…Italian Govt, Obaseki set to battle sponsors
…We will help to check perpetrators at local level-Oba Ewuare 11
SIMON EBEGBULEM, BENIN CITY
When you mention human trafficking in Nigeria, people always say it is prevalent in Edo state. This illicit trade has over the years pitched the natives against the ruling government at Osadebey Avenue.
It will be recalled that Edo indigenes, particularly the women started migrating to Italy in the early 90s for greener pastures and majority were engaged in prostitution. It became a thriving business for them and they started having cartels all over Europe.
Parents then got involved by selling their property to ensure their daughters were trafficked abroad while the sponsors took these victims to native doctors where they swore oath of allegiance before they moved to Italy. The trade grew into a hydra headed monster. This was the situation in 1999 when then governor Lucky Igbinedion came into power.
His wife Eki Igbinedion, through her Idia Renaissance project started battling the traffickers and getting some of the girls repatriated back home. But the war pitched her against the natives who accused her of repatriating their children when things were difficult back home. The illicit trade as Saturday Vanguard learnt has been difficult to stop because it is being run by a powerful cartel that has connections both in Nigeria and abroad. But as it seems, the current administration in Edo state, led by Godwin Obaseki has resolved to fight the cabal head on.
The recent war against the illicit trade intensified penultimate week, when the Presidente of the Italian Chamber of Deputies, Hon Laura Boldrini, led a delegation from Italy to Edo state to participate in a seminar organized by the state government.
More significantly in this visit was that for the first time in the history of the Benin Airport, an International flight landed on its tarmac. This was the Alitalia Airline that flew the delegation from Italy straight to Benin. The Deputy Governor of the state, Comrade Philip Shaibu led other government officials to welcome the delegation at the Airport while cultural groups entertained the visitors.
The issue of human trafficking was seriously discussed at the seminar which had in attendance such dignitaries as the immediate past governor of Edo state, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole and his wife lara, Senator Francis Alimekhena, Hon, Pally Iriase and lawmakers from Edo state, Special Adviser to the President on Diaspora Matters Abike Dabiri, President of the Women Arise for Change Initiative and Campaign for Democracy, Dr Joe Okei-Odumakin, Prof.Julius Ihonvbere, and many others.
The workshop was organized after Governor Godwin Obaseki and the Italian government expressed worries over the number of deaths recently recorded during attempts by indigenes of the state to travel to Italy illegally through the sea.
Governor Obaseki at the workshop described human trafficking as a modern day slavery that is worst than kidnapping. His words: “My Government takes the issue of human trafficking very serious. For us it is a major crime, it is the modern day slavery. This is threatening the survival of our people when the people who benefit from this trade are not from Edo State but they have a well-developed worldwide system to exploit innocent people. We got a data recently that about 37,000 illegal immigrants were arrested in Europe and about 15,000 of them are from Edo and Delta states. Those are even the people who survived the journey because people go through the sea, some go through the Sahara and so many must have died in the process. So I think it is an issue we can no longer trivialize. This is an issue that has to do with the survival of our people, it is an issue we must deal with urgently.
So I am not afraid politically to talk about it, it is not a political issue any more, everybody is affected. The greatest challenge is to deal with the god fathers of trafficking and this is where we need the help of the international community and security agents to help us. These are business people, they have bank accounts in Europe, they have agents who come here to recruit people, we should be able to establish who these people are and prosecute them.
“We, in Edo state we are prepared to give our best to fight this wicked act. We are going to domesticate the law so that we will make it effective that human trafficking is as bad as kidnapping if not worst. And for those who survived it we will give them opportunity to be rehabilitated. We are going to strengthen our institutions to work with the Federal government on this issue.
At the political level we will do what we need to do and make the relevant appointment. We will train these victims, rehabilitate them and integrate them into the society. And the Edo state government is ready to pay the money which these so called traffickers have demanded from their victims so we can free them.
Trafficking is a threat that I think we all must deal with, it is not something we should be ashamed of anymore. Those victims will be first priority in our job creation initiative. Religious institutions and traditional institutions must now rise up to be part of this. When religious institutions were praying for people to get visas to Europe, we thought it was a right thing to do, now look at the problem it has created. The Church, the Mosque, royal fathers, now need to make this a priority because they know what we are talking about and we must fight it together”.
On her part, the Presidente of the Italian Chamber of Deputies, Hon Laura Boldrini, who commended Governor Obaseki for trying to fix the dilapidated Benin Technical College (BTC), empowerment of women mechanics in Edo state and other efforts being made to create jobs for youths of the state, noted that human trafficking is prevalent in Edo state from the records available and vowed that the Italian Government would give both moral and financial support to the state government and the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP) to fight the trade.
According to her, “I am happy to be in Benin City because it is here that we have a lot of issues that have to do with migration. But we hope to tackle it. One has to thank My Governor for his efforts in supporting victims of human trafficking.
But I want to say no to stigmatization against women and the victims. We have the moral duty, the religious duty to protect them. To give them a chance and for us to do that I will want a close collaboration with the local authorities, the governor, the Federal government and us. The problem of trafficking is affecting Edo state and Nigeria, it is affecting Italy and Europe, it is affecting humanity. We cannot accept this form of modern day slavery, it is inhuman.
If they are given a chance they can get a job and it is because they have no jobs here they tend to go to Europe to look for how their future will be brighter. But that future is not future, it is hell. We have to make them understand that in Europe it is not easy, it is sometimes hell. So we need to create opportunities for them here and that is why I am happy with the support the Edo state government is giving to women mechanics in Edo state. Sometimes you can say women cannot be good mechanics but it is not true as we have seen in Edo state. We saw hundreds of young women being trained here as mechanics and there is future in that.
We have a duty to give you (NAPTIP) more resources in order to be more successful in your effort. I will indeed once I am back, try to seek proper cooperation between my country and Edo state which is the most affected in this trafficking issue. And this war against trafficking is a continuous one and we must be well equipped to fight it. So I promise you that we are going to do whatever we can do in my country to support you”.
Continuing she said, “I am grateful to NAPTIP with the work they are doing in Benin City here, it is a very important work. I want to believe that we in Italy and Nigeria have to increase cooperation at all levels in order to provide enough resources for NAPTIP and other centers to support the girls who are sent back from Italy. We have to give the girls the chance to get a decent job. And in order to do so we have to support the effort of the state government that is trying to give them an alternative. All of us are affected, we have to find the situation to tackle this trafficking which is a form of modern day slavery.
We have to find a way to sensitize the young women on this issue, we have to tell them not to trust anybody, not to believe anybody. We need a very strong awareness campaign to make them understand that what is presented like a paradise most times is the hell. So they don’t deserve that, they deserve a career, a future that in order to do so, they have to go to school and be educated and they have to try and rely on themselves instead of people exploiting them. So I will go back to Italy with the commitment to try to look for such a cooperation”.
The delegation including Governor Obaseki then visited the Oba of Benin, Oba Ewuare 11 to solicit his support in this war against human trafficking. The monarch recalled his efforts to check the excesses of the sponsors when he was Nigeria Ambassador to Italy and reiterated his commitment to support in the fight at the local level saying,”anything you want me to do I will do because this is inhuman”.
It was a pitiable sight when the delegation spoke with some of the victims who were recently repatriated from Libya. Some of them are between the ages of 16 and 21 and they narrated how they were moved to Libya hoping to travel to Germany from there before they were sent back to Nigeria. Special Adviser to the President on Diaspora Matters, Abike Dabiri lamented that the some of the victims “are back to Nigeria with tales of woes, tales of agony, physical and psychological trauma. Of course it is also important to make them know there is no point going on that dangerous adventure when they will be better here.
So this particular summit in Edo state is a major step forward, it is not an Edo problem, it is a Nigeria problem and we need to tackle it head on. What we are doing is to ensure that when these girls come back we reintegrate them and give them jobs. Some of them are being trained in agriculture, hair dressing and other trades and Bank of Industry have been there to make funds available for them to start their businesses. And then NGOs have also joined government to train them in different vocations. That is why the Federal Government is fighting corruption because the money that was stolen would have been enough to crate job opportunities for these people to remain in Nigeria to do businesses. There is one of the victims here, all she needed was N100,000 to start a business but she could not get it and she decided to leave. So government is about the welfare of the people, caring for the people”.