Human traffickers take advantage of the growing unemployment in Nigeria to lure their victims with juicy job offers or promises of better life abroad
| By Chinwe Okafor | Dec. 2, 2013 @ 01:00 GMT
ALICE Ekporebofe, 17, who hails from Edo State, is eager to forget her sordid past, whenever she narrates her story on how she escaped from the hands of her traffickers at a hotel room in Osun State where she was kept and forced into prostitution. She said she was lured into travelling to Osun with an old friend whom she trusted. “On getting there, my friend took me to the house of one Zainab, whom she claimed was her aunty. I was treated very well not knowing that I was being prepared for prostitution. After some days, I was introduced to the “first client”.
“I declined the sexual overtures because I was still a virgin. I was beaten, forcefully deflowered and locked up in a room. When I saw the inescapable turn of events and because my friend was not around to save me, I succumbed to their dealings in order to have something to eat. That was how I started prostitution. Madam Zee as Zainab was fondly called, bought an exercise book in which I had to record all the money I made from sleeping with men on a daily basis. Whenever she travelled out of the town, she assigned somebody to monitor whatever I realised for that period. Despite the close monitoring, she would always tell me to swear that I would never hide any money or tell the police about what I do.
“At a point, I was tired of that kind of life, but there was nowhere to go. Then an opportunity came for me one day when madam Zee travelled. I ran away looking for where to go because I could not go home as I did not have enough money to take me to my state. So, I went to Ilorin and reported my case to the police who took me back to Edo state.” However, the police could not arrest Madam Zee because Ekporebofe couldn’t give the exact address or location of the hotel where she was locked up. Ekporebofe, is one among the several thousands of victims of human trafficking in the country. Nigeria is said to be a source, transit country and destination for internal and external human trafficking.
Despite the efforts by the federal government to tackle this menace with the establishment of the National Agency for Prohibition of Traffic in Persons, NAPTIP, the illegal business seems to be growing. Beatrice Jedy-Agba, executive secretary, NAPTIP, said the agency has come up with a five-year strategic plan and that the main thrust of the plan is to boost existing synergy between stakeholders and partners involved in the anti-human trafficking crusade. “Unemployment and poverty are the major factors responsible for human trafficking and these problems ought to be addressed in a pragmatic way. The traffickers usually make false promises of a better life abroad and earning money in dollars and eventually, these girls end up becoming prostitutes to pay their so-called sponsors who take them out of their states and even abroad,” she said.
Findings have also revealed that the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons and other related matters, Kano zone, has rescued more than 50 victims of trafficking in the zone from January to September 2013. Aliyu Kalli, head, public enlightenment, Kano zone, confirmed that the agency had recorded 32 cases of human trafficking, child labour and child abuse within the period. “The victims have undergone various counseling and rehabilitation sessions, both medically and psychologically before they were reunited with their families,” he said. According to him, the agency had concluded investigation into 20 of the cases and had also prosecuted those involved in the offences. He said the remaining cases were still under investigation.
Kalli said the agency had secured the conviction of six persons for human trafficking and child abuse within the period under review. Zainab Maina, minister of women affairs, has identified women and children as the major victims of human trafficking. She described human trafficking as one of the worst plagues of the modern era. According to her, as long as this illicit trade flourishes, it will be difficult to achieve the goals and targets we have set for ourselves. It is often assumed that the victims of trafficking are the most vulnerable persons from poor isolated communities.
“Extant evidence shows that some of the trafficked persons are from medium-income backgrounds and that they aspire for a better life; they are usually ensnared by the traffickers’ offers of a good job and a sense of belonging. This suggests that the strategies for curbing trafficking may have to be far-reaching than what they are currently and will need to involve a wider range of stakeholders,” she said. The federal government is fully aware of this. According to Labaran Maku, minister of information, the Executive Council of the Federation, ECF, has approved a draft Bill titled “Trafficking in Persons (Prohibition, Enforcement and Administration) Bill, 2012″, which is ready for onward presentation to the National Assembly for consideration, deliberation and passage into law. He said that any person found guilty of trafficking in human beings risks a seven-year jail term if the proposed draft Bill to check the menace scales through the legislative process in the National Assembly.
Abdullahi Yola, permanent secretary, ministry of justice, is of the view that the campaign against human trafficking requires a more comprehensive approach. “Urgent steps must be taken to ensure the promotion, protection and enforcement of the fundamental human rights of our citizens, irrespective of their socio-economic circumstances.” Yola said. Many dedicated non-governmental organisations, NGOs and high-profile individuals have joined the awareness and campaign against human trafficking in the country. Yemi Akinseye-George of Nasarawa State University has called for effective implementation of the extant laws on human trafficking offences. He said that human trafficking could not be effectively addressed without a legal framework to effectively back up the crusade. He underscored the need to put in place some measures to safeguard the rights of vulnerable persons who were trafficked.
“The legal framework at the moment is the NAPTIP Act; which is called the Traffic in Persons and Prohibition Act but the law needs to be more focused in terms of objectives and sanctions. There is need for effective implementation of the legal regime that means apart from NAPTIP, the judiciary ought to deliberately apply the law in a manner that will ensure, not just punishment but also the certainty of punishment, to deal with each of the provisions. If that is done, there will be a need for effective coordination among the agencies; the police would then hand over cases of investigation and prosecution to NAPTIP because they do not have the capacity to prosecute trafficking offences. When there is that synergy, we are on our way to a more effective regime to combat human trafficking in Nigeria,” he said.
International agencies are also involved in the anti-human trafficking campaign. They have come up with a multitude of anti-trafficking awareness campaigns to warn migrants of the dangers of trafficking. Olufunsho Owasanoye, a member of the Board of Trustees of Child Helpline International, said that human trafficking with its attendant evils is a dangerous trend that must be stopped. Human traffickers are not always strangers, they could be relatives, neighbours or people you thought were friends. “Nigeria is a source, transit and destination country for internal and external trafficking with Cross River, Edo, Akwa Ibom, Imo, Abia, Ebonyi, Kwara, Oyo, Osun, Bayelsa and Benue states as the prominent sources of internally trafficked children while Lagos, Ondo, Ogun, Akwa Ibom and Abia states are the destination states,” she said. Owasonye, said that most trafficked children are lured with the promises of greener pastures, gifts or monetary gains by the traffickers who take advantage of the victims’ greed, poverty or ignorance. “Traffickers prey on people with promises of higher incomes to improve their economic situations, support parents and families in villages, and escape from war and conflict,” she said.
Many victims of trafficking in persons, especially children are sucked into exploitative labour hidden from public eye such as houseboys and housemaids, factory hands, prostitution, including child/teenage prostitution and farm works among others. She stated that the effect of human trafficking on the victims include emotional trauma, sexual abuse, diseases like HIV/STDs, damaged reproductive organs, unwanted pregnancies and mental sickness. She counseled students to be cautious of the information they give on social media and to always speak out and seek appropriate counsel when they are enticed. The United States government has described Nigerians as major contributors to the trafficking of human beings, but feels disappointed that little has been done by the Federal Government to curb the illegal act. But Nigeria is not the only country facing this social menace. For instance, the most recent case of some women who were allegedly lured into going to Europe with the promise of good jobs were not all from Nigeria. According to reports, they were first flown to Mexico and Brazil with false identity travelling documents. From there, they flew to Paris and were then smuggled into Spain to work as prostitutes.