By Bankole Shakirudeen Adeshina
DAVID, a 14-year-old Togolese teenager, migrated to Nigeria in 2014, under very stringent economic condition.
As a young and ambitious little boy, who unfortunately finds himself in a poor family and an environment that offers little or no hope for the actualization of his dreams and desired future, David is determined to forge a new pathway for himself.
“So, in 2014, my uncle who has been living and working in Nigeria for sometimes, sent for me,” he recalled, as he summoned the courage to narrate his harrowing migration experience to an audience listening with rapt attention.
The occasion was a roundtable discussion organized by Terre Des Hommes Foundation, in commemoration of the 2018 International Migrant Day, which holds every December 18th of the year.
With a global theme: “Migration with dignity,” the parley’s theme was more direct and specific, as it focused on “Children and youth as major factor of their own migration: the role of various actors and political leaders in their protection.”
Held at the conference room of NECA building in Alausa, Lagos, on attendance were leading development partners such as the International Organization for Migrants (IOM), National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP), National Commission for Refugees, Migrants and Internally Displaced Persons (NCRMIDP), Association of Working Children and Youths (AWCY), the Lagos State Ministry of Youth and Sport Development, and Child-to-child Group among others.
On the front burner for discussion were fundamental issues revolving around the growing phenomenal of migrant children, the causes, risks and more importantly, the need to provide a more robust protective structure and support system for the vulnerable children as they embark on the seeming unstoppable journey.
This initiative, which is being funded by the European Union, is organized as part of an ongoing three-year intervention project embarked upon by Terre Des Home, tagged Project for the Protection of the Migrant Children along the Abidjan-Lagos Corridor (CORAL).
David’s uncle, names withheld, is a Lekki-based vulcanizer in the Lagos metropolis.
“Before my parents could release me to him, he promised that he would teach me his trade and simultaneously send me to school,” David, who was named Sunday back home, continued, fighting balls of tears off his cheeks, as he narrated the horrible tale.
“But as soon as I landed in Lagos, he only used few days to show me how his Vulcanizing job is being done, after which he would abandon only me at the shop to do the job. He didn’t enroll me at school, as he promised.
“I stay at the shop all day by myself, doing the vulcanizing job alone. He only comes around in the evening to collect the money made so far. He also treated me so badly. I suffered…” David’s voice became choked as he finally broke down in tears.
It took the motherly cuddle of the Head of Country Office, Nigeria, Terre Des Hommes, Mrs. Peju Osoba, to pacify the grieving teenager.
Sadly, David’s tale is the painful reality of countless unreported abuses many migrant children and sometimes trafficked teenagers have had to go through in their quest for a better future.
Unlike many others, David was lucky to have been rescued, rehabilitated, and enrolled to school; while at the same time continuing with the vulcanizing job alongside his uncle.
“Luckily for us, we have been able to manage the situation maximally to the best interest of the child,” said, Mr. Olakunle Peters, Communications Officer for Terre Des Hommes.
Peters stressed that “the child has now been enrolled at School and attends regularly. Upon closing in the evening, he would resume at the Vulcanizing work. And this we have done with assistance from the officials from SUBEB and other stakeholders, without severing the ties between David and his uncle and as well David’s parents and the uncle.”
Buttressing this pathetic episode, the organisers of the roundtable dished out a seven minutes documentary video, detailing the mass exodus of children and teenagers across the west coast, and in their voices, the reason why they leave and the many existential threats they encountered in the course of the journey.
According to the United Nations, there are over 250million migrant globally, with more than 50million being children.
Out of this figure, a larger unaccounted part of them regularly move within West Africa sub-region, with most of them heading to Nigeria as their country of destination.
But as they journeyed on, accompanied or unaccompanied, these migrant children became more vulnerable, with some unable to survive the existential threats encountered on the way.
“The issue here is clear,” Osoba, the Terres De Homme’s Head of Country Office for Nigeria cleared her throat as she commenced the meeting, saying “African children are moving in mass exodus away from their original places of habitation.”
“The reason for this development is multi-faceted;” she stressed, highlighting “danger of insecurity, poverty, sexual abuse, cultural necessity, peer pressure and the need for greener pasture” as the leading causes.
Osoba’s position was buttressed with a seven minutes documentary, which narrated the real-life-experiences of the migrant children, especially along the west coast African sub-region.
From the Republic of Benin, Togo, Ghana, Nigeria and elsewhere, children ranging between the ages of 13 and 17 years, most of whom journey unaccompanied, narrated how and why they ran away from their respective natural abodes and the danger they encountered during the journey.
“While it is clear that many of these children are running away from one problem or the other, it is therefore important for us to ensure that they don’t run into another and bigger problem along the way.
“For instance, we should just imagine a child who is running away from sexual abuse in his or her home or guardian, and on getting to the borderline, he or she is being asked to go back to that hellish hole, without the opportunity of fair hearing. Clearly that kind of decision is not in the best interest of such a child.
“Therefore, the purpose of this meeting and the project under which this meeting is being held is to improve the protection of the migrant children with the aim of reducing their vulnerability and improving their access to development opportunities along the way and in their respective destinations,” she added.
Peters also admonished that migration is not and should never be seen as a problem but a natural phenomenal, noting that “for instance, if you are not born in Lagos State Nigeria and you live here as we speak, you are a migrant. Or you are born here but your parents are not of this state, you are still a migrant. And on and on like that.
“Therefore, migration is not the problem. While America and Europe maybe understandably frowning at the influx of Africa migrants to their folds, how acceptable can we talk of that act some countries within same African continent who are rejecting and restricting their own migrants. It is sad, but true. That is what is happening in Ghana and South Africa against some Nigerian migrants there.
“But we must rise above this challenge together and provide a better environment for our children and adults,” he admonished.
During the panel discussion, the participating agencies gave detailed reports of their respective efforts and existing programmes on migration and did agreed on the need to work together more efficiently for improved protection for the migrant children.
Olatunde Aye, Project Assistant, Migration Management and Research, International Organisation for Migrants (IOM), stressed that “migration is not going to go away as it is part of the DNA of human evolution. In times of the Bible and the Quran, people have always moved for community, state and or country to another, for whatever reasons.
Aye, while speaking as a panelist at the event, remarked that “For some, migration used to be for the purpose of trading; others, for adventure or change environment. And people also flee because of security challenge.
“But the concern today is that migration is almost happening now because some negative factors—insecurity, poverty and abuses! Therefore, it is important to focus our energy on addressing these key issues,” she added.
She explained that as part of her organization’s intervention, IOM, in conjunction with the European Union, has been working with the Federal Government of Nigeria to assist the distressed, stranded and traumatised Nigerian migrants from abroad through repatriation back home.
“The project is being done under the EU-IOM Joint Initiative for Migrant Protection and Reintegration, titled: Strengthening the Management and Governance of Migration and the Sustainable Reintegration of Returning Migrants to Nigeria.
“And so far, IOM has returned 11, 490 Migrants. Most of these migrants are from Libya. Meanwhile, the initial target was 3,800, but we have far exceeded it because of the compelling necessity to do so,” she added.
In the same vein, Mr. Alex Oturu, Lagos State Head (Migration) for the National Commission for Refugees, Migrants and Internally Displaced Persons, said his agency has been diligently performing it statutory obligation to shelter, rehabilitate, empower and possibly integrate foreign migrants back to their society or “here in the country, provided they meet the documentation requirement.
“Given the scope of our organization, our intervention programmes are more exclusively for foreign nationals than for indigenous migrants,” Oturu stressed.
Atokolo Daniel E., the Zonal Commander of NAPTIP for Lagos, Oyo and Ogun states, reinstated his agency’s commitment to enforcing the prohibition of trafficking in persons’ law, irrespective of whose ox is gored.
Daniel, who was recently redeployed from Makurdi, Benue State, to Lagos barely three months ago, said his own style of operation “is zero tolerance against trafficking,” calling on traditional rulers, chiefs, religious leaders, parents and youths to assist them with credible surveillance to nab and prosecute the perpetrators of the crime.
“Interestingly, within two months of my ascension, we have been lucky to secure seven convictions; one of which happens to be the dramatic case of one Malian man who was exporting Nigerian girls to country for prostitution/ given he avalanche of evidences against him, he was sentenced to seven years imprison without the option of fine.
“Although some of the cases are have been in court long before now, but our commitment to see them through with ability to scoop out compelling evidences has assisted us in the recent successful prosecution.
“Interestingly, the Malian trafficker case was referred to me by the Ogun State Commissioner of Police. And as a matter of courtesy, i have sent a letter of notification back to him, saying the case you sent to us, has been diligently prosecuted, with successful conviction.
“That in itself, plus our availability at this workshop and the willingness to work with other stakeholders, further positions our agency’s excellent security liaison with other sister agencies,” he added.
The NAPTIP Lagos Commander said under his command, he would ensure that no stone is left unturned in pursuing all the cases of trafficking to a logical conclusion.
“Our agency is saddled to enforce the prohibition of trafficking in persons laws. And we are serious about it. And that is what NAPTIP has come to let the people understand. There is consequence to whatever action people take. People should not think that impunity pays,” the former Makurdi Zonal Commander, who was in charge of operations in Benue, Plateau, Nassarawa, and Kogi State, concluded.