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Controversy over alleged child trafficking by Kaduna pastor

Incidentally, it was a reminiscence of the past when the prevailing peace in Gwantu was shattered in 2001, not long after the 2001 Jos crisis…

Incidentally, it was a reminiscence of the past when the prevailing peace in Gwantu was shattered in 2001, not long after the 2001 Jos crisis erupted claiming several souls. On November 2, 2001, Gwantu, a town less than an hour’s drive from Jos, had its first bout of crisis that left many dead and property wantonly destroyed.

But the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Kaduna State chapter, through its Secretary, Reverend John Joseph Hayab said that the pastor was not involved in child trafficking and the children involved were all Christians.

Sunday Trust investigation revealed that the scandal in Gbonkok, a village of about 15 kilometres away from Gwantu, which is also the headquarters of Arak district in Sanga Local Government, started when a woman allegedly met the acting district head of Arak, requesting him to facilitate her purchase of a child from an evangelist called Reverend Anthony Magaji, residing at Anguwan Tokwa, Wasa district, about 40 kilometres away from Gwantu.

Sunday Trust was in Gbonkok last Thursday, where the man that uncovered the scandal, who is also the acting district head, Malam Ibrahim Dogo explained to this reporter in his office, how he came about the alleged child trafficking scandal . “I was sitting in my office when a woman came in and told me that a pastor from Wasa had brought six children to Gbonkok and I should please help her buy one,” the district head stated.

“I immediately sent for the suspected pastor. When he came, I told him to sit where you are sitting now. I told him that I was told that he allegedly brought six children to Gbonkok but he didn’t come to inform me about them so that I can forward the matter to the Chief of Numana. He told me that that was not the first time he was bringing children to the village; he had so far brought over 50 and his boss had distributed over 100 already. And he was never confronted by anybody since he started until now.

“He told me that his boss was bringing another set of girls the following day (Thursday 28) and he would bring him to me. They didn’t come on the following Thursday as they promised. They only came on Saturday in my absence,” Dogo said. He explained that the pastor distributed the children in several villages in Agwon, Wasa and Arak districts.  “So far, three children were recovered in Agwon, two in Gbonkok and five in Wasa, where the pastor lives,” the district head said.

The CAN scribe told Sunday Trust that the children are from indigent Christian homes that were brought to pastors and fairly well off Christian families in order to cater for their education saying that it was not true that “some of our pastors are engaging in child or human trafficking and selling children N4000.” He said that the N4000 in question was the refund of the pastors’ transport fare that he took and went to the villages to bring the children to the foster homes.”

The district head’s story was corroborated by the Chief of Numana, Mr Gambo Makama during an interview with Sunday Trust in his palace in Gwantu, last Wednesday.  He said that when he got the report, he notified the CAN chairman in Sanga local government and “on Monday (February 1), I directed my private secretary to invite the district head of Wasa district, to come along with the CAN chairman of Wasa district and the embattled pastor and those who allegedly bought the children. This is because the pastor is in Wasa but the man that brought the news is from Arak,” Makama said.

The traditional ruler said that the suspected pastor refused to come along with the district head and CAN representative in Wasa because “he didn’t take permission from his leaders in Gidan Waya. He is under ECWA DCC Gidan Waya.” That was when, the chief said, he invited security agencies into the matter.

Mr Makama said that police had “detained those who allegedly bought the children. Operation Yaki went to the village to bring the suspected pastor but they couldn’t find him. He ran to Gidan Waya to their boss. They (ECWA DCC) brought him today (January 3). People (ECWA DCC) that told me earlier that they didn’t know anything, today when they came, the DPO called and said these people came with the Reverend and they said it was an EMS programme (a special programme for the indigent).”

He added “when the Reverend and the ECWA DCC chairman came here, I invited the Sanga CAN chairman to be here also, together with all the security men, district heads and my council. The ECWA DCC chairman apologised to me on behalf of the Reverend for not heeding to my invitation. He went ahead to tell me that it was an old EMS programme. They said the Reverend explained to them that it was an EMS programme he was doing.”       

He said that instead of reprimanding the suspected erring pastor, his bosses only tried to shield him. “We can’t use religion to cover ourselves and perform evil things that will tarnish the image of this country. The suspect is now using his name as Reverend (to perform that evil act). And his bosses instead of telling him that he was wrong are now using EMS to cover him.”

The royal father said that security agencies “brought the people that allegedly bought the children and they confirmed to us that it was true that they bought the children from him. One of them told us that he went to him with his wife because the pastor is also a native doctor. He then allegedly told him that he was selling children. The case was actually confirmed. I then told the DPO, ok this is the case. It is very sensitive and it involves human trafficking. I told the Immigration officer to liaise with his state office and National Agency for the Prohibition of Traffic in Persons and Other Related Offences (NAPTIP).”    

The Police Public Relations Officer of the Kaduna State Police Command, DSP Aminu Lawal told Sunday Trust that “we have done our findings and investigations; these children are not Muslims and not even from Jos but from Bassa in Kogi State. We were able to understand that they are all Christians and the Church there had an arrangement of coming to the aid of poor parents and orphans to be responsible for their education and up keeps.

“The pastors and other people involved were with us. We had seen the children and we are certain of what we are saying. It is absolutely contrary to what was aired in the media. Kaduna is calm and peaceful,” the police said.

The Chief of Numana asked these rhetorical questions: “If that was a Christian programme, wouldn’t they contact the traditional ruler and say we are bringing so and so things and this is what our religion has said about it. Therefore, don’t be surprised to see so and so things. This is an illegal act. Does he (pastor) have any right to bring into this land people without even consulting the ward head of that village?”

“Did the (pastor) tell you (ECWA DCC) this is the programme he wanted to do? They said no. Then, why are you bringing the issue of EMS?  And even you, the headquarters (ECWA DCC) that brought him here, he didn’t inform you; we the traditional rulers, he didn’t inform us. Can you tell me that this is a programme run by the missionaries? They couldn’t give me that answer. I said ok, if he had every right to carry these children from one village to another, for me to call him to come here he said he hadn’t taken permission from you; does it means that he had taken permission from you that is why he is {allegedly}trading with children? And that was the answer the ECWA DCC chairman couldn’t give me. I said, are you running a programme like this somewhere else? There was also no answer to that question,” the chief said.

The royal father urged “the government to be vigilant because this is a very sensitive case in Sanga: alleged selling of over 50 children. Are they not having churches over there to accommodate them? Why are they bringing them to Kaduna State? They haven’t even sent them to school.”

When Sunday Trust visited the divisional police headquarters in Gwantu around 3 pm last Wednesday, it saw an Immigration officer, some elders from Arak and Wasa as well as a senior official of ECWA DCC who drove to the station in an official Peugeot station wagon car belonging to the organisation. Attempt to speak to the Divisional Police Officer (DPO) was not successful as he was said to be not on seat.

This reporter also saw four of the arrested suspected buyers of the children as well as the 10 children rescued. Sunday Trust’s insistence to take the photograph of the children who were being fed with local meal (fura da nono) by a Fulani woman in the station was met with serious resistance from a police officer. But another senior police officer told this reporter in confidence that, “the children were brought to the police for safe keeping and onward transfer to Kaduna by anti- human trafficking department of Immigration in Sanga Local Government.”

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