Hon Ifeyinwa Obinabo is the Commissioner for Women Affairs, Anambra State. In this interview, with DAILY POST, she laments the rising cases of rape, illegal child adoption, prostitution, trafficking, among others. She stated that Governor Chukwuma Soludo’s government is ready to put an end to all the illegalities. Excerpts!
We have seen you arrest rapists, smash child prostitution cartels and secure justice for widows. Which of these has been your most tasking job?
What you have to know is that for every job we have undertaken, each comes with its own level of hassles. They are always tasking in different ways, and that is because most of these crime syndicates are made up of very smart people who try to be steps ahead of you, but what it desires is being focused, knowing what you are looking out for in a case and asking the right questions that can put the criminal on the spot and make them divulge their secrets.
Again, the support that Mr Governor gives to this ministry has made our job very easy. Most of these crime syndicates that we burst are very connected people, and once we go after them, they try to pull strings that will give them freedom, but once we notice something like this, we just call Mr Governor, who is ever ready to listen to us. You call him now, and what he will say to you is “Ify, what is it? Do you have any challenge, how can I help you?” That is the kind of governor that Anambra has. Sometimes for matters that he knows that we need police back up to be able to smash, he will personally call the police authorities and give them instructions on how they can support us.
You know the story of the woman they call Madam Ukwu Venza, who uses underaged girls for prostitution in her brothel in Oba? That was one of our most tasking jobs so far. But through the help of Mr Governor, Prof Chukwuma Soludo, who was backing us, we were able to smash that syndicate. When you see our Governor, you will think he is not someone who pays attention to details, but he is.
You remember after Madam Ukwu Venza’s brothel was uncovered, and the children she was using to do prostitution were rescued, she fled to Asaba. From there she sent a message to me through an emissary. She wanted to bribe me, and even promised to be giving me a monthly percentage from what she makes. Through the help of the Governor who was supporting us and even ensuring that we had police back up, we were able to agree to her bribe and even visit her, and she promised to start by giving us some money and we played along until police eventually came and arrested her.
Mr Governor is that kind of person who will send you on errand, and he will still be there to guide you through the process of how to solve the task he has given to you. He does not also believe in failure. If you must fail on his assignment, then you better pack your things and leave. He will call you and put you through on how to succeed and also let you know that if you fail again, you will be in trouble and that gingers up his appointees.
Testimonies of what your ministry is doing is everywhere, what are the challenges you face in doing the things you do in Anambra?
The first challenge we have is that people don’t speak up. Many women go through many kinds of inhuman things and they just believe it is destined to happen, either because they are women. That is one of the basic challenges of this office, but we have started preaching to women that they need to speak up.
Again, we have a culture that favours men over the women, and most women see it as trying to look down on their man if they dared to tell them they are at fault, or blaming them for things they did not do well. Our culture almost forbids a woman telling her husband that he is at fault, rather you accept that the woman is at fault, and is made to apologise for things that are very glaring that it is the man’s fault. Even if Umunnas have to caution the man, they do it at the back of the woman.
There is also the problem of over civilisation in our society. Social media has also turned many people to want to practise the things they see on social media, which ends up being against the law. A typical example is the rise in the number of rape cases in our society today. It wasn’t like this before in our culture.
Before now, people see it as bringing shame on one’s family and lineage to be involved in rape, but these days people don’t care, and people believe they are responsible for their lives and how they live it, and that it is no ones business. So our youth imbibe some of these foreign cultures, including drug addiction, which they see on social media and they see it as a trend. These are part of the challenges we face.
Some people think you get extra funding from Mr Governor to do the kind of work you do in the ministry?
That is not true. We were simply given a mandate by Mr Governor, and direct instruction to ensure that we work in line with his mandate. The first thing he always tells you upon your appointment is to use the position given to you to interpret his mandate. Again, for me what drives me is the passion I have for this job. By the way, if you do not have passion, you cannot work with Mr Governor. This is a man who does not believe in failure. He will tell you that you are not just accepting the position because you need to accept it, but you must do it because you have passion for it, and you are desirous of contributing your quota. You must see it as your personal work, and of course, he has passion for anything Anambra. If you don’t have the passion, you may not be able to work with him.
He took his time to assemble his team, and you can see that many of us are ready for the job we do. Don’t forget that he held one-on-one interviews with all of us before our appointment, and he knows the capabilities of each of those he has appointed. Don’t also forget that what I’m doing today, is what I started doing far back, before I was even appointed to this position. So I just see this position as a platform to do what I have always known how to do, on a bigger scale.
Can you aggregate the number of convictions you have secured since you became the commissioner, either for rape or other offences?
Okay, if you are talking about concluded matters, I will say that so far, we have been able to send about 10 people to jail. But of course you know that Nigeria’s judiciary system is slow, but we have several arrests we have made, both for people involved in rape, child molestation, illegal adoption of children, child prostitution and other crimes, but they are being tried presently.
But so far, about 10 persons are serving jail terms because of our efforts. These 10 persons are mostly people who raped woman at gunpoint. We have also secured convictions against people involved in trafficking, especially with underage. We have also jailed people for child abuse, child labour and secured justice for widows who were being maltreated.
What are some of the most rampant cases you have seen in this ministry since you became commissioner?
Yes, that is a good question. We have constantly had cases of men waking up, and taking their children away from their wives and sending their wives packing. We keep seeing it all the time. In most cases, the wives are left without children and sent away, while the children she rightfully had are given to sisters-in-law to take care of.
It is something that has been recurring for almost two months now around places in Anambra. By the grace of God, women have learnt to speak up, and we have followed up on matters like this and in most cases had the children retrieved and handed back to their mothers. We do this based on the child’s right law. We retrieve the children and reunite them with their mothers.
Most of the time, the people involved in this kind of matter will take the children from their mothers and give them to their sisters or other women, and the mother of the children will be crying, while another woman would be using their children for child labour and maltreating them.
If you stay further now, there is a case they are bringing to us. I just sent our enforcement team to go and retrieve some children, who were seized by a man who stays in South Africa. He married the young girl who was just 19 then and they had three children, and all of a sudden she was sent home for talking while her husband’s sister was talking to her, and her children were collected from her. The woman was here to complain, and we have gone to bring all the parties concerned. They sacked the woman, took away her children, while the man married another woman and abandoned this one in pain. These are the kinds of matters we put our feet down to ensure that we settle.
I watched the video of your interview with the proprietor of Arrow of God Orphanage, an orphanage that was involved in illegal adoption of children. Can you tell us the procedures involved in legal adoption of children?
First is that you must come to this ministry and apply that you want to adopt a child. When I get the application, I will now minute it to the head of the child unit. From there, we now start documentation when we see a child for you. Also, it is only here in this office that anyone is permitted to be handed over children that are legally adopted. The homes from where the children are to be adopted will bring them here after proper documentation.
After that, we will send our officials for inspection. We must go to the home of the person where the child would be taken to, so that we make sure that the place is conducive, and also ensure that the reasons you gave for wanting to adopt a child are true. Those are the investigations we do.
In the case of the proprietor of Arrow of God Orphanage, she did not do any of these things. By the way, the woman is not supposed to handle anything like adoption. For any adoption to be authentic, my signature and the signature of the permanent secretary of this ministry must be in the adoption document. Also the signature of the magistrate of our special court must also be on the adoption paper. You know Mr Governor opened a special court for us for speedy trial of matters relating to child issues. The signature of the magistrate has to be there. These three signatures must be there and if any of them is missing, then it is illegal.
In the case of the Arrow of God Orphanage, my signature wasn’t there, that of the permanent secretary was not there, they did not go to our special court to obtain the consent of the magistrate, they also failed to bring the baby here, which is the only place that handing over children is done. She did everything by herself, and no inspection was done. Even the Investigative journalist who posed as the one wanting to adopt the child hired a woman to pose as his wife, and that will show you that she did not investigate where the baby was being taken, but simply collected money from them, prayed for them and handed the child to them, without even knowing where the child is being taken to.
So we have been investigating, because we must know the source of the baby. If adoption is done here, we ensure that we know the source of the baby that is being put up for adoption.
The last time we checked, you handed the proprietor of the home to officials of National Agency for Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP). What has happened to her now?
We are following up on the matter. She is still being detained and undergoing trial. There was a day I got a call saying you know she is old, she is sick and all that, yes I know she is old, but what she did was the wrong thing, so she should face the law. It is not about me, it is about the law, and definitely, she is going to answer for it. I have sealed that home, and that home is not going to work again. They can’t operate in Anambra any longer.
What is the estimation of the total cost of adopting a child legally in Anambra State?
Like I keep saying, we follow a lot of procedures before we can give out any child for adoption in Anambra. We do a lot of documentation, we also go to court, we go for investigation and things like that. But I won’t tell you that it is this amount or that amount. Some of these things vary. Like sometimes, we see abandoned children, for children like that, it will take time for them to be due for adoption. You must give at least six months, and there must be clear evidence that you have made extensive announcements, including reporting to the police, for the public to know that the child was abandoned. The announcement is to alert the people and also for the mother to come if she is interested. You must go through all these procedures and also do the paperwork.
So, what I can say to you is that we do not charge. I think that is why some orphanages, especially Arrow of God Orphanage, involve themselves in illegal adoption, without wanting to come through us because we will not allow her to do what she did. From what I heard before Mr Governor came on board, people were collecting N1.5 million, N2.5 million for adoption. They collect N1.5 million for female children and N2.5 million for male children. That, as far as we know, is selling children and Mr Governor will not let that happen under his watch.
What do you think can help your ministry do more?
My appeal will not be to the Governor because the government has given us all the support we need to be able to carry out our job. We have the backing of Mr Governor, he also set up the child offences court which helps us to do what we do. Police is also assisting us in the things we do.
My appeal is rather to the members of the public. Government cannot do it alone, so we appeal for support from private individuals. We have a lady here, who lives in New York, Iyom, and when she came and saw what we were doing, she started cooking for children who are in our care. That is what we need. We also call on members of the public to always say something when they see something, by bringing cases of abuse of children, maltreatment of women, and widows to our attention.
We have had cause to give out wheelchairs to children with disabilities. We encourage whistleblowers. Don’t sit down and say it doesn’t concern you. Any evil that is condoned will get to everybody, that is the more reason such ills should be quickly reported. We are not spirits. It is when you give us information that we now know what to do. Yesterday and early this morning, some people have given us very useful information about things going on in some places, but it is not healthy now to speak on it. And we have places that we will raid soon and rescue children that were illegally brought into Anambra State.