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Edo Women
In Edo, Delta, women trafficking to Europe for sex is a pride

The government, community leaders and politicians may be acting in good faith to preserve societal values and check what they see as the creeping and incipient decadence that is threatening to swamp and overwhelming our society today. In some respects, their efforts are in vain. This is true when considered against the backdrop of communities in some states of Nigeria, where the drums are rolled, hot drinks are served and libations to the gods are poured, because a family has at last succeeded in accumulating sufficient wherewithal to send one of its pretty teenage daughters on the journey to Europe to join others like her who made the journey there and had made it, big time.

Of course, no one would say that what they are celebrating is a journey of one their own to a life of prostitution; to uncertain existence. It is enough that the prospect of ‘making it’ there, and of sending some of it back home to build a mighty mansion that would be the talk-of-the-town, ride in one-in-town cars, and empower the parents to live the rest of their in blissful luxury, is real. If you think this is a tale out of some other parts of dark Africa, not Nigeria, well, think again.

Despite several years of combined efforts by government and non-governmental organizations within and outside Nigeria to stop Nigerian girls especially from Edo State from being forced to undertake the perilous journey to foreign countries for prostitution, the trend is growing and expanding. In fact, it has become so lucrative and attractive that married women joined in the action; they have started fleeing their matrimonial homes for the illicit trade. Some of them justified their conduct by saying that they were looking for “greener pasture”.

Another interesting dimension to this trend is the women go abroad to ply their trade with the approval and blessings of their husbands. Some of the men in this category told Weekly Trust in Edo State that they sent their wives abroad because the income would swell the family purse like never before.  Most of the women who travelled abroad, usually to Europe, in search of “greener pasture” are neither educated nor do they have any trade to practise there. The only thing they have going for them are their attractive bodies and pretty faces; they spend a fortune to put these in good condition.

Weekly Trust investigation revealed that despite the activities of the National Agency for the Prohibition of Traffic in Persons and other related offences (NAPTIP), and other collaborating agencies in the state battling to stop the trafficking of girls and other young persons abroad for sexual exploitation and other demeaning jobs, married women living with their husbands have abandoned their babies and surrendered themselves to traffickers to take them abroad for commercial sex. They exhibited no qualms for their action, asserting that the poverty in Nigeria was unbearable and they couldn’t stand it any longer.

Mr. Anthony Omorighe is a pool house betting agent in Benin City the Edo State capital. He said his wife Osasurimhe left for Italy in August 2006 and arrived there eight months later. He said though he did not know the type of work his wife was doing over there, she began sending money to him in November, 2009, money that he used part of to buy a land on which he intended to build a house. What she did there was immaterial, as long as the money kept coming, he said. ‘’If she was still in Nigeria, would I even ever dream of buying a piece of land, let alone contemplate building a house?, he asked. He said the 27-year-old Osasueurimhe left with the aid of her uncle, Samson Iyawe, a fashion designer in the Oba’s market in Benin City.

“We were dating for over a year before she took in for me in 2001. She had two children for me before she travelled. But the children are here in Benin with me. Her uncle, Samson has been helping people to go to abroad for a very long time; we didn’t know. Sometimes in 1999, he was arrested at Kamba border with seven girls he wanted to take to Europe. They took him to Immigration office at Area One in Abuja and detained them there for over one month before they transferred them to Benin. But they were released on getting here. He travelled out in 2000 and returned in 2004. That was when we begged him to carry my wife along. He took her there in 2006.

“Yes, her mother and I pleaded with him to take my wife to Europe. I don’t want to know the job she is doing there. I just know that she knows what is good for her. How do you know that she is sleeping with men? People are just saying things out of jealousy. Nobody went there and saw her. Before she travelled, I never dreamt of being a landlord. Now, we have bought a land and will soon develop it. She could be a cook there because my wife knows how to cook very well. All her family members are happy with her and are praying for her. She sent money and clothes to everybody during the Easter. We shall organize a thanks giving prayer for her soon, although she is still in Europe,” he said.

At Irrua in Edo Central Senatorial District, a motor mechanic, Julius Okodua said his sister Otibor Ehis was sponsored for the trip to Spain by her husband, Mr. Ehis, a commercial vehicle driver. Ehis had travelled and was therefore not available for comment when Weekly Trust called at his Irrua home. Julius however, said nothing had been heard from the sister since she travelled in 2008. He said one of their neighbours who lived in Spain for over ten years now, told them when she visited Nigeria in December 2009 that she met his sister in Spain once and at that time was doing fine. He said Otibor left Nigeria with the active support of all her family members and husband.

Madam Esther Onome alias Madam Last, who lives at Iwogban Estate in Benin City, is generally believed to be a sponsor before she stopped the practice in mid 2005, when she came close to being arrested in Lagos. It was a warning signal that she has heeded since. Though Madam Last denied ever being involved in trafficking in persons, she, however, gave insight into the trade. According to her, traffickers make a lot of money when they successfully traffic girls into the countries they target. She said in some cases, however, losses are incurred.

“The traffickers pick these girls without any financial support from the girls and their family members. In most cases, these are girls that men take to uncompleted buildings, hotels and camps to brutally have sex with, without anything to show for it. In some cases, such men cannot even feed the girls. They leave them in rags and no food to eat. Those women who you call sponsors or traffickers now decide to take them abroad to do some jobs and make money in the process. Let us even assume that they go there for prostitution; it is better to prostitute with dignity and return with money to show for it, than being sexed and dumped in hunger with nothing to show for it.

“When those girls started coming back with money, building the best houses in town and driving flashy cars around competing with wives and daughters of the so-called big men, the society frowned at that. Some top government officials who were getting them free and are missing them now became restless. The government that abandoned them and had nothing for them now came up to say ‘oh, they are our citizens! We love them! Don’t let them travel! They should stay here and die in abject poverty’. Come and teach them tailoring even when nobody has money to sew cloth. Or teach them hair dressing when women have no money to do thier hair. These are the type of leaders we have. They are only active in stopping you from progressing.

“These girls travel with the consent of their parents and at no government expenses. These are girls who have nobody to sponsor them to school. They have no job to do. They are only being used as sex objects at no pay by the so-called big men and their children. Now they have found a haven for themselves abroad, and these same people are saying ‘arrest them! Arrest those that help them to travel!’ I am telling you that a good number of them have good jobs doing abroad. Very few of them go into prostitution. In any case, even back in Nigeria they are only sex machines for the political families in the society,” she said at some length.

A retired senior police officer, Mr. Peter Giwa-Amu, said though travelling abroad by young boys and girls from Edo State may have its societal problems, it has on the other hand succeeded in reducing crime and poverty in the state. “Those who knew the old Bendel and the early Edo State before the rush for the foreign trips that you talk about knew that this part of the country was a breeding ground for crime and criminals.

There was poverty here; too much of it. Very few people had jobs. This trend of making the trip abroad has reduced criminal activities in this area. If anybody should say that the girls travelling abroad are going there to do prostitution, tell me what they are doing back here at home. It is the same prostitution,” he said.  “The only difference is that here they do it for nothing,” he added.

The Anglican Bishop of Asaba Diocese, Rt. Rev. Justus Nnaemeka Mogekwu, introduced some biblical injunctions into the discussion. Prostitution, he declared, “is a professional vice against God’s law practised by all and sundry since the creation of human race, the world over”. Mogekwu said rather than criminalize foreign prostitution and be tolerant of local Nigerian practise of the trade, government should fight the menace from the grassroots. The Bishop lamented that prostitution had become rampant among people in Nigeria. He said men were also involved in prostitution; a practice he said was currently growing among Christendom. He was particularly irked by a situation in which men stand out at corners of the streets waiting for women who are looking for sexual gratification.

“These sex-hungry women drive in their cars because they are usually not being satisfied by their husbands. They come around, take the men to brothels and have sex with them after which they pay them for the services they did not get from their husbands. People in government, particularly the legislators, lecturers and the police take stock in patronizing the trade in one way or the other. Some of them employ pimps and gigolos to bring hapless students from their campuses at the weekends to have fun with and pay heavily for it.   

The Bishop went on: “Some of the girls will tell you that they are looking for a means with which they can pay their way through school to achieve education. The female legislator who decides to sell her body to get the Speaker and other members’ favour is also prostituting, just as a lecturer in the university or polytechnic who insists that a female student sleeps with him before passing her examination. The worse is seen among the police who arrest female suspects for one offense or the other but later take them to a corner, have sex with them and even collect their money before releasing them. Prostitution is a universal phenomenon. “

Bishop Mogekwu faulted the government classification of street hawking by young children among cases of child abuse. He said in most cases, children seen hawking on the streets are doing so to complement the family income and provide funds for the payment of their school fees. “Those children who sell to help their family to meet some home challenges are not into cases of child abuse even though there may be some danger in what they are doing. But those who make slavery of children who are not theirs by making them to work so much but get so little in return, is wickedness and child abuse.”   

The Bishop said prostitution is one of the social vices attributed to poverty. He expressed regret that such vices are cankerworm that have eaten deep, even deeper into the society and would be difficult to stamp out. He observed that child abuse, and prostitution in particular, has resulted in broken homes, and called on government to fish out those responsible for the vices and deal with them.   

But the head of NAPTIP regional office in Benin City, Mrs. Adefunke Abiodun, said in the past three years alone, the Benin office of NAPTIP had secured the conviction of nine persons in courts to various jail terms on human trafficking related offences. She said the agency also succeeded in rescuing over 400 trafficked girls and reunited them with their families.

She said while some of the rescued girls were repatriated from abroad, others were intercepted at the border in the process of going to Europe; while some were traced to the countries they were taken to and repatriated. Mrs. Abiodun said over 200 of the rescued girls were later trained in various skills such as tailoring and hair dressing and empowered to establish their own businesses at choice places.

“Yes, I also heard that married women are being trafficked abroad, but since I took over as the head of Benin NAPTIP office, I have not come across any such case. No, you cannot see the big Madams around here. They all have the nationality of countries like Italy, Spain and Netherlands. They are established there and they already know their rights. The ones that you see here are the small fries who go around recruiting young girls and taking them to the big madams there.

‘’Some of the girls who are being trafficked from Nigeria do not even know the names of the big madams they are being taken to. But one day, we shall get the big madams and the law will take its course on them. It is a very intricate crime. It happens right under your nose, and yet you don’t know it.

“It is difficult for us to say some of the big cars and houses belong to the madams or victims of trafficking, because under the law, we are expected to prove all these things beyond all reasonable doubts. You know, trafficking is an offence that carries a life sentence. It must therefore be proven beyond all doubts. That is not an easy task because those madams are into other money-making businesses as well. So, you cannot say whatever you see with them was acquired through trafficking unless we have proof. I could also recall that there was a time in Nigeria when Allen Avenue in Lagos was nicknamed Cocaine Avenue because the major crime that brings quick money then was trafficking in cocaine. I am not saying that some of these women do not have cars, houses and properties, but we need to prove it,” she said.

Mrs. Abiodun said there were records in her office showing that girls mainly between the ages of 15 and 24 are trafficked on a daily basis from the state to other parts of the country and in some cases to other countries. She said as a result of the sensitization campaign being carried out by the agency, parents now report to the NAPTIP that their daughters and wards are being trafficked to Libya or other countries without their consent.

She said such parents would provide the particulars of the victims and the traffickers and the NAPTIP officials would trace and recover them. She said within the past one year alone, nine of such victims had been rescued from Libya and the traffickers arrested and are being prosecuted.

She observed that it was unfortunate that most of the victims and their parents succumbed to mouth-watering promises of good jobs abroad for the girls and that was why they allow their daughters and wards to be trafficked. She said ‘’there are no genuine jobs. They are just being taken there for prostitution. You can imagine when a return ticket to Europe is 900 Euros; a girl will be taken out on the agreement that she will raise as much as 45,000 Euros for her madam before she is freed. Even the Europeans are surprise when they hear that. 45,000 Euros is not N45, 000. That is exploitation,” she said.

Edo  State  Commissioner  for  Women Affairs  and  Social  Development, Hajiya  Maimuna  Momodu, told Weekly Trust that the state has started tackling the menace by creating jobs for the girls and other youths in the state, adding that “apart  from  creating  jobs, we  also  established  skills  acquisition  centres.  When  they  are  empowered, they also acquire skills;  that  means  that  they  can  fend  for themselves  and  in  doing  that  they  can  even  employ  one  or two  persons, thereby  removing  these people  from  the  labour  market and the state  has  collaborated  seriously  with  NAPTIP to  ensure  that  the  issue  of  trafficking  is  brought down  to  the  barest  minimum,  if  not    totally  eradicated.  

“For  instance, we  have  a  skills  acquisition  centre, in which  government  has  increased  the  quantity  and  the  quality  of  the  equipments  there. That will help train more people. Trainees don’t pay school fees. Everything there is free  and  they  have  the  opportunity  of  studying  computer  science, catering,  cosmetology,  fashion  design  even  welding  at  no  cost to themselves.  At graduation  from  the  skills  acquisition  centres,  we  assist  with  loans  from  the  Bank  of  Industry. The  loan  is  not  given  to  individuals,  it  is  given  to  groups. A  group  of  people  who  have  studied  the  same  thing  will come  together and form  cooperative groups that guarantees each  other  before they are given equipment as loans to operate,” she said.

Hajiya Momoh said there was a considerable decrease in the number of girls being trafficked from the state due to the new measures adopted by the present administration in the state. She said they were able to achieve that through a lot of sensitization campaigns, which tell the people   that there are no streets in Europe where you plucked money. She said the state government also discovered that such trafficking victims no longer travelled abroad by air. Instead, they travel by road through the deserts and only few who survive live to tell their story.

 Written by Shehu Abubakar, Vincent Egunyanga, Benin & Monday Osayande, Asaba

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