19 October, 2008

Nigerian transnational human trafficking industry

Inside the Nigerian transnational human trafficking industry

By Musikilu Mojeed
Nwadinma, 15, a pupil of UBE Primary School, Gwarimpa, Abuja, was distraught and sullen that Friday afternoon. She had just returned from school and was deeply saddened by the strike notice that teachers in Nigeria had then just served on the government over alleged poor condition of service.

The primary six pupil is disturbed that the strike might cause a postponement of her school leaving certificate examination and keep her longer in school. "My prayer is that the government will attend to the demands of our teachers and avert the strike. I am tired of being in primary school and will not like a strike to prolong my stay there," she said fearfully.

Nwadinma's agitation was understandable. She is 15 and most children her age were through with or on the verge of completing senior secondary education. But delayed education is one of the setbacks that Nwadinma had to suffer for being a victim of human trafficking.

At age five, she was taken off her parents in Abia State, South-East Nigeria, by a man she called 'Uncle' and whisked off to Gabon where, as a domestic servant, she was abused and dehumanised until she was rescued by the Nigerian Embassy in Gabon and brought home six years ago. "The years I spent in Gabon were a total waste. I was made to hawk all manners of commodities on the streets of Libreville. I was maltreated, starved and tossed around like a football," she recalled.

On her return to Nigeria, she was handed over to Nigeria's anti-trafficking body, the National Agency for the Prohibition of Traffic in Persons and other Related Matters which in turn, passed her to the Women Trafficking and Child Labour Eradication Foundation, a non-governmental organisation established by Titi, wife of former Vice-President, Atiku Abubakar, for rehabilitation.

Initially, WOTCLEF reunited Nwadinma with her parents but later took her off them for fear that they might allow her to be trafficked abroad again. The young girl is now one of the 900 victims of human trafficking that have so far been rescued from traffickers and rehabilitated by WOTCLEF at its rehab centre located in the Gwarimpa District of Abuja.

She is also one of the 19 that are currently been catered for by the humanitarian group. The others include victims that were repatriated from Gabon, Cameroun, Italy, Sudan and Saudi Arabia, where some of them worked as prostitutes and others as domestic servants. Two of the girls, according to WOTCLEF's Executive Secretary, Vero Umaru, are on the verge of completing university education while others are being trained in catering, hairdressing and tailoring.

Trafficking has defied solution in Nigeria

Nwadinma, her colleagues and others in NAPTIP's six rehabilitation centres across the country are however lucky to be back home to chart a fresh course for their lives. "Thousands of others like them, especially girls, who were smuggled across the borders never make it back to live a normal life.

Many of them are still trapped in major European, Asian and American cities, being sexually exploited," Umaru said. Between 2002 and June 2007, the Nigeria Immigration Service said it had rescued 1,366 victims and arrested 16 traffickers.

UNICEF Protection Programme chief, Robert Limlim, believes the problem of trafficking is particularly acute in Nigeria, because the country is also a strategic transit point for traffickers. "There is high demand for cheap, commercial African labour in other countries. Nigeria is the transit centre for this racket. There's a lot of money flowing through here," he said.

A 2003 FOS/ILO National Child Labour Survey estimates that there are 15million children engaged in child labour in Nigeria. These children are also vulnerable to being forced into prostitution, or, in many instances, are trafficked internationally.

To fight trafficking headlong, the Nigerian government established NAPTIP in 2003, after the National Assembly passed the Trafficking in Persons (Prohibition) Law Enforcement and Administration Act, in line with the 2000 United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Crime.

Since its establishment, NAPTIP has, as at May 26, 2008, in 87 court cases, prosecuted 128 persons believed to be engaged in the business of human trafficking in Nigeria. 29 of the cases have been concluded with 27 of the accused persons bagging between six-month and 20-year jail terms.

Those convicted include one Sarah Okoya who was arrested in Benin Republic while trafficking six Nigerian girls to Spain for prostitution; Jean Adjayi and two others who procured some girls from Cotonou in Benin Republic and subjected them to various forms of sexual exploitation; Hussaina Ibrahim who was nabbed after trafficking a girl to Saudi Arabia for prostitution; Franca Asiboja, an ex-victim, who recruited some girls with the help of an agent in Nigeria and trafficked them to Burkina Faso for prostitution.

Maris Akhabue was prosecuted for inducing her niece to travel to Italy for prostitution on the pretext that the victim would work as a baby sitter for one Rosemary Oshodin in Italy; Samson Ovenseri and Samuel Emwirovhanhkoe bagged one and five-year jail terms respectively for trafficking girls to Spain for prostitution through Benin Republic and Libya.

Glory Kehinde and Kate Ehiokpamwan were sentenced to one year imprisonment for trafficking girls to Libya for prostitution, while Monday Arioba and Martins Nwobu were also sent to jail for organising foreign travels for girls to travel abroad for prostitution.

But the convictions appear to have failed to deter the human merchants as the trafficking trade, according to Mohammed Babandede, NAPTIP's director of investigation and monitoring, has only assumed a more sophisticated dimension.

Babandede said investigations by his agency had shown that human trafficking in Nigeria had become a multi-million naira business with transnational traffickers having developed into a sophisticated mafia group.

"It is a big business and the traffickers are very organised. The merchants have recruiters and patrons. They have collaborators among embassy, immigration, border and security officials," he explained.

Umaru expressed a similar sentiment. "The human trafficking business is a syndicate. You have those who specialise in procuring fake passports and visas while there are those whose speciality is in bribing security and immigration officials at the border posts. It is a whole complicated chain," she said.

An official of NAPTIP, who pleaded not to be named said when his agency raided a trafficker's haven in Lagos in 2005, it found to its dismay that traffickers had developed manuals which they give to their victims to study. The manuals, he said, contained step-by-step precautions that the girls that were being trafficked abroad had to take to avoid being detected or arrested in transit and in their destinations. As part of their orientation programmes, the girls are reportedly given the manuals to study. "Human trafficking has become such a hydra-headed problem in Nigeria and we badly needed a hydra-headed solution to combat it," Umaru said.

The traffickers and their tactics

A repented ex-trafficker, who pleaded not to be named for fear of being stigmatized, explained that transnational traffickers usually work on the psyche of their victims and their relatives. They tell the victims and their relatives that there are better opportunities abroad. He said recruiters who work for traffickers usually go round collecting young boys and girls, promising them good jobs abroad. The recruiter's job ends after handing over the boys and girls to other members of the syndicate who organizes the foreign trips of the victims. It is these persons who procures passports and visas and organises safe passages across the borders for the victims, bribing all relevant officials and agencies in the process. The source said at times fake passports and visas are obtained for victims from Oluwole, an area in Lagos, notorious for faking documents.

Big time traffickers, the ex-trafficker said, usually fly their victims out of Nigeria while their small time counterparts usually smuggle their wares out of the country by land and water. Apart from using fake passports and visas to pass through the nation's airports, our source said victims are sometimes made to use passports of other people who have facial similarities with them. In situations like this, the Bingo strategy is usually used. Bingo, in human trafficking parlance, means an arrangement where traffickers bribe immigration and airline officials and make their victims to show up at airports only few minutes to the commencement of their flights and rush them through immigration procedures manned by compromised officials.

To enable the victims pass through the borders unmolested, border officials are usually also massively bribed, he said. In taking their victims across the border posts manned by strict, uncompromising officials, traffickers usually make their victims to wear costumes of local communities. The traffickers blend their victims with the local communities and sneak them across the borders in a manner that immigration officials at the borders won't detect.

Traffickers who are daring have often adopted the more risky method of taking their victims to Europe through bush parts and porous desert areas. Under the escort of touts, who are mostly part of the syndicate, they cross the borders through the north of the country and head towards North Africa passing through Mali, Libya, Morocco and Algeria. A substantial part of the journey is made through the desert and some of the traffickers and their victims die on the way out of exhaustion or excruciating heat. Some others are drowned at sea while trying to cross the Canary Island into Spain from where they usually travel to other parts of Europe.

The last people in the chain are the big madams based in the destination countries. On arrival in the destination countries, they seized the passports of the victims and give the boys out as domestic servants to patrons who need their services while the girls are made to work as prostitutes. The traffickers receive payments from patrons while the girls are made to sleep with them. Our source said the girls pay between 60 and 80,000 Euros to their madam to get their freedom.

Dr. Esohe Aghatise, who has done extensive work on trafficking, said when Nigerian girls arrive in Italy, they are taken to the sex market towns of Livorno, Torinto and Genova where they are sold to bosses or madams. "They sold them for 20,000 Dollars and the traffickers make about 90,000-100,000 million Liras from each girl. Most of the girls prostitutes on the rented portions of roads and their clients often have sex with them in the bush or in their cars." The girls, Aghatise says, make daily returns to their bosses or madams who he explains usually employ the services of cult members to enforce compliance.

Also, according to Aghatise, the girls are expected to pay about 516 Euros to their madams per month to rent the roadside spot there they wait for clients in extreme weather conditions. They are also expected to contribute about 36 Euros weekly each for their feeding and buying of provocative clothing. "When we don't earn the money our madam wants, she presses a hot iron on our chests," Aghatise quoted one Stella, a former victim, who was rescued by an NGO, Associatione Papa Giovanni, as having revealed. Between 1994 and 1998, about 116 Nigerian girls are said to have died on the streets of Italy while prostituting.

The routes

Investigations revealed that Nigeria is a country of origin, transit and destination for traffickers and their victims. The country is believed to have an immensely thriving human trafficking industry with a large population of clients, recruiters and intermediaries. Records sourced from NAPTIP indicated that thousands of Nigerian girls are routinely trafficked to work the sex industry in Belgium, Italy, Ireland, Sweden, Denmark, United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia, Libya, Morocco, Spain, South Africa and The Netherlands.

According to the record, girls, mostly between the ages of 18 and 24 years that had been assisted to return home were, in order of prevalence, rescued from Italy, Spain, Belgium, Saudi Arabia, The Netherlands, Libya, united Kingdom, South Africa, Mali and Benin Republic.

The document also indicated that children, mostly from two oil-rich states in the South-South geo-political zones of the country are regularly trafficked to Gabon in droves for forced labour. Most of the children are made to work in plantain plantations in that country. NAPTIP also disclosed in the document that children were being trafficked to Saudi Arabia for begging, domestic servitude and sexual exploitation predominantly from states in the North of the country. The agency also found that the deaf and dumb operate a trafficking ring.

Other disclosures made by the anti-trafficking agency were that Cameroonian traffickers use Nigeria as a transit country to traffic their victims to Algeria via Niger while Togolese and Beniniose traffickers smuggle their victims to Gabon through Nigeria in collaboration with their Nigerian counterparts.

John Egwu, an Assistant Comptroller-General of Immigration and Head of the Anti-Human Trafficking Unit of the Nigeria Immigration Service, however identified Italy as the major destination for the bulk of Nigerian traffickers and their victims. He quoted Iroko Onlus, an NGO based in Italy as having estimated that 80 per cent of persons trafficked to Italy were Nigerians and that 60 per cent of those trafficked Nigerians were from Edo State.

This investigation is facilitated by the Forum for African Investigative Repor



Simona said...

It's good to see that somebody talkes of this terrible business on innocent victims, children, whose life is destroyed by adults without scruples. Children, the future of humanity.

Anonymous said...

Do you know the Edo culture. I mean seeing them through those living in Italy at least?
From their behavior one may believe they think 100% opposite of what you are saying.
It is so disheartening.