The shame of a nation: 20th century human trafficking and slavery

FADE Weekly Column Tags: , , , , 0

We have also indicated time and again how Nigeria’s porous borders served as another avenue encouraging human trafficking

Newton Jibunoh
It took the power of CNN (Cable News Network) to bring to the attention of the nation and the global community the dehumanized treatment and sale of our citizens in Libya some months ago. The outcry that followed the CNN documentary exposing the activities of human traffickers and the plight of the trafficked in the nation and the condemnation of the Libyan authorities by the entire civilized world prompted our nation Nigeria to act by sending state functionaries, private planes and Federal Government support system to Libya on a rescue mission to return some of the Nigerians that were being prepared for sale to the highest bidder.
The fate of some of these Nigerians who were rescued would have been different if the international community had not raised awareness around this issue and forced the government to step in. That in itself is quite disheartening for many others who are still lost or have died in the process because they were not fortunate enough to have the media shine a light on their plight. My office and I were fortunate to host some of the returnees and, as may be expected, there was a lot of disorientation and hopelessness emitting from them. Who can blame them? No human being can be the same after being through numerous traumatic events like these migrants have. Is life in Nigeria that unbearable that our brothers and sisters are willing to cross through hell just to have a taste of heaven? How do you tell someone who doesn’t know where their next meal is coming from to see a silver lining? Despair and hopelessness in
the heart of a man can drive him to do unimaginable things. Sadly, the Nigerian state is the despair in the hearts of many of our citizens, which is why we are witnessing an exodus of our citizens to Europe that started many years ago.Upon analyzing this issue at hand, my colleagues and I have a few problems about this whole matter because, as far back as 2002, we wrote about how our countrymen and women were being treated overseas in their quest for greener pastures. Some dying in the desert (which I saw), some drowning in the Mediterranean (which I witnessed) and some being occasionally pushed aboard any vessel that didn’t want to be captured for smuggling illegal immigrants to Europe.

Over the years, the Mediterranean and the Sahara, aided by men in some cases, have taken too many of the lives of our men and women trying to get across to Italy, France or Spain. It was discovered that, out of about 100 people who pay and begin the process of travelling to greener pastures, only about 10 of them ever get through.

In our advocacy, my team and I have pointed out the need to investigate the cities and towns in this country where the international cartels have their offices. These traffickers have centres for screening and engaging their victims across the country, namely, Lagos, Edo, Delta, Anambra, and Abia. The centres serve as recruitment venues for traffickers to scout for potential victims, be it for smuggling or for trafficking. The agents prey on the desire of the victims to fend for themselves and their families and/or escape tough situations. We have noted how important it is for the appropriate authorities to find these centres and shut them down.

Sub-Saharan illegal migrants and refugees are pictured begging for their release in one Surman Detention Centre. The Centre’s Director (not pictured) stands in front of the cell, threatening to beat them with a stick if they do not calm down. The detainees freeze in panic. Surman, Libya.

We have also indicated time and again how Nigeria’s porous borders served as another avenue for encouraging human trafficking. This is one area that cannot be overemphasized. Our borders are badly exposed. People can easily get into the country as we see in the cases of nomadic herdsmen and in the same vein, people can easily get out of the country. Nigeria offers passports to almost any West African national seeking one, which is not the case in other countries, so it makes it very difficult for us to know who is coming in and who is leaving, which affects our ability to accurately produce data on the true population of Nigeria and Nigerians.

The good news that came out of the whole saga was the way the Federal Government responded in a very efficient manner. We should commend the government for staying on top of the issue. The Federal Government also put the might of the Presidency behind the rescue effort. The ministerial personnel also got involved as the Minister of Foreign Affairs actually made a trip to Libya. The rehabilitation infrastructures that were put in place in Lagos, Abuja, and Benin were also some highlights of the rescue operation. We have been told that some of the returnees are being trained in some skills and some of them have even got involved in the campaigns being put in place to discourage this horrible affair. However, even as we commend government’s effort and the numerous institutions involved, we have to emphasize the need for continued effort that looks at the big picture, not just the present. Sadly, this is one area that is still lacking. Hence, I’m led to highlight the bad news.

The bad news is that very little has been done to prosecute members of the cartel responsible for the illegal migration and human trafficking of our brothers and sisters. There are not enough preventive measures put in place to put an end to this nightmare. We say this because some of the returnees have gone back to patronise these cartels in hopes that they finally achieve their dreams of crossing over into Europe. These cartels have been around for so long and have become multi-million dollar organisations heavily dependent on the naivety of migrants.

The focus of the world has been on Libya, which is assumed to be the only place where these illegal activities are carried out. This is not the case because there are similar camps in Morocco and Algeria. I have had the opportunity to visit one of these camps accompanied by a Nigerian official to see the state that hundreds of these migrants were living in.

In our quest to be involved, FADE Africa offered to bring back one of these migrants who we encountered during one of our desert expeditions. This migrant was a lady who was impregnated in the camp after an assault by either a fellow migrant or a trafficker. She had no idea as it happened at night. Still, all our efforts to convince her to make a return trip at our expense were futile because she blatantly refused to return to Nigeria and preferred a bleak and hopeless life in the migrant campgrounds. She believed she stood a better chance of making it to Europe and building a ‘good’ life for her unborn child than she did if she returned to Nigeria. Unfortunately, she is one of the many who believes this is so.

In conclusion, there should be some kind of orientation in the communities where some of these migrants come from. The people in these communities should be informed about the skeletons of our sons and daughters scattered all over the Sahara. Some of these young men and women that have been pushed overboard into the Mediterranean Sea, and also those that have drowned for the fish to feed on will want us to tell their stories to deter their brothers and sisters from making the same mistake they made. Our girls and boys in the trade of prostitution all over Europe that have become sub-humans as a result of how much of their bodies they have sold should serve as an example to the young ones at home fantasizing about an illegal future in Europe.

We must communicate all this information for the people of these communities to know that those members of their families that have embarked on such journeys may never be seen again. During our investigation on this topic, we encountered families that told us about their sons and daughters that left some years ago and have not been heard from. How do we tell them that some of those skeletons we saw in the desert could be their family members? Or that they could be among those that drowned trying to cross the Mediterranean or that those who were pushed over could also be members of their families?

I will end this article like I have ended many others on this topic by reiterating that human trafficking and illegal migration should matter to everyone. In the words of Barack Obama, former President of the United States of America, human trafficking “… ought to concern every person, because it is a debasement of our common humanity. It ought to concern every community because it tears at our social fabric. It ought to concern every business because it distorts markets. It ought to concern every nation because it endangers public health and fuels violence and organized crime. I’m talking about the injustice, the outrage, of human trafficking, which must be called by its true name — modern slavery.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *