According to Devatop Centre for Africa Development, a youth led non-profit organisation with focus on combating human trafficking, gender-based violence, child abuse, providing educational materials to vulnerable children, and empowering women and youth, approximately, Nigeria is currently the largest human trafficking centre in the world.
Human trafficking is the practice of exploiting adults and children for use as commodities, or objects, in conditions of sexual and labour servitude. It is also the illegal trade in human beings through recruitment or abduction by means of force, fraud, or coercion for the purposes of forced labour, debt bondage or sexual exploitation.
Thousands of victims, most of which are women and young girls, become victims of sexual and labour exploitation every year. However, there are a number of governmental and non- governmental organisations actively working to stop this slave trade.
The National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP) reported that human trafficking in Nigeria dates back to the 15th century when European colonists started the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade in the country. In 2019, 203 cases of human trafficking were reported and investigated by NAPTIP in Nigeria.
According to the 2021 Trafficking in Persons Report: Nigeria by the US Department of State, in year 2020, authorities reported investigating 943 cases, prosecuting 64 suspects, convicting 27 perpetrators, while prison sentences ranged from two to 10 years’ imprisonment and at least one convicted trafficker was given the option of fines in lieu of imprisonment.
The report stated that in total, federal and state authorities investigated 409 cases, prosecuted 49 suspects, and convicted 36 traffickers during the reporting period of 2021.
During the period of assessment, NAPTIP reported opening 381 new investigations (which involved 243 sex trafficking and 138 forced labor) and continuing 452 investigations opened in previous reporting periods; initiating prosecutions against 40 suspects (36 sex trafficking, four forced labour) and continuing 13 prosecutions opened in prior years.
The report said authorities reported that judges convicted 36 perpetrators (14 sex trafficking, two forced labour, 20 other forms of trafficking) under The Trafficking in Persons Law Enforcement and Administration Act (TIPLEAA),TIPLEAA anti- trafficking sections 13, 15, 16, 18, 21, 23, 24, and 27, sentencing 23 traffickers to average terms of imprisonment of three and half years with no option of paying fines, sentencing 13 traffickers to terms of imprisonment or fines, and ordered two traffickers to pay restitution of 100,000 naira ($260) and 300,000 naira ($780).
The TIPLEAA as amended in 2015, criminalised sex trafficking and labour trafficking and prescribed a minimum penalty of two years’ imprisonment and a fine of 250,000 naira ($649) for both sex and labour trafficking; the minimum penalty for sex trafficking increased to seven years’ imprisonment and a fine of 1 million naira ($2,600) if the case involved a child victim.
In a separate report, the media reported law enforcement officers investigated four suspects, two of whom were government officials. The Nigeria Security and Civil Defense Corps (NSCDC) however, opened an investigation into the two suspects; the cases were pending at the close of the reporting period.
Unlike previous years, the Nigerian Police Force (NPF) reported its officers arrested two traffickers in 2020, and arrested three suspected traffickers exploiting women in ‘baby factories’-criminal enterprises often disguised as orphanages, maternity homes, or religious centres – where traffickers hold women against their will, rape them, and force them to carry and deliver a child) in December 2020 and March 2021 in Ogun and Katsina states respectively.
The Edo State Task Force Against Human Trafficking (ETAHT) which was set up by the Edo State Government to stem the trend of human trafficking and irregular migration in the state and eliminate the associated stigma, investigated 17 cases (13 forced labor and four sex trafficking) and initiated prosecutions against nine suspects, compared to investigating 38 cases and prosecuting 22 suspects in the previous reporting period.
Sex trafficking reportedly occurred in government-run detention centres and IDP camps. NAPTIP investigated allegations of human trafficking in IDP camps, in coordination with Ministry of Defense zonal commanders.
NAPTIP, under the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and Disaster Management, continued to lead the federal government’s efforts to combat trafficking.
Officials from the Nigerian Immigration Service, Nigerian Police Force, Labour Inspectorate, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit, in coordination with prosecutors and the judiciary all have responsibilities in supporting the country’s criminal justice response to human trafficking.
In October 2019, the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) received 495 stranded Nigerian returnees from Libya. Also in February 2020, NEMA received 161 stranded Nigerians from Mtiga in Libya and another batch of 116 Nigerians, who volunteered to be repatriated back to Nigeria from Libya.
The agency subsequently in November 2021 received 95 stranded Nigerians, another 175 and another 158 batch of Nigerian returnees from Libya.
It also received 180 stranded Nigerian returnees from Libya through the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos in December 2021.
The batch received in December made it a total of 333 stranded Nigerians repatriated to Nigeria through the European Union sponsorship program for Nigerians who got stranded on their failed attempt in search of greener pastures in foreign countries.
On Wednesday, the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) also said it received 167 Nigerian returnees from Libya at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos.
The Director-General of the agency, Mustapha Habib who was represented by the Acting Coordinator of the Lagos Territorial Office of NEMA, Ibrahim Farinloye disclosed this in an interview. According to him, the returnees are made up of 65 female adults, female children three, five female infants, 76 male adults, 11 male children and seven infant males.
“The returnees were brought back to the country by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) through voluntary repatriation programme for the distressed persons.
“They left the country to seek for greener pastures in various European countries but could not afford to return when their journey became frustrated,” he said.
A Victim’s Ordeal
Mrs. Adewoyin Abosede Abimbola, a victim of human trafficking in an interview with TOS NEWS narrated her experience in Libya, saying she was lured and deceived with her trade in November, 2016. Abimbola who learnt fashion designing in Nigeria, was told she would be going to South Africa to further fashion designing as a career.
After a long, dangerous journey which lasted for five days from Kano to Agadez to Libya without food and water, she got to Libya along with four females and five males only to find that she had been deceived. She was told she would work as a sex slave which she refused. She was locked up for days, beaten mercilessly without food. She was also told she had a “debt” to pay if she was not willing to corporate because she had been sold to work as a sex slave.
Eventually, she was lucky enough to make a phone call to her parents who knew about her initial proposed travel. She then asked her parents to send her money to be able to free herself from the traffickers. Although the money sent by her parents was not enough to pay the debt, she did menial jobs, worked in a restaurant which helped her generate the complete money which she used pay the “debt”.
She noted that others who could not pay their “debt” were forced and used as sex slaves. She spent a period of one year in Libya and came to Nigeria in December 2017.
Speaking to Adebayo Olukunle Ajala who is currently an Associate Research Professor in the Social Policy Department of the Nigerian Institute of Social and Economic Research (NISER) and serves as the Acting Head, Social Policy Department and Coordinator of Research for the Institute on the factors responsible for human trafficking in Nigeria, he highlighted that most human traffickers engaged in such act because of greed, selfishness and to exploit others.
“The issue of human trafficking means taking advantage of another person’s level of ignorance because of the social economic state. Most times, the victims are tricked to the whole process, either offering them greener pastures or better options elsewhere.
“Offering them a better life than what they already have is often used as a bait to get many people involved. Many have had their lives truncated, become traumatised while some have suffered the ultimate price by losing their lives,” Prof. Ajala said.
Speaking on what the government can do to put an end to human trafficking in Nigeria, he responded saying, “In my opinion the Government is doing what it should do by making enabling laws. The Government should ensure proper enforcement of these laws and collaborate with other agencies.”
The Federal Government of Nigeria adopted the Trafficking in Persons (Prohibition) Law Enforcement and Administration Act in 2003, a law which prohibits all forms of trafficking and it introduced, for the first time, severe penalties for the crime of human trafficking.
Speaking further, Prof. Ajala said human trafficking in Nigeria can be reduced to the barest minimum through enlightenment, especially among the youths.
“It is necessary to create enlightenment and orientation programs so that they know it’s not everything green that is green and it’s not everything that appears golden that is golden. It is also important to enlighten people on value system. People need to know that everything must go through a process. When you follow a process things last longer.”
When asked if unemployment is an economic factor because according to data, many have fallen victim to human trafficking as they escape dire economic situations at home, where jobs are hard to come by, he encouraged people mostly youths to learn skills, trade and business.
He also advised people to work hard, discover their talents and work on it as talents could take one far in life.