IN Nigeria, trafficking in human beings has long been a blot in the landscape. Victims of the obnoxious and exploitative practice, described as a form of modern day slavery, cut across age and gender; but they are predominantly women and children, who are either trafficked within Nigeria or taken out of the country. A good number of them are girls, barely in their teens, who should still be in school. Sadly, children make up 25 per cent of those trafficked.
But, due to economic reasons and sometimes out of sheer adventure, many Nigerian women are known to have become easy victims of trafficking, particularly to Europe, where they are exploited and often used as sex slaves. They are usually promised money-spinning jobs, but by the time they are smuggled out of the country, they soon realise that the job they were promised is to sell their bodies. Worse still, many of them are in bondage and have to pay huge sums of money to buy back their freedom from the person that brought them.
Additionally, there has been a disturbing new angle, where Nigerian women are taken under false pretence to the Middle East and sold as household slaves. This trend is steadily growing, which should be discouraged through enlightenment and strict enforcement of the relevant laws. Nigerian women should be made to understand that there is no easy money anywhere.
In January, one of such women, Omolola Ajayi, 23, from Osun State, was mercifully rescued from her captors in Lebanon and brought back home through the efforts of the Nigerian authorities. Ajayi, who was lured into the trip by a family friend, was promised a lucrative job as an English Language teacher. No sooner had she set foot in the country than she was turned into a domestic slave. Her passport and mobile phone were confiscated and she was rendered incommunicado. On many occasions, attempts were made to rape her.
Luckily, she was able to make a video that went viral online, calling for help for her to return to Nigeria. “If I am sick, they won’t take me to the hospital. They will only give me drugs. Half of the people I came here with have died…I don’t want to die here. I need help to return home,” the single mother desperately pleaded before she was eventually sought out and rescued.
Upon further investigation, it has been discovered that no fewer than 28 of them had been tricked into making the trip. Another victim, Gloria Bright, 33, who was also rescued from the country, said her waist beads saved her from being raped. She said she only got a respite after she told her master that anybody that slept with her would become mentally-deranged and subsequently die because of the “magical” beads. Bright, who also thought she was hired to teach English in Lebanon, despite holding an Ordinary National Diploma certificate in Accountancy, found herself getting the same treatment as Ajayi.
Nigeria’s swift response to the duo’s plea for assistance is commendable, but greater success lies in ensuring that other Nigerian women are not exposed to this kind of assault on their dignity. The perpetrators should also be made to face the law. People who take advantage of the poor economic situation in the country to mete out demeaning treatment to Nigerians should not be allowed to go scot-free.
Yet, another rescued victim reportedly said she was denied food. She said, “I worked so hard as a slave … they would give me the remnants of their food scattered in the plates to eat and put the rest in the bin.” She was as good as eating from the dustbin. Her 15-week sojourn in Lebanon, for which she was promised $200 (about N72,000) per month, according to her, ended without her receiving a dime.
As humiliating as their cases may appear, they were lucky to have made it to their destinations, where they could easily be reached and rescued. Many others who take the desperate and treacherous land route through Libya never make it there alive. Some end up as prostitutes in Mali, where they “work” to pay back their mistresses that helped to get them out of Nigeria, while still nursing the hope of eventually making it to Europe. Some do reach Libya, where they are sold as slaves, while a few others die trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea to Greece, Italy or other European countries.
Pathfinders Justice Initiative describes trafficking in humans as an illegal global trade. It is an industry worth more than $150 billion annually. “Two-thirds of this figure ($99 billion) is generated from commercial sexual exploitation, while another $51 billion results from forced economic exploitation, including domestic work,” said PJI, an international non-governmental organisation dedicated to the prevention of modern-day sex slavery.
Modern slavery offends against morality and the law. A report by the United States State Department Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons in 2018 listed Nigeria as one of the countries with large numbers of people trafficked, with victims identified in about 34 countries.
With activities of agencies such as the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons and the Nigerians in Diaspora Commission, supported by the existence of strong anti-trafficking laws in line with what exists internationally, the country has what it takes to combat human trafficking. The laws should, therefore, be enforced ruthlessly.
The government has done well in repatriating Nigerians anywhere they are found to be in trouble, as has been demonstrated in cases of those stranded in Libya, who are routinely brought back to the country. But the managers of the economy have to create jobs to ensure that people are not easily lured out under the pretext of some phantom jobs waiting for them out there. Most importantly, there should be a national enlightenment campaign to discourage people from chasing non-existent dreams abroad.
(punch newspaper editorial)
featured image: young Nigerian woman. Photograph: Quintina Valero