In this second part of the investigative report on the frightening dimension that trafficking in persons across the world has taken, JULIANA FRANCIS dwells on the way it affects Nigerians and how NAPTIP is battling to create ample awareness and also rescue young Nigerian men and women already trapped by the powerful kidnapping rings.
After been on their trail for months, Gabriel and other agents in Nigeria were arrested in Nigeria while Nicole was arrested in Dubai and sentenced to two years for trafficking. For her atrocities in Nigeria, however, officials of NAPTIP said they were still waiting for her as she must face the music here as well. So bad is the kidnapping ring that a non-profit organisation in Lagos State, The Alliance of Rights Defenders (ARD), last year, discovered that over 500 girls trafficked to Libya, were caged in an underground prison as sex slaves.
The prostitution cartel in Libya was allegedly led by a Nigerian couple; Alhaji Muritala Sanni and his wife, Alhaja Lateefat Sanni. The discovery of ARD led to the rescue of some of the girls and later, the now almost daily repatriation of hundreds of Nigerians from Libya. One of those rescued was 26-yearold Abigail, a nurse, who unfortunately died after returning to Nigeria.
Before she died, she claimed to have aborted 320 pregnancies for trafficked girls while working for the Nigerian couple.
Abigail said the couple threatened to kill her if she exposed them and died shortly after her confession, a death that officials consider as anything but linked to natural causes. It all began with the couple promising to take her to Italy where she would work as a nurse for them and she paid the sum of N10,000 for her passport. Abigail said: “The agreement was that I will work and pay N2.4 million once I got to Italy.
This money included the amount Alhaja spent to take me overseas. Before we left Nigeria, they took us to a native doctor called Ewe in Abeokuta, Ogun State where we were made to take an oath. It was after the oath that we were taken to Libya instead of Italy.” Narrating further, she said: “Initially when I got to Libya and found out that my responsibility was to abort pregnancies for young girls, I refused but Alhaja Lateefat and her husband locked me up in a room and beat me severely with a mop stick.
I was left with no option but to submit to their will. Each time I refused to perform abortion for any of the girls, they would lock and beat me up. That was how I started assisting them to terminate unwanted pregnancies for young girls, working as call girls for Alhaja Lateefat.
We had girls aged between 10 and 15, all working as call girls; sleeping with all sorts of men without protection. Some of these girls confessed to me that they were hairdressing apprentices and fashion designers before they were deceived to come to Libya.” Apart from using girls as call girls and men/boys as servants, one of the most fearsome trends traffickers have employed in recent times is known as the harvesting of kidneys of victims.
According to a source who is privy to the inhuman act, kidney harvesting/ sale is now a very lucrative business in many countries abroad, especially in the Middle East. Asked how much how much traffickers sell organs, a NAPTIP official who pleaded anonymity, said: “It’s difficult to say how much because most of the cases are still under investigation.
There was a recent case last week in which some Nigerians in India lost one kidney each after bring trafficked and sedated during the journey.” When asked to reveal what happened to them exactly and how they realised their kidneys were missing since they were allegedly drugged, his response was crushing. “There were surgery marks on their abdomens. And doctors certified that they had lost one kidney each,” he replied, almost in a whisper.
With another source alleging that each kidney costs $1,000 or more. But what is worrisome is that victins are tricked to sell them. Investigation by Saturday Telegraph revealed that the travelling documents of most trafficked victims were prepared by agents who have accomplices in the countries of destination. Such cases, apart from the untold grief they represent, make one to wonder if Nigeria is really winning the war against human trafficking and human traffickers.
While this remains a challenge, the Director General of NAPTIP, Julie Okah- Donli, said the Nigerian government always seeks ways of collaboration with countries under NAPTIP’s radar of investigations.
According to her, NAPTIP is talking to security agencies in foreign countries to step up investigation and also share information with Nigeria on issues bordering on human trafficking “We are also investigating travel agents and have requested that they send details of those travelling for jobs and their employers to be with all the necessary documentation to NAPTIP for clearance before they can be issued visas to travel by the embassies,” she said while also disclosing that over 2,000 people had been repatriated so far this year, with at least 500 of that number being victims of trafficking.
Responding to a question on whether trafficking also affects men, she said: “Yes, men, boys and children are also trafficked. People fall prey because they are deceived, that there are jobs waiting for them. They believe, because most of the people that trick them, are friends and family members. These family members and friends, themselves are victims of trafficking and are forced to recruit under duress. Some are abducted while some are just ignorant.” On his own, NAPTIP’s Lagos State Zonal Commander, Joseph Famakin, said the roles of travel agents are very crucial.
“People can’t travel to Oman by road. For every person who is recruited to work in Oman, a traveling agency must be involved in the procurement of tickets. Some could procure tickets legitimately without being a member of a syndicate, but the possibility of a travelling agency getting involved in the case of human trafficking cannot be ruled out. So, for each case we are investigating, we also look out for the role of a travelling agency.” Famakin said NAPTIP once arrested a travel agent after tickets of many of those trafficked were traced to him while adding that trafficking does not only occur beyond Nigeria; trafficking within Nigeria is also popular.
“People that are trafficked locally are mostly children and they use them for domestic servitude or house help. Only few of them are trafficked for sexual exploitation. Whereas in the case of international trafficking, most of the girls that are trafficked are for sexual exploitation.” Speaking directly to trafficked victims in Oman, Famakin said: “I wish to state clearly that those sending Save Our Souls (SOS), should assist us. Sending an SOS message wouldn’t be much of a help until they give us information that will assist us get to the syndicate that trafficked them.
If the syndicate that trafficked them is adequately punished, according to the law, it will serve as a deterrent to other traffickers.” It’s worrisome that in spite of the rigorous media campaign that has been going on for years, coupled with NAPTIP’s and other organisations’ committed fight against trafficking, the scourge seems to be getting out of control, according to data available. “You must understand the push and pull factor of human trafficking.
Notwithstanding the sensitisation campaign, there are some other factors that fuel human trafficking. As long as those factors remain, people will still be trafficked. Some will willingly agree to go. However, they are not aware of the seriousness over there. That’s why our sensitisation campaign must continue. You will understand that one of the push factors of human trafficking is the socio-economic problem of Nigeria. An idle person is easy and gullible to be deceived.
If somebody after graduation for two or three years is unable to get an employment placement, she would be deceived about a job waiting overseas. She wouldn’t give the idea a second thought. You’ll see such person agreeing to be trafficked outside Nigeria. We have seen cases of those who were trafficked to Oman to serve as house help after their National Youth Service Corps (NYSC).
Some of them go to India. But they actually go into a dehumanising condition,” Famakin submitted. While making it known that traffickers are always changing their modes of operations, thus making it difficult to identify countries were Nigerian women are mostly being trafficked to, he added: “There are always new trends in trafficking. People are being trafficked to Oman under the disguise of house help.
They are trafficked to Dubai, Russia and different part of Europe. They now go through Miami and Libya, with a view of crossing to Europe.
The only important thing is that people should understand that it is not greener over there. They should not leave substances to chase shadows. Once they are told unbelievable stories, they should get in touch with NAPTIP.” The NAPTIP official said though mostly ingored, the red flags people should look out for in order to avoid being trafficked are always there. “Once somebody, who is not related to you agrees to sponsor your trip overseas, you should be suspicious. The person may promise to pay all the expenses, including procuring a passport. That is the first indicator. You must remember that there’s no free lunch in Freetown.
That person is trying to turn you into a money-making machine. That job wouldn’t be what you expect. “Another indicator is someone posing as a Good Samaritan. You should ask yourself; are there no ladies in his/her family that she/he could take overseas?
Why is he or she coming to your family to assist if the jobs are actually there? If there are jobs that are good, this Good Samaritan would have contacted a member of his\her family. Another indicator is somebody who is close to your family that wants to help you but he tells you not to tell anyone that he’s taking you overseas. What’s the need for secrecy? He’s trying to traffic you.
That’s why he’s asking you not to inform family members. “Also, be alert when someone is pretending to be helping you on humanitarian grounds; what is the purpose of taking you to a shrine to swear to an oath of secrecy? A shrine where your menstrual pad, pubic hair, fingernails are taken. Is that how to help somebody? You should ask questions otherwise you’ll become a victim.”
He urged prospective travellers who noticed any of the traffickers’ indicators or red flags, whether overseas or in Nigeria to look for non-governmental organisations to report to.
For those in Nigeria, Famakin said: “NAPTIP has nine zones, and in each of those zones, NAPTIP has hotlines and emails. In Lagos zone, NAPTIP hotline is 07080601801. You can also send us an email through Infolagos@ naptip.org.ng.
We will respond immediately. If you are in any other of our zones, the difference between NAPTIP’s email in Lagos and the other zone is simple.For example, Sokoto State is Infosokoto@ naptip.org.ng, same with other states.
Or the person may report to the nearest security agencies. “NAPTIP as an agency realises that we cannot fight the human trafficking war alone. We cannot be everywhere. In your environment, there are people living under exploitative conditions. Our children are suffering in the hands of exploiters.
We have seen a case where a 14-year-old girl was taken overseas; she was deflowered and expected to pay 64,000 euro, (N31 million) to get her freedom. For the girl to get out of bondage, she needed to serve her exploiter for the period of four years. Within those four years, she had to sleep with about 10 to 15 men daily for protected and unprotected sex. It is an act of inhumanity. My heart bleeds.
I urge everyone to become a public relations officer to NAPTIP. As I speak to you now, Nigerians are being trafficked through legal and illegal points like going through the desert and Mediterranean Sea, notwithstanding that they see pictures of people dying through this.” There’s no doubt that there is a surge in human trafficking in Nigeria, especially during this time.