By Ajibola Abayomi,
Migration, as reflected in the mobility of people in and across nations, defines the essence humanity as well as economic diversity.
Human trafficking, a form of modern day slavery, involves the illegal trade of people for exploitation or commercial gain and is a $150 billion global industry. Two thirds of this figure ($99 billion) is generated from commercial sexual exploitation that has now generated new lexicon tagged sex tourist and harvesting of organs, while another $51 billion results from forced economic exploitation, including domestic work, agriculture and other economic activities
The average woman trafficked for forced sexual servitude/exploitation generates $100,000 in annual profits (anywhere from 100% to 1,000% return on investment) (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).
According to the United Nations, the smuggling route from East, North and West Africa to Europe is said to generate $150 million in annual profits ($35 billion globally).
From several parts of the world including Nigeria where it has been estimated that nearly one million people are being trafficked each year, people have been falling prey to human traffickers taking advantage of those that are susceptible for a variety of reasons including psychological or emotional vulnerability, economic hardship, lack of a safety net, natural disaster or political instability.
As at 2018, Nigeria ranks 32/167 of the countries with the highest number of slaves – 1,386,000 – and the National Agency for Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP) reported that that the average age of trafficked children in Nigeria, upgraded to a tie two country on the U.S. State Department’s Trafficking In Persons Report (2019), is 15.
It further contends that 75% of those who are trafficked within Nigeria are trafficked across states, while 23% are trafficked within states. Only 2% of those who are trafficked are trafficked outside the country as at 2016.
As noted in situations peculiar to Nigerians, at the destination countries, the slave masters often traumatized their victims especially those with low or without education background through language barrier and self imposed fear by creating for themselves larger than life image in minds of those held in captivity.
This year, so pathetic was the July 4 lamentation of the 30 trafficked girls that were stranded and camped in one room apartment at Dawra in Lebanon.
Although they were later rescued alongside another 120 Nigerians in same country, the story was not different in Saudi Arabia on the July 8 when hundreds of Nigerians were found in similar fate. As if that were not even the loud cry stranded women in Oman, Yemen and other Middle East region is becoming overwhelming day by day.
As echoed in the heart aching message sent home by one of the victims, Miss Adebisi Comfort Oluwatoyin, 23, with passport number A10597908, an Ordinary National Diploma graduate of Auchi Polytechnic, Edo State from Osun State, whom narrated how they had to escape from inhumane treatment being meted to them by their mistresses and hosts.
“We are dying here and we need urgent rescue attention…Our stories are pathetic and regrettable. We were told by agents before we left Nigeria that we were going to be paid between N250,000 and N300,0000 monthly teachers but getting they were made house maids and subjected to series of hard labour.
“They loosen and shave our hairs with razor blade…Everyday; we are being beating with constant harassment from the Lebanese police. Our employers cooked all sorts of stories against us by lying that we stole their gold, killed their children and manhandled their aged ones without any evidence. The police and their immigration are always on their side. We are not getting justice and our lives are in danger.”
These words summed up the experience of many Nigerians who ignorantly paid through their nose to embark on such trip having thought money was being picked on the streets of Lebanon and elsewhere.
Unfortunately they have themselves to blame and are now curious to return to the land they once despised.
Who says migration is crime? Every Nigerian has right to aspire to live and work in a decent environment where labour is rewarding.
It is true that hapless state of the economy that paved way for easy trafficking of thousands of these young lads to nations like Yemen, Oman, Lebanon, Saudi, Indonesia, Malaysia, Italy, Egypt, Mali, South Africa, Dubai, Europe and South America just mention a few by merely painting those places as paradise on earth needs to be addressed holistically.
Dignified and rewarding migration is the one done through safe, legal, regular and purposeful means whether to trade, study, visit for holiday and other genuine reasons without the intention of jettisoning the purpose for which the visa was approved for such journey.
In 2003, when NAPTIP was established, it rekindled the hope that human trafficking and other irregular migration vices would be kept at bay.
The establishment has indeed recorded superlative performance by securing nearly 400 convictions till date and had made thousands of arrests while also playing a part in the process of rehabilitation and reuniting returnees with their families, however there are more works to be done.
With over 5,000 Nigerians confirmed by the Director General of NAPTIP, Barrister Julie Okah-Donli still stranded in Lebanon apart from other countries, Nigeria can no longer live in the denial of human trafficking menace.
House of Representative Chairman on Committee Diaspora Matters, Honourable Tolulope Akande-Sadipe who once claimed over 80,000 were being held as sex slave across the world corroborated the NAPTIP DG’s assertion during a media interview stating that there were 20,000 young female Nigerians in Libya, 1, 500 of them in Saudi Arabia, 2000 in Mali, over 1000 in Oman and about 2, 500 in Dubai living in very dehumanizing conditions.
While it is true that that the figure could even be more given the numbers of undocumented Nigerians abroad related to human trafficking, why and how did they get out of the nation?
Because there is visible abject poverty in the land, the psyche of many youths had been conditioned to believing that excerpt an escape abroad, there is no hope for better tomorrow in the midst of hunger, starvation, joblessness, under employment, massive corruption in high places, and parallel line between the rich and the poor.
In assuaging the pains of returnee- trafficked migrants, foreign missions in Nigeria like the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID) and the European Union (EU) are rendering support they can, but for how long will they shoulder the nation’s responsibilities to her citizens?
In July 2020, alone, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) facilitated the return of 109 Nigerian migrants from Mali with the support of the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID) and the European Union (EU) through its Regional Direct Assistance Fund.
One is equally bothered that a recent assessment by the IOM revealed that 96 per cent of 105 Nigerian returnees consulted in Edo and Delta states were worse-off financially while the United Nation’s agency had also between April and July 2020, ensured that 839 returnees across various projects have received reintegration counseling including socio-economic assistance which the Nigerian government had not been thoroughly committed to.
It is on record that since 2017, 629 Nigerians, mostly women between the ages of 18 and 25, have returned voluntarily from Mali with support from DFID and the EU through the EU-IOM Joint Initiative for Migrant protection and reintegration.
While it is imperative for the government to copy these good examples, practical solutions and two major steps are germane towards rescuing Nigerians from human trafficking debacle.
First is to redefine the scope of the economy to create opportunities for the youths and the other is to carry out holistic review of anti-kidnapping strategies.
On the economic perspectives, the Federal and state governments must comply with the financial autonomy for the local government by ensuring that funds allocated to the third tie of government are no longer stolen or diverted mostly by the state government.
That way, the economy at the local level will be opened to create job opportunities and empowerment for the youths to stem rural/ urban migration. At every layers of government, there is also need for proper accountability and purposeful governance,
To review the anti-kidnapping strategies, NAPTIP must be kept on its toes not concentrate alone on the symptoms of human trafficking but be firm to kill the virus by addressing the root cause of the act.
Towards this end, the Federal Government through the Executive arm of government should always deliver every and approved budget to NAPTIP yearly and should approve recruitment of more hands to strengthen the body, amend relevant laws to allow the agency have its own official uniform and arm unit backed with the required funding because human trafficking has assumed a dangerous dimension.
NAPTIP must remodel its preventive mechanisms and be represented at every 774 local governments, must be domesticated at state level and be included in the states security structure in order be fully involved in community anti-human trafficking initiatives.
The agency should also increase its drive on inter-agencies collaboration and among other things form a robust synergy with the Nigeria Immigration Service at the airport, land and sea borders to perform specific oversight functions because the immigration officers cannot stop any valid visa holder from travelling outside the country.
Ajibola Abayomi, President of Journalists International Forum For Migration (JIFORM) writes from Lagos, Nigeria.