Tokunbo Adedoja in New York
Despite the huge effort by Mrs. Eki Igbinedion, wife of former Edo State governor, Lucky Igbinedon, in combating female trafficking in Edo State, a new report released by the United States government has detailed how Nigerian women and girls were trafficked to Asia, Europe and other parts of Africa to be used as sex slaves and for forced labour. Edo State was identified as one of the largest exporters of sex workers to parts of Europe, especially Italy.
Mrs. Igbinedion had founded Idia Renaissance, a platform she used in battling the malaise of female trafficking in the state. She mounted strong re-orientation programmes which not only exposed the antics of the dealers, but also equipped rescued erstwhile sex workers with the skills and enterprise to start life anew in other vocations. She left office when the tenure of her husband expired in 2007.
The recently released report titled, '2012 Trafficking in Persons Report', further added that Europol (European Police Office) has identified Nigerian organised crime as one of the largest law enforcement challenges to European governments.
The report indicated, "Nigerian women and girls, primarily from Benin City in Edo State, are subjected to forced prostitution in Italy, while Nigerian women and girls from other states are subjected to forced prostitution in Spain, Scotland, the Netherlands, Germany, Turkey, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Sweden, Switzerland, Norway, Ireland, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Greece, and Russia."
It specifically noted that Nigerian women trafficked to Malaysia are not only forced into prostitution, they were also made to work as drug mules for their traffickers.
Noting that Nigerian women and children are recruited and transported to destinations in North Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia, where they were held captive in the sex trade or in forced labour, the report observed some are trafficked to other West and Central African countries, as well as South Africa, where they were exploited for the same purposes.
According to the report, Nigerian traffickers rely on threats of voodoo to compel their victims into prostitution often with an understanding on how to repay their "madams or masters". Most of the dealers who recruit their victims from the rural communities often paint bright prospects to the parents of the victims, especially when they are promised regular remittances of foreign currency from their children or wards who are "working in Oyinbo land". The victims on their part are excited about the prospect of "travelling abroad" and earning a living in foreign currency, without knowing that the "work in Oyinbo land" is a smokescreen for prostitution and servitude.
While noting that Nigerian government does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking, it observed that during the reporting period, Nigerian government has not demonstrated sufficient progress in its anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts. "Roughly, a third of convicted traffickers received fines in lieu of prison time," adding, "despite identifying 386 labour trafficking victims, the government prosecuted only two forced labour cases."
The report also states that despite documentation on a staggering number of Nigerian trafficking victims identified in countries around the world, the government has inconsistently employed measures to provide services to repatriated victims. It noted that in one particular case and for unknown reasons, Nigerian officials did not assist prosecutors, representing a Nigerian victim in a foreign country, in locating a Nigerian trafficker who was in Nigeria during the case proceedings.
The report also indicted Nigerian diplomats in a neighbouring West African country for referring most of the Nigerian trafficking victims identified in that country to local NGOs rather than arranging for their repatriation to National Agency for the Prohibition of Traffic in Persons and Other Related Matters (NAPTIP) shelters in Nigeria. "Despite the growing number of Nigerian trafficking victims identified abroad, the government is yet to implement formal procedures for the repatriation and reintegration of Nigerian victims," it stated.
In the report, Nigeria was described as a source, transit and destination country for women and children subjected to forced labour and sex trafficking. The report observed that trafficked Nigerians are recruited from rural areas, and to a lesser extent urban areas, within the country.
While women and girls were used for domestic servitude and sex trafficking, it indicated that boys are used for forced labour in street vending, domestic service, mining, stone quarries, agriculture, and begging.
In this year's report, which analysed countries from around the world by looking at what the governments are doing to tackle modern slavery, Nigeria slid down the ranking scale from Tier 1 to Tier 2. The annual report grouped countries into four tiers using the 3P paradigm of Prevention, Protection and Prosecution. Tier 1 consists of countries which comply with the minimum standards to combat trafficking in persons, Tier 2, consists of countries that are not yet compliant but are making efforts in that direction.
There is also the Tier 2 Watch List, which consists of countries that are in danger of falling down to Tier 3. Countries under Tier 3 are those that do not comply with any of the minimum standards and are not working towards attaining them.
For Nigeria to tackle these challenges, the report recommended that NAPTIP, established to coordinate and facilitate government's anti-trafficking agenda, be sufficiently funded to be able to prosecute trafficking offenders and provide adequate care for victims.
It further recommended increased investigations, prosecutions, convictions and punishments of labour trafficking offences; training of police and immigration officials to identify trafficking victims among vulnerable populations; development of a formal system to track the number of victims repatriated from abroad; and taking proactive measures to investigate and prosecute government officials suspected of trafficking.
Speaking while unveiling the report at the Benjamin Franklin Room, State Department in Washington DC, Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton, said an estimated 27 million people around the world were victims of modern slavery. She said the report "gives a clear and honest assessment of where all of us are making progress on our commitments and where we are either standing still or even sliding backwards."