The police in Bayelsa State wednesday said they had achieved a major breakthrough in the fight against trading in minors, with the interception of two vehicles conveying 12 children into the state for alleged child labour and trafficking. THISDAY learnt that the two vehicles, a Mazda 626 with registration number BC 645 KSF and a Jetta with marked DX 643 PH were travelling from Akwa Ibom to Bayelsa before they were impounded.
Among the children who were rescued by the police were nine females and three males aged between five and 17 years. While parading the suspects at the State Criminal Investigation and Intelligence Department (SCIID), Yenagoa, wednesday, the Police Public Relations Officer, Asinim Butswat, said they were arrested on Sunday during a routine stop and search operation along the Glory Land Drive. He said: “Policemen during a routine stop and search operation at the Glory Land Drive (in Yenagoa) arrested the two vehicles carrying these children. “When they were interrogated, they could not tell where they were going. They said their parents are here in Bayelsa, but till now, none of their relatives has come to claim them.”
The police gave the identities of the prime suspects and drivers of the two cars as Inemesit Koffi and Geoffrey Ezekiel, both from Akwa Ibom State.
He said the police were suspecting a situation of either child labour or child trafficking since the children are very young and could not say where they were headed.
Butswat said the children had been handed over to the social welfare department of the state Ministry of Women Affairs while investigation continues.
But in an interview, Koffi, the major suspect, claimed that the parents and guardians of the children asked him to help ferry the children to Yenagoa to spend the holidays with them.
Koffi, a commercial transport operator in Bayelsa, explained that he was in his village, Nkana in Etinan Local Government Area for a burial event when the children’s parents contacted him and sought his assistance.
He said that some of the children’s parents were vegetable sellers at the Swali Market and operators of restaurants in Yenagoa, refuting allegations that he was a criminal.
Just last week, 36 children, whose ages range from between five to 14 years, were rescued by operatives of the DSS in the state from homes where they were being used as house boys and girls.
Those paraded were Dauda Nurugada, 32, from Kebbi State; Anthony Onwebeyi, 53, from Anambra State; Benaalim Isa-Garba, 43, from Kaduna State and Mrs. Tombra Alazigha, 38, a school proprietor.
The Assistant State Director of Security, Mr. Friday Onuche, while addressing newsmen at the state headquarters of DSS, said the children were rescued from homes in Yenagoa and Kaiama in Bayelsa State, Enugu-Agidi in Anambra State and Port-Harcourt in Rivers State.
He said the kingpins operated under the guise of missionaries and non-governmental organisations NGOs, and target vulnerable children largely from the northern part of the country.