9 February 2018

Nigeria: Migration - Young Footballers Trafficked, Abused Abroad

Photo: Pixabay

Investigation has revealed that in spite of efforts by the federal government to curtail illegal migration in the country, the rate of trafficking and abuse of young Nigerian footballers has remained high .

This is also as the regulations governing the transfer of underage football players, has fallen short of halting the trend. Findings revealed that illegal migration of these young Nigerian boys is mostly carried out by criminals who purport to be agents , thereby defrauding desperate young footballers online. Most of them operate out of Nigeria and Ukraine.

LEADERSHIP Friday gathered that out of the over 15,000 young African players travelling to achieve their footballing dream each year, less than 1 per cent of them realise this dream. Soccer data analysis also points to the fact that there are approximately 604 players with Nigerian nationality who currently play worldwide in clubs outside, of which under 400 play in 47 European. Out of 65 players currently playing in the five major leagues - England, Italy, Spain,

Germany and France - only 17 play at the equivalent of the Premier League. Sadly, while a research conducted by Paris-based charity Foot Solidaire, in 2013 revealed that about 15,000 young boys travel to Europe and other countries from West Africa each year, it pointed out that some travel by air, mostly to Eastern Europe, using short-stay visas while others walk across the Sahara Desert to countries like Tunisia and Morocco taking dangerous boat journeys to various parts of Europe.

The report has it that once in Europe, they are abandoned after parting with their family's life savings. While those who are lucky enough make it to the trials, those who fail are abandoned by the agents as they no longer serve any economic value. When faced with this , those left with no money are most times too ashamed to let their families back home know the truth. They overstay their visa and become destitute on the streets of Europe. With this staggeringly revelation of high figure of trafficked Nigerian youths, it is surprising that the average age of these trafficked players is 16yrs. While fraudulent agents break several laws, it is important to remind Nigerians that article 32 of the International Convention of the Rights of the Child, adopted by the Us on November 20, 1989 stipulates that:

"The States recognise the right of the child to be protected from the economic exploitation and not to be compelled with any work comprising of the risks or likely to compromise its education or to harm its health or its development physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social." Legislation aimed specifically at protecting young people in sport includes the European Parliament resolution of 29 March 2007 on the future of professional football in Europe; and in 2001 the international governing body for football Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), introduced the Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players of FIFA. While RSTP, with some exemptions, prohibits the international transfer of minors under 18 years despite these regulations, some clubs still "recruit in Africa, some players at 14,"hence the need for FIFA and national football associations to do more to keep clubs informed about their regulations that protect minors. A widow, who resides in Nyanya, Rosemary Akor narrated how God spared her son who chose football as his career from slavery, adding that he was back to the country but at a football academy in Jos, Plateau State .

She explained that" in a bid to help my hardworking son, I collected rent from my late husbands house for enrolling him into a football academy in Cameroon where they were to allegedly take part in trials for European clubs, while getting secondary school education. "My son told me that the agent was brought to their team by coach [Emma] at the popular mopol training field , located in Nyanya .When the man came he picked my son and fifteen others. The coach, according to my son had boasted of links with clubs in Germany, Italy, and Russia , promising them trials with German clubs but he later discovered he was a dangerous scam.

In all, the God I serve spared him and brought him back to me. "Am saying that some persons contacted both the Italian and German football federations but discovered that either organisation had his name on their records," she said. Mrs Rosemary Akor said aside her, the families of over fifteen young boys paid up to three hundred thousand naira each (300,000) believing their sons were about to become the next football sensations. We didn't anticipate the suffering they would endure over the following twelve months.

Akor's mother explained that the 1,149km journey from Lagos, Nigeria, to a small town in western region of Cameroon, five hours from the capital, Yaounde, took them almost three months. Arriving at the camp, it was obvious to Akor that things were not quite what they were promised. For one thing, it was nothing like the luxury training facility they had expected, his mother explained.

LEADERSHIP Friday checks revealed that the financial transactions were done via Money Service Businesses (MSBs) whose anti-fraud control and KYC checks aren't always as stringent as banks. Other cases involved those who had fraudulently established bank accounts in the names of Premier League football clubs. A graduate of Law from the University of Calabar , William Esebonu Ebei, narrated how he lost his childhood friend in a car accident.

He said ," My best friend ( Daniel Okon) not real names who hailed from Akwa Ibom State was taken at the age of 16 from Calabar believing that he had a trial at a top club in England. " The agent who took him did not ask for any money but initially took him to Cameron where the boy was made to work for no money and was essentially held against his will," he said. Ebei narrated that the agent later transported Damiel Okon to England after acquiring a fake passport. Luckily for him he was able to escape with the help of the Red Cross but died in a ghastly car accident along Port Harcourt/ Akwa Ibom road For Ebei, had Daniel not died on transit, he may well have been subjected to some form of slavery, sexual exploitation, or better still, co-opted into a life of crime.

Meanwhile, the federal government has in a desperate move to curb the scourge of trafficking, abuse and illegal migration set up a committee to analyse and proffer remedies towards making the trend unattractive. This move contained in a statement from the ministry of interior ,revealed that Edo State governor, Godwin Obaseki , has indicated interest in joining forces with the ministry to halt the ugly trend. Obaseki , who was quoted to have raised the alarm over the level of migration by his people further described the act as epidemic proportion. The governor who was at the ministry for the partner with the Nigeria Immigration Service said, "Irregular migration of Edo State indigenes has reached epidemic proportion, and from the data of returnees kept by the State, more than 63 per cent of trafficked persons were boys, which is an aberration (sic) from the usual practice of trafficking mostly girls." The governor said his visit was to seek federal government's support on a range of issues especially with regards to stemming the tide of irregular migration, upgrading of prison facilities and maintenance of law and order.

He disclosed that measures to curb the phenomenon, including the domestication of national laws on irregular migration, and the setting up of a task force on irregular migration, whose major work is advocacy and rehabilitation of, and provision of skill acquisition to returnees has been put in place. The statement disclosed that 2,700 irregular migrants from the state had so far returned, adding that their rehabilitation was on-going. Obaseki said through the debriefing of returnees, the state now has a database, which would be made available to the federal government. He also solicited the support of the federal government in the relocation and expansion of the prison in Edo State for proper reformation of prisoners. Meanwhile, the statement added that the federal government has taken steps to curb irregular migration by raising a committee to examine and proffer solutions to the underlying factors making such migration attractive.

It said the proposed committee, with membership from Edo State and other front line Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) - Ministries of Justice

and Foreign Affairs, Department of State Services (DSS), Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS), and the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), are to propose ways to contain irregular migration of citizens, especially the youth, from Nigeria to other countries.

Minister of Interior , Abdulrahman Dambazau, as contained in the statement said the situation on ground was sad and was a sharp departure from the norm in which Nigeria was a major and attractive destination to migrants, to Nigerians irregularly leaving the country in a desperate bid to migrate to other countries.

The minister lamented that irregular migration had become a national security threat that needs collaborative efforts to eliminate. On prison reforms, he said the federal government has made headway, and presently working with state governments to upgrade Nigerian prisons to meet minimum world standard. He assured the governor that the federal government would partner Edo State to upgrade its prison facilities, maintain law and order, and curb irregular migration in the state.

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