INHUMAN, heartless, deadly or mean are some of the adjectives deployed by victims of human trafficking as well as leaders of different organisations combating the menace to describe the activities of the traffickers.
For the victims, human trafficking is a crime they would not wish that even their enemies to fall victims. And for the various anti-trafficking organisations, it is a daily battle against a formidable and influential cabal determined to sustain and expand their illicit business.
Not too long ago, a private investigator with Project Ferry, a non-governmental organisation that rescues and facilitates the return of trafficked persons, was brutally murdered by a trafficker who got wind of her moves.
A co-founder of the organization, Motilola Adekunle, in a telephone chat with our correspondent, relived how the graduate of Criminology was killed.
She said: “One of our private investigators in our NGO was murdered by a trafficker in Ikorodu area of Lagos State. She was a graduate of Criminology in Benin. “She was gruesomely murdered as she was stabbed to death. It is unfortunate. We have reported the matter but the culprit has still not been prosecuted,” she said in a tone laden with deep frustration and disappointment.
Motilola, who is also an actress, regretted that the suspect has continued with his despicable business and was “currently threatening a victim who recently returned to the country”.
She said the case in question had been forwarded to NAPTIP, but “up until now, the guy is till roaming free, working on trafficking other people.
“How do you begin to combat that? How do you tell a victim to feel free to tell you who trafficked her when a trafficker who murdered somebody is still alive, walking around the streets of Lagos?
“Traffickers are leeches who profit from the misfortune of another human being. They profit from the ignorance of an innocent person,” Adekunle said.
The President of Initiative for Youth Awareness on Migration Development and Reintegration (IYAMIDR), Comrade Solomon Okoduwa, whose organisation has been at the forefront of campaigning against human trafficking, told of how some of the oraganisation’s informants were brutally dealt with by traffickers.
He said: “My experience with traffickers has not been smooth because they are a cartel. Coming out to kick against their business has not been very easy. Most of them are either cultists or members of one gang or the other. They like to fight back.
“Traffickers are always after informants who leak their information. The informants are sometimes members of their cartel who they have betrayed.
“I had an informant who, as we speak, nobody knows his whereabouts. The traffickers trailed him and one other guy. They beat the hell out of one, making him to leave Edo State. The other one is nowhere to be found. We have been looking for him for a very long time, but even his number is not reachable.
“The parents have reported the matter to the police. But I don’t think the boy is dead.
“There are so many of them like that. Because their lives are not protected, they would run away from the country rather than staying back to get killed. Informants’ lives are very much in danger.”
After the Oba of Benin had publicly spoken against trafficking, Okoduwa said, most traffickers now use “intimidation and oppressive tendencies to suppress their victims by holding on to them and not taking them to native doctors.
“They go to their houses to beat up the parents because their daughters refused to comply. Once the girl’s mother says anything contrary, they would descend on her. What the woman would do at that point is to call her daughter and plead with her to simply comply because her life is in danger in Nigeria.”
He blamed the plight of informants on the insincerity of security officials who, according to him, release information about informants’ activities to traffickers.
“After being compromised, they will tell the trafficker it was Mr XYZ Who told us that you wanted to take one or two girls out. Before you know it, they will just descend on the informant,” Okoduwa said.
In spite of the Covid-19 pandemic, the IYMIDR president said, people are still being trafficked.
“It is a business that is done in secrecy. You don’t know who is to be trafficked until a crime has been committed.
“People are still leaving the country, but not at the rate they used to.
“I read in the papers recently that NAPTIP arrested some persons allegedly leaving Nigeria for Libya in the midst of the pandemic. Those were the ones we heard about. What about those who were not apprehended?
It’s a battle with dark, retrogressive minds – NAPTIP DG
The Director-General of NAPTIP, Barrister Julie Okah-Donli, whose organisation daily confronts traffickers, in a telephone chat with The NATION, said the dangers her staff faced were many.
She said: “The corrupt minds who have invested in that evil trade will naturally fight back. They will attack my person by posting spurious and concocted stories about me to defame me and stain my integrity.
“They access victims and manipulate them not to help in their prosecution. They threaten me, my staff and our families on a daily basis. But in spite of these, NAPTIP is still here and standing.”
She described the fight against human trafficking as one with criminals and dark and retrogressive minds who are seeking to destroy the future of this country.
“Human Trafficking is a waste of Nigeria’s best and brightest, because it is an arrow in the heart of Nigeria’s human resource.
“No country can sustain the wastage of its youths the way human trafficking portends. Since I assumed office, I have retooled our arsenal for strategic planning, intervention, arrest, investigation, prosecution and rehabilitation of victims.
“Most importantly, I have personally invested both energy and passion in awareness creation and enlightenment of our public, just so that nobody is in doubt of the dangers posed by human trafficking and its human security implications.”
Asked why people continue to fall victim to the crime in spite of the massive enlightenment campaigns, the NAPTIP boss said: “People fall prey to human trafficking due to deprivation, greed, ignorance, poverty, and low self-esteem. This is part of the reasons that I am campaigning for the whole of government and whole of society’s effort and synergy to curb this menace and scourge. “Everybody has a responsibility, from the parents, who are first responders, to the community, which must erect anti-human trafficking road blocks, and the local government which must invest in targeting all children of school going age to make sure they are in school.
“The states must erect structures that protect children both in law and in deeds; adopt the child rights act, domesticate the law on violence against persons; and make education free, compulsory and accessible to every child.
“If we create this web of response and cover, our communities will become impregnable to traffickers. The private sector and all have a responsibility too.”
On the challenges militating against the anti-trafficking battle, she said: “The critical challenges include the tendency of state governors to leave this fight to the Federal Government. I am going round the states to persuade them to adopt and domesticate the laws I mentioned; to create state working groups on human trafficking, create empowerment programmes to lift women and families out of poverty and support our enlightenment effort by producing and playing anti-trafficking jingles on their state radio and television stations.
“You must also know that NAPTIP is the only law enforcement agency in this country that rehabilitates victims of crime. This places a huge demand for funds on the agency for this purpose.
“There are many victims in our care who have undergone skills acquisition programmes. The states are not helping by meeting NAPTIP at least half way in this journey by empowering them.”
The effect of human trafficking on victims and the society at large, according to her, is huge. “Nothing destroys the country’s human resource potentials like trafficking in persons. It has human security implications.
“I travelled to Mali and Libya and saw Nigerian girls in slave camps. It was heartbreaking. However hard I try, I can’t delete those images from my brain. That experience told me that there is work here to be done.
“Just imagine, right now, the Federal Government is spending money to bring back our girls from Oman, Lebanon, UAE, and so on.
“The agency has since inception secured the conviction of over 450 traffickers who have been brought to justice for their crimes.
“With the slow but assured wheel of justice grinding, there are over 150 cases in several courts in the land.”
She described a trafficker as “a merciless, corrupt minded fellow who targets the weak and the vulnerable amongst us with false promises of jobs, marriages, money and opportunities anywhere, everywhere for exploitative reasons and for his own personal gain.
“He destroys our best, brightest, young or old, irrespective of age. His primary concern is profit. He will never let go of his victim until he has no further use of that victim.”
Traffickers are reputed for buying their ways out when the long arms of the law catches up with them, but the NAPTIP DG says that is not possible with her.
“How will you approach me for such rubbish? The fear of NAPTIP is the beginning of wisdom. They won’t even think of it,” she said.
‘Ways to check trafficking’
Checkmating human trafficking according to Co-founder of Project Ferry, Motilola Adekunle, is not rocket science.
According to her, trafficking in persons has become an institution in Nigeria. “It is a hydra headed monster which if we are not careful will be around for a very long time. Each time we think we have stopped one aspect of it, you realise that there are more to unfold.
“It is so disappointing that the stakeholders are not doing enough to stop trafficking in the country. There are five phases to this.”
She revealed the five steps that must be taken to check trafficking and also help its victims. need to know that trafficking does exist. There is a qualified nurse in Nigeria who was earning as much as N120,000 monthly. She was told that there was a job in Dubai and that she was going to be working as a nurse and earning as much as N600,000. She accepted. But instead of Dubai, she found herself in Lebanon, working as a maid and earning less than N60,000 a month.
“It can happen to anybody. That is the first thing everybody needs to know. Trafficking is not beyond you. It doesn’t matter whether you are educated or not.
“The second thing is that there needs to be trafficking desk at every airport in Nigeria. People should not be in a hurry to jet out. At every point, let them ask you what are you going there to do? Do you know the person that is coming to pick you up? Do you have the person’s number and are you aware that you are actually going to be a maid? Those who cannot satisfactorily answer the questions should be turned back for their own good.”
The third, she added, “is that we need to repatriate. Anybody who finds themselves in the web of trafficking should be willingly allowed to come back.
“The fourth stage is the rehabilitation and reintegration of victims which NAPTIP and IOM are doing. It has not been enough. We need to do more. If this society has not failed them, there would be no need for a qualified nurse to jet out of Nigeria to earn N60,000 as a cleaner in an airport outside Nigeria.
“When they come back, they need to know that there is something in store for them. How about collaborating with microfinance banks to give them soft loans to finance their businesses and have them pay back over a period of time? How about partnering with the Bank of Industry to fund all of these things?
“The fifth is prosecuting the traffickers. Once you have evidence that a lady has been trafficked, why are her traffickers not arrested and prosecuted? Let their trials be fast tracked so that the victims could get some justice for all the ills that have been meted out to them.”