By Akanimo Sampson
The Republic of Mali, a landlocked West African country has been identified by the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP), as a haven for abducted Nigerian girls and women.
NAPTIP says many of the abducted victims were sold as sex slaves in Mali, the eighth-largest country in Africa, with an area of just over 1,240,000 square kilometers and a population of 18 million.
NAPTIP Director, Julie Okah-Donli, however told Al Jazeera that they were tricked into going to Mali by giving them the impression they were going to get jobs in hotels. According to her, there are between 20,000 and 45,000 kidnapped Nigerian women in Mali NAPTIP intends to return to Nigeria.
This is coming as the United Nations had previously chided Nigeria for failing to tackle human trafficking, after a human rights mission looked at efforts to stamp out the organised trade in people.
The UN Special Rapporteur on the subject, Maria Grazia Giammarinaro, told reporters at the end of an eight-day visit, ‘’what is being done is not enough.’’
Giammarinaro noted that human trafficking in Nigeria was not always north towards Europe but also to the Gulf, Russia and southern Africa ‘’mainly for the purposes of sexual and labour exploitation’’.
Despite the existence of NAPTIP, Giammarinaro said there was an overall ‘’lack of resources, training and equipment for the various public offices involved in the fight against trafficking’’, pointing out that Nigeria is Africa’s largest oil producer and ranks sixth in the world, with 2.5 million barrels of oil produced every day.
‘’Yet… 64% of Nigerians live below the poverty line and trafficking in persons continues unabated. With the wealth and political leverage it has been generating, the government of Nigeria cannot be seen to leave its people behind’’, Giammarinaro said and recommended that more work needed to be done to prevent people leaving in the first place and also to bring those responsible to justice.
According to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), a UN agency, some 18 000 Nigerians arrived in Italy via the Mediterranean Sea from north Africa in 2017. Apparently due to the absence of safe and regular migration channels, the vast majority of them fall prey to traffickers in transit countries, especially in Libya, and are subject to all forms of human rights violations including torture, rape, extortion, and exploitation amounting to trafficking, slavery and forced labour.
Going by IOM figures, some 36 000 Nigerians were stuck in Libya or neighbouring Niger in last December. The Immigration Service has estimated that around 10 000 nationals died in the Sahara desert or in the Mediterranean Sea between January and May last year.
Since 2004, a total of 362 traffickers have been convicted and sentenced yet the number of victims and complaints received has skyrocketed to 13 186. Though there is no estimate about the real dimension of trafficking in the country, the abducted women are said to be mostly from rural areas of six different states in Nigeria.
According to NAPTIP, ‘’some were actually abducted while going to school. There are over one million Nigerian residents in Mali, out of which about 20,000 are trapped into forced prostitution. The conditions are horrible. They are kept in the thick of the forest where they cannot escape and with the ‘madames’ watching over them.’’
A 2018 report by the US State Department indicates that human trafficking is a major problem in Nigeria.
‘’I have said it several times that NAPTIP will not spare anybody in its determination to redeem the image of Nigeria in the eyes of the world as a source, transit and destination country for human trafficking’’, Okah-Donli said.
According to her, Nigerian victims of human trafficking were found in about 40 different countries, the report stated, adding, ‘’80 percent of all female Nigerian migrants in Italy are or will become sex trafficking victims’’.
NAPTIP was however, established on July 14, 2003 by the Trafficking in Persons (Prohibition) Enforcement and Administration Act 2003 during the administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo (1999-2007).