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Recurring child theft generates unrest in Niger community

Cases of child theft in Suleja and some neighbouring communities, in Niger State, have continued to generate worry among residents of the..

Cases of child theft in Suleja and some neighbouring communities, in Niger State, have continued to generate worry among residents of the affected areas. Daily Trust gathered that no fewer than 20 children, mostly between the ages of one and five, have so far been stolen from there since 2018, when the menace started. 

The two areas notorious for this act are Hayin-Nasarawa, Iku, under Tafa Council Area and Unguwar Chechenia under Suleja Council Area.

The two areas popularly known as Kaduna Road Suleja, are along the Abuja-Kaduna Highway, and mostly inhabited by people who work or do business in Abuja. 

The latest case is that of a three year and two months old boy, Abdulmalik Ahmad, who was taken from his home located close to Kwara Primary School Hayin-Nassarawa in Iku district. His mother, Nafisa Muhammad, while narrating the incident, said little Ahmad had attended school within the neighbourhood earlier in the day, and later left home to play alongside his two siblings.

“According to the children, they noticed that somebody was trailing them and they decided to run away. Abdulmalik, who is the youngest, fell down in the process and the man picked him up. They said he went towards Gauraka axis with Abdulmalik,” Nafisa explained in an emotion laden voice. 

Behind her was her neighbour, Zainab Umar, another mother whose daughter, Nana Aisha, a two years and 7 months old, was stolen on August 28, this year.

Zainab said the incident happened when she was attending an Islamiyya school within the neighbourhood. “I left her with her older siblings, whom I had ordered to take my mobile phone for recharge inside a compound behind ours. They left together, but Nana decided to stop along the way as she insisted that the older sibling should put her on her back, to which the sibling refused. She left her there, and a woman, as I was informed later, picked her up and disappeared with her.”

Unguwar Matasa Hayin Nassarawa is one of the areas worst affected by the crime. Daily Trust Saturday learnt that the area derived its name “Matasa” for being host to many young home owners who are predominantly drivers, mechanics or artisans whose profession hardly allows them stay at home during the day. Their absence during the day, according to a resident Abubakar Ibrahim, paves way for the child-abductors to perpetrate their crime against the innocent children, unnoticed.

Among the missing children is 12-year-old Muhammad Taha. His mother Ruqayya Alhassan said he was abducted while away from their home within the community, about four months back. 

One of her neighbours, Nura Abdussalam, an auto mechanic by profession, also had his 3-year-old son Almustafa Nura stolen last September. “Around 7pm on the fateful day, I met him with one of his older siblings in front of my house on my way back from the mosque. Few minutes later, his brother was called by another boy from the compound to assist him put on a generator. He left the boy in front of our home and went in. Within three minutes of putting on the generator and coming back, the child was nowhere to be found. I went to a nearby police outpost, but the only response I got from them was that they were tired of such cases, and advised that I should go home and keep praying for his safe return.”     

Nura said there is constant announcement in the mosques within the community about children who got missing, “But what I could not say is whether some of them are found at the end of the day or not.” 

Isma’il Zubairu resides in the community. He said about six children have gotten missing at separate occasions in recent times. He, however, recounted how luck ran out on one of the perpetrators of the heinous crime. “It was a woman in complete hijab and even niqab even though she appeared not to be a Muslim. She was able to lure two siblings who were going for evening lesson, and attempted to head towards the main road, when another boy who joined them later on, raised an alarm that they are moving away from the direction of their school. She somewhat became confused before she was apprehended and handed over to the security,” Zubairu added. 

Unguwar Matasa, located on the edge of the community, has a forest in the midst of houses, which was cleared recently as one of the strategies to curb the activities of criminals around there. 

In Unguwar Checheniya, cases of child theft have become a source of concern among parents. Muhammad Mai-Shanu’s 4-year-old son Zakariyya Muhammad is missing alongside his neighbour’s son, Usman Shagari, also four years old. It’s been one month since the two boys went missing. 

“It happened around 7pm when the two children left home to a house where they used to have evening lessons. His elder brother was the first to raise the alarm, when his brother did not join him in the school after some time. At first, they thought he might be at his friend’s house. 

“It was the same thinking at the neighbours’ home too, as they assumed their son might be with us. But on getting in touch with one another, it was discovered that both children were missing. It’s exactly three weeks since the incident happened,” Mai-Sahanu added. 

The visibly worried father, who runs a business in Lafia, said the incident happened a day after he left home for his business area.

“So, I had to rush back home the following morning. We took the matter to our ward and district heads respectively, and the Suleja “A” police division. We also engaged in prayers and all rites permitted in Islam, visited Kano among others places, all in an effort to get them back, but to no avail.”

The father of six said his latest effort was to join other parents (about 11 in number) whose children are also missing, to an Abuja radio talk show to lodge a complaint to the government and general public.

5 kids missing in Madalla too

Madalla town, under same Suleja Area Council, is also becoming notorious for child theft. Records available to Daily Trust indicate that first to be missing recently were two male siblings Muhammad (5) and Musa (3) children of Malam Yusuf Yahaya, a resident of NITEL mast area, Madalla. 

Speaking to our reporter, the disturbed father who was hospitalised for 10 days following the development, said his two children were taken from a location close to their home where they were playing around 6 pm on Thursday, November 18, 2021. 

Also, Buhari Safiyanu Yakubu (4) and Musa Mahmud (4) were also believed to have been taken away from their homes at Tudun Bariki Madalla on November 25. Father of Safiyanu said he left his son and his younger brother in front of their family home around 6pm on the day, when he left to sunset Muslim prayer. “But on coming back from the mosque, they were nowhere to be found; even up till now that I’m talking to you,” he added.

The last incident of child theft in the area is that of Muhammad Muhammad (6), who was last spotted at the venue of Maulud around lemosen area of the town, by 8.30pm on November 27. His father Muhammad Baba said his son was billed to report back home but has not been seen till date.  

Meanwhile it was gathered that efforts are ongoing to beef up vigilance and security at one of the affected areas.

Malam Zakariyya Dahiru is an imam at Unguwar Kwara, Hayin Nassarawa-Iku, under Tafa Area Council. He said able-bodied youths have been mobilised to keep vigil on those straying into the lonely areas during the day, just as housewives were advised to keep their children indoors, and make sure no little child was allowed to go to school or back home alone, except under adult supervision/guide.

Our reporter visited two police outposts in the two communities, along the Abuja Kaduna Highway, but none of the two Officers-in-Charge agreed to speak (even off record). They both referred him to their respective police divisional headquarters located in Suleja and Sabon-Wuse towns.

Responding, the Suleja “A” Divisional Police Officer, CSP Michael Katambi, said the cases of children missing were recorded in an area under Tafa council which is not under his control, and simply referred the reporter to their headquarters in Minna. 

On his part, the Divisional Police Officer DPO in charge of Sabon-Wuse, ASP Abdullateef Biodun, who was deployed to the area about two months ago, said there’s been no report of missing children from the area since his assumption. He promised to reach out to the outposts, and also the parents of the affected children, for a meeting.

Alhaji Abdulkarim Yusuf Samanja, village head of Nassarawa Iku, which is the most affected area, said parents in the area have been advised to look after their wards, while the security vigilantes were ordered to intensify their patrol. He lamented that the cases of missing children increase towards the end of the year and during election season.

An Abuja-based security expert, Salihu Dantata Mahmud, expressed concern over parents’ negligence of their wards, and also failure of stockholders at the community level, to mount proper surveillance around them. He said it is painful seeing children of below five years loitering and wandering about, citing Suleja as an example. 

Mahmud, who is the director of Security Salute Nigeria Initiative, further said that council areas on their parts, need to collaborate with the grassroots to mobilize on how to complement the work of the security agencies, who he said lack manpower and operational gadgets.

He expressed reservation over the federal government’s dedication of about N13bn for community policing, which he said has not yielded any results so far. 

“I want to use this medium to charge the National Assembly to wade into the issue and trace how the fund has been fully utilized, if at all it has been utilized,” Mahmud added. 

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