Taiwo Oluwadare, Ibadan
Cambridge dictionary defines human trafficking as “an act of buying or selling people, or of making money from work they are forced to do, such as sex work.”
In South West Nigeria, many are the female folk trafficked by fellow women or men who promised them Eldorado or deceived them into entering a trade they understood little or nothing about.
Human trafficking is a modern day slavery involving the illegal trade of people especially underage girls for exploitation and financial gains. Human trafficking is a way of exploiting women, children and other vulnerable persons usually for cheap labour and sometimes for prostitution under the guise to help them out of poverty.
According to the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), Nigeria was rated to be one of the leading African countries in human trafficking with cross-border and internal trafficking.
More tragic about the trafficking cartel is the fact that under aged girls and teenagers fall victim of it in large scale. The victims are promised better living condition, jobs and others and they are brought to the cities under such guise to “work” for a living.
In this investigation, it was gathered that under the modus operandi of trafficking under-aged children from rural communities to urban cities, some of these trafficking offenders invite under-aged relatives who promise their parents or guardians a better life for them as a ploy to lure them into forced labour, prostitution, sexual seduction to promote sales or engage them in an unwanted sexual act by force or threat.
Tunrayo is an example of one of these under-aged girls who suffered sexual assault in the hands of traffickers. Tunrayo in 2012 left her father in Ekiti State at age of 12 to stay with her aunt, Iya Yusuf (Yusuf’s mother), who operated a beer parlour at No 41, Agbomola Street, Cementry Olomi in Ebute-Meta, Lagos State.
Tunrayo’s predicament started when one day her cousin (Yusuf) committed incest in company of his friend who raped her at age of 12. Yusuf who was 14 years continued doing this all nights in the sitting room where him, his younger brother and Tunrayo slept while the aunt, separated from her husband slept in the bedroom and most times with her concubines. Yusuf did threaten to kill Tunrayo with dangerous weapons if she told anybody.
Not only that, her aunt would beat her mercilessly if she refused to accept customers’ advances to have sex with her. While narrating her ordeal, Tunrayo said an instance was a young man named Wasiu: “Wasiu asked me to have sex with him. I had no choice than to succumb as the two other maids (one 13 and other 15 years of age) who were taken from Togo advised me to agree with him unless, madam would kill me.
“There was a day a customer touched me lustfully and I protested. Madam attacked me, tore my cloth and made me naked. There was also a day I mistakenly hit my head against a calabash hung at the entrance of the bar, the madam beat hell out of me alleging that I wanted to destroy the power inside the calabash.
“My worst experience was that she only gave me opportunity to go to school twice in a week, while I spent the rest of the days in the bar. And on these three days, madam would send me on errand to buy cat-fish she used to make pepper soup and without money. I used my body by having sex with the fish-sellers as trade by barter to buy the cat-fish.”
Tunrayo went through this for four years without knowledge of her parents until she fled to meet her mother in Ondo State who has been separated from her father. But Tunrayo faced new ordeal when her mother who was serving as a maid asked her to be staying in Ibadan with daughter of her mistress in Ode-Aje, Ibadan.
The husband of this woman was always making advances to have sex with her. When she refused, the man threw her out of the house. She was, however, rescued by the proprietor of the school she was attending who took her custody till date.
Another pathetic story is that of a15-year-old Teni, who works in a beer parlour in Ajilosun, Ado-Ekiti, Ekiti State. Her ordeal: “About four years ago, I was brought from Ilorin, Kwara Stae, by my aunt’s friend, Madam Raliat, popularly known as Iya Laje.
“Iya Laje had told my aunt she had connection with some big women who needed housemaids in Ekiti. She said they were ready not only to hire young girls like me as maids but also were ready to sponsor my education up to the secondary school level.
“That made my aunt to hand me over to her. This excited me and I hoped that I would get the opportunity to continue my primary school education abandoned due to the sudden death of my father in an auto crash years before.
“But when we got to Ekiti, Iya Laje asked me to join her at her beer parlour as sales girl and since then I have been here. Initially, I had thought this was going to last for a short while after which Iya Laje would take me to my big madam. But days extended into months and months into years, I am still here.
“At the end of the month, Iya Laje would tell me that she was keeping N2000 into a bank account in my name. What is more appalling is the fact that several men, many whom looked like monsters usually harassed me sexually.
“At the beginning of such, I used to refuse them and would warn such men to stay clear. But Iya Laje warned against such ‘unco-operating’ attitude as such amounts to chasing away her loyal customers.
“I was at first alarmed but since I didn’t have other means of livelihood neither did I know anyone in Ado-Ekiti, I had no choice but to comply. Several men came for me, some fondled my breasts, others slapped my bum-bum. I couldn’t protest because I didn’t want to draw the ire of Iya Laje.
“It didn’t stop there, they later were asking for sex. When I reported them to Iya Laje, I got a rude shock of my life. She called me names, shouted at me and ordered me to cooperate with the lecherous men. She said; ‘Please, I can’t help somebody to my disadvantage o! You have to cooperate with those men because they are our only source of survival. As a woman, you have to be wise, use what you have to get whatever you want. Those men have money and you need money, so keep them happy!’ She slammed the order on my face and took a walk.
“Since then I have been cooperating. I have lost count of men who have slept with me and who end up ‘seeing’ Iya Laje for compensation.”
Another traffickers’ victim is 14-year-old Ngozi, who should be in school. But she has been hawking soaps and detergents on the streets. She told Daily Sun her plight: “It was auntie who brought me to this town. I have been living with my parents in Anambra State.
“But one day auntie told my mother that she liked the way I have been hard working and would want to take me with her to Lagos and sponsor my education in a private school. I was attending a public school in our town in Anambra. But auntie said she would take me to a better school, that what I need to do was to be a good girl, working hard for her to take care of her flat.”
What simply happened is that poor Ngozi has been a victim of child trafficking. Further investigation led to the discovery that she has been staying with the auntie, Blessing, 32, Orin-Ekiti in Ekiti West Local Government Area.
The lady has no significant job. Her neighbours told Daily Sun that she stays at home all day, waiting for the four young girls staying with her to hawk on daily basis and bring her money.
When confronted, she said: “They are children of my brothers and sisters. I have been taking care of them because their parents cannot afford to bring them up as they are very poor.”
Another story is that of a12-year-old girl who was guiding a blind woman one morning in Ado-Ekiti. A Special Adviser to the wife of Ekiti State Governor, Mrs Oluwaseyi Ojo, revealed this story and she wanted to help enlist her in the state government programme for the girl child, tagged: “Keep Girls in School” to be launched soon.
Some of the victims of internal trafficking are either directly forced into prostitution or end up in prostitution while escaping the hardship and abuses received in other forms of labour they have been forced into. Altogether, it is estimated that about 12 million Nigerian children are forced into labour. It could also be estimated that about 80 per cent of these Nigerian children in forced labour are victims of trafficking.
Reacting to rampant cases of child trafficking especially in South West, Nigeria, The commander of NAPTIP, Lagos State, Mr Daniel Atokolo, noted that there are other ways employed by traffickers: “They come in form of missionaries especially in a crisis situation. This is mostly happening in areas like Middle Belt of the country where Fulani herdsmen unleash mayhem.
“In this situation, churches do take custody of these children. We learnt the missionaries are traffickers who take these children and start trading them to make money.”