By Simon Ebegbulem
Benin City – There is hardly any familyÂ in Benin City , Edo state capital that you would not find either a son or daughter residing abroad. In most cases, their locationÂ is either Italy , Spain or the Netherlands .
To the uninitiated, living in Spain, Italy or the Netherlands is like a dream come true. ButÂ Â those that made it to these European countriesÂ admitÂ in the quietness of their houses that they would rather not go throughÂ what they wentÂ through before getting to Europe.
Saturday Vanguard learnt that their sponsors would firstÂ Â arrange a trip to Libya for thoseÂ Â heading to Italy and for those traveling to Spain , they pass through Morrocco.
And when they get to either of these African countries, they wait for months before they are able to venture through the high sea to get to their final destination. Sometimes they wait till eternity. But before they leave the shores of the country, they are taken to juju priests who put them underÂ the oath that would stop them from revealingÂ their sponsors even when they are caught.
They are bathed with water and wrappers assumed to have been removedÂ from the body of a corpse. Sadly, most of these girls and boys never make it
to Europe. They die without revealing those that put them through the harrowing experience. So binding is the oath that officials of the National Agency for the Prohibition of Traffic In Persons and Other related Matters, NAPTIP and other law enforcement agencies have been unable to get them to unmask their sponsors.
It was learnt that it is like a cabal and a deadly one for that matter due to the people involved in the illicit trade.Â Â Majority of these girls and boys die whileÂ trying to enter Italy but their relatives here in Nigeria believe they are abroad , hoping they will call one day. It was learnt that most times, the girls who got stuck in Libya , are turned into sex slaves just for them to survive.
The ordeal of the girls is compounded by the fact that they spend most of the time in the hands of Libyan security officials who use them as sex toys . They drag out these girls randomly from their under ground jails to satisfy their sex urge.
As at the time of filing this report, over five hundred indigenes of Edo state, who have been languishing in Libyan jails since November last year were brought back home.
They lookÂ Â pale and gaunt. Some of them toldÂ Â Â Saturday Vanguard thatÂ Â over two thousand of them from Edo state have died since January 2009, till date while trying to enter one of these European countries. Majority of them Saturday Vanguard was told, were killed in the desert by Libyan security operatives.
Worried by this pathetic and ugly situation, a delegation led by a House of Representative member, Abike Dabiri paid a visit to Governor Adams Oshiomohle of Edo StateÂ Â last month and appealed for his intervention in this matter. But the Governor who expressed his disappointment over whatÂ he described as the lack lusterÂ attitude of the Foreign Affairs Department towards the plight of the victims, expressed helplessness on the issue since the only authority saddled with the responsibility of handling such foreign issues was the Federal Government.
Saturday Vanguard recalled that the Governor even at that visit threatened to lead a protest to the Foreign Affairs Ministry in Abuja , at least to tell the Nigerian government that it must protect its citizens no matter the way and manner they left the shores of this country.
Saturday Vanguard also learnt that the Governor prior to the visit of the House of Representatives members, sent his Senior Special Assistant on Foreign Matters/Diaspora, Mr Ehiozuwa Agbonayinma, to Abuja, to liaise with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to see how these victims could be brought home but the SAÂ came back from the trip a frustrated man. He lamented that the Libyan Embassy in Nigeria was not functional andÂ as a result, it was difficult for Nigerian officials to make contacts with the Libyan authorities to discuss the issue.
Though the National Agency for the Prohibition of Traffic in Persons (NAPTIP), has been doing a lot in curbing this illicit trade, it seems, their effort isÂ still not enough due to the persistent urge to travel abroad by these people.
When Saturday Vanguard visited the NAPTIP office in Benin last Monday, several cases bothering on trafficking were being handled by the Agency.
Saturday Vanguard metÂ a Benin High Chief (names withheld) who was apprehended for trafficking one Omono to Italy for alleged sexual trade. His arrest followed a petition by one Madam Juliet Osifo, mother of Omono, who accused the Chief of taking Omono abroad without her consent. She is demanding that her daughter who isÂ currently trapped in LibyaÂ should be brought back or else the Chief and her entire family will not have peace.
Saturday Vanguard was not allowed to speak to some of the girls who were repatriated because of the on-going investigations and also to protect them from the public. But this reporter however,Â spoke to the Benin zonal Head of NAPTIP, Mrs Adefunke Abiodun, the Head of operations, DSP Balogun Aderemi, Madam Osifo, the Benin Chief and the two juju priests who are specialists.
Saturday Vanguard also visited one of the shrinesÂ where one of the juju priests wasÂ asked to revoke the oath administered to one of the girls so as to free her soul. The trip was quite interesting.
Benin zonal Head of NAPTIP, MrsÂ Adefunke Adiodun , says the trade is still on and people should stop denying that fact:
The National Agency for the Prohibition of Traffic in Persons (NAPTIP), came into being in 2003 when the Trafficking Laws were put in place by former President Olusegun Obasanjo. We all know that this evil has been going on particularly in this state.
So this zone is the first to be opened by the Agency. The zone was opened in July 2004 and within a twinkle of an eye ,the first trafficker went behind bars for three years. The case was handled by the then Chief Judge of this state, Justice Constance Momoh. Since then,Â we have heard a lot of other success stories.
But the major success that we call success is looking after the one that was taken away. The ignorant innocent young girls that are being taken away, that are being exploited, that are being dehumanized, that are being sold into slavery.
Since the inception of this zone, we have had about three thousand young girls in this dilemma in this agency that we have helped. And we do know that a lot of them are still in Libya , Morroco, all over the place. These girls are being exploited, dehumanized and sold into sexual slavery.
The major challenge that we have now in Edo state is that there is a lot of denials of the fact that young girls of Benin descent are still in human tracking and taken away for prostitution. Now as you would see, there is a very big case on hand that would prove to every body that no one is exempted whether Benin , Urhobo, Itsekiri or Yoruba, every body is involved in this and it must stop.
The young girls are ignorant like I said, so some times we find it difficult to prove a case against these traffickers because the girl will not want to expose her trafficker and apart from that, they are put under oath.
So this zone has been very very busy, looking for all the juju priests that put some of the girls under oath. Some of them are even in our cell. We asked them to go and renounce that oath onÂ the lives of thoseÂ girls so that they can feel free to beÂ human beings because the oath ties them down spiritually.
We have renounced almost four major oath taking. And we had to go to these shrines and really arrest the juju priests. When in the cell, it will now dawn on them to cooperate with us because you cannot say you are helping these girls when in their spirits they are still not free. You have to free their spirits so that you can get them back to the society. The juju priestsÂ know what is good for them and so, they have been cooperating with us.
Human trafficking is an international thing .So, we have signed MOUs with different countries like Italy, Netherlands and other countries. By the time they are coming home, some of them are already assisted by the international body but the main thing now is that these international bodies are here partnering with us to be able to do more for them when they come. So, we have trained quite a lot of them.
In the Benin zone alone, we have trained about 200 young girls in different vocational studies that they are interested in and apart from that, we have been able to secure some micro credit facilities for them so that after their training ,they set up the businesses of their own.
Some of them have even gone back to school and NAPTIP is footing the bills. The government sees this, the international organizations sees this. If you recall, when the Secretary ofÂ State, Hillary Clinton came, NAPTIP was about the only agency that she commended.
For the sponsors of these girls, the people behind this evil trade, they are the ones who have residency permits in Europe , the ones that are here are their errand boys and errand women. So in as much as those ones are still in hiding over there, we are dealing with the ones we are able to get hold of over here. By the time we deal with these ones here without stopping, they will not have errand boys or women to use. Then let any of them who thinks he has two heads come down and act. Then, they will meet NAPTIP on ground.
How juju priests aid Human Trafficking, DSP Balogun Aderemi:
Going by my training as a police officer, it is easy for me to put my self in a proper position in order to handle this kind of case.
Recently, we have cases of these voodoo priests who are being used by the traffickers to enforce the payment these girls are subjected to by their sponsors. We did a lot of surveillance and in the process, we gotÂ them arrested.
And after that, they were made to revoke the oath. Like the recent one we did, where these girls were made to drink water gotten from a dead body and they were also forced to tie a wrapper used by a dead body and they were forced to swear to different gods.
Like the recent case which involved the Benin Chief, the petition was sent to us by a complainant whose daughter was being taken to Italy enroute Libya but got stuck in Libya for over a year now. When the petition was brought to us ,we arrested the Chief and he narrated that actually his daughter requested him to recruit the girl for her. The purpose according to him was that their daughter wanted to use the girlÂ Â Â in her beer palour in Italy .
But I placedÂ a call to the daughter who denied all these. She said she did not request for the girl but rather she was trying to help the girl. But that is not the issue now, the issue is that the girl is now stranded in Libya and we are putting headsÂ together to bring the girl back to Nigeria .
We are making some contacts but it has been difficult because it seems the girl is some where that she cannot talk. Most times when weÂ speak with her, her answers haveÂ been yes and no and she would not say any thing tangible. The last time we spoke to her, she said her captor is demanding 500 euros before she will be released.
The truth is that we believe we are doing the right thing, so we are not scared of those things. In most cases, we do not get the cooperation of the herbalist but with time, they will open up to us on what they did to the girls and how they did it.
And in most cases, they are made to revoke the oath. But then, getting them arrested is not easy. Most times, the girls do not even know the herbalistsÂ . And of course ,when you get to some of these shrines, you will be scared but because we are doing the right thing, we are doing a just cause, we talk to them and they confess to us. But the truth is that some of our guys get scared when we get to the shrines. Its psychological but we always handle the situation.
I think this is another fear they create in these girls. How do you confirm that? They just inflict fear on them but it also has to do with your belief.
oath takingÂ is powerful,Â Comrade Ifa Emmanuel Ogbemudia, one of the Juju priests:
Actually when these girls come, there are three major oaths we administer onÂ them : One is ,if she gets to that place, she should not run away with any body they ask her to stay with.
The other one is; ifÂ she gets there, she should not arrest her sponsor with the police.
And the third is: any thing she knows that can kill her sponsor without alerting her, she will be punished too. And at the end of the day, if she does not violate any of the oaths, she will get whatever she wants in her life.
Yes, I am aware that those girls said that when they were arrestedÂ that materials from dead bodies were used to prepare charms for them but it is not true. As a native doctor, I cannot do something and deny it. There is no way you get clothes from dead bodies.We give them white clothes to tie because most of these girls do not know where they passed through before coming to see me.
There are some too who are spiritually powerful too and wheneverÂ they know theyÂ are coming to take oath, theyÂ always come with some thing powerful. Every body has his own spirit. The effect of this is that the moment she takes that oath, it will go back to you that administered the oath to them.
There are some spiritual mummies among them, that is why when they come, we give them white cloth and water to go and bath and after that, they will come straight to take the oath. So when they were saying that the water and the cloth they wore during the oath taking ceremony were from dead bodies, I said no it is not true, that my father did not train me that way and I cannot change the tradition.
It is always the person who brings these girls to us that brings money that we use to buy materials to work onÂ these girls. We all believe in God, so whatever we are doing ,we call him too to be a witness. So I want to tell you that the charm works .The charms work because they say it is not what goes into a man that defiles the man but what comes out of him.
I thank God that any oath I administer has worked for my clients. I have never received any report that an oath I administeredÂ did not work. There is no home in Benin City today that does not have either one of their sons or daughters abroad. That is why every day I wakeÂ up,Â I pray for myself and I also pray for every living thing good or bad.
Chief Ogbebor Timothy-Juju Priest:
Just few days ago, I saw some policemen in my house and they invited me to this office, that there is a girl who mentioned my name that I put some medicine in her body and I bath her because she was traveling abroad. So I told the police that the girl came to my house in company of a lady and the father.
Because before I do any thing for any body, if she is a married woman, I must invite the husband and if is a girl I must invite the parents. That is what I was told by my father. So the girl came with her father and the woman she said was taking her abroad to meet somebody.
When I asked the father what they wanted, the father said the daughter was traveling abroad, that I should administer some medicine on her so that when she gets abroad she will get what she wants. I told them I will do that. I went to my shrine, brought the water, the water is for general purpose, for good luck, even married women who are looking for child, it helps them for that.
So I bathedÂ the girl in the presenceÂ of the father and the woman and also administered the medicine on her body. I applied the medicine on her toes too so that any where she goes, she will not come across any danger.
Then on her chest and back, I administered the medicine so that any external attack that will come against her whether at home orÂ Â abroad will not touch her.
No dead bodies
There is no such thing. You know I am a Chief andÂ I have swornÂ that any thing that involves dead bodies, I am not involved. Even when some body dies, because of my tradition, I do not go to the mortuary.
I tried to help the girl because of my daughter â€” Benin High Chief:
What happened was that my daughter who stays in Italy said I should look for a girl who knowsÂ Â how to make hair and send to her in Italy . So I told one of my brothers called Osagie about it, that if he sees some body that wants to sponsor his daughter to Italy,they should let me know.
So we contacted Omonoâ€™s mother and we told her that she would have to make aÂ sacrifice before she travels. But the mother said she does not have money and I equally told them I do not have money. So the mother said Omonoâ€™s father is not aware of the arrangement and thereforeÂ cannot go and collect money from him. So the senior brother of the girl came and volunteered to giveÂ us the money so that they can run from poverty when Omono travels. On my own, I managed to rally round to get N45,000 and I gave the senior brother that came with her.
After the sacrifice, the boy that was told to come and take the girl to Italy through Libya , came but I told them that without concluding the sacrifice, I will not allow the girl to travel.I insisted that she will travel after the sacrifice must have concluded.Â OmonoÂ later traveled to Libya but theyÂ called to tell us that the ocean through which they will travel to Italy is not yet safe.
So my daughter said she has sent money to one Alhaji that Omono is staying with in Libya . But the next thing we heard was that the Alhaji has absconded with the money. My daughter now directed her to stay with some body else called Lucky. So I told her mother to ask Omono whether the charm is working for her and when Omono was contacted, she said Libya is better for her than Nigeria.
So my daughter who is in Italy now sent another mother for them to use to cross Omono over to Libya . She sent the mother to Lucky in Libya , he is a Bini boy. But to our greatest surprise, the Lucky absconded again with the money. So we now decided that she has to come back to Nigeria sinceÂ the ocean is not clear yet for her to enter Italy .
But my daughter now said that she will look for money for Omono to come back to Nigeria by air, that she does not want her to come back by road. So when Omonoâ€™s mother came I told her what my daughter said and it was at that point that we are when I came back home from the palace and I was told that my wife has been arrested. I had to rush down here and that was how I was arrested. We are only trying to see how we can link the Lucky in Libya so that we can bring Omono back to Nigeria .
Mrs Juliet Osifo,Â wrote petition againstÂ the Benin Chief:
I have just Omono and one other boy . This my daughter stays with the father at Eyean, where she is learning a trade, but I stay at Uselu where I do my business. Suddenly Omono disappeared and my husband called to say he has not seen Omono forÂ a week .
I told him that Omono does not sleep outside. But one day, my phone rang and it was Omono. I asked her where she was,Â Â she said she wasÂ in Libya, that it was one Chief and his wife that took her to Libya and that from there, she will travel to Italy. I was very mad at her. I told her to call her father which she did. So I asked her where the Chief stays, she described the place and I went to see the man.
Chief and I told her that I didÂ not like that type of travel since I was not told abut it. He told me that the daughter in Italy said she likes Omono, so she wants to take her to italy. He told me not to worry that every thing will be fine. But before I knew it, my daughter hadÂ spent over a year in Libya . I now went to meet the Chief and told him to bring back my daughter, that I do not have many kids.
But he kept promising me. And whenever I call my daughter she would tell me that she is suffering in Libya. It was at this point that my husband threatened that If I refused to go and show him the Chiefâ€™s place that he was going to deal with me. So all of us went to the Chiefâ€™s place and he kept giving me fake promises. He started saying that weÂ hadnâ€™tÂ paidÂ him the money he spent before my daughter could travel.Â Â . But I told him that I am not aware of what he was saying that all I want now is my daughter. He now said my husband should come and pay him the money and that is the only way he can see Omono. I was shocked. HeÂ said I should leave his house that I should do what ever I want to do.
So few days later, the daughter in Italy called me and said she has no money to bring back my daughter, but I pleaded that she should bring whatever she had so that I can add mine and send to Omono in Libya. But they said there was nothing they could do and my daughter is suffering now in Libya . So that was why I came to NAPTIP so that they will help me force Chief and his wife to bring back my daughter. All I want is for them to bring back my daughter.