The Trafficking in Persons (Prohibition) Enforcement and Administration Act, originally passed in 2003 and amended in 2005 and 2015, criminalizes human trafficking and related abuses.

Also, the Violence against Persons Prohibition, (VAPP) Act frowns at all acts of violence against persons, which is a major issue in the crime of human trafficking.

Already, slavery was abolished by the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833, leading to the release of more than 800,000 enslaved Africans in the Caribbean and South Africa as well as a small number in Canada.

Unfortunately, that act of cruelty has since been replaced by a modern form of slavery – human trafficking which the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) defines as “the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of people through force, fraud or deception, with the aim of exploiting them for profit.”

While slave trade was majorly by coercion and violence, human trafficking also combines the two while some victims either submit themselves or agree to be trafficked in anticipation for better life elsewhere within Nigeria (internal trafficking) or outside the shores of the country (external trafficking).

In what appears like a swift response to recent spike in cases of trafficking in persons in Anambra State, critical stakeholders days ago met in Awka the state capital to deliberate on the worrisome reality and device containment measures towards reversing the tide.

The event entitled “Stakeholders Consultation workshop on countering trafficking in persons in Anambra State” is viewed as a good step in the right direction because Anambra, as the gateway to the South-East zone, has seen a steady rise in the incidents of human trafficking in recent years.

This development, many Trafficking in Persons (TIP) campaigners have blamed on effective measures taken by stakeholders, including the government and the traditional institutions in the South-South region especially Edo State, which had since made the place inhabitable for human traffickers and their accomplices.

The Benin monarch, Oba Ewuare II, had on March 9, 2018 laid a royal curse on all those involved in the crime, which portrayed the state and the kingdom in bad light in the eye of the international community.

“From the statistics available, most of those being trafficked and the sponsors are from Edo State, and it is shameful that people, who already have jobs would sell all they have and give to sponsors just to go to Europe,” the monarch noted.

He went further to warn that, “No native doctor should do any charm for any potential illegal migrant to cross international border.

“Those who did it before now are forgiven and whoever does it from today will face the wrath of our ancestors.”

That royal pronouncement cum other measures by the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP), Edo State Government and other stakeholders proved effective as the criminals in their numbers shifted operational base from Edo State to neigbouring states.

One of the places where they have found a safe haven is Anambra State, which had been a source, transit and destination state for the crime.

The recent stakeholders’ workshop organized by NAPTIP in collaboration with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) SCALE Project and the Network of Civil Society against Child Trafficking, Abuse and Labour, (NACTAL) was aimed at developing effective and workable strategies against the scourge with a view to reversing the gains of the criminals.

The event, which drew participants from Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs); security agencies; the Anambra State Association of Town Unions (ASATU); the state Commissioner for Women Affairs, Mrs. Ify Obinabo; other government functionaries; and the media; was primarily to brainstorm on the way forward.

“I am pained this is happening in my state,” was part of the opening charge by NAPTIP’s Director of Training and Manpower Development, Mr. Arinze Orakwue, who was saddened that the crime has found its root in his home state.

“Right now, recruitment is no longer done physically. It is now done with android phone.

“There is a lot sextortion, a lot of rubbish going on. So, it calls for vigilance, more communication, sensitization and education.

“There is still disequilibrium in the society. We have poverty and economic disempowerment. Number of children out of school has increased so is the number of people under the poverty line.

“These are the things that trigger irregular migration and exacerbate trafficking in persons,” the NAPTIP director cried out.

Mr. Orakwue charged participants to be patriotic about the assignment.

“We can only push as much as our passion can carry us. Advocacy is important. If you see something, say something.

“We cannot stop all the problems at once, let’s keep working at our pace. What will distinguish us is our commitment and dedication,” he advised.

Anambra State Commissioner for Women Affairs, Mrs. Obinabo, said the position of the state as the gateway to the East and the commercial inclination of its citizens were equally attractive to the criminals.

“Parents should be very careful. Tell your children that these things exist. I also know that most times, victims don’t inform their parents about their interactions with traffickers. 

“Don’t just learn this and go home. Talk to our people to know that something seriously is happening. 

“Funding is a major constraint. I have learnt a lot from this forum. We need this kind of support and even bigger support. Rest assured, we will always play our part any time you want to help us,” she assured appealing to all stakeholders to spare no efforts in the battle against the traffickers.

In her submission, NAPTIP’s Acting Director, Counselling and Rehabilitation, Mrs. Angela Agbayekhai, said: “Human trafficking is a crime against all of us not just the victims and their families.

“NAPTIP can’t do it alone. We are not everywhere. We are not at the airports, border posts, motor parks etc. Our work thrives on partnership.”

Mrs. Agbayekhai also warned against interventions, which do not empower rescued victims economically.

“After all that you have done to help the victims, you must empower them economically. If not, they may likely be re-trafficked,” she cautioned. 

The Social Protection Advisor, Strengthening Civic Advocacy and Local Engagement (SCALE) Project, Mr. Eric Umoru, whose organization sponsored the conversation, opined that not empowering the victims would amount to a wasted effort without concrete action plan on workable containment strategies.

“Recently, we’ve been getting reports of growing cases of trafficking in the state due to the massive shift of traffickers to the South-East region from the South-South.

“We need you to tell us what are the realities on ground and what do we need to do? That action plan is the most important thing.

“It will take sustained investment and collaboration from government, CSOs and international partners to address the scourge,” Mr. Umoru concluded.

Also, the National President, Network against Child Trafficking, Abuse and Labour (NACTAL), Mr. Abdulganiyu Abubakar, identified sustained stakeholders engagements as a strong assurance of success.

“We have had series of interactions on cases of trafficking and sexual exploitation around the South-eastern states and the case of Anambra State caught our attention.”

“We thank USAID for sponsoring this consultative forum to address the problem. Other partners in partnership with NACTAL are equally engaging with the government of Anambra State and other South-Eastern states,” Mr. Abubakar said.

If series of assurances given by various stakeholders on the occasion are anything to go by, dark and glooming days are ahead for the criminals.

However, the President General of Awa in Orumba North Local Government Area of Anambra State, Dr. Raymond Offor, isolated building the capacity of community leaders as a compelling necessity.

“Most of my colleagues and even traditional rulers are not aware of what to do when they see those things in the communities.

“NAPTIP commander in Anambra should make out a time to visit them to present these things. I am sure you will enjoy the cooperation of everyone,” he concluded.

For her part, NACTAL South East Coordinator, Mrs. Ijeoma Nnaji, equally harped on the need to shift the battle to the grassroots where the traffickers take advantage of the low level of illiteracy and awareness of the locals.

“We need to continue to build the capacity of the community people. They should be sensitized.

“For NGOs, we can mainstream these issues into our various mandates.

“I advise we tap more into the power of the civil society organizations. They are committed and have a lot of social capitals that can help us to advance this venture,” she suggested.

A representative of ASATU women wing, Mrs. Dorathy Eseoffor, was thankful for being part of the event.

“I have learnt a lot. Some of the topics are related to what had been on the air. I thank those who have come to give us more light and tackle this issue more. We will work on them when we return,” she promised.

Also, the ASATU Youth Mayor for Ayamelum Local Government Area, Mr. Nweke Chinedu Martins, said the youths were poised to assist NAPTIP in every necessary way.

“We are going to help NAPTIP with its mandate but they must assure us of our safety. We feel unsafe at times when our identity is revealed by security agency to the criminals.

“We need to be sure that information we give will not be divulged to the criminals,” he said. 

What is done with all the promises and assurances by all the stakeholders will surely determine the testimonies about Anambra State in the days to come.