the survival of children in Nigeria,” Oyediji said. “The disturbing situation is sending fearful signals to homes across the country as they are porous and vulnerable to attack.”
Oyediji was close to tears as he recalled the tragic developments, disclosing that: “In some of these cases, it was so easy for the robbers and kidnappers to raid the referenced facilities because most orphanages lack the adequate funding to provide well-fortified structures for the safety of the children, and prevent crime.”
Lack of funding, the ASOHON national president fingered, makes operators of orphanages and homes to scrounge for survival and, most times, go cap in hand to pay salaries, pay school fees, provide foodstuffs, provide healthcare, maintain their facilities, among others.
These needed not be their lot, Oyediji lamented, had the federal government, state governments, corporate and religious organisations, even the general public, given this all important social-service sector the attention it needed.
Yet, kidnapping and abductions are not the only problems operators of orphanages and homes battle in their day-to-day operations. The other “multi-dimensional problems,” he said, included: health insecurity which, he emphasized, should attract guaranteeing maximum protection from diseases and infections for the children.
“Major causes of death in many homes are typhoid fever, malaria and chest infection. Sincerely, the threat of health security is usually one of the biggest challenges we face. Many homes can’t afford the cost of standard treatment required to save the life of the sick child.”
Other problems highlighted by Dr. Oyediji included: food insecurity, education insecurity, emotional insecurity and, of course, the COVID-19 pandemic which has brought the world to its knees.
Aside from these problems, the ASOHON president specifically decried poor funding and support from the various governments in the country, stressing that operators of orphanages and homes rely majorly on public-spirited individuals and charitable organisations for support. He cited a UNICEF report which estimated that 17.5 million orphans live in Nigeria, and 95 percent live in privately-run homes but with little or no official support from government, a pointer to government’s lethargic disposition in terms of funding.
Still, Oyediji wasn’t done. He also spotlighted the crisis engendered by the scarcity of adoptable children that has further fueled the violence and crime being visited on orphanages and homes across the country. According to him, it was easier for the proverbial camel to pass through the eye of the needle than for childless couples adopt children of their preference in Nigerian orphanages.
“Many people wishing to adopt children from homes and orphanages in Nigeria get easily frustrated by the legal hurdles and the cumbersome process,” Oyediji said.
Childless couples) have to scale high hurdles before achieving their dream of getting adoptable children. “This,” added Oyediji “has stoked serious crisis of adoptable children and prompted incidents of child-theft in orphanages.”
However, it was not all lamentations at the press parley called by ASOHON. The organization also proffered solutions to the highlighted challenges.
According to Oyediji, the ways out of the dire situation currently facing orphanages and homes in Nigeria should include, but not limited to: the provision of robust funding and modern security equipment and security agencies for the facilities; empowering the supervising ministries and authorities so they could provide much needed reliefs in the areas of funding, engagement of professional security outfits, and maintenance of facilities in Orphanages and Homes.
Others, according to the ASOHON boss, include: empowering homes with facilities like CCTV, ensuring good power supply, implementing effective capacity building, introducing free health insurance and facilitating enrolment with the NHIS, to mention just a few.
Begging God to forgive the nation on “the tragic paradox in Nigeria where countless families are desperately looking for adoptable children; yet many babies are being aborted every day in the various abortion clinics all over the place,” Oyediji advocated “the creation of ‘unwanted babies’ centres in the 774 local government areas in Nigeria for positive direction and counselling. We believe adoption is better than abortion.”
He also proffered a solution to the daunting task childless couples face while seeking adoptable children.
“Many childless couples find the adoption process and procedures in Nigeria too cumbersome and frustrating,” he said. “The process of clearing children for adoption by the states’ supervising ministries, family courts, juvenile centres and other investigative organs should be purged of all unnecessary bureaucratic bottlenecks. The process of adoption should be simplified.
“Government must act urgently on these with a view to accelerating the adoption process, removing unnecessary hurdles and delays in releasing children to adoptable families. This will reduce, if not totally eliminate, incidents of child theft and kidnapping in orphanages.
“Adoption laws and processes should be decentralized to allow applicants the opportunity of adopting children in any part of the country using a single approval.”