From Rose Ejembi, Makurdi
The craze for greener pastures abroad has made no fewer than 45 young women between the ages of 16 and 25 in Benue victims of human trafficking recently.
But for the eagle eye of good Nigerians who gave information and security agencies who quickly waded in to rescue them, the young girls would have been on their way abroad, most likely to the land of no return, where they would be used either for ritual purposes or as sex toys.
Also, three suspects are said to be in police net under investigation.
First was the arrest of a young lady along with six victims at the Duku Park in Makurdi, the state capital, while she was trying to take them to Lagos.
The suspect, identified as Madam Beauty Osagie from Edo State, was said to have been in possession of hard currencies and over N500,000 on her arrest, thus raising the suspicion that the victims were to be moved to destinations outside the country.
There was another suspect intercepted by the police with 32 victims, boys and girls, in two buses. The suspect, whose name was given as Madam Angbiandoo Akaasema, was nabbed in the Ameladu area of Gboko en route Osun State.
The buses, which were intercepted by men of Operation Zenda, said to be heading to Ede in Osun State, had on board 13 boys and 19 girls, with the oldest being about 25 years.
Akaasema had claimed that they were returning to Osun State where they were schooling after visiting Benue for the festive period.
She further claimed that she owned an orphanage with the name Akaasema Child Care Foundation, which she alleged was registered in Benue but operational in Osun State.
The third suspect, a woman identified as Mnena Kwaghgande, was caught by men of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) with six young girls, between 16 and 20 years of age.
Kwaghgande, intercepted in Gboko Town, Gboko Local Government Area of the state, confessed to be taking the girls to Burkina-Faso.
Parading the suspect and the victims at the NSCDC state command in Makurdi, commandant of the corps, Dr. Philip Okoh, who disclosed that it was not the first time the suspect was engaging in such heinous crimes, said investigation had revealed that the lastest trip was her third.
Okoh said, on interrogation, it was discovered that the suspect had told parents of the young girls whom she picked from Benue that she was taking them to help her sell food at her restaurant in Bukina-Faso.
“Behind me, we have a seasoned trafficker who goes about luring unsuspecting young girls through convincing their parents that they are going abroad for greener pastures but they will end up in prostitution and some of them never come back. She was arrested in Gboko.
“We are still investigating but further investigation has revealed that this is her third trip and she’s taking them away from Benue State to Burkina-Faso. That’s to the extent she has spoken but we know it goes beyond that. They take them to Spain or to Canada. We did this operation in conjunction with NAPTIP,” he said.
The NSCDC boss warned parents against releasing their wards to people who promise them greener pastures abroad, stressing that such journeys had and are still landing many in unimaginable trouble.
On her part, Makurdi zonal commander of the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP), Mrs. Iveren Bai, confirmed the arrests, saying the suspects were arrested between January 4 and January 8.
“Following a tip-off that some girls were in the process of being trafficked and were camped at Amaco Hotel in Gboko, we quickly shared our intelligence with the officers of the NSCDC and joined them on January 4, 2022, to arrest one suspect Mnena Kwaghgande, age 29, from Vandeikya LGA, while six victims were rescued, ages ranging from 16 to 20 years, they hail from Konshisha, Ushongo and Vandeikya LGAs.
“On January 7, 2022, a distress call was put across to me (zonal commander) from Duku Motor Park, Makurdi, on a suspected case of human trafficking involving seven young girls who were to be taken to Lagos from Makurdi.
“We quickly moved to the scene and the suspect was arrested, while the victims were rescued in collaboration with the Nigeria Police. This case involves one suspect Madam Beauty Osagie, from Edo State.
Bai said, of the seven victims, three were from Gwer East LGA, two from Gwer West, one from Guma and one from the FCT, adding that one of the victims escaped before they were rescued.
“On January 8, 2022, men of Operation Zenda intercepted two buses in Gboko en route Osun State carrying a suspected trafficker along with 32 suspected victims of human trafficking, mostly underage children.
“The suspect and the 32 children are all from Ukum LGA, 13 males and 19 females. They are in our custody for further investigation.”
Bai noted that, while the three suspects have been detained, a total number of 45 victims from the recent cases were being housed at the shelter of the command.
“All the victims have been sheltered at the command where we separated the males from the females and we trying our best to counsel, feed, provide basic needs including medical and psychosocial support while we trace and reunite them back to their families.”
She urged all citizens and residents of Benue State , motor park owners and transport operators to be vigilant, look out for suspicious travellers and report any suspicious persons to NAPTIP.
“The yuletide seasons is the peak period for crimes related to human trafficking in Nigeria. This is because most traffickers return home during this period and recruit lots of youths, especially girls to be taken to other parts of Nigeria as well as neighboring African countries for various forms of exploitation,” Bai said.