Child abduction for ritual killing is on the rise in the Nigerian city of Kano, say officials and advocacy groups who blame the trend on greed for political power and quick wealth.
Body parts from toddlers and pre-schoolers are prized ingredients for lucky charms thought to make people rich or rise up on the political ladder.
In the last few months, kidnapping of young children has increased in the northern commercial center of Kano — the second largest city after the capital, Lagos — raising concern among parents and officials.
“Ritual killers are now on the prowl in the city on an increasing scale, abducting children for rituals for wealth and positions,” said Ibrahim Abullahi, spokesman for the state government’s Societal Re-orientation Directorate.
The agency is charged with improving public morals in the predominately Muslim city.
“This trend has been on the rise in the last three months as the number of complaints we receive from parents about their missing children has more than doubled,” Abdullahi told reporters.
“The abducted children are usually between two and five years old,” he said.
Radio programs regularly include announcements about missing children, broadcasters said.
“An average of 50 parents placed announcements with us on their missing children every week in the last three months, compared to 20 such complaints before,” said Aisha Kabir of Freedom Radio.
Aliyu Mashi of Kano-based child welfare advocacy group the General Improvement of Persons Initiative blamed the apparent upsurge in child kidnappings on greed, in a city that revolves around commerce in a country notorious for corruption.
“We are always bombarded with reports of child abductions, which have become a daily occurrence in Kano, and such children are invariably used for human rituals to make money,” Mashi said.
“People are desperate for wealth and power, and they feel they have no other choice but killing children for black magic to achieve their aim,” Mashi said.
Sadiq Isah Radda, a sociologist at Bayero University in Kano, said fetish priests here are known to favor children’s body parts for get-rich-quick potions.
“Although human sacrifice has been part of the tradition of many African societies in the case of this society, children are what the priests prescribe,” Radda said.
The child captors lure unattended youngsters using candies, cookies and in some cases magic.
In March, 16-year-old banana hawker Awwalu Baffa confessed to a Kano court that he had worked for “witch doctors” to abduct children.
Baffa, now in a juvenile rehabilitation center in Kaduna city, 200km away, said he used a motorcycle helmet to bewitch his victims.
“When I placed the helmet on a child’s head he would disappear and I would use the motorcycle my employer gave me to convey the victim to a house where he would be killed for rituals,” Baffa told a court hearing attended by a reporter on March 23.
“In my presence my employer Hassan and his three associates slaughtered a five-year-old boy I supplied them for rituals,” he said.
Although the police agree there has been an increase in the number of missing children, they insist not all of them are abducted.
“We do receive reports of children missing but in some cases the children are not abducted but they just miss their way home”, Kano police spokesman Baba Mohammed said.