Deaths from Nigerian refugee camp air strike rises to 90, could reach 170: MSF

people walk at the site of a bombing attack

GENEVA (Reuters) – The death toll from an accidental Nigerian air strike on a refugee camp in the town of Rann has risen to around 90 people, and could be as high as 170, Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) said in a statement on Friday.

Tuesday’s strike on the northeastern town in Borno state, which had Boko Haram militants as its target, has led to an investigation by the Nigerian Air Force (NAF). The inquiry’s report is due to be submitted no later than Feb. 2.

The aid group, also known as Doctors Without Borders, said the higher figure of 170 comes from reports from residents and community leaders.

“This figure needs to be confirmed,” said Bruno Jochum, MSF General Director, in the statement.

“The victims of this horrifying event deserve a transparent account of what happened and the circumstances in which this attack took place.”

Borno is the epicenter of Boko Haram’s seven-year-long attempt to create an Islamic caliphate in the northeast. The insurgency has killed more than 15,000 people since 2009 and forced some two million to flee their homes, many of whom have moved to camps for internally displaced people.

“A Nigerian airforce plane circled twice and dropped two bombs in the middle of the town of Rann, which hosts thousands of internally displaced people,” MSF said.

“At the time of the attack, an aid distribution was taking place.”

On Thursday, Human Rights Watch said the strike had destroyed 35 structures, and hit 100 meters from what appears to be a Nigerian military compound, raising questions about why precautions were not taken to avoid harming civilians.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; Writing by Paul Carsten; editing by Ralph Boulton)

At least 76 killed in air strike on Nigerian refugee camp: ICRC

Aftermath of bombing of refugee camp in Nigeria

GENEVA (Reuters) – At least 76 people were killed in Tuesday’s accidental Nigerian Air Force strike on a refugee camp and more than 100 were wounded, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement (ICRC) said on Wednesday.

The air force has said an unknown number of civilians were killed and wounded in the mistaken strike in Rann, Borno state. The state has been the epicentre of Boko Haram’s seven-year-long attempt to create an Islamic caliphate in the northeast.

The air force has said civilians were accidentally killed and wounded in the attack, which was aimed at the jihadist group, but neither it nor the government has provided an official figure for the number of casualties. Aid group Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) has said 52 were killed and 120 were wounded.

ICRC said six Nigeria Red Cross members were killed and 13 wounded. “In addition to aid staff, it is estimated that 70 people have been killed and more than a hundred wounded,” it said in a statement.

Lai Mohammed, the information minister, said “the accidental bombing is not a true reflection of the level of professionalism” he had witnessed in the air force.

The strike followed a military offensive against Boko Haram in the last few weeks.

The group’s insurgency has killed more than 15,000 people since 2009 and forced some two million to flee their homes, many of whom have moved to camps for internally displaced people.

(Reporting by Tom Miles; additional reporting by Felix Onuah; Writing by Alexis Akwagyiram; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)

Nigerian air force kills 50 in air strike on refugee camp

Injured people are comforted at the site after a bombing attack of an internally displaced persons camp in Rann, Nigeria

By Lanre Ola

MAIDUGURI, Nigeria (Reuters) – Nigeria’s air force killed 50 people and injured 120 in an air strike on a refugee camp in the northeast on Tuesday, Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) said. The military said the strike had targeted Boko Haram.

MSF said the strike occurred in Rann in Borno state, the epicenter of the jihadist group’s seven-year-old bid to create an Islamic caliphate. Regional military commander General Lucky Irabor located it at Kala Balge, a district including Rann.

Irabor, who said it was too early to determine the cause of the mistake, told journalists an unknown number of civilians had been killed, adding that humanitarian workers from MSF and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) were injured.

“MSF teams have seen 120 wounded and 50 dead following the bombing,” said Charlotte Morris, a spokeswoman for the medical charity. “Our medical and surgical teams in Cameroon and Chad are ready to treat wounded patients. We are in close contact with our teams, who are in shock following the event.”

A spokeswoman for ICRC said six Nigerian Red Cross members were killed and 13 were wounded.

People walk at the site after a bombing attack of an internally displaced persons camp in Rann, Nigeria

People walk at the site after a bombing attack of an internally displaced persons camp in Rann, Nigeria January 17, 2017. MSF/Handout via Reuters

The insurgency has killed more than 15,000 people and forced two million to flee their homes, many of whom have moved to camps because it has been too dangerous to return home.

The air strike came amid an offensive against Boko Haram by Nigeria’s military over the last few weeks. President Muhammadu Buhari said last month a key camp in the jihadist group’s Sambisa forest base in Borno state had fallen.

A statement issued by the presidency said the air strike was a “regrettable operational mistake” that happened during the “final phase of mopping up insurgents in the northeast”.

Boko Haram has stepped up attacks in the last few weeks as the end of the rainy season has enabled its fighters to move more easily in the bush.

A video featuring an audio recording purporting to be Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau, which was posted on social media late on Monday, said the group was behind twin suicide bombings at a university earlier that day which killed two people and injured 17 others.

(Additional reporting by Alexis Akwagyiram and Kieran Guilbert; Editing by Tom Heneghan)

Clashes in Nigeria’s divided heartland pile pressure on president

Displaced Nigeria families, fleeing from Boko Haram

By Alexis Akwagyiram

KADUNA, Nigeria (Reuters) – Hundreds of people have died in a surge of ethnically-charged violence in Nigeria’s divided heartlands, officials said, piling pressure on a government already facing Islamist militants in its northeast and rebels in its oil-rich south.

Locals in remote villages in Kaduna state told Reuters Muslim herders had clashed with largely Christian farmers repeatedly in recent weeks, in the worst outbreak of killings in the region since riots killed 800 after elections in 2011.

The fighting triggered by competition over scarce resources has come at a particularly sensitive time for Kaduna city, which is about to become the main air hub in central and northern Nigeria, after the capital Abuja’s airport closes temporarily for runway repairs in March.

Farmer Ibrahim Sabo said cattle herders armed with assault rifles raided his village Kalangai in southern Kaduna in November, forcing him and his family to hide in surrounding fields.

“We left everything we harvested and they took our cattle. We have been running ever since,” said the 75-year-old in Kakura village where he took refuge.

The violence has focused attention on President Muhammadu Buhari, a former military ruler who vowed to restore order in Africa’s most populous nation when he came to power in May 2015.

He held a five-hour session with senior security and army officials in Abuja on Thursday on how to tackle the unrest.

Security agencies are already deploying extra forces to secure Kaduna’s airport and its highway to Abuja, a route often targeted by kidnappers.

That all comes on top of an insurgency by Boko Haram Islamists in the northeast, beaten back last year by a military coalition of neighboring nations, but showing signs of a resurgence with a recent step-up in bombings.

Militants in the southern Niger Delta oil hub have said they are ready to resume pipeline attacks, and there have also been clashes between Shi’ite and Sunni Muslims in Kaduna state.

FESTERING DISPUTES

Locals say the Kaduna violence grew out of festering disputes over territory in October and November, then escalated sharply, exacerbated by north-south, Muslim-Christian tensions in a patchwork nation.

Details of attacks and precise figures are hard to come by in the remote territory.

The national disaster agency NEMA said on Friday it had recorded a total of 204 deaths since October in Kafanchan and Chikun, two of the four municipal districts worst hit by the violence, with no details from the others.

Christian leaders released a statement late December saying 808 people had died – an estimate dismissed by Kaduna state police commissioner Agyole Abeh who did not give his own figure.

The authorities had already sent in reinforcements – 10 units, each with 63 police officers, using 20 armored cars, he added.

Community group, the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria, said herdsmen had been “unjustifiably accused and maligned” in the area and had also come under attack, prompting a cycle of revenge.

There were few signs of the promised police or army reinforcements outside the center of Kaduna city.

Tarmac roads gave way to red soil dirt tracks leading to Kakura, on the edge of the territory that has seen the worst fighting.

Another farmer, Yusuf Dogo, said dozens of armed herdsmen burned houses in his village of Pasakori in three quick raids, forcing 700 people to flee in October.

“They ran through our village and started shooting randomly,” he said. “Later, they brought their cattle and they ate everything.”

(Additional reporting by Garba Muhammad in Kaduna and Felix Onuah in Abuja; Editing by Ulf Laessing and Andrew Heavens)

Nigeria faces mounting pressure to rescue girls abducted by Boko Haram 1,000 days ago

police disrupt Bring Back Our Girls rally in Nigeria

By Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani and Kieran Guilbert

CHIBOK, Nigeria/DAKAR (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Nigeria is facing mounting pressure to find some 200 schoolgirls abducted 1,000 days ago in Boko Haram’s most infamous attack after the rescue of 24 girls raised hopes that they are alive.

For more than two years there was no sign of the girls who were kidnapped by the Islamist fighters from a school in Chibok in northeast Nigeria one night in April 2014, sparking global outrage and a celebrity-backed campaign #bringbackourgirls.

But the discovery of one of the girls with a baby last May fueled hopes for their safety, with a further two girls found in later months and a group of 21 released in October in a deal brokered by Switzerland and the International Red Cross..

For parents like Rebecca Joseph the return home of the group of 21 girls at Christmas was a bitter-sweet celebration.

Her daughter, Elizabeth, is one of an estimated 195 girls still held captive by the jihadist group, which has tried to force some of them to convert to Islam and to marry their captors.

“I am happy that some of the girls are returning home even though my own daughter is not among them,” Joseph told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in the town of Chibok in Borno state.

“My prayer is that my daughter and the rest of the girls will be rescued and returned to their families safe.”

With last weekend marking 1,000 days since the girls were abducted, President Muhammadu Buhari said he remained committed to ensuring the abducted schoolgirls are reunited with their families “as soon as practicable”.

“We are hopeful that many more will still return,” said Buhari, who came to power in 2015 and replaced a government criticized for not doing enough to find the missing girls.

“The tears never dry, the ache is in our hearts,” he said in a statement.

STRUGGLE FOR FREEDOM

The Nigerian government said last month that it was involved in negotiations aimed at securing the release of some of the girls as the army captured a key Boko Haram camp, the militant group’s last enclave in the vast Sambisa forest.

The exact number of Chibok girls still in captivity is believed to be 195 but it has been hard to pin down an exact number since the girls went missing.

Academics and security experts say it may be a huge challenge to obtain the girls’ freedom given the significance of the abduction for Boko Haram, which has killed about 15,000 people in its seven-year insurgency to set up an Islamic state.

“Outside Nigeria, the Chibok girls have come to symbolize the Boko Haram conflict,” said Sola Tayo, an associate fellow at the London-based think tank Chatham House.

“The global outrage generated by their captivity has added to their value to the insurgents,” she added, adding that they were also significant to Buhari because he made their release a key campaign pledge before his 2015 election.

The government said in October that it had not swapped Boko Haram fighters or paid a ransom for the release of the 21 girls but several security analysts said it was implausible that the Islamist group would have let the girls go for nothing.

“To secure the release of the remaining girls would require concessions by the Nigerian government, which could reverse significant gains it has made against Boko Haram,” said Ryan Cummings, director of risk management consultancy Signal Risk.

“In addition to detainees, Boko Haram may also demand supplies, weapons, vehicles and even money which they could use to recalibrate and invigorate their armed campaign against the Nigerian state.”

DEEP DIVISIONS

One of the major obstacles to securing the release of all of the Chibok girls who remain in captivity is the deep divisions emerging within Boko Haram, said Freedom Onuoha, a security analyst and lecturer at the University of Nigeria in Nsukka.

The militants split last year with one faction moving away from the group’s established figurehead Abubakar Shekau over his failure to adhere to guidance from Islamic State to which Boko Haram pledged allegiance in 2015.

It is unclear how many Chibok girls are held by the main faction led by Shekau, thought to be based in the Sambisa, and by the Islamic State-allied splinter group – headed by Abu Musab al-Barnawi and believed to operate in the Lake Chad area.

“It will be difficult to release most of the remaining girls as each faction will maintain a strong hold on them and would negotiate with state officials on their own terms,” said Onuoha.

While the deal to free the 21 girls was seen as a huge boost for the government’s assertions that it would soon bring home the others, a lack of progress since then has seen public hopes dwindle and frustrations arise, academics said.

Although Nigeria has driven Boko Haram out of most of the territory it held, its battle against the militants will not be considered over until the fate of all of the Chibok girls is made clear, said Nnamdi Obasi of the International Crisis Group.

“From various indications, it is most unlikely that all the remaining girls will come home alive, but the government owes their parents and the public the fundamental responsibility of accounting for every one of them,” the Nigeria analyst said.

“In the long run, that’s the only way to bring closure to this sad episode.”

(Reporting by Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani and Kieran Guilbert, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit news.trust.org)

Nigerian soldiers find Chibok girl kidnapped by Boko Haram in 2014

Bring Back Our Girls campaigners

MAIDUGURI, Nigeria (Reuters) – Nigerian soldiers have found a schoolgirl who was one of more than 200 pupils kidnapped by Islamist militant group Boko Haram from their school in the northeastern town of Chibok in April 2014, an army spokesman said on Thursday.

The troops had found Rakiya Abubkar wandering around near Algarno, a former Boko Haram stronghold, the spokesman said. She had a six-month-old baby with her.

A total of 276 schoolgirls were abducted by Boko Haram from Chibok in 2014 in one of the most infamous actions of their insurgency. More than 20 were released in October in a deal brokered by the International Red Cross. Others have escaped or been rescued but about 200 are believed to be still in captivity.

Boko Haram has killed 15,000 people and displaced more than two million during a seven-year-old insurgency aimed at creating an Islamic caliphate in northeast Nigeria.

The group controlled an area about the size of Belgium in early 2015 but has been pushed out of most of that territory over the last year by Nigeria’s army and troops from neighbouring countries.

Last month, the army said it had seized a key Boko Haram camp in its last enclave in Nigeria in the vast Sambisa forest. The jihadists still stage suicide bombings in northeastern areas and in neighbouring Niger and Cameroon.

(Reporting by Lanre Ola, Alexis Akwagyiram and Ulf Laessing; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Dominic Evans)

Famine may have killed 2,000 people in parts of Nigeria cut off from aid by Boko Haram

Writings describing Boko Haram are seen on the wall along a street in Bama, in Borno, Nigeria

DAKAR (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – More than 2,000 people may have died of famine this year in parts of northeast Nigeria which cannot be reached by aid agencies due to an insurgency by Islamic militant group Boko Haram, hunger experts said on Tuesday.

The deaths occurred in the town of Bama in Nigeria’s Borno state, the jihadists’ former stronghold, a report by the U.S.-based Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET) said.

While food aid is staving off famine for people uprooted by conflict who can be reached, the outlook is bleak for those in parts of the northeast cut off from help, according to FEWS NET.

“The risk of famine in inaccessible areas of Borno State will remain high over the coming year,” the report said.

“In a worst-case scenario, where conflict cuts off areas that are currently accessible and dependent on assistance, the likelihood of famine in these areas would be high,” it added.

Around 4.7 million people are in need of emergency food aid in Borno, Adamawa, and Yobe states – nearly two-thirds of them in Borno alone – according to FEWS NET.

Some 400,000 children are at risk from famine in the three states, 75,000 of whom could die from hunger within months, the U.N. children’s agency (UNICEF) said in September.

Yet the current humanitarian response is insufficient amid extreme levels of food insecurity, and only one million people have received food aid this year, FEWS NET said.

Almost four in five of the 1.4 million displaced Nigerians in Borno state are living in local communities, where tensions are rising in many families as food runs short.

Improving security has enabled aid agencies this year to reach some areas that were previously cut off, but many remain unreachable due to the ongoing violence and lack of security.

Boko Haram militants have killed about 15,000 people and displaced 2.4 million across Cameroon, Chad, Niger, and Nigeria during a seven-year campaign to create an Islamist caliphate.

Nigeria’s army has pushed the Islamist group back to its base in Sambisa forest in the past few months, but the militants still often stage raids and suicide bombings.

(Reporting By Kieran Guilbert, Editing by Katie Nguyen. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit news.trust.org)

Nigeria’s presidency says aid agencies overstating northeast hunger

girl eats meal in front of New Prison camp in Nigeria

ABUJA (Reuters) – Nigeria said on Monday that aid agencies, including the United Nations, were exaggerating the levels of hunger in the strife-torn northeast to get more funding from international donors.

In the last few months, Boko Haram insurgents, who have killed 15,000 people and displaced two million since 2009, have been driven back from an area the size of Belgium, revealing thousands of people that aid agencies say are near starvation.

President Muhammadu Buhari’s spokesman said “hyperbolic claims” were being made by, among others, U.N. agencies about the region, where the United Nations says some 75,000 children are at risk of starving to death in the next few months.

“We are concerned about the blatant attempts to whip up a nonexistent fear of mass starvation by some aid agencies, a type of hype that does not provide solution to the situation on the ground but more to do with calculations for operations financing locally and abroad,” an emailed statement from Garba Shehu said.

“In a recent instance, one arm of the United Nations screamed that 100,000 people will die due to starvation next year. A different group says a million will die,” he said.

On Friday, the U.N. said it had doubled its humanitarian funding appeal for northeast Nigeria to $1 billion to reach nearly 7 million people it said needed life-saving help.

The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has worked out an aid plan “in close cooperation with the government”, its deputy humanitarian coordinator Peter Lundberg said on Monday.

“The reality is that if we don’t receive the funding we require many thousands of people will die,” he said.

Shehu said government agencies were distributing food, deploying medical teams and providing education for children in camps for people who had fled their homes, noting that they would continue to work closely with international aid agencies.

Nigeria has Africa’s largest economy but is grappling with its first recession in 25 years as oil prices fall. Buhari’s administration has been criticized in the media for its handling of the economy and needing aid despite its oil wealth.

(Reporting by Felix Onuah; Writing by Alexis Akwagyiram; Editing by Louise Ireland)

Boko Haram attacks destroy farm communities, bring famine risk

Nigerian Women and Children waiting at a nutrition clinic

By Alexis Akwagyiram

MAIDUGURI, Nigeria (Reuters) – Fati Adamu has not seen three of her six children nor her husband since Boko Haram militants attacked her hometown in northeast Nigeria in an hail of bullets.

Two years on, she is among thousands of refugees at the Bakassi camp in Maiduguri, the city worst hit by a seven-year-old insurgency that has forced more than two million people to flee their homes.

The United Nations says 400,000 children are now at risk from a famine in the northeastern states of Borno, Adamawa and Yobe – 75,000 of whom could die from hunger within the next few months.

A push against the jihadists by the Nigerian army and soldiers from neighboring countries has enabled troops to enter remote parts of the northeast in the last few months, revealing tens of thousands on the brink of starvation and countless families torn apart.

“I don’t know if they are dead or alive,” Adamu, 35, said of her missing relatives.

There is a renewed threat of Boko Haram attacks. The start of the dry season has seen a surge in suicide bombings, some of which have targeted camps, including one at Bakassi in October which killed five people.

The World Food Programme said it provides food aid to 450,000 people in Borno and Yobe. Some 200,000 of them receive 17,000 naira each month to buy food, soon to rise to 23,000.

At least 15 camps, mostly on the outskirts of Maiduguru, the Borno state capital, are home to thousands of people unable to return home and surviving on food rations.

At one known as New Prison, women and children visibly outnumber men, many of whom were killed by Boko Haram or are missing.

One man — 45-year-old Bukaralhaji Bukar, who has eight children from his two wives — said the food he buys with the monthly stipend finishes within two weeks.

“We are suffering. It is not enough,” said Bukar, who begs on the street to make money.

In the center of Maiduguri, life seems to be returning to normal. Food markets are bustling but soldiers in pick-ups clutching rifles are reminders of the need for vigilance.

MALNOURISHED CHILDREN

In a ward in Molai district near the Bakassi camp, the air is filled with the sound of crying babies and the gurgle of those who lack the energy to cry. Some, whose skin clings tightly to their bones, are silent – too weary to even raise their heads.

“Many of them are malnourished, which is already bad enough, but they also develop things like malaria which further worsens their illnesses because they can’t eat and start vomiting,” said Dr Iasac Bot, who works at the unit overseen by the charity Save the Children.

Children have conditions ranging from diarrhea and pneumonia to bacterial infections and skin infections.

Hauwa Malu, 20, fled with her husband and their two-week-old daughter, Miriam, from her village in Jere after Boko Haram militants burned the farming community to the ground and took their cattle.

Miriam, now aged 10 months, has suffered from fevers, a persistent cough and is malnourished. Her mother said they have been left without a home or livelihood.

Tim Vaessen of the Food and Agriculture Organization said a failure to restore their ability to farm would in the long term mean displaced people would depend on expensive food aid.

“They would remain in these camps, they would become easy targets for other armed groups and they might have to migrate again – even up to Europe,” he said.

(Reporting by Alexis Akwagyiram, Editing by Angus MacSwan)

Baby traffickers thriving in Nigeria as recession bites

baby grasps hand

By Anamesere Igboeroteonwu and Tom Esslemont

ENUGU, Nigeria/LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – As 16-year-old Maria strained under the anguish of labor in southeastern Nigeria, a midwife repeatedly slapped her across the face – but the real ordeal began minutes after birth.

“The nurse took my child away to be washed. She never brought her back,” the teenager said, gazing down at her feet.

Maria said she learned her newborn daughter had been given up for adoption for which she received 20,000 naira ($65.79) – the same price as a 50 kilogram bag of rice.

And Maria is far from alone.

A Thomson Reuters Foundation investigative team spoke to more than 10 Nigerian women duped into giving up their newborns to strangers in houses known as “baby factories” in the past two years or offered babies whose origins were unknown.

Five women did not want to be interviewed, despite the guarantee of anonymity, fearing for their own safety with criminal gangs involved in the baby trade, while two men spoke of being paid to act as “studs” to get women pregnant.

Although statistics are hard to come by, campaigners say the sale of newborns is widespread – and they fear the illegal trade is becoming more prevalent with Nigeria heading into recession this year amid ongoing political turbulence.

“The government is too overstretched by other issues to focus on baby trafficking,” said Arinze Orakwue, head of public enlightenment at the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP).

Record numbers of baby factories were raided or closed down in the southeastern states of Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu and Imo this year, NAPTIP said.

A total of 14 were discovered in the first nine months of 2016, up from six in 2015 and 10 in 2014, the data showed.

But despite the growing number of raids, the scam exploiting couples desperate for a baby and young, pregnant, single women continues with newborns sold for up to $5,000 in Africa’s most populous nation where most people live on less than $2 a day.

Cultural barriers are also a factor in the West African nation, with teenage girls fearing they will be publicly shamed by strict fathers or partners over unwanted pregnancies if they do not give up their children, experts say.

“In southeastern Nigeria a woman is deemed a failure if she fails to conceive. But it is also taboo for a teenager to fall pregnant out of wedlock,” said Orakwue.

Maria said in the home in Imo state where she gave birth pregnant teenagers were welcomed by a maternal nurse who liked to be called “mama” but went on to sell the babies they delivered.

“(After I gave birth) somebody told me that mama collected big money from people before giving them other people’s babies,” Maria told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in the grounds of a school compound in her village.

“I do not know where my baby is now,” said Maria, using a false name for her own protection.

A lot of the trade is carried out in Nigeria but authorities suspect babies are also sold to people from Europe and the United States because many foreigners continue to seek infants there despite the controversy around Nigerian adoptions.

HIDDEN PROBLEM

The U.S. Department of State alerted prospective adoptive parents to the issue of child buying from Nigeria in June 2014 after Nigerian media warned that people were posing as owners of orphanages or homes for unwed mothers to make money.

“The State Department is aware of a growing number of adoption scams,” an alert on its website read.

Over 1,600 children have been adopted from Nigeria by U.S. citizens since 1999, according to the State Department website, about a third of them aged between one and two years old.

A U.S. official said the State Department facilitates contact between foreign officials and U.S. authorities when foreign governments raise any concerns regarding the welfare of an adopted child.

“To date, we are not aware of any concerns regarding the welfare of a child adopted from Nigeria,” a State Department official told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a statement.

In Britain a couple was found by the High Court to have “fallen under the spell” of an elaborate fraud after paying 4,500 pounds ($5,600) for herbal treatment in Nigeria that caused the woman’s stomach to swell, media reported in 2014.

The couple only realized they had been duped nine months later when presented with a baby in Nigeria that actually was not theirs, the Daily Mail newspaper reported.

Babies, whose biological parents or backgrounds are unknown, are offered to women who have not been able to conceive naturally, according to NAPTIP and interviews with three women.

The British government said it was committed to stamping out what it calls the “miracle babies” phenomenon.

“Specially-trained teams are working at the UK border to identify and safeguard babies and children who may be at risk of trafficking,” said a spokesman for the Home Office (UK interior ministry) in a statement.

Denmark suspended adoptions from Nigeria in 2014 citing concerns over forgery, corruption and lack of control by the authorities.

Apart from the illicit trade in babies, Nigeria also faces the problem of domestic and international trafficking in women and children.

Human trafficking, including selling children, is illegal in Nigeria, but almost 10 years ago a UNESCO report identified the industry as the country’s third most common crime after financial fraud and drug trafficking – and the situation appears to be getting worse, according to campaigners.

The Nigerian government has not ratified an internationally recognized set of rules known as the Hague Adoption Convention which meant the laws governing adoptions remain murky and complicated, campaigners said.

“There is corruption in the adoption process and that is the individual (Nigerian) states’ responsibility,” said NAPTIP’s Orakwue in a phone interview

“But central government should step up its funding to NAPTIP so we can increase support to victims,” Orakwue said.

HERBAL TREATMENT

Sophie, who was not able to conceive, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation she started to develop the symptoms of pregnancy after visiting a herbalist in Enugu state in 2014.

However the traditional doctor told Sophie her swollen stomach contained gas resulting from the herbal treatment rather than a fetus – but she could arrange to buy a baby.

“(The herbalist) said that she would bring me a newborn baby, girl or boy, depending on which one I wanted,” she said in the grimy sitting room of her apartment in southeastern Nigeria.

The woman said a girl would cost 380,000 naira ($1,250) while a boy would cost 500,000 naira ($1,645), said Sophie who opted for a girl.

But a sense of obligation to the woman who brought her a child prevented her from reporting the crime, she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“I considered everything and thought to myself ‘why should I report (the herbalist) to the police?’ She had helped me,” she said.

NAPTIP does not have data on the number of domestic adoptions that have taken place, a figure it says is not held by central government.

“In the southeastern states, the sale of babies is unarguably very prevalent as recorded by the agency,” said Cordelia Ebiringa, NAPTIP’s commander in Enugu state.

DEADLY GAME

Men are also involved in the process of illicit baby trafficking, with sperm donors impregnating surrogate mothers who then sell their babies, according to two Nigerian men.

Surrogacy is illegal in Nigeria.

Jonathan, 33, said he was paid 25,000 naira ($82) by his boss or “madam” every time he helped a client to become pregnant.

“I don’t see it as somebody exploiting me. The madams pay me for my work,” said Jonathan, who withheld his full name.

Jonathan said he did not know whether the women gave their babies away or went on to sell them although he was concerned what he was doing could be illegal.

“I often think ‘what if the police catch me?'”

Nigeria’s anti-human trafficking agency said it did not have data or information on the role of sperm donors, but many women they spoke to did not want to reveal how they fell pregnant.

“NAPTIP has no records of studs that impregnate the women at the baby factories as most of the pregnant women rescued and interviewed in such cases claimed unplanned pregnancies,” said Ebiringa.

Little information was made available by the Nigerian police or authorities in southeastern states about the number or identity of the people who run the “baby factories”.

No data was provided on the number of arrests by police in southern states of Enugu and Abia on baby trafficking offences despite repeated requests by the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

But the dangers involved, both from the law and from trafficking gangs, are palpable, according to Jonathan, who estimates he has fathered about 15 children as a “stud”.

“These (baby traffickers) can be dangerous,” said Jonathan, who was once threatened by a group of thugs who found out what he was doing. “They are ready to kill anybody if you stand in their way.”

($1 = 304.00 naira)($1 = 0.8042 pounds)

(Reporting By Tom Esslemont and Anamesere Igboeroteonwu, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, corruption and climate change. Visit news.trust.org)