Despite concerted efforts by the governments at all levels, the civil society groups, the media and the international agencies, like the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), to stem the growing tide of trafficking in human persons, as well as irregular migration of Nigerians, mostly the youth population, to Europe, America, Asia and the Middle East, the trend has continued unabated, even assuming a disturbing dimension.
The patrons or kingpins have continued to adopt different strategies to beat the security agents in their illicit trade.
Apart from those who are trafficked to Europe and America, there are hundreds of other Nigerians who are taken to the Middle East, Asia and even African countries, with mouth-watering promises of better life.
They have always been deceived to believe that the pasture is greener in those foreign countries. This has led to the untimely and avoidable deaths of many productive youths, either in the desert of the Sahara or in the Mediterranean Sea, as they tried to escape through the northern African countries of Libya, Tunisia and Algeria, to Italy and other European countries. Others have died in various torture camps in countries like Libya and other Arab countries.
DAILY POST checks have shown that many Nigerians, particularly the youths are in a haste to leave Nigeria for Europe, America and countries in the Middle East like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, and the United Arab Emirate in search of greener pasture; no thanks to the parlous economic situation in the country.
However, in trying to achieve that, a lot of them have, regrettably, been deceived by traffickers, who promised to take them to very good clubs or employment centres in foreign countries, where they would make a lot of money and have a better life, but at the end of the day, they were duped.
Some Nigerians in the past had paid up to N800,000 or more to the agents, who eventually disappeared into thin air with their money. Some others eventually made it to Europe and America, but what they met over there was completely different from what they were promised back home.
So many others, in their thousands, who eventually found themselves in those foreign countries were forced into prostitution, sex slavery and forced labour, where they worked for many years before they regained their freedom from their masters or patrons.
Yet, a lot of others are trapped in Libya on their way to Europe where they are subjected to all sorts of inhuman treatments, ranging from forced prostitution, to sex slavery, forced labour, torture in various detention camps and even some years of imprisonment. Others, who are not so lucky, are tortured and serially gang-raped, after which they are killed and their organs harvested.
The argument in many quarters, including the campaign messages by the government and civil society organisations is actually not against migration, since it is in the nature of man to migrate, but against irregular migration which often exposes them to life threatening situations.
A 2022 migration report noted that an estimated 750,000 to one million people are trafficked yearly in Nigeria. The report equally stated that Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, and largest economy in the African continent, remains a major human trafficking source, transit and destination country.
The establishment of the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP) in 2003 by the federal government was in response to the growing trend then. The NAPTIP was meant to develop and coordinate a national strategy to combat trafficking in persons. Regrettably, however, the Agency’s efforts at tackling the scourge, though commendable, have not been able to stem the tide as expected.
According to a 2020 NAPTIP report, sex trafficking is particularly rampant in Nigeria, with nearly half of all the rescued victims reporting that they were procured for sexual exploitation, prostitution, or pornography.
On May 5, 2023, the Innovations of Poverty Action (IPA) and NAPTIP signed a two-year Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). Under the agreement, the IPA will have to support the NAPTIP in carrying out its ambitious mandates of increasing the rate of prosecutions and convictions of traffickers, providing comprehensive support to survivors, and increasing general awareness about trafficking.
It is believed that the new partnership would allow the NAPTIP to develop and implement rigorous research and translate new evidence into improved programmes and policies, using data to determine the rationale, direction, and pace of actions against sex trafficking.
Despite the foregoing actions and other interventions by the government, civil society organisations and nongovernmental agencies, cases of human trafficking and irregular migration have continued to be in an upward spiral.
On August 3, 2023, the Kebbi State Command of the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) said it had intercepted, rescued and handed over 52 trafficked victims to the National Agency for Prohibition in Trafficking of Persons (NAPTIP) from February last year.
The Kebbi State Controller of Immigration, Rabi Bashir Nuhu, made the revelation during a press briefing to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the service.
She noted that since her assumption of office in February last year, the Command had intercepted many youths, mostly girls, who were being prepared to be trafficked to Libya through the Illela Border in Sokoto State.
She lamented that most of the victims were youths who had no knowledge of what awaited them on their way and in Libya, where they were being trafficked to.
“We also intercepted many illegal immigrants trying to move in and out of Nigeria through the Kebbi borders,” she added.
On Monday, August 28, 2023, the Federal Government, with the support of the IOM, evacuated 139 irregular Nigerian migrants, who were freed from various detention centers across Libya.
A statement by the Charge D’Affaires En Titre, Amb Kabiru Musa, said the exercise was to ensure that no Nigerian was abandoned abroad for migration offences.
He noted that the evacuees comprising 85 males, 51 females, two children and one infant, were the third of such exercise in one month.
“The Nigerian Mission in Libya, with support from the IOM, again secured the release of 139 irregular Nigerian Migrants, who were in detention centers in Libya and have facilitated their return home.
“This is the third exercise we are conducting within the past one month, and the Federal Government is committed to ensuring that none of its citizens is left stranded abroad. The 139 evacuees departed Mitiga International Airport, Tripoli aboard chartered flight No UZ 0189 on Monday afternoon and are expected to arrive at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport Lagos on Monday evening.
“We did not only evacuate them but also sensitized them on the dangers of irregular migration so that in return, they are to warn others against taking such dangerous routes,” Musa said.
Also in June, 2023, the Immigration personnel at the Yauri Border in Kebbi State rescued two young women and a boy from suspected human traffickers. The victims were said to be on their way to Libya through the Ilela Border in Sokoto State before they were intercepted and rescued.
Speaking on the development, a migration expert and lead trainer at the reintegration training programme for the returned migrants in Nigeria, jointly sponsored by the IOM and the European Union (EU), Mr. Osita Osemne, insisted that the government at all levels must put more efforts to stem the tide of irregular migration and human trafficking.
Osemene lamented that the system was not doing enough to discourage the trend, insisting that only a very few campaigns against the scourge were sincere.
He spoke to DAILY POST in Lagos during one of the reintegration training workshops for about 400 Libyan returnees.
He said: “One of the best ways to counter the trend of irregular migration and human trafficking is to provide an enabling environment. This is still lacking in our system.
“The international communities are doing much for us. They provide accommodation, major return assistance and support to the returnees after the reintegration training. They take care of them when they are sick, even back in Nigeria.
“The government should key into some of these programmes as well as do something to provide jobs for the teeming unemployed youths. Such a move by the government would surely discourage the youths from migrating; otherwise, they would continue to be forced out of the country.”
He warned that a group of returnees unattended to would always turn out to become dangerous human traffickers and smugglers.
“Check the history of traffickers and smugglers; all of them are people that have gone through that process. Somebody took them through the desert journey, and they learnt the trade and began to recruit others from there,” he added.
Osemene stated that apart from training the returnees to enable them reintegrate into the society and live a normal life, the programme also intends to use the returned migrants as campaign advocates against irregular migration.
“We found out that these returned migrants are the best tools to discourage the trend because they know the traffickers, the trend and everything.
“So, we are trying to see how we can make them ambassadors of human trafficking. We want to use them after they have been successfully reintegrated into the society as advocates to ensure that others don’t go through what they have gone through; that is one of the ways I think the evil of human trafficking and irregular migration could be subdued,” he said.
He tasked the government to step up its efforts to halt the trend, saying, “The government needs to step up efforts to ensure that these things stop. The fight is not just for civil society alone.”
Also, speaking on the sideline of a training workshop for young Nigerians, between 18 and 35 years of age, a Field Counsellor with The Migrant Project, TMP, Amake Nneji, noted that most Nigerians had the erroneous impression that one could only succeed by travelling out of the country.
This notion, she said, had disappointed most of them because when they get there, what they envisaged is not always what they see or what they meet. “So, we are trying to help the youths to develop skills. A lot of them have skills but their problem is how to market those skills. So, right now, they are not making much money from their skills and that is why we have come to teach them how to market their products using digital skills,” she said.
She stated that TMP is not only focused on campaigns against irregular migration; but also provides information on opportunities in Nigeria and other countries.
“So, we try to bring this information to the youths to give them a livelihood; to empower them so they won’t think that travelling is the only solution to their problem. We want them to know that there are possibilities in Nigeria; so they should make use of such opportunities before attempting to leave the country.
“We also educate them on the many right ways available to travel out of the country. With your skills and training, there are many right ways to travel legally,” she said.
“Most of them already have skills but claim they are not making enough money and that is why they want to migrate out of the country. They only need to be focused, determined and persevere in what they do and at the end, they will succeed.
“That’s the message. They should stop running out of the country because contrary to what they are always told, the pasture is not greener over there. They should stop endangering their lives and wasting their hard earned resources chasing shadows.
“And if they must travel, they should follow the legal process and not go through the Sahara desert or the Mediterranean Sea. It is dangerous and deadly,” she said.
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