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NAPTIP, NiDOM clash at Reps C’mttee hearing over distressed Nigerians abroad

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Big trouble, as more Nigerians sink deeper into poverty
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as OAGF denies involvement in trials of Temitope Arowolo in Lebanon

By Levinus Nwabughiogu

ABUJA-Nigerians in Diaspora Commission NiDCOM and the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons yesterday disagreed on whose responsibility it was to come to the rescue of distressed Nigerians abroad.

This face-off came because of reports of human parts racketeering and maltreatment of Nigerians in Lebanon.

Speaking at a public hearing organized by the House of Representatives Committee on Diaspora on the matter, NAPTIP said that evacuation missions were being done without them.

Those at the hearing included the Comptroller-General of the Nigerian Immigration Service, Muhammed Babandede; Chairman/Chief Executive Officer of NIDCOM, Abike Dabiri-Erewa; Director-General of NAPTIP, Julie Okah-Donli; Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Labour, Employment and Productivity, William Alo; and the Acting Assistant Comptroller-General, Strategic Research and Policy, Nigeria Customs Service, Jack Ajoku.

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According to the Director-General of NAPTIP, Julie Okah-Donli, the agency always learned about the return of victims in the media.

Okah-Donli said NAPTIP had discovered 21 recruitment firms that have Nigerian agents who “used for trafficking of many girls.”

She added that 45 girls rescued from Lebanon had been rehabilitated and reunited with their families, with the support of the International Organisation for Migration.

Okah-Donli said three out of eight girls rescued in Lebanon a fortnight ago tested positive for COVID-19.

She said, “My prayer is very simple; please help us to direct the relevant stakeholders to work closely with NAPTIP from the planning stages of their return from whenever they are bringing them back. We all know that 80 percent of that outside are victims of trafficking and NAPTIP has to be a part of the team receiving them for proper profiling, psychosocial support, and empowerment, and most importantly to arrest and prosecute the fake agents who steal their money and traffic them into slavery.

“We should not have to struggle to do our job, as we only become aware of their return while listening to news and NAPTIC has no clue whatsoever. To do this is to deny the victims of trafficking from justice.”

But making the presentation, the NiDOM DG, Abike Dabiri-Erewa submitted that many of the returnees from Lebanon were not trafficked but stranded having lost their jobs.

She said “I want to start by stressing that NAPTIP is strictly for trafficking but when it comes to Nigerians in distress in the Diaspora, like somebody who is legally living outside the shores of Nigeria, who has an address and is paying tax, we help when we can. And that is why we intervene in cases of trafficking when it comes to our attention.

“I will tell DG NAPTIP those returning are not trafficked persons. So, if you hear 300 or 400 (rescued), they are Nigerian travellers who got stranded abroad. The trafficked ones only came from Lebanon, which was paid for by the Lebanese Embassy. So, let us make that clear. Those returning are not even Nigerians in the Diaspora, they are travellers who got stranded due to COVID-19.”

Similarly, the Office of the Attorney-General of the Federation denied involvement in the prosecution of Temitope Arowolo, a Nigeria girl alleged to have suffered abuse and sexual harassment from the husband of her employer, Mahmoud Zahran and his wife, Feyzeh Diab in Oman.

The Director of International Cooperation, in the office of the attorney general, Mrs. Antoinette Oche-Obe said she was not carried along.

She said, “I must say that today is the first day that we are getting the full story. Normally, NAPTIP and NIDCOM would have sent the case to the Attorney-General of the Federation. We collaborate with them. If there is a need for us to put a request for international legal assistance, to Lebanon, to avail us with whatever allegation and the case file so that we also will look at it and be sure that they are doing the right thing…

“We are hearing here that IOM got a lawyer for Temitope (Arowolo); we are just hearing everything here. The attorney-general is supposed to be in the know. Normally we collaborate with the two agencies; they send petitions to the attorney-general and we will put up a request, and we have succeeded in cases like that.”

Also speaking, the Comptroller-General of the Nigerian Immigration Service, Muhammed Babandede said that said Arowolo was also being tried for alleged theft of $5000.

According to him, Arowolo’s lawyer had after the accused pleaded not guilty has asked the court to dismiss the case.

He said that bail condition had been made while Arowolo had been released to the Nigerian mission in Lebanon.

Ruling on the matter, the Committee chaired by Tolulope Akande-Sadipe directed NAPTIP to liaise with the Federal Ministry of Justice and other relevant agencies to ensure that Temitope returns to Nigerian alive.

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