By Bianca Iboma-Emefu
For years, the local and international media have been awash with horrifying stories of Nigerian women and girls trafficked for sexual and labour exploitation, and of migrants trapped in Libya, Morocco snd other countries in slave-like conditions or dying as they crossed the Mediterranean Sea.
These stories reflect the large and, according to some estimates, increasing problem of human trafficking within and outside Nigeria in recent years. What these news reports often leave out are the problems trafficked survivors face when they are identified internally or upon return to Nigeria, where the government’s efforts to protect and assist them too often fail to respect their rights.
A recent report highlights the human rights abuses against them, particularly Nigerian women and girls who are trafficked for sexual and labour exploitation within and outside Nigeria.
It also focuses on the experiences of non-Nigerian women and girls who are trafficked into Nigeria, most of them for domestic servitude. It shows how some assistance measures are further violating survivors’ rights.
The report highlights physical, mental, social and economic impacts of these abuses on survivors, and describes significant gaps in, and obstacles to, much-needed support services. It further outlines steps the Nigerian government should take to combat trafficking in persons and provide survivors the medical care, psychological counselling, and financial assistance they need to heal from trauma and rebuild their lives.
Thousands of Nigerian women and girls have been trafficked within Nigeria, to other countries in Africa, and to Europe in recent years. Many are escaping dire economic situations at home, where jobs are hard to come by. Some are fleeing violent conflicts driven in part by climate change and a scramble over scarce resources; some have suffered exclusion and discrimination that has left them unable to fend for themselves, while others are vulnerable to exploitation as they seek to escape abusive families.
It is difficult to say how many women and girls are trafficked from, into, and within Nigeria, as there is no reliable data.
However, Nigeria is routinely listed as one of the countries with large numbers of trafficking victims overseas, particularly in Europe, with victims identified in more than 34 countries in 2018, according to the U.S. State Department Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons.
Most Nigerian trafficking victims in Europe come from Edo State. The number of “potential” Nigerian trafficking victims in Italy has shot up in recent years. In 2017, the latest available data, IOM reported a 600 per cent increase in the number of potential sex trafficking victims arriving in Italy by sea, with most arriving from Nigeria. The organization estimated that 80 per cent of women and girls arriving from Nigeria—whose numbers had soared from 1,454 in 2014 to 11,009 in 2016—were potential victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation in the streets and brothels of Europe.
Most women and girls interviewed said they were trafficked by people they knew who preyed on their desperation, making false promises of paid employment, professional training and education. They were transported within and across national borders, often under life-threatening conditions.
Survivors usually recounted the harrowing journeys as traffickers forced them through the Sahara Desert to destinations in Libya, or, in some cases, Europe via the Mediterranean Sea. Their journeys were wrought with death, rape, beatings, fear, theft, extortion, as well as lack of food and water. The danger of these journeys is captured by victims who said they pray for death.
“You cry until you cannot cry anymore. People die, faint and are beaten, raped. I would not advise even my worst enemy to travel by land,” a survivor volunteered.
According to Ogun State Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Mr. Akingbolahan Adeniran, many victims of human trafficking have had traumatic post-rescue experiences during identification and legal proceedings.
Adeniran stated this at the 2021 World Day Against Trafficking in Persons, organized by the Ogun State Task Force Against Human Trafficking (OGTAHT) in Abeokuta, the state capital.
“Trafficking in persons is a serious crime and a grave violation of human rights. Indeed, every year, thousands of men, women, children fall into the hands of traffickers, in their own countries and abroad,” Adeniran said
He added that some have faced victimization and punishment for crimes they were forced to commit by their traffickers, noting that others have been subjected to stigmatization or received inadequate support.
The National Agency for Prohibition of Trafficking In Persons (NAPTIP), South West regional director, Mrs. Tolu Odugbesan, said that the female gender has been described as the most vulnerable in human trafficking as 95 per cent falls victims of the nefarious act, saying male gender was only 5 per cent vulnerable.
Odugbesan, who was represented by Mr. Taiwo Waheed Adegboyega, said on a daily basis they posted and attended to issues of trafficking in persons, urging guardians and parents to teach their wards/children morals as well as counsel them on good characters and decent way of life with sound education.
Speaking earlier, the Special Assistant to the Governor on Legal Matters, Mr. Olumide Mustapha, also said OGTAHT is working with various security outfit and NAPTIP in order to rehabilitate victims of human trafficking in the state through skills acquisition such as tailoring, catering as well as engaging them in sporting activities among others.
While urging the traditional rulers and well meaning non-governmental organizations to intensify efforts and awareness against Human Trafficking, Mustapha said it’s not just about helping the victims secure shelters but it includes tracing their families and re-integrating them into the society.
“At least 200 are victims of human trafficking in Ogun State, but our task force has been working with the zonal command of NAPTIP in the state. We have various sub-committees and the committees are being tasked with providing physical, health and mental support as well as helping the victims find shelters, including tracing their families and re-integrate them back into the society,” Mustapha said.
Also speaking, the special adviser to the Governor on women affairs and social development, Hon. Adijat Adeleye, said most of the victims of human trafficking in the state were provided with shelter, social protection and re-integrated back into the society in conjunction with the Ministry of Justice, Women Affairs and NAPTIP.
She pointed out that the most challenging aspect of it was that most of the victims do not want to speak up because of victimization, adding that it was the reason the taskforce was put in place in order for the victims to see the reasoning why they need to speak out against human trafficking as well as give them necessary assistance by re-uniting them with their families.
One of the victims, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the security personnel at every stopover and at border points work in collaboration with the traffickers, urging the government at all levels to rejuvenate the security architecture of the country, particularly at the border areas.
She said the youths should be well engaged by government at all levels, with enough awareness against human trafficking particularly at the grassroots level.