The proprietor of Nigeria’s Moonlight Maternity Clinic was reluctant to discuss allegations that he sells newborn babies, with boys fetching higher prices than the girls.
“I have nothing to say to you,” Ben Akpudache, a stout 74-year-old, told AFP at the small, dimly lit clinic with concrete floors tucked between commercial shops in the southeastern city of Enugu.
“I can’t just have people coming in and asking questions.”
“Doctor” Akpudache, whose medical credentials are in question, had his clinic raided in July after a three-month sting operation in which the security forces discovered a so-called baby factory.
“We had our people posing as if they wanted to buy a child,” Nigeria’s Civil Defense Corps (NCDC) spokesman Denny Iwuckukwu told AFP.
Police had separately stormed Akpudache’s home in May, where they discovered that babies were also for sale.
The “factories” are usually small facilities parading as private medical clinics that house pregnant women and offer their babies for sale. In some cases, young women have allegedly been held against their will and raped, with their newborns sold on the black market.
But security services say the majority of cases, including that of the Moonlight clinic, have seen unmarried women with unplanned pregnancies arrive voluntarily or through persuasion.
Their newborns are then sold for several thousand dollars, with boys fetching higher prices. The mother receives roughly $200 (150 euros).
Typical was Ebere Onwuchekwa, 29, who became emotional when asked about the sale of her son Prosper.
Speaking at the office of a child rights NGO, she said the father demanded she get an abortion, which is illegal in Nigeria, and she refused. Her mother ultimately brought in a “midwife”, who delivered the baby then sold him for $1500.
“She took him away … He was a day old,” said Onwuchekwa.
After learning what happened, her uncles tracked Prosper down and got him back. The 18-month-old sat quietly on his mother’s lap as she spoke.
When asked about the woman who sold her son, a resentful Onwuchekwa said “she doesn’t want me to say anything about what happened.”
As for Akpudache, he is out on bail and his facility, which he insisted in a brief, tense encounter was a “registered maternity clinic,” remains open.
Authorities said it was not been shut down because they were waiting for the courts to take action, though the NCDC spokesman insisted Akpudache would face justice.
“Human beings should not be sold like animals,” said Iwuckukwu.
When police stormed Akpudache’s expansive, three-storey home in Ogui Eke village, roughly an hour outside Enugu, they found six pregnant young women.
In a video provided to AFP by the Enugu police, one of the women said she wanted to continue studying, not struggle as a single mother. Akpudache’s offer to host her through the pregnancy then sell the newborn seemed to be a solution.
In the same video, Akpudache said he was just trying to “help people in need.”
Despite a 2003 law against human trafficking, including selling children, it is Nigeria’s third most common crime behind fraud and drug trafficking, the United Nations has said. The European Union has cited Nigeria as the African country where the scourge is most common.
The maximum sentence is life in prison but sentencing remains at the judges’ discretion and offenders can get away with just a fine.