Abuja orphanage brouhaha or FCT Minister’s “rescue mission

November 12, 2011


 By Tola Adenle

Even though the bizarre incident of a Federal minister and his modern-day intimidating ministerial entourage to an Abuja orphanage was more like bad theatre, I dare not compare it to the origin of the word ‘brouhaha’, the Medieval French theatre in which the devil cries, although disguised as a clergy!  The account of the story as carried by the Sunday Punch of January 23 leaves many questions unanswered.  It reminds me of an ‘honorable’ commissioner in the Southwest who went with – thank God – a single policeman and a single car to check on a private school after 5.30 p.m.  Her goal at a time of day when only students, cooks and the matron were present might have been different from Mr. Rufai’s but the manner in which the instruments of State were used in both instances were NOT in the interest of the students or orphans.


Let me recap briefly for readers who might have missed the story that happened around Christmas at Rev. Frances Charity Ibe’s orphanage at Abuja.  Some visitors from a Pentecostal church had called at the home and requested to take a ‘Baby John’, aged five months to a hospital for treatment.   These August visitors in December were a “Ms. Sonia Chikelu, a Nigerian resident in London; Mrs. Victoria Chikelu (wife of the Information Minister); … Ms. Molari Hananiya (daughter to Federal Road Safety Corps Marshal).”   I emphasized the VIPs to show the dimension and magnitude of the event.


“One of the visitors was later to call around 10.00 p.m. with a doctor she claimed to be from the U.S.A. who was billed to travel that night …”  Anyway, since the Rev. Ibe had left instructions that the child should not be released in her absence, ‘Baby John’ could not be taken away “after fruitless persuasions.”  The visitors’ “love” for Baby John was so much that on December 23, “they repeated their visit.  Their mission was to transfer Baby John who, according to them, needed prompt medical attention.  Ibe insisted that they wait for the Orphanage Home Nursing Officer to accompany the baby for further medical attention.  The visitors left at 12.40 p.m. and had threatened to deal with her for not granting their request.”


“Exactly three hours after they left, the whole area was engulfed by sounds of sirens.  The gates of the orphanage were flung open and the Federal Capital Territory Minister, … el-Rufai, in company of armed (emphasis also mine) mobile security men and several undercover security agents, stormed the Home. …”


In spite of accusations by the Home and denials/explanations from the office of Mr. Rufai, I think there exists more than enough information to justify one wondering what exactly this minister is trying to help the Chikelus, Ms. Hananiya et al achieve.  What, too, is the real interest of our London-resident lady, our doctor from America who had to leave that night, in poor Baby John’s “health” and well-being?


Before I go into the claims and counter-claims of this episode, I should mention that the reporter included a photograph of sixteen of the “orphans”, a picture that does not show very neglected children.  While it is true that many of the so-called NGOs in Nigeria meant to aid in getting information, basic needs, etcetera that are ordinarily provided by governments in countries that are not corruption-ridden like Nigeria actually use them to make money (including money from foreign donors), the Rev. Ibe must be given a chance.  She should be made to go through “due process”.  Now, for “She says, We say …”:


Rev. Ibe:  “The Hon. Minister of MFCT then spoke, ordering that all the children should be removed to the Abuja Children’s Home at Karu and that they should think of the possibility of closing down the orphanage the next day, 24th December 2004.

“Eventually, they managed to snatch three children from me by force as the soldiers threatened us with their guns.  … I followed the minister and his entourage … to Abuja Clinics where the children: baby John, baby Rochas and baby Peace, who they renamed Nasir …”  Pray, is ‘Nasir’ not Mr. Rufai’s first name?  What sycophancy and/or abuse of power? 

“ … some staff of the Social Development Department of the MFCT made away, among others, with three hundred pounds sterling that were donated the same day by some visiting British Airways Staff …” 

Now, for an ordinary Nigerian like me, this point is intriguing even if the Rev. lady has no way of proving her accusation.  Could this lady be making this claim knowing that this sounds like what Nigerian government employees would be believed capable of doing by the public?

FCT minister and staff:  “… Speaking on behalf of the minister,  … Bolanle Onagoruwa maintained that the minister’s visit to the home was aimed at rescuing kids that are not being taken care of.  … there were some sick babies at Victory Motherless Babies Home … the proprietress had refused to allow some well-meaning individuals who had gone on a compassionate visit to the home to give medical care to the children.”  Mr. Rufai went with a friend, “Jimi Lawal, Ms. Sonia Chikelu Agbasi … [who] had gone to visit the home in the company of the members of her church, the Guiding Light Assembly. … The accusation coming from a woman who dares to accuse a serving minister of armed robbery and child trafficking does not deserve to be dignified with a response …”

Bolanle Ayodele Onagoruwa (Mr./Ms?), executive secretary social development, I say this lady’s accusation deserves a response and may be even more than that because Mr. Rufai serves at the instance of Nigeria’s president who represents Nigerians.  The idea that people are greater than the institution they “serve” is one of the problems wrong with this country.

Here are more questions that I think call for more information on what happened at the orphanage: 

  • If these babies are supposedly “orphans”, how come Rev. Ibe, according to Onagoruwa, demands “fifty-five thousand naira from teenage mothers that gave birth in the home?”  Intriguing, eh?
  • What are government guidelines for the running of such institutions?
  • If the FCT is so up to its duties, how come Rev. Ibe’s lapses were not discovered until London-resident, Ms. Chikelu, her mom, church people and Ms. Hananiya went to Mr. Rufai?
  • If Ms. Chikelu needs to spread the spirit of the Yuletide as was reported, are “orphans”, rather, abandoned babies (to call a spade what it really is) the only possible outlet for her kind-heartedness when she discovered the Rev. Ibe to be recalcitrant?  In an essay in this column not too long ago, I wrote about (among others) an American who goes round annually in the dead of night during the Yuletide handing out a lot of cash to homeless people.  This man has remained anonymous because that is the way he wants it.
  • Does the appropriate FCT department go about collecting all the dumped babies from Abuja streets or it waits for somebody to do that dirty work before waiving government regulations about ensuring “that the well being of the children is safeguarded” to hamstring private operators?

Mr. Rufai must know the trauma that arriving at such a place where the kids who appear to be all under six years old with gun-toting mobile police men in a hale of screeching tires must have caused these children.  If we can have ten percent of Nigerians who would agree that the interest of the children was paramount in Mr. Rufai’s mind that day, they would most likely be politicians or government employees who need to protect their jobs. 

The smell from the incident hangs heavy like that of a trawler-load of dead fish; heavier than the smell from the “dirty, cracking, sandy concrete which could not be properly cleaned and disinfected … and the nappies  …  brown and smelly” in my opinion.

I remain curious about what exactly our well-connected young ladies, London resident and minister’s daughter, Ms. Chikelu and Road Marshal’s daughter, Ms. Hananiya were really trying to do.  Of course I do not rule out that they had genuine intentions but the way the whole thing was staged remains baffling.

Mr. Rufai owes the public an explanation in spite of these times in this place.

The Comet on Sunday, February ‘05



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