Driving from Benin, the Edo state capital, southern Nigeria, to Ekpoma, Auchi to Irrua, throws up the whole paradox of how affluence and poverty lie at the heart of human trafficking and how people would do anything for money and have good life.
“All these houses you see,” Asheka Meshak, my guide, points at newly constructed duplexes as we walk down a street with new houses springing up. “These belong to the boys in Europe who send money home to build and show off to their families and communities that they are ‘making it’ abroad. This makes many parents push their children to go to Europe also so they can live in comfort or for some, to get out of poverty.”
In contrast, Amedu Ibrahim was deported from Libya. He barely escaped with his life, he told Global Christian News. Most of his body is burnt. He lost an ear and he still has pains due to the third degree burn he suffered. He said he could not pay the trafficker who held him captive and they set his body on fire. Left for dead, he was later discovered by the Libyan authorities, given some treatment and deported.
“You see what others have done, I mean the money they send to their parents and your parents tell you,
‘others are struggling and going to Europe to help their families and do something with their lives and you are just at home doing nothing, better get there and make money,’ they tell you. This is both girls and boys. Parents encourage and raise money for their children to go to Europe,” he said.
These beliefs, that ‘once you get to Europe, ‘your own don betta’ (you have made it) has made the human trafficking trade a big lucrative business in Nigeria.
Global Christian News met with a local musician, who goes under the moniker of Joker Boy, who says he ‘preaches’ against human trafficking.
“Sex, prostitution and promiscuity is not necessarily what many parents or families frown upon. Let me tell you, here, parents encourage their daughters to do anything, even prostitution, to get them money. They sponsor their daughters to go to Europe for prostitution.”
Joker Boy added: “You know this old saying, ‘use what you have to get what you need? Girls use their bodies here.”
Accurate statistics are difficult to come by but an average of over 200 people are trafficked every week, both within and outside the country, according to some estimates. A Pusherman (human trafficker), who will not give his name, said, “My boss takes about four to seven people every week to Kano and then hands them over to the people taking them to Aghades every month.”
He said, “There are many traffickers in this town. It is a big business. This is from our place here only.”
According to a US Department of State report Nigerian trafficking victims have been identified in more than 29 countries.
“Officials report an increase in Nigerian women and girls subjected to sex trafficking within Nigeria and throughout Europe, including in Italy, Austria, and Russia; an international organization estimated 80 percent of all female Nigerian migrants in Italy are or will become sex trafficking victims. Nigerian sex traffickers operate in highly organized criminal webs throughout Europe,” the report says.
“It is on record that from Edo State alone, over 10,000 young people have been trafficked within the last one year with almost 3,000 of them losing their lives,” the Edo state Governor, Godwin Nogheghase Obaseki recently told the state lawmakers.
Nigeria is the biggest hub of human trafficking in Africa, and possibly the world, which feeds the slave market in Libya, according to a CNN report. A Global Christian News investigation has shown that some ‘churches’, in some parts of Edo State, Southern Nigeria, have played a part in the human trafficking with ‘men of God’ charging money for prayers for the vulnerable and desperate young men and women who are paying about £1000 to be taken out to Europe, particularly Italy, in the hope for a better life.
“You would expect that those in north-eastern Nigeria, where Boko Haram is devastating communities and Fulani Cattle herdsmen are sacking villages in a murderous campaign, is where many young men and women will be fleeing to Europe but it is from the south where there is relative affluence that people are going through harrowing experiences to ‘make it’ in Europe,” said the Rev Ejike Nathaniel, a pastor who had left the “desperate life to make quick money’ in an interview with Global Christian News.
“Many so called prayer houses have popped up, praying specifically for those leaving for Europe, so that God will enable them ‘cross-over’ the sea to Italy,” he added.
Thousands of migrants have died yet many are still trying to cross over in dinghies and all sorts of boats from Libya to Italy.
Global Christian News met with one of the ‘Pastors’, John Obavhre, in Auchi, southern Nigeria, who said, “You know some of them can’t ‘cross-over’ (meaning in the boats on the sea from Libya to Italy)
because they are ‘Ogbanje’ (a local name for people seen as spirits or witches) and some of them are ‘mammy water’ (mermaids) so we need to pray for them so that they don’t capsize the boats in the sea.” He said. Bringing out a Bible, a rosary and a mirror, he said. I need the picture of the girls going to Libya, I will pray and if they are Ogbaje, I will know.”
The myths and spirituality that shrouds the human trafficking and journey to Europe has been turned into a lucrative business by the human traffickers and many religious groups.
African traditional worshippers use Juju and “charms to make incantations so that the boats will not capsize with the people going to Europe” one of the ‘Priests’ told Global Christian News in Ekpoma, Edo State.
Interestingly, the Edo state organisation against human trafficking has solicited the help of witch doctors to fight human trafficking in the state.
There are powerful groups and forces behind the huge trade in Nigeria. These groups will do anything against anyone who comes between them and the money they make. They are involved in kidnappings, armed robbery and assassinations.
“In Edo state and in Benin now, when you preach too much about the human trafficking, you will be killed,” declared the Venerable Dalimore Odigie, Vicar of one of the Anglican churches in Edo.
“You will hear news tomorrow that you were killed by armed robbers or shot by unknown gunmen. This is a big cartel. There are mafia like groups behind these traffickers. So pastors are afraid to preach against these evil practices.
“It is huge here, families are behind it as well as some politicians and even government officials too. What you need to understand is that sex and prostitution is not necessarily a bad thing here. So like the report on CNN, girls are told that if sleeping with men will get them what and where they want then it is okay,” he said.
The National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP), in Edo State, southern Nigeria, said it is doing its best, within the limited resources it has to fight the in human trade.
The Archbishop Benjamin Kwashi, Bishop of Jos, in an interview on the role of the church in curbing the menace argues: “When moral standards fall at the feet of money, when anything can be bought with money including the Church when the Church believes in the power and control of money and no longer focuses on the transformed lives of its communities, and over looks services to orphans to widows, to the helpless and needy, when the church conforms to the systems and the immorality of the world then the Church loses both its sight it can no longer see evil even when it sees it thinks it is okay but it also loses its power to transform because the church has compromised its status of being salt and light of the world.”
The current slave route is not new, Kwashi pointed out. “The slave trade was not only on the seas it was also in the desert of Kano the same route of Libya slave trade went from there to Agades and everywhere in Saudi but the gospel’s effect was able to stop it so the Church even if it preaches (against slavery today) it is hypocritical because it is not true. Because if the church invests all its money and resources in caring for these people that are being sold out, industries would have risen to resolve these issues not all of it but it would have reduced greatly, the commercial boom that it is now having,” he added.
“My suspicion is that they (human trafficker) are church members and they give a lot of money to the church so the church cannot speak about their evil. So, I think what the Church in Nigeria needs to do is to return to the moral principles, values and ethics of the scriptures of caring for the poor and investing in the poor the needy, the orphans and the widows, because largely, these are the categories of those who are being sold and were not supposed to be doing that as a favour to the poor but we are supposed to be doing that in the name of the gospel of Jesus Christ that saved us,” the Archbishop declared.
Image credits: Google images/Author/CNN