NAPTIP’ll arrest, prosecute people involved in child marriages – Okah-Donli, DG
NAPTIP’ll arrest, prosecute people involved in child marriages – Okah-Donli, DG
The Director-General of the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons, Julie Okah-Donli, in this interview with OLALEYE ALUKO, talks about the menace of child labour, sexual exploitation in the country, among other issues

Some people tend to think that trafficking in persons only involves people being taken out of the country under false pretenses. In the Nigerian law and context, what does human trafficking entail?

First, you should realise that we have internal trafficking and external trafficking. Both are very common in our country. The internal trafficking is more common than the external one.

The internal trafficking involves organs’ harvesting, and the use of forced labour, cheap labour, and so on. In this internal ring also, you have agents who recruit children or young persons from rural communities. They distribute their recruits to homes. At the end of the month, these agents are the ones who receive the money for the labour. This is obvious trafficking.

Some children are also used for sexual exploitation. The agents put them in brothels. If you go to some brothels in the major cities, you will find that the same underage girls that are brought from the rural communities and sexually exploited.

Men go to these brothels, patronise these girls and pay their agents for the services. All these are forms of the internal trafficking we are talking about. As for external trafficking, you find the same components, but it is just that these ones operate outside the country.

They engage in forced labour, cheap labour and organs’ harvesting across countries. That is why we classify them as external traffickers.

There are reports that Edo State has the highest number of this menace. Is that true?

I will say ‘no’. Edo State has the highest number of trafficked victims in Italy. But generally, states in Nigeria share the statistics. We have from all the regions.

Let us narrow it down to Italy then, why is this so?

There is a history connected to this. Initially when the Edo girls were going for prostitution, Italy was their base. So subsequently, the younger girls just assumed that they would also go to Italy to make money. They felt that the business should continue as usual. They did not realise that they were going to engage in prostitution.

Those ladies who were in Italy were inviting their families and younger girls to come and join them under duress. If you are in Italy, you cannot invite your enemies; you can only talk to your family and friends and say, look, there are jobs here, come and make money.

They deceive their family members and friends and convince them to come over. This has been the historical trend. This is why it appears that Edo State has the highest number of trafficked girls in Italy.

There was a time the National Assembly passed a bill against underage girls being used as domestic helps, but in many homes today, you will still find them, including the homes of the lawmakers. What do you think about this?

The law is clear already. Anyone under age 13 cannot be employed as a home help. But for me, that is even too young. I am looking at 18 years old as a minimum. Come on, what can a 13-year-old girl do? They should still be in the school. They should not be working in anybody’s home.

Is there ever going to be a solution to human trafficking in Nigeria?

Absolutely; Nigeria is already in the process of proffering solutions to human trafficking. The first aspect is the creation of awareness. There are several campaigns and we particularly targeted the rural communities in the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. This campaign is something we are going to make bigger and better. Everyone will get to be enlightened very soon. People are beginning to understand and give more information to NAPTIP now than ever before.

Apart from Libya, where slave camps were recently discovered, in which other countries are Nigerians trapped as slaves?

I don’t know about slave camps. But I know that there are lots of detention camps in lots of countries in Europe. There are many European countries that have such camps. They keep irregular migrants in these camps.  These are people that the Europeans want to repatriate to their countries. And I think this must be abolished because it gives room for all sorts of atrocities to be committed on them. If any country does not want irregular migrants, they should repatriate them immediately instead of keeping them in some so-called detention camps. I think these camps should be pulled down.

As of now, how many Nigerians are still trapped in Libya’s slave camps?

We cannot give a definite figure of those Nigerians. But we were told that over 5,000 were going to be brought back in the first batch this year. This 5,000 Nigerians are those in camps that are accessible. When we are done with this first batch, we will then go to the second batch where we begin to negotiate for camps which are not accessible and which are controlled by the militias. This is a different ball game.

We cannot say the number of Nigerians that are there. But I want you to remember that the repatriation from Libya is not just about those who are in the detention camps, but for as many Nigerians who are willing and ready to return to the country to be rehabilitated. This is whether they are in a camp or not.

Across all the states in Nigeria, we see children hawking on the streets, with no one appearing to be doing much about it. What is happening?
Basically, this is under the Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Welfare. But if you look around properly, you will observe that most children hawking and begging on the streets are usually trafficked children. The children are brought from various states and made to work or beg on the streets. When this is done, the traffickers take the proceeds from them. NAPTIP is going to look into this menace also this year. We will investigate closely these children hawking and begging on the streets.

There were incidences in the past that some persons recruited young ladies in what are termed as baby factories. What happened to the ladies and the men that were recruited to impregnate them?

Unfortunately, baby factories are also not under the domain of NAPTIP. But we do have a good working relationship with the police commands. We have and share information as well as investigations and intelligence with all the security agencies. We have a good referral mechanism in place. Yes, if it is something which concerns us, the police refer the case to us.

So while baby factories are not primarily under our domain, we deal with cases of sales of babies. We are investigating currently several cases and we will inform the public about our findings in due course.

It is believed that not much has been done in terms of awareness. Who is responsible for this?

Nigeria has done well in the area of awareness creation. Absolutely, there is room for improvement, but I think we are still doing very well. Now, a lot of people know what human trafficking is; a lot of people now know the full meaning of NAPTIP and they have our hotlines. They call us regularly. We now receive a lot of calls. We are getting reports every day. So, our country can do better but we have not done badly.

Perhaps, one of the ways to tackle this challenge is a more secured border. Is anything being done in that direction?

Of course, definitely, if the borders are not porous, we will not be talking about human trafficking or irregular migrants. We have all conceded that the borders are porous and that is why human trafficking is thriving so badly.

From the previous repatriation, what are the worst stories/accounts you have encountered?

There are so many horrible stories that we heard from some of those in the detention camps. You have also listened to them in the broadcast media and read them in the newspapers. They shared their experiences with all Nigerians. These are the same stories we hear too.

We learnt some persons were sold by their own parents. How true is this?

Well, I don’t know about being sold by their parents. But I know that some of them were actually encouraged by their parents to embark on this journey. This was because the parents believed the children would get good jobs and bring good fortunes back home.

So, I don’t believe that the parents sold anyone but rather the parents encouraged them and even helped the victims to raise money for the treacherous journeys they embarked on. Those who sold them were actually the Nigerian and the Libyan agents.

A herbalist was arrested by your agency few days ago for selling a baby for N650,000. How prevalent is the act of trading babies for those who are barren because many times, we also hear such are used for rituals?

We get such reports but the truth is that the women were not deceived. Rather, it was the women who deceived their husbands and family members by lying that they were pregnant. The women will claim that they are pregnant and later say that they have just been delivered of a new baby. But they pay the herbalist and get a baby.

The culprits then go to the religious centres and appreciate God for providing them with children, after knowing that they indeed bought stolen babies. So the women are actually deceiving their husbands, their family members and Nigerians. We are going to arrest more of them and get to the root of the matter concerning the herbalist.

His case was a very big scam that had been going on for some time; he is connected to almost 200 women who have gone through his programme. And these 200 women are only the ones we could trace. I am sure that the number is much more.

Our investigators are still working on the herbalist’s case and I don’t want to divulge too much information so as not to joepardise our efforts.

We have heard cases of child brides and underage girls given out in marriage against their consent, especially in the North. The case of Ese Oruru in Bayelsa was instructive. At such times, we hardly hear from NAPTIP. Why is that?

The agency has rescued underage girls in the past; we have rescued these children who were being forced into child marriages. You may not know because maybe, we don’t announce our conquests. Maybe, we will start doing that.

NAPTIP frowns on underage girls being given out in marriage. It is not encouraged. And if we get any report about such child marriages, we will rescue the child, arrest the culprits and prosecute the suspects.

How do you juxtapose this with some cultural beliefs that seem to encourage this?

I am yet to see any cultural or religious belief in the country that says a nine-year-old or 10-year-old girl should be given out in marriage. I need people who support it to show me where that is written in the Nigerian Constitution.

What are your projections or plan of action for the agency in 2018?

In 2018, we are going to move our country from the Tier 2 watch list to Tier 1. What this means is that we are already complying with some minimum international standards.  We were downgraded initially to the Tier 2 watch list because of Nigeria’s non-compliance with some acceptable best practices.

But the movement of Nigeria from the Tier 2 to Tier 1 is set to happen. We have been complying with the minimum standards of the international community in all the affected areas.

Also, the agency is also prepared to carry out massive victims’ care and support. We want to ensure that we follow it through and through. We usually give them psycho-social support; we monitor the victims aggressively and ensure they don’t return to human trafficking.

We also want to look at the menace of organs’ harvesting and ritual murder. Also, there is the rising incidence of sales of babies. We want to clamp down on all these fake maternity centres. We want to create more awareness, sensitisation and reorientation. The people must know that the greener pasture is not only abroad. We want our people to believe in themselves and believe in Nigeria. We also want to see so many human traffickers convicted.

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