By Bashir Bello
It was a scene which left many speechless as 23 indigenes of Katsina and Zamfara states, who fell prey to human traffickers, took turns to narrate how they were tricked with job offers but got sold into slavery for 70 days in Burkina Faso.
The victims said they were assembled in Funtua area of Katsina State where they were promised jobs in Kano with good remunerations, only to be transported from Kano to Lagos and sold to a Beninoise lady in Cotonou who took them into slavery in Gaoua, Burkina Faso.
They said throughout their journey to Burkina Faso, they were transported by road by a member of the syndicate, a man identified as Alhaji Usman; whom they met only once, three days after arriving Burkina Faso.
The victims said they were subjected to the digging of trenches for telecommunication service providers, with neither food nor pay as their wages were handed over to Usman.
They said they lived miserable lives which they would never wish for their enemies.
We begged to feed – Shuaibu
Yushau Shuaibu, who hails from Bungudu Local Government in Zamfara State, said that during their stay, they went into begging to feed.
“It was one Buhari residing in our community in Zamfara that facilitated our journey. We were idle and jobless when they sent us money for transport to Funtua, with promises of well-paying jobs. It was from Funtua that we embarked on the journey to Burkina Faso”, Shuaibu said.
“All through, we did not see Usman until we got to Burkina Faso; he sent his agents to take us there. When we got to Cotonou, we met a woman who conveyed us to Burkina Faso. Usman came about three days later. At that time, we had started working. After some time, he told us he was going and would return later. We finished the work and later had no work to do. When Usman returned, he collected our pay.
“We suffered there; we even went into begging to feed and survive”.
We were promised jobs in Kano only to end up in Burkina Faso – Yusuf
Another indigene of Zamfara State, Basiru Yusuf, 22, said they were promised jobs in Kano only to find themselves in far away Burkina Faso.
“I was called by some friends I worked with in Funtua, who told me about a job one Usman got for us in Kano”, he said.
“When we got to Kano, they took us to Lagos and, from there to Cotonou where we were handed over to a woman who took us to Burkina Faso. We were told there was a 70km work but when we got there, the work was not up to 1km. So, we finished the job in two days. After that, they kept promising us another job which wasn’t forthcoming. Amid this, we had no food to eat”.
We suspected foul play – Aminu
Abdullahi Aminu, an indigene of Kwakware village in Kankara local government area of Katsina State, said they suspected foul play after they tried to call Usman about their predicament but his phone numbers were not going through. The woman in whose care they were did not also show any care about their plight.
Aminu said Usman only paid each of them N5, 000 once before he went into hiding.
“It was before the last Sallah celebration when we were told there was a job and that we would go do the job and return before Sallah. One our way to Cotonou, we spent two days on road without eating anything. On the third day, Usman came. We were working without being fed. At that point, we told him not to betray us and he promised he wouldn’t. Three weeks after, we were still doing the work. Since the first time he came, I never set eyes on him”, Aminu said.
“At the time we were about to leave, we were told we were going there to work. They told us it was the work of a telecommunication service provider which involved the digging of 70km trench. It turned out the work was just 1km and we completed it. He didn’t pay us. We spent about three months there. The woman he took us to never told us anything. Whenever we asked her about our pay, she would say Usman had collected it and left.
“He indeed collected the money; there are people who saw him collect money from the woman in Cotonou. When he collected the money, he promised to send it to our families at home ahead of Sallah celebration. So when he did the money to not send to them, we confronted him that Sallah was here and we did not make any arrangements for our families before we left. He then sent to each of us N5, 000; since then, we’ve not seen him. We went without food for two weeks.
“We suspected foul play when we were starving and his phones were switched off. He told us he was coming after 10 days but he didn’t show up. We waited patiently for two weeks and then three weeks, until one month passed. We met some people who didn’t understand Hausa and whose language we didn’t understand. Anytime the woman we were with discovered we were interacting with them, she would relocate us to another place.
“The suffering became unbearable and she was about to change our location again when we insisted she must take us to Hausa leaders in the community so they would return us home. So we went to the Hausa leader in the country, Danladi (Sarkin Zango), who drew the attention of the Nigerian Ambassador in Burkina Faso.
“We were very happy with the intervention. We took ill and had no access to treatment.
“He (Usman) betrayed us because that was not what we agreed. When he later called, he apologised that he would send N1million to us at the end of the month. That he would bring a vehicle there to take us home but that plan suffered a setback due to the border closure”.
Help eventually came the way of the victims when the Nigerian Embassy in Burkina Faso notified the Katsina State government about their plight.
The Special Adviser to the state government, Muntari Lawal, whom the Ambassador contacted, hinted that the victims were tricked with illegal mining work in Burkina Faso.
He said the Nigerian Ambassador to Burkina Faso, Hajiya Ramatu Ahmad, who contacted the state government, had earlier facilitated the return of seven of the 31 back home.
“Upon the directive of Governor Aminu Bello Masari to expedite action, we were able to return them home with the support of the Immigration and Customs,” Lawal said.
Briefing the governor after the trip back home, Special Adviser on Drugs, Narcotics and Trafficking, Alhaji Hamza Brodo, said two persons from the 25 persons he was to bring back home decided stay back out of fear.
In his remark while receiving the victims, Masari, who vowed to arrest the prime suspect behind the trafficking, said the state will continue to liaise with foreign missions to rescue other Nigerians in similar situation.