22 March 2009

Nigeria: Borno Turns Gateway for Human Traffickers

It would seem that human traffickers in Edo state have identified Borno state as a preferred route for 'exporting' unsuspecting young girls and boys to Europe, through Nigeria's neighboring countries for the purpose of prostitution and other unsavoury reasons.

The long distance between both states notwithstanding, the human traffickers must have their way as the about 1,357 kilometers doesn't appear to limit their strapping wish to make money out of near-slave-trade, as they continually shift their 'consignments' made up of boys and girls of between 15 to 30 years, from Edo in the south, down to Borno in the north, apparently, taking advantage of porous situation of the borders between Nigeria and its neighboring countries of Cameroon, Niger and Chad.

Interestingly, these traffickers as well as those being 'exported' by them have often been intercepted by the state's command of the Nigeria Immigration Service, yet they are not deterred as they still 'try their luck,' perhaps because some others may have 'succeeded'.

Recently, a suspected human trafficker, one Osenwenge Ikubor, who hails from Edo state was apprehended along Gamboru, a border town between Nigeria/ Cameroon, while guiding seven youths, comprising two ladies and five young men, all of them, indigenes of Edo state in an attempt to move them out of Nigeria into Cameroon with each of them carrying forged passports and other traveling documents, according to the immigration.

The Comptroller, Nigerian Immigration Service, Borno Command, Mohammed Sambo Gwandu who paraded the suspected trafficker and his accomplices in Maiduguri, explained to news men that the passports recovered from them showed entry Immigration stamps of numerous countries pasted along with visas even though it was clear that the seven youths being led out of the country had never been to the countries from which immigration entry stamps were forged.

Gwandu also said that his men recovered a movement chat from the team which implied that they were heading for other countries, using Cameroon as a route.

He noted that the persons whose names where given as Osenwenge Ikubor, the suspected trafficker also from Edo state; Osogbete David; Orukpe Solomon; Ugaige Osifo; Brown Jide; Obann Osasu and the two ladies, Orukpe Blessing and Edosa Mary, all of them, between the ages of 20 to 30 years, had fake data pages, containing their photos and bio data. These were criminally imposed inside manual passports that have been used by some people who apparently owned them, indicating that the passports may have been stolen and the laminated data pages replaced with forged ones.

The suspected trafficker and leader of the delegation, Osenwenge Ikubor, 34, told our correspondent, that one Mohammed, a friend of his in Lagos, was the one who made the passports for the 7 youths, while he, was assigned to lead them to Cameroon for the purpose of auditioning to take part in the shooting of a home video.

He said he was not a trafficker but only assisted his accomplices to seek their livelihood as film actors, who were billed to return to Nigeria after the auditioning and shooting the movie, maintaining that they had no intention of going beyond Cameroon.

On how their passports had immigration stamps of different countries, Ikubor said only Mohammed, who got the passports could explain that, implying that he was innocent.

Some of the 7 youths told Kanem Trust that they paid N10, 000 for the passports to be made for them even as they said they didn't know they were carrying forged passports.

They claimed that they and their leader were secondary school leavers who were neither in any tertiary school nor into any form of employment, as they alleged that their parents could not cater for their education beyond secondary school level.

In January, this year, four other human traffickers, also from Edo state were arrested by the Immigration in an attempt to smuggle some 26 girls between the ages of 16 and 25 along with some 41 males, mostly indigenes of Edo state, who were being 'exported' to Europe and other North African countries. The traffickers who were arrested at Banki, a border town in Borno state, linking Nigeria with Cameroon, were caught leading the 67 boys and girls, out for onward transition to European countries, Libya, Tunisia and Algeria. Immigration comptroller, Gwandu disclosed that his men arrested the suspects at a check point on board a bus with Anambra state registration number, XC 127 NEM, while they were also in possession of fake Nigerian passports even as many others being smuggled had no traveling documents on them. Leader of the group of four syndicated traffickers, Osagie Agbiagbe, from Edo, told Kanem Trust that he had been in the business of helping young Nigerians find jobs and other economic opportunities in foreign countries, for a long time. "It was bad luck today and the inability of knowing the desert terrain that made us to be arrested at Banki. We have been facilitating the smooth travels of these young people from Edo and other states in the Niger Delta region to find jobs and other economic opportunities" Agbiagbe said. Cynthia Omahae, also from Edo state, who was amongst the 26 girls to be 'exported', recalled that she made separate payments of $800, N25, 000 and 200, 000 CFA francs to Agbiagbe, leader of the syndicate, for her trip to Europe to be facilitated. "My parents have no money to educate me and I have no other relations to depend on for my survival. We cannot continue like that while there are opportunities in other countries to make money" Cynthia who showed no remorse, noted. The lady insisted that she and the other 25 girls were not going for prostitution and other unwholesome jobs that may tarnish the image of the country but merely for legitimate jobs. She however kept mute on why she didn't use the money she used in paying for the trip, to commence a small scale business in Nigeria.

Unlike Osagie Agbiagbe who confessed that he was leading Cynthia and the 66 youths to Europe, another human trafficker, Amina Musa Elaite, also from Edo state, denied having any motive to smuggle some four ladies, she was caught with, to Europe some times last year, through the Borno border.

Elaite maintained that the ladies: Fate Joshua, 22 and Tracy Tanimo,24 both from Edo, as well as Regina Eabe, 22 and Chioma Oawo, 19, from Delta and Abia states respectively, were not heading to Europe but that she was taking the girls to Chad, to help her in her hotel business. Like the other human traffickers caught in Borno, Amina Musa Elaite insisted that the ladies were not going for prostitution in any European country. She had maintained that she had no money to acquire ECOWAS traveling documents for the girls and that was why she resorted to smuggling the girls through Gamboru border.

The immigration was however of the view that Elaite had planned to 'export' the four girls for prostitution and other menial jobs available in Spain and Italy, noting that human traffickers use Chad, DR Congo and Libya as their exit points to European countries.

Gwandu was however, worried that human traffickers were now in the habit of avoiding airports because of the tight security and would rather rely on land borders to smuggle young ladies and boys to European countries.

Though the Traffickers would not explain their choice for Borno border, moving their 'wares' from far Edo state is suggestive of the fact that their counterparts may have been enjoying free ride into neighboring countries through the state.

Immigration officials in Borno state attributed the influx of suspected human traffickers from Edo as a clear manifestation of insecurity on the Nigerian borders, and especially on the Borno border, to the absence of wall fences to forestall trespass into or through the state. Other reasons are the inadequate patrol vans and other facilities for effective policing.

There were also views that the National Agency for Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP) may need to wake up and spread its tentacles to Borno because so far, tracking down the human traffickers appears to be done by the Immigration only, before they are handed over to them. Officials said that if the current situation was not checked, the fight against human trafficking which led to the establishment NAPTIP would be in vain.

Beyond putting things right at the borders, observers noted that special focus may have to be made to curtail movement of human traffickers especially from Edo to Borno state while government has to establish alternative sources of employment for unemployed youths. It was disturbing, that some of those arrested appeared to have lost faith in the Nigerian government even as others, simply, were not interested in gaining meaningful employment or self employment, despite efforts of some governments to curb street roaming and other youth problems.

Until the trend is reversed, human traffickers like Osagie Agbiagbe and Cynthia Omahae who think that 'riches fall from heaven for all to grab on earth' would continue to try to get out of Nigeria through the Borno border, with the hope that they may one day, be lucky.

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