*More states overtake Edo as source of trafficked persons
By Charles Kumolu, Deputy Editor
Deal with these: In 2016, 602,000 Nigerians endeavoured to migrate to Europe via the Sahara Desert. 2007 died en route of which six percent were university graduates.
In the same year, Nigerians accounted for about 21 percent of the total 181,000 migrants braving the Mediterranean Sea to arrive in Italy.
Nigeria continues to be among the top five countries of origin of irregular migrants entering the European Union, EU.
In 2018, International Organisation for Migration, IOM, said 60, 000 Nigerians were identified in Libya with majority hailing from Edo State.
No fewer than 70,000 Nigerian girls are currently detained in Italian detention camps.
These statistics did not emanate from dinner table gossips but relevant international agencies on migration.
Apart from being scary, the figures underscore how illegal migration and human trafficking are bringing shame to Nigeria and dehumanising Nigerians.
First-hand irritating tales
Indeed, nobody would consider the alarming specifics and agree less that there is a huge problem facing the nation.
Disturbed by these, stakeholders from the private sector, civil society, public sector, development agencies, and even the clergy converged on Abuja for an international conference to deliberate and proffer multi-stakeholder solutions.
Titled, International Action on Illegal Migration and Trafficking in Persons Conference, the forum was primarily convened to strengthen a multi-stakeholder partnership in curbing illegal migration and human trafficking.
With participants drawn from international and local agencies working on human trafficking and illegal migration, the forum organised by the Nigerian Young Professionals Forum, NYPF, was an avenue to hear first-hand gory tales about the crisis.
No matter how emotionally strong you may be, if you are not frightened by the stories, you may become irritated by the scary patterns the problem is taking.
You can’t help but ask: What happened to the common humanity shared by man?
Sunday Vanguard considers the question unavoidable since the belief that all peoples of the earth share a common humanity, is being frontally challenged by human trafficking and modern-day slavery.
However, the NPYF gathering provided responses to questions on why people fail to live up to the acknowledgment of common humanity.
At the event chaired by the Chairman, Ocean Marine Solutions, Captain Hosa Okunbor, various speakers dissected the problem, its patterns, actors, geographical spread, and demeaning impact on humanity.
Consequently, they unanimously agreed that it is a growing threat to Nigerians that should be urgently addressed through multi-stakeholder partnerships.
The position first resonated in the opening remarks of the Chairman, NYPF, Mr. Moses Siasia, who narrated how an experience with a young man, who wanted to embark on a deadly voyage abroad, remotely implanted the idea for the conference in him.
“I took an UBER taxi to an embassy and was discussing on the phone. On our way, the taxi driver told me that he is a graduate who wants to travel to America. He claimed to have saved N1.5 million, pleading that I should assist him with N1.million. I advised him against travelling, but he insisted, saying he would earn $1000 monthly as an UBER taxi driver in the US,” Siasia said.
He explained that the encounter reminded him about thousands of young men and women, who are as desperate as the UBER driver in the quest to embark on dangerous trips abroad.
“There are so many people like him who embark on such journies and end up being trafficked for sexual exploitation and organ harvesting. It gives me a lot of concern that my generation suffers the impact of the menace. Those affected most are between the ages of 18 and 25. The youths embark on these trips without knowing the dangers ahead. They are deceived and in the process, their organs are harvested. Some organs are sold as high as N250, 000. For instance, one harvested heart sells for N250, 000,” he added.
Fairy tale destinations
Towing the same line, Deputy Head of EU Delegation in Nigeria, Mr. Richard Young said the alarming nature of the situation demands an urgent response from Nigeria.
“One in every 10 illegal immigrants who entered Europe between 2015 and 2016 was a Nigerian. 20,532 persons entered Europe illegally in those years. 2,084 were Nigerians, representing 10 percent. There is a reduction in the figures of victims since 2016 but we have to be tough on the crime. There are the good, bad and ugly sides of migration. We have to promote the good, eliminate the bad and the ugly. This is a problem Nigeria needs to fight,” he said.
On his part, Okunbor, who did not differ with earlier speakers on how embarrassing the problem has become, said it is saddening that Nigerians embark on deadly voyages to fairy tale destinations.
Head of Public Enlightenment, National Agency for Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons, NAPTIP, Mr. Arinze Orakwe, who represented the Director General of the agency, Juli Okah-Donli, shared his experience combating human trafficking.
He told stories that did not just touch the heart but underscored the extent to which traffickers could go to lure victims.
Particularly, Orakwe raised the alarm that unlike in recent past when Edo State was the source of most trafficked persons, Oyo State and Osun State are now the new suppliers.
“Oyo and Osun states have taken over from Edo as the major sources of potential victims,” he lamented.
The traffickers, Orakwe added: “Now target young people in those states. Mali, which the traffickers named “Maliasia” is now the number one destination for those trafficked into prostitution. Some of them, who we rescued said they were paid an equivalent of N140 for a round of sex and they would have to be doing that until they realise the equivalent of N2 million to secure their freedom. Some of them were trafficked when they were 13. Human trafficking has become multidimensional to the extent that some Nigerian girls harvest their ovaries and sell to fertility clinics for N140, 000.”
N140 for a round of sex
Not done, he described human traffickers as highly organised and crafty.
Supporting his assertion with an example, he said: “Every December, NAPTIP organises voluntarily return for trafficked victims, who want to return. Some of them would register for it and by the time we bring them home, they recruit young women and men, who they eventually sell into prostitution. Some are sold to organ hunters.
“NAPTIP has arrested 5,923 suspected human traffickers and rescued 13,950 victims in its 15 years of existence.”
If you found Orakwe’s story touching, the account of Rev. Sr. Monica Chikwe, who is of the Hospitaler Sisters of Mercy and Religious in Europe Networking Against Trafficking And Exploitation, RENATE, could be tempestuous.
Sr. Chikwe, who was one of the guest speakers at the event, shared many heart-wrenching first-hand experiences with traffickers, their victims, and Italian farm owners, who exploit migrants.
The Italy-based nun said: “My job involves travelling around the world and most times, I feel ashamed hearing at conferences that Nigerians are most of the victims of human trafficking and sexual exploitation in Europe. The girls practice their prostitution on the roads and bushes along the roads. You would feel bad seeing these semi-naked girls standing on the highways as they market their bodies. A victim we rescued was so angry at her traffickers that she exclaimed: “If na prostitution una want make person do, na for house them dey do am, no be for road or bush.”
Some of them who refused to engage in prostitution after being trafficked are starved and beaten until they agree. They sleep with different men for just €5.
£70,000 to secure freedom
”They have to make about £70,000 to secure their freedom. In Italian detention camps, there are about 60,000 Nigerian girls. Some of them didn’t know they were being trafficked.
“Some of the victims of human trafficking are working in plantations in Europe where they are being exploited by the farm owners. They work for years in the farms under harsh conditions without being paid. We have handled cases where we took some of the farm owners to court and got justice. There was a farm owner who eventually paid €16,000 to his Nigerian worker, who he earlier refused to pay after many years. When the workers demand their wages, the farm owners threaten to report them to the authorities. Since they are undocumented, they remain in the farms to avoid being deported to Nigeria.
“These workers often go to the farms as early as 3 am under harsh climatic conditions. There was a time the Italian government gave the farm owners the opportunity of regularising the documents of their workers, they refused because they want to evade tax.”
Demand driving the supply
Sr. Chikwe, whose organisation has succeeded in sending back many trafficked persons, revealed that the demand for sex workers, human organs and cheap labour makes the illegal trade to flourish.
“Many people talk about the victims and hardly talk about what makes the trade to flourish. The demand is driving the supply. That is why the trade is flourishing and the traffickers are becoming daring. I had once asked at a conference if Nigerians or other blacks are the ones patronising the Nigerian prostitutes in Europe. The patronage comes from those countries, not African countries,” she asserted.
As far as she is concerned, concerted efforts are needed to reduce the alarming scale of the problem.
Other speakers like the founder of Belama Oil Producing Limited, Mr. Jack-Rich Tein,Jr; Chairman/Chief Executive Officer of the Nigerian Diaspora Commission, Mrs. Abike Dabiri-Erewa; represented by Mr. Gabriel Odu; Chairman of Sifax Group, Dr. Taiwo Afolabi, represented by Mr. Auta Joshua; Editorial Board Chairman of Thisday Newspapers, Mr. Segun Adeniyi; and Dr. Ahmed Adamu of the Nile University, Nigeria, also, called for multi-stakeholder efforts to address the crisis.
For instance, Adamu, who is a former Chairperson of the Commonwealth Youth Council, called for a repackaged educational curriculum that focuses on building mental energy.
“Nigeria has not moved with time. This is the time for the type of education that would equip the youths with mental tools to solve problems beyond what was learned in the classrooms,” he submitted.
On his part, the head of NYPF, Siasia called for the creation of an enabling environment capable of making travelling abroad unattractive to young people.
“As the NYPF, we are seeing opportunities in the face of challenges. Collective responsibility is required to combat the problem because people would always move from one place to another,” he added.
One of the high points of the gathering was the launch of a programme titled: Skill and Entrepreneurship Development Programme, SED-P.
The scheme, according to Siasia, would rehabilitate, develop capacities, empower, mentor, and provide hope for returnees.
“When the returnees are dropped at the airport, nobody cares about what they later do in life. Everyone just moves on and forgets the victims. We are going to monitor and train them for the next five years. We are going to bring them out to showcase what they have been able to achieve from the initiative,” he added.