Nigeria: NAPTIP Busts Police Trafficking Children Under Cover of Russia 2018

2018 FIFA World Cup Russia

Operatives of National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP) arrested two police officers and three others believed to have been involved in attempts to traffic 10 children to Moscow.

NAPTIP officials on code name Operation Block intercepted the suspects at Murtala Muhammed International Airport Saturday night as they tried to board a Turkish Airlines flight for Russia.

They are believed to have been using the Russia 2018 competition as cover for travel.

The children being trafficked all had identification as "FIFA fan".

A statement from NAPTIP names police officer Esan Matthew and quarantine officer Steven Fayewimo as coordinating the movement of the trafficked children.

Both were arrested alongside three others: Azeez Olowo, Idowu Fashakin and Eni Godwin.

The children rescued include nine girls and a boy.

NAPTIP had earlier raised concern about criminal gangs using the relaxed entry into Russia for the World Cup to recruit young Nigerians to Russia for exploitation.

The agency says it is working on intelligence gathered and was on the trail of criminal gangs and their potential victims.

''These traffickers have continued to mount pressure on some youths and their parents forcing them to part with huge sums of money in exchange for a Russian visa," NAPTIP director-general Julie Okah-Donli said in a statement.

Interrupted traffic

Five of the children being trafficked are from Edo, three from Delta, and one each from Imo and Benue.

Eight of them reside in Benin City, and one each in Warri and Osogbo.

It is believed they were moved from their resident locations on Friday to Lagos for the trip to Russia.

Four arrived Obalende, Lagos at various times on Friday from Benin City. They were moved to a location known as Sura market and kept in a shanty room.

NAPTIP operatives watched the location until 3pm Saturday, when the gangs arrived to take the children to the airport in two Lagos yellow taxis.

One taxi carried two children, alongside a man later identified as Azeez Olowo sitting in the front passenger seat.

The second taxi took two other children and another man who would later be identified as Idowu Fashakin in the front passenger seat.

All six alighted at the airport at 5.25pm. The children stood with their luggage in a corner outside the departure hall for an hour and half waiting for directives, while Fashakin and Olowo made calls.

Olowo met and spoke with a man, eventually identified as Godwin. Esan, later identified as a police officer, met and chatted with Godwin a few metres from the four children.

NAPTIP officials said Esan later went over to the girls and spoke with them.

"The situation was like that of a teacher addressing his students," they said.

Refused flight

Fayewimo, later identified as a quarantine personnel, met the girls outside the departure hall and handed them travel documents—international passports, Russian 2010 FIFA ID card and Turkish Airline tickets.

He then led them into the departure hall and facilitated their check-in at the Turkish airline counter where he was eventually arrested.

The arrest came after NAPTIP officials who had been monitoring the gang's communication tailed the movement to the airport and stopped it.

Fayewimo was arrested alongside the four others under NAPTIP watch.

Fayemiwo was arrested beside the Turkish Airline counter, officer Esan and Fashakin were arrested beside the passage queue of Turkish Airline while Godwin and Olowo were arrested outside the departure hall by Gate D entrance.

Five other children were rescued from the traffickers after the airline stopped them boarding because they had one-way ticket to Russia.

The only boy among the 10 trafficked children was stopped because his sponsor in Russia is linked to one of the five girls rescued alongside him.

All children were taken to be documented at Aviation Security before they were moved to NAPTIP Lagos Command for further investigation.

NAPTIP said its operation was supported by officials of the Aviation Security (AVSEC) , Department of State Service (DSS) and the Joint Border Task Force (JBTF).

The agency is still on the trail of facilitators and sponsors it believes are working in Russia.

NAPTIP director-general Okah-Donli says the bust has vindicated the agency over an alarm it raised previously about traffickers using the World Cup as cover to ferry victims out into "a life of misery abroad."

A government directive requires that all group delegates to the World Cup must get a clearance certificate from NAPTIP before travel.

Okah-Donli urged all law enforcement at airports and entry points to stay on "red alert" to pick out criminals and potential victims.

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