ASSESSING THE ANTI-HUMAN TRAFFICKING WAR IN ANAMBRA STATE
The National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons, (NAPTIP) was created on 14th of July, 2003 by the Trafficking in Persons (Prohibition) Enforcement and Administration Act 2003.
It is the Federal Government’s response to the compelling need to address the scourge of trafficking in persons and fulfillment of Nigeria’s international obligation under the Trafficking in Persons Protocol to prevent, suppress and punish trafficking in persons, especially women and children, supplementing the United Nations Transnational Organized Crime Convention (UNTOC).
To further strengthen the agency, the Act establishing it had gone through amendment in 2005 and 2015.
How has NAPTIP fared in discharging its four cardinal mandate of prevention, prosecution, protection and partnership, especially in Anambra State? What is the reality concerning arrests, prosecution and convictions between 2015 and now?
These and more questions are what Correspondent Alfred Ajayi seeks answers to in this report supported by Premium Times Centre or Investigative Journalism.
Records show that Anambra, like many other states of the federation, is endemic with the challenge of trafficking in persons. On August 9, 2019, This Day Newspaper carried the lamentations of some indigenes of Anambra State, who are based in Malaysia, over the high number of girls from the South Eastern State being trafficked to the country for prostitution.
Section 13 sub-section (1) of the Trafficking in Persons (Prohibition) Enforcement and Administration Act, prohibits all acts of human trafficking in Nigeria. So, the situation in Anambra State is expected to trigger a fight against the dangerous and criminal trend, which has reduced human beings to mere commodities.
The battle is being led by the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons, NAPTIP, a specific multi-disciplinary crime fighting agency and the nation’s focal institution to fight the scourge of trafficking in persons.
The agency has a four-pronged responsibility of preventing the crime, protecting the interest of the citizens, especially the trafficked ones, prosecuting the traffickers and their cohorts as well as partnering other governmental and non-governmental institutions in the fight against the crime.
The Director of Public Enlightenment in the agency, Mr. Arinze Orakwue, submitted that it has discharged its mandate creditably.
“We have done lots of town halls. We have produced two TV series – ‘Zozo’, the next one was ‘Itoha’, which ran on DSTV both on NTA and AIT for twenty weeks. We’ve engaged a lot of stakeholders, the state governors, ministries of women affairs, and even NGOs.
“We’ve also mainstreamed trafficking issues into the curricular of primary and secondary schools in Nigeria. We have set up anti trafficking brigade, there’s also anti trafficking networks in all the states.
“What we have done in Anambra to be specific is that Enugu Zonal Command engages them in the Mass Return for Women, the August meetings. Enugu Zonal Command has networked a relationship due to the very good structure with the Governor’s wife for interventions in specific areas especially in Anambra North, where these things are common because those girls that we withdrew from Mali were actually from Aguleri,” Mr. Orakwue posited.
However, some of those interviewed on the subject matter didn’t totally agree with Mr. Orakwue on the performance rating of the agency, particularly for the past four to five years in Anambra State.
One of them is a Legal Practitioner, Mr. Chinedu Ifejika, who expressed dis-satisfaction with what he termed undue delay in prosecuting arrested human trafficking offenders by NAPTIP.
Mr. Ifejika explained further saying “NAPTIP has not done so well in the process of carrying out their statutory functions. A matter I have handled between 2017 till date, which as we speak now, has not gone to hearing stage. Part of the reasons they were not ready to come and prosecute the case was that they do not seem to have the competence.”
Another lawyer, Mr. Maxwell Udechukwu, shared the same thought as Mr. Ifejika.
He contended that “the prosecution should be made easier if the agency will establish their offices around the states. Lawyers coming from Enugu to prosecute matters in Anambra State, sometimes you will come to court and they would not be there because the lawyer might have, maybe, fixed this particular matter and by next adjourned date, he has arraignment. Arraignment takes precedent. It will stall the hearing of the matter that was adjourned for hearing.”
But, the Executive Director, Integrated Anti Human Trafficking and Community Development Initiative, INTACOM-Africa, Miss Hope Okoye, argued that NAPTIP has not been found wanting in the discharge of its responsibilities.
Miss Okoye however expressed regret over the spate of trafficking in persons in Anambra State as well as the bitter experiences of the victims.
“They are being trafficked for forced labour, for organ harvesting, for baby harvesting. For forced prostitution and sexual exploitation. We’ve had cases of young girls being trafficked out of this state en-route Niger, Lybia, Mali, Cameroun, Gabon, Cote D’ivoire, Togo, Ghana.
“Exploitation is the end result. A child doing the work of an adult. Sometimes, these children are being used for street begging, the worst form of trafficking in Anambra State. Some of the girls, they use them in some restaurants, clubs, there is a notorious street in Awka here.
“A lot of girls are being brought in by some people and they are using them to make money, forcing them into prostitution. As people are coming in to eat, these girls will be serving them and at the same time servicing them. Madam will make them to be naked and take pictures and videos of them and tell them that they dare not run away. If they do, she would post their nude pictures on facebook and other social media,” Miss Okoye lamented.
A young girl, simply identified as Amarachi, who said she was trafficked out of the shores of Nigeria to Libya when she was 17 years old by a woman who hailed from the same Awka community with her, recalled the bitter experiences she passed through.
Today, though an adult, the agony of what she passed through remained fresh in her memory.
“What I saw there was not what I expected in life. I was deceived. Whether you like it or not, a man of your daddy age would sleep with you. If you refused, she (the trafficker) would slap you and threatened to starve you to death. She kept calling the juju man who administered oath of secrecy on us earlier before we were trafficked out of Nigeria. But as I am speaking to you now, the man has died.”
After a long while of being declared wanted, the woman responsible for Amarachi’s ordeal was arrested and arraigned in court. She was later granted bail and had since jumped bail.
This further saddened Amarachi that her tormentor escaped the long arm of the law.
“Ever since that time, we have not been in court again. I met one of her brothers last year. He was the one that called me around Arroma Junction.
He was like pleading to me that I should please forgive and forget. I told him that I am not the one that would forgive because this is law. The boy now told me that they have spent a lot on the matter. Even they sold their land, even their family land, they sold everything. And now the sister is nowhere to be found.
He asked me whether the case is still going on because their own lawyer has continued to disturb them, collecting so much money from them. I told him that I don’t know anything about the case again. Ever since that time, we have not been in the court again,” Amarachi stated unhappily.
Another victim of human trafficking is Mr. Samson Olikeze, who narrated how he was lured to take a dangerous journey to the Democratic Republic of Congo, in desperate search for greener pastures.
“I ended up in prison. In the prison, most prisoners there are from Nigeria. I know that some of them are still there. The reason why I did not spend more than seven days in prison is that I had my return ticket to Nigeria.
“If not so, I met a young guy from Delta State in the prison. He told me that he had been there for almost two years, yet no money to go back. The country they don’t have money to deport anybody. So, you stay in the prison, may be that person will die in the prison,” Mr. Olikeze recounted.
Also, Chinedu Ilo from Awgbu, Orumba North Local Government Area, in his bid to cross to Spain took to the Sahara desert, where he saw several of the co-travelers drop dead.
Although he succeeded in crossing to Europe, Chinedu was eventually deported. In an interview, he described the journey as suicidal.
“After the sufferings in the desert, we finally manage to enter Algeria. In Algeria, we manage to migrate to Morocco. From Morocco, we migrated again to Europe. We crossed the Medditeranean Sea with a boat. It was in Spain that they deported us.
“Since I came back to Nigeria, I have been going with NAPTIP for several sensitization campaigns. I have been with them for almost five years now. This is because what I passed through, I don’t pray for even my enemy to see half of it,” the young man stated.
Twelve months ago, Onyebuchi Mbama from Uli, Ihiala Local Government Area of Anambra State, narrated his ordeal with the Vanguard Newspaper during his two desperate attempts to cross the Mediterranean Sea, in search of greener pastures in Europe.
Despite surviving the risks of traversing the deadly Sahara desert to get to Lybia, Onyebuchi said he regrettably ended up in prison on two occasions.
This, coupled with the huge sums of money he squandered on the fruitless mission, deterred him as he resigned to fate, hoping for the better life within the shores of Nigeria.
Investigations reveal that NAPTIP, in collaboration with Non-Governmental Organizations, had succeeded in increasing awareness of the crime among residents of Anambra State. But, it is a mix bag concerning rehabilitation of victims, which is a major component of the mandate of the agency.
For Amarachi, NAPTIP was true to all the promises to rehabilitate and reintegrate her into the society.
According to Amarachi, “They gave me freezer and a cheque of one hundred and sixty thousand naira to start a little business. All my set they helped all of us, we are nine in number.”
But, Mr. Samson Olikeze was not so lucky. He lamented that “NAPTIP collaborated with one organization called PRAWA. They called for interview, after the interview, NAPTIP organized a kind of seminar. They also sent our names to the National Directorate of Employment, NDE.
“They sent for training. I choose computer training. They said that after the training they are going to empower us, I have not received anything till date. I learnt that they helped some people. But I did not get any assistance from them.”
Chinedu Ilo said he suffered the same fate with Samson Olikeze. This has gotten him discouraged.
He told this reporter he might not be available for any form of partnership with NAPTIP again.
The Anti-Human Trafficking Campaigner, Miss Hope Okoye, confirmed that some of the rescued ones were properly taken care of, while many others did not have the promises made to them fulfilled.
She expressed fears that such development could render the victims vulnerable again to trafficking.
“These victims, when you rescue them, there is no re-integration. Some of them are not being empowered. Remember, it was because of their vulnerable situation that they fell victim, and when they come back, nothing changes. There is nothing for them, they still go back to the same situation.
“Even when we try to see how we can empower them to learn new skills. Some of them even want to go back to school. And we don’t have the resources. Do you know that at the end, some of them still end up being re-trafficked,” she cried out.
The rate at which offenders are prosecuted in Anambra State since 2015 is a source of worry for some residents interviewed, including the legal practitioners, Messers Udechukwu and Ifejika, who recounted their personal experiences with Radio Nigeria.
Mr. Udechukwu said
“I have a client that is based in Akwa Ibom and he’s charged in Federal High court in Awka. In each of the adjourned date, he will transport himself overnight for him to be able to make it here. And for three good times we’ve been to court. On one occasion, the court did not sit. On the other occasion, the lawyer couldn’t make it early. So, it has not been all that easy for me as a defence counsel.”
Mr. Ifejika also narrated his experience saying it had been a systemic issue prosecuting cases in the law courts.
“My client standing as a defendant at the federal high court was alleged to have abducted certain persons at the ages of eight and ten.
“Now since that 2017, we have been eagerly waiting for NAPTIP to commence hearing by way of bringing in their witnesses towards establishing the guiltiness or otherwise of my client. Ever since then, NAPTIP has not been able to appear before the court”. He lamented.
The data made available by NAPTIP’s Director of Public Enlightenment, Mr. Orakwue Arinze, indicated that the agency made one hundred and thirteen arrests in Anambra State between 2015 and 2019.
Of the number, fifty-eight were males while the remaining fifty-five were females. The data further showed that NAPTIP secured only one conviction in 2016, one in 2017 and another one so far in 2019, while prosecutions were at various stages.
However, Mr. Ifejika explained that conviction was not a proof of diligent prosecution.
“What matters most is how much are they committed towards making sure that those proceedings, which they have begun come to logical conclusion.
“The fact that the defendant was not convicted does not mean that the prosecutors had not done their job. Whether they had one conviction for one year or one month, it is not really the parameter to ascertain their performance. But how many matters they are able to conclude”.
While some rescued victims are still waiting eagerly for justice to be served, the path to justice seems unbearably long. The question here is why?
The Legal Practitioner, Mr. Udechukwu again offers explanations.
“Prosecution generally has not always been an easy task on the side of the prosecuting agencies. It involves a lot of logistics; the protection of your witnesses; the money to take the witnesses to court; getting actually even the witnesses that will agree and consent to come to court and stand.
“And for issue of trafficking in persons, most of their star witnesses are victims of trafficking. So, the witnesses normally see it as further stigmatization,” Udechukwu pointed out.
He suggested what should be done differently.
“I should be appealing to the Federal Government to help them in carrying out the duty of their office diligently. Granting them maybe sometimes special subvention and grant to enable them do what they are supposed to do and as and when due.
“As a matter of fact, I am calling on NAPTIP, they have a zonal office in Enugu, let them establish offices in all the states, especially Anambra State. It will help in diligent and speedy prosecutions of most of their matters,” he so suggested.
However, the NAPTIP Director of Public Enlightenment, Mr. Orakwue argued that the agency had performed well within the limit of the resources available to it.
He contended that successful campaign against this heinous crimewas possible only with concerted efforts of state governors, traditional and religious leaders as well as all lovers of humanity.
“The Director General of NAPTIP, Julie Okah-Donli, has always said that it must a role of the society and the role of government intervention.
“Not just for government. Families are the first responders in the anti human trafficking strategy. So, what are families doing? What are the local government chairmen doing? What are the state governments doing? Everybody expects that everything must come from the federal government.
“Do you know the number that were withdrawn from Lybia? As we speak was 14 thousand. We don’t have the fund to deal with that. That doesn’t mean we don’t want to do that. As soon as funds come, we’ll begin to intervene.
“We are actually asking the state governors to please help us with skills acquisition centres, make education compulsory, free and accessible, and invest in economic empowerment of their parents so that there won’t be any reason for people to step out,” Mr. Orakwue advised.
The Police Public Relations Officer in Anambr tate, Mr. Haruna Mohammed, also spoke of the cordial working relationship between the Police and NAPTIP.
“The last time they paid a courtesy call to the Commissioner of Police. They assured of their willingness to partner the command. Since then, we have been having a robust relationship.
“Whenever there is any case of alleged human trafficking, they give us intelligence and we aid them in arrest and prosecution. And also, if we need their assistance, we also collaborate with them,” the PPRO stated.
Indeed, conquering the monster of trafficking in persons demands for all hands to be on deck.
However, the agency leading the battle (NAPTIP) must be better funded and adequately empowered to take care of its four-pronged all-important mandate.