HOW has it been fighting the monster of human trafficking?
The fight against human trafficking can be very challenging in Nigeria; challenging in the sense that Nigerians haven’t yet developed a culture of speaking out when they see things that do not add up. In developed countries, they are trained to identify unusual signs; they are trained to take a very good look at everything around them. That is why you have artists who, by just looking at someone’s face can sketch it, for instance a suspect. We have not reached that stage yet. We are encouraging Nigerians to give information. Nigerians see a lot and look the other way and that is the major challenge because most of these crimes of human trafficking are clandestine crimes. They happen behind the scene, behind closed doors; yet sometimes neighbours are able to see, family members are able to see, but nobody speaks up. We need information to really help us.
Another challenge we are facing is that of serious ignorance. I do not think poverty is the major cause of human trafficking. Yes, there are elements of poverty but I don’t think poverty is the major issue. The major issue is ignorance and lack of education. If we can eradicate lack of education, and we can also reduce the level of ignorance through massive sensitisation programmes and the re-orientation of the mindset of these youth and women in rural areas particularly, because that is where most of them are taken from, If we can achieve that and of course, we should be able to reduce the rate of human trafficking by at least 90 percent.
Which states are particularly notorious for human trafficking in Nigeria?
Almost all the states are endemic now. While some of them are concentrated in West African countries, some of them are concentrated in European countries, Middle-East countries, and we have a lot internally in Nigeria.
How many convictions has NAPTIP been able to make since inception and do you think that the existing laws are strong enough to stamp out this menace in the country?
From inception in 2003 to date, NAPTIP has been able to get 338 convictions so far. Yes, the laws are there, but we are looking at reviewing the laws to strengthen them further. You have imprisonments ranging from six months to about 15 years. But we are looking at having it from like, five years to about 25 years. So far, NAPTIP has rescued over 12,000 victims of human trafficking and rehabilitating well over 6,000.
Nigeria was downgraded in the US rating in the fight against human trafficking shortly before you came in as the Director-General of NAPTIP, what does this portend in the combat against human trafficking in Nigeria?
We must understand that Nigeria was downgraded not because of activities or inactivity of NAPTIP. There were so many factors that were involved in downgrading, which were clearly listed. Some of the reasons that were attributed to Nigeria being downgraded were; one, the use of child soldiers at the war front, at the Boko Haram front; the lack of substantive Director-General in a place like NAPTIP for almost two years; poor funding of NAPTIP, amongst other reasons, were responsible for the downgrading but not as a result of what NAPTIP did not do. Now, with what NAPTIP is doing, the whole world is seeing what NAPTIP is doing in the fight against human trafficking; the whole is seeing what the Federal government of Nigeria is doing to assist victims of trafficking all over the world and I can assure you that Nigeria will take back its place in the Tier One Rating.
Which of these destination countries have been major issues in human trafficking and what are some of the things you are doing differently since you came on board?
There are so many destination countries that have issues in human trafficking. So many of them in Europe, West Africa, Middle-East, in fact human trafficking is all over the world now. We cannot pin-point one country; they are all in the business of human trafficking and a major problem to us. In order to address some of these challenges, we have to go into partnership with various countries and organisations both locally and internationally.
For instance, we have been able to establish some very good operations with the British Government and the Spanish Police. We had NAPTIP operatives carrying out joint investigations at the Heathrow and Gatwick Airports and it was a very successful operation. We also have NAPTIP operatives working side by side with Spanish Police in Spain in identifying traffickers and victims alike and these operations led to quite a number of arrest. We hope to see more of this happen from country to country to really boost the operations of our operatives and reduce the incidence of human trafficking. We also established a new Office in Osogbo Command in Osun state, to take care of about four different states—Ondo, Ekiti, Osun and another State. We also established the Reform Unit and we also set up a committee for the establishment of a Regional Training Centre, which we are hoping would train all human trafficking law enforcement agencies in West Africa, including officers of NAPTIP. These are some of the new projects that we have done in addition to intensifying campaign against human trafficking across the country.
You were in the Federal Government special delegation to Libya for the evacuation of over 5,000 Nigerians entangled and held in enslavement in that country, what were your key findings?
Mr President set up a very high-powered delegation comprising the Honourable Minister of Foreign Affairs, Godfrey Onyeama; DG National Emergency Management, DG NAPTIP, Federal Commissioner of Refugees, a representative of the National Security Adviser, and Senior Special Assistant to the President on Diaspora. It was a fact-finding mission. We went to Libya and met with the president of Libya, who promised to give us maximum cooperation. Then we visited four camps. We were told in one of the camps that Nigerians were being held in about 14 camps, even though we knew there were much more than that. What we noted in the four camps we visited was that Nigerians were not very well taken care of, almost all of them were very emaciated, looking very dirty, not having water to take their bath, very dehydrated because they were not given water to drink, very poorly fed. The medical condition was not also good. All of these conditions were faced by Nigerians in detention camps in that country. We also realized that only men guarding the women, so the women did not have any form of privacy whatsoever. The male guards just walk in and out of the room. Women were naked with no regard or respect whatsoever. These were some of the things we saw. We also saw and we were told reliably that a lot of Nigerians were taken to do forced labour in farms and factories and brought back at the evenings. They were using them actually for s3xual exploitation and forced labour.
Can we rightly say that the Libyan authorities were directly involved in this appalling conditions of Nigerians in that country?
Oh! Definitely, definitely. Nigerians who were in detention camps told us that the Libyan authorities, the security, and those who were supposed to be guarding them were involved in this trade and business of trafficking.
How many of them have so far been repatriated into the country?
Over 1,500 have been returned. We are expecting some more, about 250 to 300 of them. So far, we have some of them in our shelters and we are counseling them; counseling is going on and medicals are going on simultaneously after which we start the process of proper rehabilitation. Of course, all of this is part of rehabilitation exercise, the counseling and the medicals is part of rehabilitation exercise and when they get a little bit stable, then, we start the training and empowerment stage of it, after which they will be reintegrated back to the society.
Are you doing that in collaboration with the state governments whose indigenes are involved?
So far, we are just doing that on our own. We are hoping the state governments will cooperate with NAPTIP to rehabilitate their indigenes.
You raised the alarm recently that the new dimension to human trafficking was the organ harvest, can you speak on that?
Yes, organ harvesting has been going on for a long time. It is just that people are now realising that it is real. Organ harvesting is simply the sale of human parts which is very common. People who go as irregular migrants, nobody has record of them. So, the truth is that you can never know what happens to majority of them because you do not have their record and you do not know a number that went into a country at a point in time. Of course, they are vulnerable to organ harvest.
Which of these countries has more prevalent cases of organ harvest?
Well, we want to believe that in any country where there are issues of human trafficking as a result of undocumented migrants, nothing is impossible. Our advice to Nigerians is that they should travel with regular status. That means, don’t be caught in another country as an irregular migrant. If you are in a country, you must be there legally. And if you want to even travel based on false hope, you can go through the regular route and not put yourself in that traumatic journey of going through the Sahara Desert and ending up dead in the sea or in the desert. If you have any promises from an agent or what have you, all you need to do is put a call to NAPTIP, so that we can guide you. Most importantly, there is really no place like home. I don’t see any reason why anyone wants to leave the comfort of his home and be a slave in someone else’s country under very harsh condition.
But why is it difficult for the victims of trafficking to speak out?
Oath-taking is a very powerful tool they have always used just to put fear in victims. When they swear an oath, they are bound by it, and so, scared to speak. This is why sometimes, we do not get information from them. We have evidence of that on tape, so when we show them, they are able to speak. That is just the control mechanism, a tool that is used to manipulate the minds of very vulnerable and naive victims.
There were reports of many Nigerians being recruited to Saudi Arabia, what is NAPTIP doing to prevent the kind of thing that is happening in Libya?
We have written to the comptroller-general of Immigration, the ministry of foreign affairs, National Intelligence Agency and minister of labour and productivity, complaining about what we are seeing now. We hope they will do something about this. And my candid advice is for Nigerians not to embark on these treacherous journeys through irregular means and through the back door. If you have to travel, you can travel through the regular airport and if you are promised any job, clear with NAPTIP.
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