© 2019 - International Centre for Investigative Reporting
Pandemic baby: Meet one-month-old baby born of a drug addict mother in Abuja
Chidebere Afoaku, 31-year-old crack cocaine and heroin addict, was looking for a quick fix as she swaddled her four-day-old baby, Kaosiso, in her arms, walking the streets of Abuja on April 25, when she was arrested by officers of the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP), Nigeria’s anti-trafficking agency.
Set to find some cash, Afoaku strolled into His Grace Pavilion Estate, located in the Apo area of Abuja, several miles from where she called home.
With her underweight, sickly baby in her arms, the new mother sought to whip up sympathy as she began the day’s quest to find money.
Luckily, a family took pity on her and the child and gave her some food items. Rather than return home, the young mother hid the food items at a nearby place, and returned to beg for alms.
Not so lucky the second time, someone in the neighbourhood alerted the police and she was arrested.
According to Emeh Magnus, head of NAPTIP’s Rapid Response Squad (N-RRS) in Abuja, Afoaku was picked up because she was using her baby to beg for alms, which contravenes Section 5 of the Violence Against Person Prohibition (VAPP) Act 2015.
Upon interrogation, it was found that she is the actual mother of the child and had planned on using the proceeds from street begging to purchase narcotics.
Her admission reflected her struggle with hard drugs since 2016 when she was first introduced to it by her boyfriend.
Right after secondary school, before she fell off track, Afoaku struggled to gain admission into the university but it never deterred her from her ultimate goal of making quick money.
According to Calista,Afoaku’s elder sister, she was always seeking means to make it big and endlessly searched for ways to get rich quick.
For a short while, she got lucky. She got a job with a foreigner as a secretary and began earning N50,000 monthly but she wanted more. She relocated to the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) from Kano, with an ambitious mindset and wasted no time in finding a way to get all she wanted.
However, her goals changed the moment she started using drugs.
Calista recalls that it started as a simple indulgence – a hit once in a while before it graduated into a full-blown addiction. By then Afoaku, who was living in a single bedroom apartment in Wuse, Zone 7, with a friend, started selling her properties to fund her cravings.
Afoaku would spend N16,000 per dose on crack cocaine and, sometimes, settle for a half dose at N8,000 on days she could not afford more.
Her addiction problem grew worse with time.
Once, she was dating a certain Martin who cared deeply about her. He reportedly gave her N1.8 million to purchase a car. Within a few weeks of receiving the money, Afoaku could not account for it. At another time, she started dating a certain Tope who was ready to settle down with her. However, he found out about her addiction and broke off the relationship.
Sometime in 2018, Afoaku moved in with Calista and for a few days acted like she had come off the addiction, until she started selling some of her sister’s property to buy drugs.
It started with small household items like a blender and, eventually, Calista noticed that her gas cylinders and cooker were missing from the house. It then occurred to her that her sister was exchanging the items for drugs.
In the same period, Calista found someone who recommended a rehab facility in Lagos where her sister could be treated and then she began saving money to travel to the southwestern state.
As they prepared to go to the rehab facility, Afoaku absconded, only to be found weeks later sleeping at a hotel with a new boyfriend, Ogbonna.
Unfortunately for Afoaku, her new found love, Ogbonna, was a drug dealer and a recently convicted felon who is presently cooling his heels in prison. However, before getting arrested for armed robbery and drug dealing, the young man was her plug.
Theirs was a hopeless love, founded on the streets of a crack cocaine-induced reality.
The affair resulted in few pregnancies but with incessant intake of cocaine and heroin, the babies kept dying and Ogbonna would call crying to her sister about losing yet another child.
“Many times, she would call me with news that she had gotten pregnant but the baby had died,” Calista told The ICIR.
Afoaku lost at least two children before she finally birthed Kaosiso.
Baby Kaosiso was the only child that survived the first few days and, shortly after being born, became a money making tool for its mother.
There was no means to reach Afoaku who hasn’t been seen since she was released from NAPTIP office. It was gathered that she exchanged her mobile phone for some cash and only reaches out to her sister with different numbers once in a while.
According to Calista, the last time she heard from her sister was over a month ago when she called to share her plans of relocating to Owerri.
“She told me she needs money to move to Owerri, that she’s still doing drugs because she has access to it here in Abuja. She told me that it will be hard for her to get it in Owerri and that’s why she wants to move there,” Calista told The ICIR in an interview.
Born on Saturday, April 18, Kaosiso was born while the world battled a pandemic – now with a record of 5621 infected persons in Nigeria alone, the novel coronavirus has claimed over 170 lives in the country and over 313,000 people globally, as at the time of filing this report.
In the FCT (where Kaosiso was born), the lockdown order imposed by President Muhammadu Buhari to curb the spread of COVID-19 was in full effect; restricting movement and resulting in bans on most activities. But not street begging for Afoaku, who was quick to introduce her new-born child to the business.
Uncared for, the little baby was exposed to rain, sun and other extreme weather conditions as his mother begged for alms.
By the time Afoaku was arrested with her child, baby Kaosiso was near death.
Rescued by Dorothy Njemanze Foundation (DNF), a non-governmental organisation focused on dealing with issues of Sexual and Gender-based Violence (SGBV), the little baby was taken to the Federal Staff Hospital, Jabi, but was refused admission due to the on-going COVID-19 pandemic.
In search for help, DNF contacted Wanda Adu Foundation, an NGO which focuses on helping vulnerable women and children. The founder, Wandadaku Adu, reached out to a doctor friend (Ernest) who directed that they take the child to Federal Staff Hospital, Gwarinpa.
At the Gwarinpa hospital, they were again refused admission and told the hospital doesn’t treat “preterm” babies because they lack the facilities and equipment to treat such children.
Preterm is defined as babies born alive before 37 weeks of pregnancy are completed. And, being underweight, Kaosiso was assumed to be a preterm baby.
However, with Dr. Ernest’s influence and pleadings, the baby was admitted to the hospital at about 9 PM on April 27.
Upon admission, baby Koasiso was diagnosed with jaundice. Many newborns, according to Healthline, have some kind of jaundice and bilirubin levels that rise above 5 mg/dL within the first few days after birth, due to the stress of birth.
“After a test was carried out, it was discovered that Kaosiso’s jaundice level was at 13.3 mg/dL – an alarming level”, Wanda described to The ICIR as she narrated the incident that commanded her next decision.
Beside having jaundice, Kaosiso who before being admitted to the hospital lived with his aunt, Calista, after his mother was arrested, was evidently neglected.
Wanda recalls the baby had blisters around his diaper area and she could make out when last the child had a bath or a diaper change.
“At the hospital, when the baby was put in the machine for a test, he started crying and I heard Calista tell the baby to shut up, else she would slap him. I quickly rebuked her but I also knew the baby couldn’t survive with his aunt,” Wanda said.
Moved to tears, Wanda decided to provide absolute care for the child.
With the help of DNF and Wanda, the baby was treated and spent a week recovering in the hospital.
As Koasiso began breathing newness of life and gradually recuperated, Wanda worked out legal details of becoming the sole care provider for the child for two years before it was agreed that he would be taken to his grandmother, Afoaku’s mother in Kano.
As a struggling single mother herself, Wanda, relied on the goodness of her heart and the generosity of her Facebook followers, to whom she shared the story of Kaosiso, to donate some food and clothing items for the baby.
According to Wanda, several donations in the form of money, diapers, baby food and milk poured in from all corners and she was reminded of the pleasant side of human nature.
Currently, Kaosiso is completely healed and receiving care with Wanda, who looks to own a shelter in the future where she can care for vulnerable children.
Road to redemption
Now only a month old, Kaosiso looks different from his first day on earth. However, he still struggles to fit into clothing for his age, being underweight.
At first glance, his deeply pigmented lips strike a note of worry on how life must have been while he was in his mother’s womb, but he has managed to adopt a calm nature that reflects an inner strength, probably drawn from his name, Kaosisochukwu, meaning God’s will in Igbo.
In his new life, he has a newfound love for sleeping and according to Wanda, a special liking for his bath time. Unlike most babies, Kaosiso doesn’t cry much. He would only let out a shout of frustration when hungry, or to alert whoever was listening that he was up from a nap.
For him, life has only just begun but not without more hurdles to cross.
As he grows, he would have to fight or accept the truth about his mother who is still battling addiction. Having been exposed to crack cocaine and heroin as a fetus, Kaosiso’s growth and survival is still largely tied to his mother.
In a report published on by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (United States), it was stated that research has shown that exposure to cocaine during fetal development may lead to a deficit in some children.
“These include behavior problems (e.g., difficulties with self-regulation) and deficits in some aspects of cognitive performance, information processing, and sustained attention to tasks—abilities that are important for the realization of a child’s full potential,” the report read.
Another report points out that, when a fetus is exposed to cocaine in the womb, it can “cause significant central nervous system problems that may not be seen until the child is older.
“These effects may include problems with attention and behavioral self-control. Delays in learning, slower growth rate, language difficulties and in some cases, a need for special education in school.”
While the tide seems set against Kaosiso, his refuge in Wanda is a blessing.
Driven by a passion to better the lives of vulnerable women and children, Wanda stands as a symbol of redemption for Kaosiso and many children like him.
Drug abuse in Nigeria
According to the results of the National Drug Use Survey released in January 2019, the number of high-risk drug users in Nigeria has estimated at 14.4 per cent or 14.3 million people aged between 15 and 64 years.
Ranging from the use of cannabis, the most popular drug, opioids, and non-medical use of prescription drugs such as codeine and tramadol, to injecting high-risk substances, the drug use level in the country is at an alarming rate.
In a report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime(UNODC), it was stated that an estimated global illicit manufacture of cocaine reached an all-time high of 1,976 tons in 2017, representing an increase of 25 per cent in the previous year.
With such indices and limited availability of drug counselling and treatment services around the country, health crises resulting from substance abuse prevail nationwide, and even worse during the COVID-19 lockdown period in Abuja.
According to officer Magnus, cases like that of Afoaku are not isolated.
“Afoaku is not an isolated case resulting from drug use. Several cases of spousal battery currently in the unit have colouration of drug abuse and the lockdown exposed these drug related crimes.” Magnus told The ICIR in a phone interview.
Editor’s note: Some names have been changed to protect identities of individuals.