By Magnus Eze
Human trafficking, otherwise called modern slavery, is one of the world’s oldest trades. Around the world, criminals sell people for profit; vulnerable women and girls form the majority of human trafficking victims.
Those who indulge in it often see young people, especially women, girls and children, as commodities that can generate many times the amount of resources spent in recruiting them. According to the United Nations, the crime generates an estimated $32 billion dollars each year for the traffickers.
The United States Department of State classifies Nigeria as a source, transit and destination country for women and children subjected to trafficking in persons, including forced labour and forced prostitution. In fact, Nigeria is among the countries that account for the highest number of human trafficking victims.
In view of the prevailing trend, the commemoration of this year’s World Day Against Trafficking in Persons (WDATP) elicited ample commitment against the obnoxious crime from the highest policymaking level in Nigeria, as Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, and other prominent voices in the country openly declared war against human trafficking.
Ex-international football star, John Fashanu, wife of former Vice President and initiator/founder of Women Trafficking and Child Labour Eradication Foundation (WOTCLEF), Mrs. Titi Abubakar, former chairman of the National Human Rights Commission, Prof. Chidi Odinkalu, and director-general of National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP), Julie Okah-Donli, were among the dignitaries at the event organised by Devatop Centre for Africa Development at the National Human Rights Commission, Abuja, recently.
Ekweremadu decried the high rate of human trafficking in the country and called for concerted efforts to end the scourge.
Relying on recent statistics by the Global Slavery Index, he said that the about 875,500 humans trafficked per annum was worrisome, adding that the statistics, which indicated that 45.8 million people were living in one form of slavery or the other in about 167 countries around the world, was frightening.
Noting the unenviable place of Nigeria as a source, transit and destination of victims, including women and children trafficked for prostitution, forced labour and other forms of dehumanising servitude and exploitation, the Deputy Senate President called for efforts by Nigerians and the international community to end the illicit trade.
Recognising that human trafficking syndicates were powerful and operated with the collaboration of corrupt persons in agencies entrusted with law enforcement and protection of persons across the world, Ekweremadu declared that the commemoration was “a call to renew our resolve to not only track down and bring the perpetrators to book, but also to cut their supply chains.”
He identified poverty as one the driving forces of human trafficking because it predisposes victims to seek succour in false greener pastures, “not knowing that they are jumping from the frying pan into the fire.”
He also lamented the high number of Nigerians driven into suicidal self-trafficking missions across the Sahara Desert and the Mediterranean, while advocating for more jobs and better economic environment as a panacea to human trafficking.
“A substantial reduction in poverty will certainly reduce the vulnerability of our citizens who would not ordinarily be lured into the hands of human traffickers. We must, therefore, embark on policies that promote massive job creation, equal opportunity and generally more conducive economic environment for the citizens,” he said.
In her presentation, the NAPTIP DG said victims of human trafficking-related offences pass through psychological, psycho-social, economic exploitation, health and mental trauma.
Okah-Donli, who disclosed that NAPTIP had since inception secured 258 convictions, listed some of the challenges encountered by the agency in the fight against human trafficking to include the clandestine nature of the crime, traditional practices, fetish oath-taking by victims, family and societal pressure, traffickers’ intimidation of victims and delay in criminal trial.
Other challenges, according to her, are fear of stigma for victims, poor funding, porous borders, low crime reporting, unwillingness of victims to cooperate with law enforcement agents and inadequate data.
“Partnership and support for non-governmental organizations would continue to remain key requirements in achieving the agency’s mandate,” she said.
“I wish to reiterate the Agency’s commitment to her partnership and support to NGOs who are fellow soldiers in the battle against human trafficking. It is my belief that our joint efforts would ultimately deal a deadly blow on human trafficking in Nigeria,” she stated.
Okah-Donli further commended Devatop for taking a bold step by engaging young people in combating human trafficking, stressing that it should be sustained through consistent funding and support from private sector and government.
In the same hue, Titi Abubakar urged businesses, philanthropists, captains of industries to adopt anti-human trafficking project as their corporate social responsibilities (CSR).
While tasking companies to dedicate their CSR to a more positive intention than just spending huge amounts on unwanted frivolities, the WOTCLEF founder also charged government to evolve a system of tracking CSR expenditure.
She also harped on the power of Personal Social Responsibility which according to her is personal volition to support a development cause. “I sat in my room in 1999 and decided to establish WOTCLEF. That was my Personal Social Responsibility. That PSR led to the establishment of NAPTIP, NACTAL and several other organisations have sprung up to join the fight and add more colour to the fight such as Devatop”.
Looking back at almost two decades WOTCLEF, Abubakar exhumed high sense of fulfillment that her brainchild has become a collective fight both at the national and international levels; “Today, the efforts of NAPTIP which is the government Agency here in Nigeria, NACTAL which is the biggest Civil Society movement against Trafficking in Africa and several other organisations at the local or national level have contributed immensely to making lives difficult for traffickers and providing support for the rescued trafficked victims.”
Former DG NAPTIP and Chairman of the Board of Devatop, Mrs. Carol Ndaguba said everybody has a role to play in combating the monstrous “crime against humanity”, in order to give hope to the victims who often live unrecognized in the community.
She could not suppress her elation that Nigeria today has very passionate youth who are willing to take strategic actions to end this modern day slavery.