Nduka Nwanwenne is the Benin Zonal Commander of the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking In Persons (NAPTIP). He told ALEMMA-OZIORUVA ALIU in Benin City that parents and clerics involvement in trafficking and illegal migration has made the situation pathetic. He also said that most trafficked persons and illegal migrants are ignorant of what awaits them in Europe.
Despite the perils of human trafficking and illegal migration, both still thrive, what is responsible for this?
Nigerian youths get involved in this illegal migration especially out of ignorance. They still feel that the streets of Europe are paved with gold, which is not the case. Trafficking in persons is still a very serious crime, which people are still getting involved in it out of ignorance. The moment recruiters meet vulnerable youths and ask if they want to go abroad, they are always very interested and that is basically because of the ignorance of what is happening at the other end; they still think that the grasses are greener on the other end, which is not the case. Barely two weeks ago, we just secured a conviction for one trafficker, and the agency has intensified its prosecution activities. This conviction we just secured is a matter involving a 17-year-old girl that was trafficked to Mali, and introduced to prostitution. Before the matter got to us, the victim thought she was going to Europe from there, but at night, she would be forced to prostitute, and during the day, she would sell at the trafficker’s boutique. Immediately the matter got to us, we intervened and got the girl rescued and then prosecuted the man, who has now been jailed for 18 years.
Apart from this matter, we have several cases in courts at various stages of hearing, but the fact still remains that ignorance plays a major part in illegal migration and trafficking in persons, but NAPTIP has adopted a very robust preventive package in sensitisation and, of course, awareness can never be enough, so we have continued to use the mass media to create this awareness to let youths know that things are not the way the think over there.
In some instances, parents are also to blame because a lot of parents are pushing their children into it because they want them to make money, but I always tell parents that it is their responsibility to take care of their children until they are old enough to legitimately work, and be able to take care of them (parents). It is immoral to ask a 1ittle girl of 15, 16, or 17 to travel out in order to make money for you the parents because at the end of the day, these young girls would just come back sick.
Four weeks ago, a girl was brought back on wheelchair from Libya because as she got to Libya, she was kidnapped by Arabs, and the parents had to source for money and send $ 2, 000 before she was released. Even at that, she cannot stand on her feet because of the beatings she received. And of the four of them that travelled from Benin, (they all met at the park), one of them died in the course of the beatings, and we don’t know whether the other two are still alive. She is only alive today because she was able to make the payment that got her freedom, while the others could not. And because it is an organised crime, the ransom was paid here in Benin, but routed through Egypt. Funny enough, the girl in question is a Mass Communication graduate from Delta State University. So, that will tell you the level of ignorance among young people, even though majority of trafficked persons are school dropouts.
I can confidently tell you that if not for the efforts of NAPTIP in trailing trafficking kingpins, the situation would have been deadlier than it is.
But why the risk of passing through the desert and the Mediterranean Sea, while still spending hundreds of thousands of naira?
The risk is still borne out of ignorance. Some of the trafficked persons are deceived that they will not go through the airport in Nigeria for some specific reasons. They would further be deceived that they would fly to Europe from Niger Republic and other countries outside Nigeria, and that is always the beginning of exploitation and trafficking.
Some girls were trafficked to Togo, they were told that they would be taken to Spain, but they got to Togo and were dropped there and the girls started asking ‘where are we?’ ‘When are we going to board a plane to Spain as we are seeing mainly black people here? These were young, timid girls, who had never gone beyond Benin City. Even when they were in Togo, they even thought that they were nearer to Europe, so deception and ignorance play a critical role in the ignoble trade.
In one of the cases we are handling now, a poultry owner sold his business for N700, 000 and gave the money to a trafficker. And as the transaction was going on, we got the trafficker arrested and the matter is still under investigation. The boy, however, got to Libya but was deported. Matters got awry when the trafficker started threatening the boy and demanding for his money.
In narrating his experiences, the victim said he boarded a vehicle from here through Niger Republic, and then the tortuous journey through the Sahara desert. He was expecting to be transported to Europe straight away after selling off his business and parting with the money, but now he is back to square one.
A lot of these illegal migrants even think it is easy to cross the Mediterranean Sea, but by the time they get there, they discover that it is a point of no return.
But why is this practice prevalent in Edo and Delta states?
By our records, there is no part of the country that is not grappling with challenges associated with trafficking in persons and illegal migration. There was, however a time when Edo and Delta states were leading the pack. In Edo State, the most endemic local government area, without mincing words is Ikpobha-Okha. In Edo Central, it is Esan North East, and if you go to Edo North, it is Etsako West, Auchi, where people leave in droves. Before now, by our records, Edo North was very low, but now, it is a totally different story. And that is why we are collaborating with security agencies over there to help us track them.
With parents and clerics involvement, is there any hope in sight?
It is really pathetic. Right now, we have a case, where a pastor has just been charged to court. For us, there are no sacred cows, so we will go after anybody that is involved in trafficking in persons because nobody is above the law. We have had cause to arraign a serving chief magistrate, so there is nobody that is above the law, and ignorance of the law is not an excuse. Be you a pastor, imam or traditional ruler, once you are involved in trafficking, we will come for you.
Has our image as a country not been battered enough by this trafficking and illegal migration?
I agree with you that it can never be good for the image of Nigeria, and that is why we are bringing so many of the victims back. Many of them are coming back as a result of combined efforts, as we track them for a long time because some of them even go to countries that are not better than Edo State, and who are those who patronise them there are people like okada riders. It is unbelievable that what they get is not more than N500. As we researched to find out why they still want to be there, we came to the conclusion that maybe they don’t want people to know what they are doing there. But I tell you, nobody is happy about this. That is why we are putting in place, an empowerment programme for victims of trafficking.
How do you handle the issue of oaths of secrecy some of these victims enter into?
There is a girl in Germany, whose oath of secrecy has just been broken down here. She mentioned about this oath to the authorities over there and we went to revoke the oath here. The entire exercise was recorded and sent to her. The oath is normally meant to instill fear in the victims, that is why you have a situation where their hairs, including pubic hair is taken, menstrual pads, pants, and photographs part of the requirements for the exercise. What we normally do is the moment we are able to establish that the parties involved have taken an oath, the first thing we do is to arrest the juju priests, and get him to break the oath at their own cost.
Whatever they used in doing the oath, they must buy it to revoke it and these girls believe in the efficacy of the oaths, so the moment they see these clips, they are relieved. The oath is usually a control mechanism between the victims and the traffickers because human trafficking is the third most lucrative illegal business in the world, after drugs and firearms.
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