•’I took ill after I had repaid $45,000 to my madam’
•Says 100 deported girls are HIV positive
By SIMON EBEGBULEM, Benin-City
The war against human trafficking intensified in Edo State last week after whistle blowers informed security agents about the arrival of a Russian based alleged human trafficker,Vivian Ehioze. Consequently, she was arrested alongside her brother, Pastor Endurance Ehioze, said to be her recruiter. One of their victims was alleged to be a 23-year-old-lady, Florence Abu, said to have been trafficked to Russia for prostitution when she was 17. They were alleged to have been involved in trafficking several girls to Russia with Endurance allegedly using his position as a pastor to facilitate the recruitment of the girls from church. The state Commissioner of Police, Haliru Gwandu, whose men arrested the suspected traffickers, described the raid as a boost to the fight against human trafficking. While victim Florence, who was deported to Nigeria after she had suffered some strange ailment, is being treated at a hospital, Vivian and Emmanuel are cooling their feet in prison after a magistrate court in Ekiadolor asked them to be remanded.
They were remanded on a two-count-charge by Chief Magistrate E I. Bazuaye. The suspects, and two others still at large, were said to have committed the offense sometime in January 2013 at Idunwina Quarters, Ekiadolor, near Benin-City. They were alleged to have connived to procure Florence for the purpose of prostitution and other sexual exploitation.
Meanwhile, Florence narrated her story to Sunday Vanguard.
“It all started in 2012 when a pastor in my church, Endurance Ehioze, called me to say he wanted to see me. He asked me if I will like to travel out of the country and I said yes. I told him that I was constrained financially; so he said money was not the problem and that he had a sister abroad that will finance my trip. He further told me that I could pay off the sister off in less than two months after my arrival abroad. He added that I shouldn’t be afraid of making money abroad since and I am a good singer and hair stylist. The pastor further told me that I might be lucky to even come across a white man that will support me”, the victim started.
“Later, he (Endurance} gave me her sister’s number in Russia called Vivian Ehioze. When I flashed her, she called me and introduced herself. She asked me if I was interested in leaving the country, saying as long as I was interested I should get my passport ready which I did by borrowing N30, 000 from LAPO, and I called her to tell her that my passport was ready.
“She asked me to give the passport to Pastor Endurance (the brother) as he will handle everything. She gave me words of encouragement that everything will be fine. Few days later, she called again to say I should pack my luggage and take it to her mother’s place enroute to Lagos. But when I got to the mother’s place, she told me it was late to travel to Lagos that same day. The next morning, she woke me up and said there must be an agreement between us because many girls, when they get to Russia, don’t often pay her daughter back the money spent to take them abroad. So, she said, she must take something from me as an oath and that once I finished paying her daughter, I will have to pay her some money as well. I was surprised that Endurance, who is a pastor, encouraged me to undertake such oath. I had thought that as a Christian we will do it the Christian way. Finally, the mother took strands of hair from my head, armpit, private part and she also collected my pant for the oath taking”.
She went on: “When I arrived Lagos, the next day, an elder brother of Madam Vivian (name withheld) came to pick me from the park and took me to a hotel. He brought out a slip of paper from his pocket and said it was my visa application and that it was genuine. He told me to relax and that I should use what I have to get what I wanted. I was shocked when he took my phone according to an order from Vivian so that nobody might call to discourage me from proceeding on the trip. I asked him how I will be able to communicate with my mother since he had collected my phone and he assured me that Endurance (pastor) will be the link man if I wanted to speak to my mother.
“Immediately thereafter, he brought out a condom and asked that I should pull off my dress. I resisted him but he forcefully had his way. He said it should be a secret between the two of us and threatened that if I disclosed it to any one, something terrible will happen to me. He took me to his house and asked me to pretend about it. For the two weeks period I waited for my visa, it was hell for me in the house. He molested me regularly but thankfully my visa came in February 2013”.
“When I arrived in Russia, Vivian came to pick me up at the airport and she took me to her place in Moscow. The first thing she did was to take my passport away from me. She said the passport now belonged to her. The third day, at about 9pm, she asked me to dress up. She took me on a road walk during which I met several Nigerian girls prostituting on the street and that was how I was lured into prostitution. I started paying the money ($45,000} and once I finished paying, I was deported to Nigeria. Apart from that, I was inflicted with a strange ailment. Life was so unbearable for me so much so that I was put under medication for almost one year. The doctors treating me couldn’t handle my case. The doctors said other people with worse health situations had been treated and wondered why my own case was different. When I couldn’t bear it, I had to tell my mother about it. It was my mother that used to send me black soap and cream from Nigeria through courier to treat the ailment. At a point, it was my mother that was sending money to me to pay my house rent. Life there became difficult so much so that I had to go to Nigerian embassy in Russia for help before I was deported”.
Asked if she was aware she was being trafficked for prostitution, Forence said: “I was 17 years old then. My madam lied to me that life was far better over there and that if I didn’t want to stay in Russia, I could travel to another country. I made all the credits I needed at O’ level but there was no money to further my education; so when the opportunity came, I jumped at it. Besides, my mum was owing a huge debt and I wanted to help her because of the embarrassment. But what my madam told me was completely different from what I met in Russia. I was molested to point that I took ill. I was using gas water because of acute chest pain arising from the torture I received from my madam. Sometimes I will just collapse. I was always on drugs. And the she abandoned me in Russia and came to Nigeria to look for other girls to traffick. I couldn’t cope with life; so I was deported with other girls who were going through the same situation as l. If it is possible, some of our girls in Russia will trek back home because the suffering there is huge, some of them are beggars there.
“ I want to advise young girls hoping to be taken abroad to work that all that glitters is not gold. Yes, abroad is beautiful, but if you are going to be trafficked by someone, you should cry out. Life there is not what they paint to you. Many girls out there are dead and their parents think they are alive. Out of the 300 girls deported in the last one year, about 100 of them are HIV positive. Our girls should learn trades and empower themselves rather than going abroad for prostitution. I want to thank Edo State Commissioner of Police because he has fought for me by apprehending my traffickers (madam and her brother). I came in contact with an NGO (Solomon Okoduwa) through one girl called Gift when we were at the NAPTIP detention centre in Lagos. Okoduwa has been helping me to settle down and was instrumental to the arrest of my madam and her brother”
Corroborating the victim’s story, her other, Madam Josephine Abu, who wept profusely, said, “My daughter was assisted to travel through Endurance our pastor, who is the second in command to the senior pastor of our church. The suffering was too much for me to bear. He said since I was indebted to some people and I could not pay, he would help my daughter to travel abroad. He (Endurance) assured me that since my daughter is a hair stylist, she will make money in Russia. For a long time, I didn’t hear from my daughter until she called to say she was seriously ill and could not bear staying in Russia any longer and had to be deported”.
The National Coordinator of the Initiative for Youth Awareness on Migration, Immigration, Development and Reintegration (IYAMIDR), Comrade Okoduwa Solomon, who described Florence’s story as very pathetic, narrated how the suspected traffickers were arrested. “Information reached us that her madam was in town to recruit young girls to be taken to Russia. So, we contacted the police who swung into action by arresting the said madam and her brother. The Commissioner of Police and the NAPTIP acted wonderfully. Apart from this girl, we have other victims and that is why we are trying to reach out to Governor Godwin Obaseki to help us rehabilitate these girls. “They are our children and sisters, so that they can be assisted to be useful to themselves and the society. Parents should also caution their children against illegal migration”.