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Deadly migration: How families, friends, force Nigerian women, youths, on the journey of no return (Part 4)

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By Tobore OVUORIE


Denials and desertion 

“IF you travel and you do not bring money, the way your family like you before, they will not like you that way. Before I left Nigeria, I used to support my family. When I returned, the first thing my mother said was ‘you did not bring money, it is only baby you brought from Libya,” Isioma’s voice rose by some decibels. She was and is still deeply pained.

Her mother on more than three occasions returned the baby to Isioma when she took him to her to assist in caring for him so she could go job hunting in order to earn a living to care for the child and her family.

Her family members abandoned her. Even her brothers she lavished on while she was working before leaving Nigeria. Only a friend came through for her.

Due to poor and insufficient care, Isioma’s baby died suddenly at the general hospital, Agbor, Delta state, after being ill for four days.  The little lad was nine months old when he bade the world goodbye. She still bears the pains with unwavering grace and strength.

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Other human trafficking survivors lament rejection, stigmatisation by family members, society

The United Nation Trafficking in Persons Protocol, Article 9 section 1 states: Parties shall establish comprehensive policies, programs and other measures: (a) To prevent and combat trafficking in persons; and (b) to protect victims of trafficking in persons, especially women and children, from re-victimization. Though policies have been put in place in Nigeria, trafficking survivors and victims are not only being re-victimized, but shamed, rejected and stigmatized.


Read also:

Deadly migration: How families, friends force Nigerian women, youths on the journey of no return (Part 1)

Deadly migration: How families, friends force Nigerian women, youths on the journey of no return (Part 2)

Deadly migration: How families, friends force Nigerian women, youths on the journey of no return (Part 3)


Over 8000 Nigerians trapped in Libya have voluntarily returned to the country since April 10th, 2017, through the European Union/IOM and Federal Government airlifting assistance and partnerships. Since their return, the EU/IOM and NAPTIP have begun reintegrating the returnees into the society through vocational skill acquisition programmes. This, migration experts say, in addition to psychotherapy which NAPTIP for instance provides, will help the trafficking survivors have means of livelihood, and pick the pieces of their lives.

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However, survivors who returned to the country in 2017 from Libya whom I spoke with, say all is not well. Resident in six states; namely: Ogun, Osun, Oyo, Lagos, Edo and Ondo states respectively, the 26 trafficked men and women say they are ‘back to square one’: experiencing terrible economic hardship. This time, worse than that which made them embark on the risky journey by road to Libya. That is not all. Their pains are garnished with family members, friends and the society treating them with much disdain. Many of their friends now avoid them. All the 26 returnees whom I spoke with, say they are having a very difficult time reintegrating into the society. Some have fled their homes to destinations not known by their family members.

“I got tired of being treated like excreta by my mother and brothers. When I returned to Nigeria, I was told my father slumped and never recovered when he heard Asma boys have captured me in Libya. My family are angry that I returned to Nigeria instead of crossing to Italy. They say I am worthless. Who goes abroad and returns empty handed? My mother and brothers say only useless girls like me do such to their family” Progress (surname deliberately withheld) narrated in vernacular.

Armed with only her Senior Secondary School Examination certificate, she has been hunting for a job since her return to Nigeria to no avail. Her mother wants her to embark on another journey; to Spain or Holland.

“She always tells me graduates, even people with Masters degree and PhD are having difficulty getting jobs. Is it me with incomplete SSCE result that would get a job in this Nigeria? I am tired of being told I am worthless. I am sick of being compared with my age mates who are going to Italy and sending money home. So, I ran away from Benin to Ogun state. My family members don’t know where I am. I want peace. I want to start all over again. I want to forget everything that happened to me in Libya. But how can I when my family and everyone else call me terrible names and treat me like trash?” Progress narrated amidst sobs while being comforted by the friend she now lives with.

The 25 other returnees I interviewed shared same horrendous stories of woes, rejection and being shamed by their families, friends and communities.

“My mother said until I produce the dollars I was given in Libya; I must not come close to her door”. Grace, now 25, an indigene and resident of Ondo state told me. She is still in shock though it’s been four years since her arriving Nigeria from Libya. Her mother doesn’t believe anyone can live ‘abroad’ for two years and return to Nigeria without foreign currencies- dollars. Grace was trafficked January 2015 by her mother’s friend who had assured her of free university education in Sweden only to take her to Libya to become a sex slave. She was rescued and returned to Nigeria by the IOM April 10th, 2017.

“I have sent many people to beg my mum. Maami ki n se eran riro o (My mother is not a pushover). She said I must either produce all the dollars or I stay away from her. At least, I have a very good OND (Ordinary National Diploma) certificate. I can’t afford the school fees of a regular university, so, I will attend National Open University (NOUN) so I can work and go to school”.

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Grace who learned tailoring alongside while studying for her OND at the Yaba College of Technology, Lagos, now sews from the house of her former school mate whom she squats with at the moment in Lagos state. She left Ondo state so she could start life afresh.

When she arrived Nigeria four years ago, the IOM gave her some money. She used it to buy a sewing machine and external whipping machine. “These (the two machines) are my means of survival right now. I am saving most of my earnings to buy at least four more sewing machines and one internal whipping machine,” she told me smiling, seated behind her sewing machine. She had been working on customers’ clothes since 6.30am that day but stopped work by 10am when the interview for this story began.

“I need money to pay my bills, so I can’t be a full-time student in a regular university” Grace’s oval face decorated with bright beautiful eyes was alive with smiles as she shared her dreams with me.

Notwithstanding all the progress made since her return to Nigeria April 2017, her mother and family still treat her like an outcast.

Another returnee in Benin, Edo state, Larry, said his father had driven him out of the family house since his return from Libya, calling him ‘a failure and never-do-well.’

Thirty-year-old Larry said he paid N70,000 to a certain middleman, who assisted him to get to Libya, only to be sold as a slave there.

“Even as a slave in Libya, I was better off than a free-born in Nigeria. We agreed to be rescued on the assurances given us that we would be rehabilitated in Nigeria, only for them to bring us here, feed us for a few weeks and throw us into the streets,’ Larry lamented.

He said, while out in the cold, some vagrants had tried to lure him into armed robbery, but that, guided by his Christian background, he shunned the temptation.

Larry noted that a year after their return, most of the Libyan returnees in Edo state had become worse by lack of job and social rejection.

“Some people’s character worse than being Libyan returnee”

Mrs. Temitope Igbodipe, Chief Executive Officer and Creative Lead, Cream Stitches-a Bespoke fashion firm in Lagos, says Libyan returnees are not only humans but are even better than many persons who have never been trafficked. Mrs. Igbodipe who teaches trafficked survivors fashion designing for free, told me there is no saint anywhere as some persons’ character are worse than having being a sex slave.

“I might see someone or someone might ask me out seeing me looking holy and churchy, or I could be a Muslim covering my face, my hand and everything to the ground and I might be two-faced. You can’t really tell my actual attitude. I might be even worse than the person who went to Libya and returned. The person went under circumstances for crying loud. It wasn’t by choice actually, so there is no saint anywhere.

Temitope Igbodipe
Mrs. Temitope Igbodipe, Chief Executive Officer and Creative Lead, Cream Stitches, Lagos state. PHOTO: Tobore Ovuorie

“Some people’s character is worse than prostitution. Anybody that gets married will also copulate, so the number of times actually doesn’t count. If you have done something bad and you repent, you can have a good life. Nothing stops us from having a good life. As a religious person, what if God says this person is your husband or wife, and because that person has certain background, will you now deny your destiny?”

Asked if she would support her daughter or son to marry a sex trafficking survivor, she said: “Definitely. So far studying the person afterwards and I am satisfied with what I see, definitely. There is no saint anywhere, so I will say definitely.”

Blame the government, says CACOL

Rationalising the plight of the returnees, the Centre for Anti-Corruption and Open Leadership (CACOL) has slammed the Federal Government for not providing a conducive environment for the development of youths in the country, generally.

The group blamed the government for the harsh economic situation in the country, which it said caused the tragedy, adding that the government, at both federal and state levels, must tackle the rising rate of unemployment in the country to curb the menace of human trafficking.

CACOL Director, Comrade Debo Adeniran said, “The problems of illegal migration and trafficking are an accumulated issue. We have a high population of children and youths in this country and we are not planning for their future. Workplaces are winding up and no new jobs are springing up.

“This is why people want to leave and look for the proverbial ‘greener pastures’.”

Street of Europe not paved with gold

Mr. Arinze Orakwue, Director, Public Enlightenment, National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking In Persons (NAPTIP), advises Nigerians that migration is their right, however, the streets of Europe are not paved with gold. When an offer is too good to be true, it certainly is not true, he cautions.

“When an offer answers all questions, please run. Look before you leap. The amount of money it will cost you, your time, health hazard, if not your life, had better be invested here.”

The only jobs available to any illegal migrant, according to him, is insertion into prostitution, or the 4D jobs. These jobs are Dirty, Dangerous, Difficult and Demeaning.

He says upon return to the country, a trafficking survivor is a mixed bag of frustration arising from collapse of dreams; unrealized aspiration to migrate and settle in Europe where the streets are supposedly paved with gold; stigma from family who consider her a failure, guilt and shame from the experience which tend towards depression, pain and bitterness of betrayal if it was the madam that reported her to the authorities.

According to him, the close shave with death and traumatic experience of the journey leaves a ghastly experience that needs time to process and get a closure on it. All these means and requires she does not engage in needless celebration that will lead to hurt and more pain.

Mr. Arinze Orakwue
Mr. Arinze Orakwue, Director, Public Enlightenment, National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking In Persons (NAPTIP).

“They don’t share their stories because it is too painful to disclose. They seek a closure instantly from the trauma. They just want to move on with their lives, minding their business and not tell tales that will bring back memories flooding into them. Remember that these girls were also subjected to oath of secrecy, which they swore at the shrine where they dropped their finger nails, pubic hair, piece of their clothing and a sample of their blood menstrual pad. All these are the means to exert control over the girls.”

Mr. Ologwu advise that we have to revert to core family values because parents pass certain values on to their children such as being patient. And, when such value is deficient, people give in to traffickers due to the endemic poverty in Nigeria. He says the government has to wake up to its responsibilities because everyone wants to leave Nigeria due to the poverty in the country in order to earn foreign currencies for their families.

“Some parents agree for their children to be trafficked because they are poor and the government is not living up to its responsibilities.”

He pointed out that many persons are living on less than a dollar – N400 – per day. If there is poverty, there must be trafficking. So, for it to be eradicated, poverty must be stopped in the country. This can be achieved through the government creating avenues for people to work and earn a living, stop every means by which money is stolen from the coffers of government.

Mr. Ologwu questioned the utilization of various monies such as the returned Abacha Loot, tax payments, amongst others, being generated internally and externally by Nigeria. “You will discover that people have stolen those loots, that is why there is poverty in the land.

“If you want to stop human trafficking, stop corruption, let poverty be eliminated and people will find work to do in Nigeria. They will not go to Libya for sex in exchange for money.

Ms. Favour Eringa, an undergraduate student of the University of Lagos says trafficking is the abuse of children and in Lagos state, many persons go to the villages to get children with promises of caring for them and their education, but on arriving Lagos, they start abusing the kids. “They don’t eventually take the child to school, keep the child at home and treat him/her like a maid or slave in the house.”

She advises that families should take care of their children by themselves and not give their kids out to anyone. “Don’t entrust your child to anybody to take care of them for you. Have family planning, and give birth to the number of kids that you can take care of.”

Ms. Obiano Mesoma, a student, describes human trafficking as a very big vice which only persons without conscience engage in. “I don’t think anyone should have a conscience in involving in such dangerous act.”

She thinks being trafficked affects survivors of trafficking psychologically and emotionally, even after being rescued. “I think there would still be a trauma that is left behind for them.”

Mental health problems 

Indeed, medical experts such as Dr. Bolanle Ola, Consultant Psychiatrist and Head of Psychiatry, Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH), Ikeja, says the human trafficking survivors could develop trauma-related mental health problems such as anxiety disorders, depression and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Dr. Bolanle Ola
Dr. Bolanle Ola, Consultant Psychiatrist and Head of Psychiatry Unit, Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, (LASUTH).

According to him, some of the returnees could have been vulnerable to developing mental illness before embarking on the dangerous journey, while others may not have had any history of mental health problems. He however noted there is a strong indication of mental illness for both groups when exposed to very hazard situations such as what obtains in Libya.

Trafficking: Unhappy endings 

Isioma’s madam, her two kids, and her husband were roasted in a fire outbreak in ISIS prison.

Isioma now lives with her friend in Lagos state. She left Agbor so she could have a fresh start. But she still struggles with being able to earn a living and move on. Though she loves her family, Isioma now knows and tells the difference between being gold and gold-plated.

Notwithstanding being deserted by friends and family and living in pain and shame, she says “If I have the opportunity to leave Nigeria, even if it is Canada or USA, I don’t want to go.” Her reason? Because of a cultural belief where she comes from in Agbor. It is believed that if a first journey embarked on heads south, such a person should not make a second attempt.

She doesn’t want to leave Nigeria anymore even if sponsored by credible organizations such as the UN and IOM.

 How kinship kills Nigerian women, youths. Watch the video here:

This report was supported by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation (DFAIT) through the Italian Agency for Development Cooperation (AICS) and United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) under the empowering young people in Africa through media and communication project.

If you or someone you know has a lead, tip or personal experience about this report, our WhatsApp line is open and confidential for a conversation

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