My joy taken away from me

– Blind woman whose one-year-old child goes missing

A 33-year-old blind mother, Agnes Forte, whose one-year-old child went missing while playing in their compound in Akowonjo area of Lagos State, talks to VICTORIA EDEME, about the circumstances that led to the disappearance of her child

How and when did you first realise that your child was missing?

My name is Agnes Forte. I am 33 years old. My daughter, Excel, is one year and nine months old. I am from Oji Local Government, Benue State, but my husband is a Benin man. I live at No. 9 Lambe Street, Akowonjo, Lagos State. It happened on November 28, 2023, around 1:30 pm. My daughter (Excel) was with my stepdaughter (Joy) shortly before they both went missing. She (Excel) was playing inside the house before she opened the door and went outside to play in the corridor. I told my 13-year-old stepdaughter to help me bring her inside the house, but my child refused to come inside. So I asked Joy to stay with her. After a few seconds, I didn’t hear their voices again. I went to the door to call them but nobody answered. I then called my neighbours to help me look around for them. They (the neighbours) came outside and searched everywhere including the bathroom and backyard but could not find them. Then I entered the house to carry my phone so that I could call their father. It was when I reached to collect my phone and money that I realised that the N3,500 I kept and my ATM card were missing. It then dawned on me that Joy had collected my money. I also discovered that some of my baby’s clothes, shoes, wrapper, Joy’s school bag, cream, and towel, were also missing. Since then, we haven’t seen or heard from them again.

 What are your proofs that Joy indeed took your child away? Did she reach out to you?

 I am sure Joy is the one who carried my child, not anybody else. I haven’t seen or heard from them since then.

Are there any potential motives or reasons why Joy may be behind your child’s disappearance?

 I don’t know what I did to Joy. I took her like my own daughter. I have a child like her who stays with me. She’s 14 years old and they are always together. How can I maltreat someone’s child in my condition? No issue between us will propel her to do what she did; It’s so surprising to me. That same day she took my child away, I sent her to go and grind pepper. I later heard that she told the woman grinding the pepper that she was going to her paternal grandmother’s place.

 Have you been in contact with Joy’s grandmother?

 Yes, we were always in communication and she even came to my house after Excel’s disappearance. When I called grandma, she said Joy didn’t come to her place and she hasn’t seen her since then. Joy was staying with her grandma before she was brought to stay with us on January 19, 2023.

 Have there been any unusual or suspicious activities in your neighbourhood or community that might be related to your child’s disappearance?

 I have been suspecting my stepdaughter’s movement since October. Joy always sneaks out to have conversations with one of our neighbours. I don’t usually hear what they say because they speak in hushed tones. I asked her who she always talked to and she confirmed that it was our neighbour, whom everybody calls AY. I also asked her what they were discussing and she said nothing, and that he was only asking her questions. Joy is not a straightforward person and she doesn’t open up about issues.

 Following your child’s disappearance, did you ask your neighbour if he knew about Joy’s whereabouts?

 On the day my child went missing, everyone in the neighbourhood went in search of Excel and Joy. People went to surrounding areas like Iyana-Ipaja, Pako, Egbeda, and Shasha, but the children were nowhere to be found. AY was not in the compound at the time the incident happened. It’s his friend who joined us in the search. However, early the next day by 4:30 am, I heard some noises and decided to go outside to check where the noises were coming from. I was hopeful that my baby and Joy may have returned. When I opened the door, I heard footsteps, and at some point, I became scared because they might be thieves. As I was about to close the door, AY spoke to me and I realised that he was the one returning that morning. I then asked him if he knew about the children’s disappearance. He told me that he heard about the news. So I told him to help me check inside some Keke (tricycles) parked in the street or some shops around to see if he would find my children. He told me that he would do so. AY said he wanted to tell his friend to join him in the search and that after he called his friend, they would both go and search for the children. However, he just entered his room and locked the door. He didn’t come outside again. He is the only one that has not shown concern about my child’s disappearance and that’s why I feel that he may know something about the incident.

 Have you reported the disappearance to local law enforcement, and if so, what has been their response or progress in the investigation?

 We reported it to the police at Gowon Estate, Mosalasi. When we got to the police station, we made a report and we were told to come back the next day. When we got there the next day, they asked us questions and we wrote statements. They asked us to go and if anything comes up, we should let them know. One Inspector Mary from the police station in Gowon Estate came to my house on Wednesday, January 3rd. When she came, I told her of the call Joy made with my phone on the 26th of November. We discovered that after she made that call, she deleted the number from my phone. So we told the inspector to help us in tracking the number. The inspector said they would go to 9mobile office to track the number of the person so that they could know the step forward. The inspector also looked around the house.

 Did you inform the police about your suspicions concerning your neighbour?

 AY does not stay at home in the afternoon. He only comes when everyone is asleep, picks up some of his belongings, and leaves. I heard he is gradually parking out of the compound. If I talk to the police, they may question me about how I came about my suspicions. The questions the police are asking me are too much and that’s why I just kept quiet about it. It is only God that will fight for me now, because I don’t know what to do again.

 Are there any specific places or areas where your child may be known to frequent?

 As I am now, I am blind and cannot see. Excel is always with me when I go to church or house fellowship. I don’t have friends. Due to my challenge, I don’t leave my baby with anybody. Even if church members offer to carry her, I don’t allow them. I don’t even take her to children’s class (in church) because she’s always with me. She’s my happiness and my joy. For somebody that can’t see like me, I’m not supposed to be careless with what I have. Anything she wants, she comes to meet me. Though her speech is not very clear yet, she knows what she wants. Even the passage where they play is not far from my house entrance so I hear them when they play. So I don’t leave her with anybody and the only place we go to together is the church.

 What has your husband said about the incident so far?

 He is also looking for ways to ensure that both children are found.

 Are there any potential witnesses to the disappearance, and if so, have they been identified or interviewed by authorities?

 There was no one outside the compound where Joy and Excel were playing. Only one of my neighbours was around when the incident happened. She is a nurse. She was sleeping inside her room when the children were playing. Other neighbours living in the backyard were also indoors. Our compound is a quiet one. Once children go to school, every other person goes to work. It was while I shouted after I noticed the children were gone, that my neighbours came out from their houses, so nobody was outside except Joy and my baby. Most times, when people leave the compound, only I and the children will be at home till they return from work and school.

Can you provide any additional details about the circumstances leading up to your child’s disappearance that might be relevant to the investigation?

 I’m just scared for my daughter’s safety because I don’t trust Joy. She carried my money and ran away and told the woman that was grinding pepper that she was going to her grandma’s place. Maybe she was on her way there and branched to another place. I’m also suspecting that she may have gone to her friends at Ojuore, Ogun State, where she stayed before coming to live with us. I’m just very confused.

Do you have the contact of Joy’s friends or other family members whom you can call for inquiries?

No, I don’t have her friends’ contact. I don’t really know Joy. She just started staying with me in January. I have known my husband before I started having issues with my eyes. I began staying with him in 2021 and my sight challenges began in 2018. She only started staying with us in 2023. My mother-in-law and husband are the two people I know that are connected to her. She was brought from the orphanage to her grandma’s place. When she was two years old, she was left at the orphanage. In 2016, her father located her and took her from the orphanage to his mother’s place. As it stands, the whereabouts of Joy’s mother is unknown. Joy’s mother got pregnant by my husband shortly after they met and that was how Joy was born. They were never married. My husband doesn’t have any information about Joy’s mother’s family. Since the incident, I’ve told him to try and get in contact with Joy’s mother or her family but he said he has no information about them.

 Is there any electronic communication or social media activity that could provide clues about your child’s whereabouts or contacts?

 No, there’s nothing like that in this area.

 Can you provide details about your child’s daily routine, including where they go to school or any extracurricular activities they participate in?

 My child has not started schooling. She’s just one year and nine months old. She’s always with me and when we’re not at home, we go to church together. She only plays at the passage that is not far from my house entrance. I usually hear them when they pray.

 Are there any medical conditions or special needs that should be considered in the search for your child?

 My daughter was not feeling too well on the day she went missing. She had ‘apollo’ and some substances were coming out from her eyes. I was using paracetamol and eye drops for her before Joy took her away.

 Asides Joy, can you provide information about anyone who might have had a motive or reason to harm or take your child?

 No.

 Have you been in contact with any advocacy or support groups for missing children, and if not, would you be open to seeking their assistance?

 The only contact I have is with newsmen and the radio stations I have called to tell them about the incident. A lawyer, who also has sight challenges, visited me on Wednesday, January 3rd. I’ve also been visited by some people from Alausa who came to offer support. They said they will help me bring the matter to the State Government for help. I don’t know many people. When the issue happened, it was my church members helping me to take steps in ensuring my child is found.

 How can the community assist in the search for your missing child, and what specific help are you seeking from the Lagos Commission of Police?

 I don’t know what else to do again. That’s why I’m calling on Nigerians for support, to help me secure my child’s return. I’m begging all Nigerians, even the State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, to help me in bringing my child back to me. My child cannot go missing like that because I am physically challenged. I can’t see, I don’t have money, and now my baby is taken away from me. I will be so happy if my baby comes back to me, please.