Trafficked ladies recently rescued and jointly rehabilitated by the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP), United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the Embassy of Switzerland in Nigeria, recall the horrors of their experiences at an event in Lagos. BANKOLE SHAKIRUDEEN ADESHINA reports
Thirty of them, all ladies, sat on the white plastic chairs arranged facing the podium. They were casually dressed, with some opting to be natural while others wore light makeup.
From different states, religions and ages, they were united in their search for greener pastures abroad. They were conversing in a convivial atmosphere, far different from the horrific experiences they had been brutally subjected to in their bid to travel abroad.
Their lack of university education, economic vulnerability and porosity of the Nigerian borders had been exploited by well connected, powerful and deadly human trafficking syndicates that ferried them off under the pretence of wanting to help them secure plum jobs abroad.
It was not long after their arrival at their destinations that it dawned on them that were being forced into prostitution, drug trafficking, leased and out rightly sold off into labor.
Unlike the lucky ones gathered at the NAPTIP inside Ikeja GRA, Lagos, many who had experienced similar nerve wracking experiences are not alive to tell the story. Thousands perished on the high sea and deserts, trying to make it to their supposed El Dorado. Some who made it eventually were forced into dangerous occupations, got killed or jailed for life.
America’s Cable News Network’s (CNN) Special Freedom Project exclusively revealed recently how African migrants, including Nigerians, were being auctioned into slavery in Libya. The highest price on each was $400 (roughly about N150, 000)! The report was substantiated with video evidences that generated instant international reaction and forced the Libyan government to respond.
THEIR TALES, THEIR PAINS
After necessary clearance, five of the young ladies shared their stories with CITY VOICE and other journalists invited to the event where the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP), United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the Embassy of Switzerland in Nigeria, that had previously enrolled them for vocational skills, gave them the necessary trade tools.
Tellingly, the stories of the ladies who had been rehabilitated at the NAPTIP camp called ‘The Shelter’ had similar elements: lured abroad with the offer of attractive jobs.
The 25-year-old lady from Ilorin, Kwara State, never dreamt of travelling abroad until a friend’s friend informed her of an opportunity last year. She jumped at it instantly because she had no meaningful engagement at the time.
“She promised me that a job of N50, 000 monthly salary was already waiting for me on arrival at Libya. And that I should tell anybody else willing to take the same advantage so I told two of my friends. She added two other girls to us, making a total of five. She funded our travel, amounting to N200, 000 each. We were to refund her when we got there and started working.
“She said she would go first and call us to join her later. She moved a particular night and after a week, called me with a Libyan phone line that we should get ready. She directed us to board a bus from Okin, Kwara State to Kano State, then to Niger and later to Libya.
“When we arrived, she took us to a house and asked us to remove our clothes. When we resisted, she warned us of serious consequences of disobedience to her in a foreign land. She also removed our hair—head, armpit and pubic and finger nails for oath taking. She said she has brought us for prostitution and we are going to pay her $4,000 per month.
“She got us skimpy clothes and we started working the next day. Men kept coming every day; sometimes 12, 15 and 20 daily. I got pregnant in the process. Another girl also got pregnant. But she called a nurse, who is also from Nigeria to abort the babies for us. I got pregnant because some of them would come and said they don’t like to use condom. And she would say we must do it.
“After the abortion, she asked us to resume work the second day. Then I started bleeding, falling sick and giving her problem. She had to transfer me from the Connection (prostitution) House to another place to work. At this place, they were nicer and were taking care of me.
“After one month, ISIS fighter came and bombed the place we were staying. Some died; others were injured while the rest of us were kidnapped. I couldn’t escape because I didn’t know where to go. They carried about 29 of us and took us to one three storey building. I saw so many people there. It’s a kind of cell. At the place, the ISIL members said the only way for us to receive their mercy was to convert to Islam. I agreed out of fear. They started teaching me how to pray and recite Suratul Fatiah for a one week. They changed my name to Mariam.
“Then one night, they collected all our belongings and brought a yellow cloth, and asked us to put it on. Then one night, they ordered us into their trucks and headed for a riverbank. They asked all of us to kneel down. They set their cameras and started praying. After the prayer, they told us that they would show us the fate of those that refused to serve Allah. They started slaughtering us one-by-one
“I was the last on the row. The girl next to me was Vera, from Benin City. They slaughtered her too. When it was my turn, their driver just rushed to the riverside and asked the guy not to kill me since I had already accepted Islam. That was how God saved me.
“The following day, they started fighting again. The Libyan soldiers invaded their place and started shooting them. As they were fighting, a plane bombed us. The window of the cell where I was kept blew away too. That was how I escaped. I ran to the soldiers (IOM). And they rescued me and asked whether I should like to go back to Nigeria. And I said yes,”
Since her return to Nigeria on April 25, Ayo’s orientation about life and people has changed. “There is no good job anywhere. It’s a ploy human traffickers use. They would be your best friend in Nigeria but when you get there, they would become your worst enemy. I would advise even my enemies to strive here and be blessed and not to travel to any foreign country unless they can afford it. I would also advise people not to put their trust in fellow humans. Humans are wicked and untrustworthy.”
The 20 -year- old is chubby, dark complexioned and is nursing a six-month old baby, Manifestation. From Warri, Delta State, Tari is barely educated but intelligent and articulate. She was lured into travelling to Mali and later Europe but ended up in a private pub as a prostitute.
Her situation became more complicated when she discovered she was a few weeks pregnant for her fiancé, Joseph (not a real name) back home.
But no amount of explanation would “change my Madam’s mind,” she recalled, as she it became a must for her “to sleep with men every day.
“She said I had to do it so she could recoup her investment on me. I had no option. She put me in a room and men, a lot of them, started coming. On a daily basis, they come in multiples, all wanting to have sex and go away. Even when my pregnancy was visibly growing, they would still come and have sex with me.
“This continued until I delivered my baby around June this year. After my delivery, my Madam gave me a week to rest before resuming work. It was so painful when I resumed but nobody cares to listen,” she recalled.
Tari travelled last December but returned last Tuesday after escaping death.
Sadly, how to break the news of her baby, Manifestation who turned six months on Monday, November 20, to her fiancé is making her uneasy.
“The problem now is that I didn’t tell him (Joseph) that I was pregnant before I left. I didn’t even tell him I was travelling. Therefore, I don’t know how to break the news of our daughter to him. This is giving me a serious challenge now,” she said.
Mena, 26, is from Agbaro, Ugheli North, Delta State. She trained as a hairdresser and owned a shop in Benin before an opportunity to flee to Malaysia came.
Her supposed benefactor was Emele, who took her to her mother. The woman said her elder daughter is based in Malaysia and needed able hands for her expanding hairdressing business. Mena’s excitement doubled when she heard that her monthly pay won’t be less than 1000 Ringgit (about N87,000) but her “benefactor” insisted she compulsorily engage in secret oath taking.
“They took my hair—head, armpit and pubic, finger nails and my undies,” she recalled. Thereafter, she was taken to a powerful native doctor for spiritual fortification for a week. Her passport was subsequently sorted out and she was linked to an agent in Lagos who perfected her boarding arrangement. She was taught how to circumvent corrupt security personnel at the airport
“The agent gave me money to bribe my way through the airport when they attempted to stop me. And I did as told. When they approached me, I would dole out N1, 000 and they would just smile. My passage was quick and easy. I was also given the phone number of the person that would receive me and the sum of $20 to use to buy sim card and call when I land in Malaysia,” she narrated.
Aboardthe plane, Philomena met other Nigerian girls on the same journey, euphoric at heading off to “the promised land”.
“We were so happy, sharing our dreams together. Eventually, we landed in Kuala Lumpur Airport and my contact came to pick me. We were very happy, ate good meal, drank and played all day. But after two days, she called me and told me that work would resume the next day and I said no problem.
“I decided to ask her again what type of job and the location. She told me it was prostitution. And I said never; that they told me hairdressing job and not prostitution. She and her three other friends jointly beat me, injured my leg and locked me in a room. I couldn’t stand upright. But after two days, she started bringing men for me. The men didn’t want to hear any explanation. Sometime, 10, 15 and or 20 of them, I had to service them all.
“After two months in the room, she came for me and said her friend is having a birthday party that I must follow her. I refused. And she beat me again, insisting that even if I don’t want to do the job again, I must do this one to repay her investment in me. She said it was 80,000 Ringgit (N 696,5345.09).
“When we got there, I found out it was not a birthday party but a club. Before we left home, she had collected my original passport and gave me another one which looks like paper. She told me to show it to the policemen anytime I was approached. She also gave me a phone.
“When we got there, she hooked up with a guy and they both disappeared. Where I was standing, a policeman in mufti approached me. I didn’t know he was a policeman. He asked for my passport and I showed him, he said it was the original one he wanted. I said I didn’t have it. Then, he took me to a cell and I stayed there for 12 days, after which they took me to court and sentenced me to two months imprisonment,” she recalled.
After serving her time, she was transferred to a deportation camp, fell sick several times but was never visited by her madam. After several calls and messages, her trafficker brought her passport and ticket, three months after arriving in the Immigration camp.
“Apart from my passport and ticket, she didn’t bring any money for me, not even my luggage,” she said. On her arrival July 13, this year, she found out that her family had located the woman who facilitated her trafficking and arrested her. This was made possible by the detailed message she dropped for a friend, asking her to alert her family if she wasn’t heard from.
“Since I have been back, my orientation about life has changed. I’m a hairdresser and now, I want to face my business. I don’t want to travel again. I want to work hard here and make it. Because what you always expect about travel is not what you end up seeing most times. And many have died still dying there because they are trapped.”
29-year-old Kewe from Benin City, Edo State needs urgent medical attention as she has been living with stomach pains since her return home last month from Libya.
Her story: “The person that took me to Libya is a guy and stays around my neighborhood in Benin. He said instead of roaming the street, I can travel to Libya and make some money. He told me today and we travelled three days later. I didn’t even tell my mother. If I tell her, she won’t allow me to go.
“When we assembled, we were more than 50 girls, including 11 guys, all from Edo State. Two buses conveyed us. We were told to meet one Ismaili who would ask for our Burger ‘sponsor’ and arranged us into a hotel.
“We got to Kano State around 3am and entered Libya through Niger. My brother also followed us. He is still there now. We stayed in the desert for five days. We landed in Gatron on a Sunday and they took us to a place called Prince Ghetto.
“When we got there, they separated my brother from me, saying he can’t follow us to Tripoli, that he would join us later. I never knew that they actually Tranke (kidnapped) him because he travelled on credit. And he had to call my Burger to bring more money.
“When we got there, they said there was no work at the moment that I had to work as a prostitute. I had to do it because there was way out. I used to pray a lot and asked God to rescue me from the bondage. My madam is a Benin woman. Her name is Ameze. She travels a lot and speaks French. And she is married but also goes out with other men. Her husband was not always around. When he came back one day, I told him of her escapades. Angrily, she asked the man to sell me , but he refused.
“Then, she took me to another place. After two days, on January 13, this year, I was told they tranke the man and killed him. I don’t know what to do, can’t run because if you do, they will catch you and sell you. They sell human beings there like property.
“Eventually, the security men arrested us on 21st of January, this year and took us to prison. We spent three months there. On the 12th of May, they took us to the Deportation camp and we spent another two months there. In the camp, I got injured. The Arab guards inflicted pain on us daily. They collected all our items and said that won’t allow us go back with their items. My brother is still there. He is 21 years old. He is not safe. I’m pleading with the government to help rescue him.”
A SUCCESS STORY
Happily, it wasn’t all gloomy tales at the occasion. A 24-year-old rescued victim picked up the pieces of her life, returned to school and graduated with second class upper degree in Accounting from the Redeemers University. In fact, she has begun the mandatory one-year National Youth Service.
From the south-south, the beautiful young lady was rescued by the police after a raid on a suspected trafficking camp in Lagos five years ago
“My own experience was here in Lagos, Nigeria. I didn’t travel anywhere. I was an orphan and a lonely child. I didn’t meet my dad alive. My mother died when I was eight years old. I moved in with my aged grandmother who passed away in 2004. Afterwards, I had to move to my uncle’s place, same in Oron. But he is a blind man, struggling to keep up with his family. But shortly after my granny’s death, he said everybody has to find his/her square root; that he had no means to take care of everyone. I was about 11 years then. I had to move to my aunt’s place. I was moving from one place to the other until I came across this lady who was staying in my aunt’s village.
“It was my friend that connected me to her, saying she stays in Lagos and was looking for a sales representative. She was willing to send such persons to school and that after school, the sales person would return to her shop. I didn’t think twice; it was an opportunity to get out of poverty and suffering. But I never knew it was a different episode of suffering altogether.
“In no time, we moved to Lagos and settled where she was staying. She said the next day; she would take me to her shop. When we got there, it was a bizarre scene. There were adults and minor girls everywhere, some naked, some half-naked with skimpy cloths on. Everywhere was littered with hard drinks and drugs.
“I asked the woman that what do you sell here and how come the girls are naked? She said I shouldn’t bother myself and be focused. She took me to a room and told me it’s a pure business of prostitution; that she didn’t tell me before because I may refuse to come along. I couldn’t recall the exact location because it was my first time in Lagos. I was 12 years old then.
“She said her business is to bring girls for prostitution that in turn pays her a certain huge amount of money before they are free to earn their own living themselves. I told her to return me back to my village that I can’t do the job. I told her though I wasn’t doing well there but preferred to go through the suffering than do such a job.
“She said fine, but before I go, I should look for how to get her the money she incurred in bringing me to Lagos. So, I was stranded and didn’t know anyone in Lagos. We remained in the hotel and she starved me for days. I succumbed because I didn’t want to die of hunger. I told her to give me a day to prepare psychologically for it. The following day, the work began. She brought an elderly man to meet me in the room, who asked me to be his girlfriend. I was hoping that when I share my story with the person, he would sympathize with me and help me escape. But he was never moved. So, I did it with the man on Thursday night.
“She then called me after 12am in the morning that if the police come and ask me who brought me to Lagos, I should say I came by myself. On Friday night, policemen came to our hotel to raid. Surprisingly, some girls smaller than my me ran away to evade arrest; I saw it as opportunity to escape. I waited for them and they arrested me. They asked who brought me to Lagos and I took them to her. They arrested her and took us to police station. I was there for three days before I was finally handed to NAPTIP. I heard she is in prison now because NAPTIP took her to court. I went to testify in court too.
“I was in NAPTIP’s shelter for a long time, going through rehabilitation and learning three different vocational skills before I finally went to school. I started school at the age of 14 and at JSS1. NAPTIP took me to one of its corporate partners, an NGO, Real Woman Foundation, owned by Pastor Nike Adeyemi, who jointly shouldered my school fees with NAPTIP. Learning was very tough for me. At the age of 14, I couldn’t spell my own name. Imagine going to a school where your classmates are toddlers and you are teenager. I felt a lot of embarrassment. But I persevered.
“These pains and embarrassments were the turning point for me. Remembering where I was coming from, I had to endure to get to where I’m today. My secondary school was Triple Crown College at Ketu. I went to Redeemers University and studied Accounting and graduated with Second Class Upper this year. Our convocation was September 28. I was among the 464 students that graduated.
“And by God’s grace, my call-up letter just came out (then) and I would be going to camp on Monday.
“When I look back at my life, I recall what the Bible says that ‘Nothing happens to humans without the knowledge of God. I just feel all that happened was the will of God.
“In 100 level, I tried to share my story with my friends, and they shut me down, saying, I should not embarrass myself. But my intention was to use my story to encourage whoever is going through similar torment to find the courage and weather through it.
“I have been at the NAPTIP shelter. And whenever they bring the rescued girls, I talk to them and try to inspire them. This is important because they may want to give up before but when they see me as a success story, having gone through similar thing they have been as still standing and on her two feet, they would move on.”
REASONS FOR THE EMPOWERMENT
After their rehabilitation, the 30 girls were also trained (retrained) in different vocational skills and given their trade tools. The objective, aside emotional and psychological rehabilitation, was for the girls to be fully reintegrated economically into the society.
Counselling the girls, Dr. Eunice Anuforo who represented the Director General of NAPTIP, warned that the equipment given was not to be sold, but to better their lives.
“We have equipped people in the past that either sold or mismanaged the equipment so; we are going to monitor you to make sure you are established. Let’s not hear that you are lured back into illegal migration. As you collect your equipment today, make sure you treasure them and make full use of them,” she said.
The Commander, Lagos Zone of NAPTIP, Mr. Joseph Famakin, toed her path.
The UNODC Officer in-Charge, represented by Mr. Polleak Okserei, said the joint empowerment programme was consistent with the Article 6 of the United Nations Protocol on the Assistance to and Protection of victims of trafficking in persons.
The Migration Adviser, Embassy of Switzerland in Nigeria, Jolanda Pfister Herren, told the ladies to use the opportunity to start and work towards a more law-abiding and prosperous future. “We do recognize your invaluable service to the society in very many aspects. It is for that reason that we have reached the critical aspect of this project – empowering you with the already acquired training as well as equipment to sustain and enhance your economic and leadership skills.”
Herren disclosed that in pursuit of social justice and stability, through enforcement of laws and promotion of robust economic development for the people, Nigeria became her country’s first bilateral partner in Africa since 2011.
Since then, both countries have since enjoyed an excellent and close collaboration on migration issues.
According to her, out of the growing relationship, “numerous projects and activities have been implemented so far in various fields, including the fight against human trafficking and migrants smuggling, capacity building in immigration administration and protection of vulnerable migrants.”
Apart from that, she said the relationship has been expanded into another frontier, especially in preventing irregular migration.
In achieving this, Herren said that the Swiss government had, in partnership with the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) and a TV production outfit, developed a television mini-series currently running on NTA as part of measures to raise awareness on the risks of following irregular migration routes.
“The purpose of Swiss-Nigeria migration partnership is to work together more closely and in a comprehensive manner in the area of migration with the purpose to tackle the challenges of global migration. The objective is to develop common solutions to the challenges faced by both countries, and to better utilize the potentials offered by migration,” she explained.
Editor’s note: The names of the victims in this story have been changed to protect their identities