ONE of the gruesome highlights of 2017 was the exposé on the outrageous return of the long-abolished trans-Saharan slave trade occasioned by nefarious activities of human traffickers. Over the past 10 years, thousands of migrants, especially Africans, Asians and people fleeing the Middle East wars and violence, perished in the Mediterranean Sea while luckier ones found themselves in Europe in dehumanising occupations and conditions.
In 2017 alone, about 160,000 migrants successfully crossed into Europe but nearly 3,000 drowned in the Mediterranean, according to the International Organisation for Migration, IOM. The most pathetic case was the death of 26 Nigerian girls aged between 16 and 20, whose bodies were hurriedly buried by the Italian authorities without proper identification.
The height of it all was the discovery that thousands of sub-Saharan Africans, especially Nigerians, were held in slave camps in Libya where they were sold for US$400 (less than N150,000) per head. The dust raised by this story finally roused the Federal Government to begin the serial evacuations of stranded Nigerians from Libya. Since this story broke, there has been a noticeable increase in the efforts of government to tackle the illicit trafficking of persons.
The Benin Zonal Command of the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons, NAPTIP, has reported the arrest of 75 suspects, rescue of 500 victims and rehabilitation of about 3,000 rescued victims. While we commend these modest efforts, we reiterate the need for a total war against human trafficking and slavery by the Federal Government.
We should see human trafficking and slavery as a slap on the collective dignity of the Federal Government, the state governments and all Nigerian citizens. With this, the prestige of Nigeria is in tatters, and at its nadir in the comity of nations.
How can Nigeria stand proud before other countries when situations within its borders have deteriorated to the level of its citizens being so cheaply bought and sold in war-torn Libya? The war to end slavery and human trafficking must be a comprehensive plan of action. In addition to hunting down and prosecuting agents of human trafficking in its epicentres, there must be massive advocacy to demonise the fad of parents and family members encouraging young men and women to head to Europe.
The traditional rulers, political leaders, religious organisations, the media and government organs have a role in this massive reorientation effort. Good governance is a key factor to keep Nigerians usefully employed at home. The Federal Government must burnish its diplomatic machinery and engage European destination countries to join efforts with it in crippling the trafficking networks. Apart from arresting and prosecuting them, their assets and ill-gotten wealth should be traced, frozen and sold and proceeds put in the victim rehabilitation fund. We must render human trafficking totally unprofitable.