For those who do not yet know, taking along a child who is neither yours nor sibling on a journey has become a risky venture. I do not know about other parts of the country, but here in Rivers State, commuting along with someone else's child could land one in trouble regardless of good intentions.
I set off to Imo State on Friday, October 12, 2018, for the burial of a deceased relation, late Chief (Sir) Chyna Ignatius Iwuanyanwu. It may interest you to know that Iwuanyanwu was a politician, businessman and media icon who was the publisher of the popular Abuja celebrity magazine, Democracy Confidential.
Like the family elder which nature benevolently conferred on me, I decided to take along a nephew who was barely ten. It would be one of the rare opportunities the kid has, to travel home, meet with kinsmen and get acquainted with the customs and traditions of the Igbo.
And so we taxied to Water Lines Park where we boarded an 18-seater Hiace bus, and hit the road to Owerri. Expectedly, the usual hustle and bustle of the park was building up with vendors, hawking all manner of stuff. A sweat-soaked 'park evangelist' sauntered into our bus. With a big bible clutched under his arm, he 'ordered' all eyes closed while he prayed for an accident-free journey to Owerri!
Knowing the implication of disobeying these evangelists (as the offender is instantly viewed as a 'suspect' or 'witch'), my little nephew and I immediately obliged the command, shutting our eyes and echoing 'amen' while he prayed.
Seated closely to us were an elderly woman and her companion, a little girl who constantly cuddled the woman and fiddling with her fingers. She couldn't have been more than six.
Without any premonition of eventualities, we journeyed on and with a moderate speed, I was confident to hit the village on good time. Between Elele Town and Omarelu, we passed through no less than three police check points, and after the usual pleasantries with our driver; the officer would pass him on.
At Umuapu, Imo State, our bus joined a long line of traffic, which was the result of the usual police check on the road. The officer flagged down each vehicle, peered at the driver and after a quick glance inside, he would rap on the body and the driver would move on.
When it got to our turn, the same routine played out but while our driver made to drive on, an officer materialized in the front and ordered the vehicle parked. Apprehension soon set in as passengers exchanged glances, wondering what offence our driver has committed.
All entreaties from the driver and some passengers to the officer fell on deaf ears. Even when he was told that 90% of the passengers were travelling to attend one burial or the other and that time was not on our side, the police officer waved them off. Then he ordered that all passengers should disembark for search.
It was then that I approached the officer, disclosed my identity and requested to talk to him intimately, out of earshot. It turned out that the problem had to do with me and the elderly woman who sat close to me. We both had kids as companion. We were suspected child traffickers and would remain 'detained' until we prove our innocence!
The officer said the police team was part of the Anti-Child Trafficking Unit from the office of the Inspector-General of Police, adding that they were on the road to stem the tide of child trafficking which was on the rise in the country, especially in Rivers and Imo States.
On interrogation, the elderly woman who said she was a pastor in one of the Pentecostal churches owned up that the child with her was not her biological offspring but a child she adopted for her own daughter. She also told the police that she had the Agreement with the parents of the child but said she left the document in her house in Port Harcourt.
For me, I proved to the police my relationship with my nephew and companion. I gave them the benefit of the doubt, reminding them that my nephew and I even share similarities - our voices sound alike, same complexion, same look!
Having been discharged and acquitted, the police asked all passengers to return to the vehicle and proceed with the journey. For the woman, they said she would be taken to the station as she could not provide any document to prove her claim.
“Oga journalist, now you have seen something to write about. You people always report 90% falsehood and only 10% truth. Even the truth is most times distorted”, the police officer teased.
While the police drove away with the elderly woman and the child in a waiting van to their station, I recalled a breaking news earlier to the effect that police reportedly burst a child trafficking gang in Port Harcourt that specializes in selling children.
As we continued the journey to Owerri, the arrest of the poor lady became the subject of discussion. While many blamed the woman for being 'over righteous' by not lying to the police that the child was her grand-daughter!
As the debate raged on in that 'mini parliament', the National Orientation Agency (NOA) was criticized for not sensitizing the populace enough as it relates to adoption in Nigeria. The parties should be made to understand that it is not just enough to hand a child over to people. Should contract should be put in writing with the document treasured like gold! Even the police was not left out in the bashing. The parliament reasoned that it is not just enough to make arrests when people are not aware that they would have to carry 'receipts' for an adopted child.