Situation in Nigeria
Hon. Justice Halima S. Mohammed
High Court of Justice Gombe – Nigeria
I wish to appreciate the organizers of this summit for once again deeming it fit to invite me to contribute my quota toward eradicating the menace of human trafficking and organized crime existing globally by virtue of the persons here present for this summit.
This summit without doubt is aimed at sensitizing participants on the prevalent issues on human trafficking in their various forms for us to further be aware of the different forms and faces it takes depending on the country and situation. By the list sent to us of those expected to attend this summit, like the last summit I attended here last year, I am highly impressed also by the level of attendance, it is a demonstration of the interest we have in supporting this cause, this is more so that some of us pay for the trip personally.
In my country, the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP) was established in July, 2003 by the Federal Government to stem the heinous crime of trafficking. Before then, Nigeria had ratified the transnational organized crime convention and its supplementing protocol in December 2000. It had been discovered that some of the crimes committed across the border of Nigeria and perhaps the world over include Human trafficking, financial crime, drug trafficking, arms dealing and illegitimate human smuggling of persons due to immigration issues. There is therefore no gainsaying the fact that human trafficking, though prevalent over the years, was hardly noticed due to the fact that the acts are done under clandestine cover.
I am happy to say here that Nigeria is a signatory and had thus ratified a number of International Conventions which are in one way or the other connected to issues of eliminating human trafficking. Some of these conventions include:
- African Charter on Human and People’s Rights 1986.
- African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child Nov. 29, 1999.
- ECOWAS Plan of Action Against Trafficking in Persons in 2002.
- United Nations Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), 1979.
- United Nations Convention for the Suppression of Trafficking in person and Exploitation of Prostitution of Others.
- United Nation Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children, Supplementing the United Nations Convention on Transnational Organised Crime (Palermo Convention), 15 November 2000.
- Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), 1989.
- International labour Organisation Convention No. 182 on worst form of Child Labour 1999.
- International Labour Organisation Convention No. 138 on Minimum Age, 1973.
With the above enabling laws, the agency mandated to combat human Trafficking and child labour had since moved into action with programmes and activities to eliminate the menace. Human Trafficking cases, where reported or perceived, are usually thoroughly investigated by the agency along with other security agencies such as the Police, Immigration and State Security Services. The cases are eventually prosecuted in the High Courts or Federal High Courts. The suspects are convicted and the victims are counselled, trained in vocational skills and reunited with their families.
I must however state here that with all the above, the menace has not abetted. The traffickers have continued to use different methods in executing these heinous crimes. The more affected in these heinous crimes are unfortunately women, children and the youth. Of recent, we have started seeing the trend where men in Northern Nigeria are trafficked in groups with the deception also that they will be taken to places and countries where labour is required. It is therefore no secret that Nigerians are taken to places in the West African sub region such as Togo, Republic of Benin, Gabon, Cameroon and Niger to work as house maids, farm labourers and sex slaves and vis-à-vis, that is those trafficked from those countries are also brought to Nigeria for such jobs. They are also further taken to Europe, Middle East and other countries to work in the sex industry, factories and plantations. In all these places, aside from the fact that some of them are too young to be so employed, the degradation and long hours they have to put in per day are better imagined than described. The victims are usually traumatized and dehumanized. These factors prevent the victims to be ready to give evidence on the issues and against their traffickers, which leads to unsuccessful prosecution in court.
In my last presentation here in the year 2018, I spoke of the menace of trafficking that is common to the Northern and particularly North East region of Nigeria where the Boko Haram is prevalent. In fact it is the internal human trafficking I spoke of last time in form of “Almajiri” that provided the Boko Haram their soldiers, including child soldiers, sex slaves and the likes.
Today, just like last year, the said “Almajiri” human trafficking is still ongoing as nothing much has been done to stop it. Rather, what is now on ground is that the Government is taking firm steps to ensure that the said “Almajiri” receive some form of western education in addition to the Qur’anic education they are out to seek.
Briefly stated, the concept of “Almajiri” is one that makes parents give out their male children to Qur’anic teachers to teach them the Qur’an and the Hadith as a way of life. These teachers now sometimes take these children from one town to the other, as they do not settle in one place, thus constituting a form of human trafficking, especially since most of the boys given to them can be as young as four years old.
Situations are bound that these children do not know the difference between their right and left, let alone taking care of themselves. The teachers also do not have a means of livelihood to feed these children, thus they are left to roam about the town from one house to the other or restaurant seeking for remnants of food to eat.
While there, these children are known to be exposed to all forms of vices: they are sexually abused by the older boys and sometimes even the teachers. Being very young and away from their parents, they are not able to report to anyone. This is so as where they may eventually be taken even within the country as far as over five hundred kilometres away from their parents. These children also fall prey to international human traffickers with a promise of better living conditions and job opportunity, especially where they are being abused by the older ones and their teachers where they are.
It has been reported that big vehicles are sometimes brought and the boys are met on the street where they are begging for food, they are promised food and a day’s labour with good pay, most of them enter the vehicle and they are never to be heard of, except for the report of those who were wise enough not to enter the vehicle. These boys are sometimes taken to war fronts like the Boko Haram or Communal conflict zones to fight. Sometimes they are taken to places where human parts are harvested or as sex slaves where they are given out to older men for a fee.
In what has now come to be known as human part harvesting activities, places are now found when raided, based on discreet information, with bowls, clothes, shoes of these boys and the trays with which girls also sell items on the street.
Occasionally, lucky ones are found there waiting to be slaughtered also. They in fact are the ones who give information as to what happened to their friends. All hands must therefore be on deck to see that the culprits are arrested and brought to justice. This is so, as so long as man is a member of a politically organized community, or state, the sovereign authority, state or country can legally control, regulate, restrain or forbid such conduct as is harmful to the larger community. After all, our age-long culture and civilization the world over is the product of free minds and choices and not of slavery or dehumanization. Though the perpetrators of these crimes are now acting outside the box, when they decided to become scientific in boxing all efforts to a corner to allow them to achieve their objectives, the collective efforts now put in place the world over are yielding results as they are now being arrested and prosecuted, and victims now openly come out to give evidence against them, the government having demystified the “oath” taken by victims at the beginning of the adventure, that it does not actually kill as initially thought by the victims if they disclose information on the trafficked.
The position in Nigeria is that the government has made concerted effort at improving the living conditions of the parents of these vulnerable children by putting in place social security facilities to improve their living conditions, thereby enabling them to take children to school instead of sending them to hawk wares on the streets while others are in school. The government is, in fact, paying parents of children who hawk goods on the streets their daily expected gains, were the child to go and sell the goods as usual on the part of the parents, thus allowing such a child to go to school. In most cases it is abject poverty that bring about human trafficking. Most of the victims of human trafficking are children from poor homes or the unemployed.
Destroyed public service, absence of social services, poorly implemented economic policies and absence of social dialogue lead to fallen standard of education and impoverishment of the population. It thus goes without saying that there is connection between poverty, deprivation, discrimination of gender and human trafficking. The need for cheap labour is also a causal factor for human trafficking. This is more so that the Africans have abused the concept of being your relation’s keeper. This is a system where children are entrusted with relations or other persons to be trained in exchange for domestic work the child will give. If the child, though, does some domestic chores but is treated fairly, in the long run he acquires the skill or the education reasonably expected to see him through life. Also, the tradition of the elder child working to take care of his parents and siblings, as is traditional, also contributes to human trafficking.
It is unfortunate that the trafficked persons are eventually mostly treated as the culprit when arrested, instead of the victim. This sometimes leads to mental health for the victims, after all the trauma and dehumanizing condition they were made to face earlier.
I must say that this Summit exposed me more to the issues of human trafficking by broadening my knowledge on the issues, thus giving me the zeal to assist humanity, especially women and children. I take time now to speak to parents with poor backgrounds on the need to educate their children, especially the girl child, as they will assist them better if educated. I also now participate in community work better than before, as I now belong to a group of women known as High Level Women Advocates (HILWA) in my community. I encourage them to form associations and groups as through that, government policies to be executed will easily get to them. They are also able to advise each other on matters affecting them anytime they meet. What I have come to realize is that there is contentment in the African Women, as with less than fifty dollars an African woman can train a child up to university level through petit trading. As part of my personal contribution towards the eradication of human trafficking and organized crime, I occasionally empower women with little money to enable them to start a trade to take care of their family.
It must be understood that healthy development of a child is crucial to the future wellbeing of any nation, as an untrained youth is a security risk to his community. It must be noted also that a society is judged by the way it treats its youth. For the Africans therefore, I must say that unless the issues of poverty are handled properly, the aspirations of the African child will continue to be a mirage.
What then is the way forward? I must say that the way forward is sensitization and empowerment for the parents and education to be given to the children. While the parents are to be sensitized on why their children should go to school, the various governments must be ready to give free education to the children up to a certain level, so that they are better parents to their children and their boys will not be trafficked in the name of “Almajiri” or their young girls will not be married off early. The social ills which human trafficking brought will then be minimized, if not totally eradicated. This is so as education is the license to many good things in life for even the unborn child, especially for the girl child. I thus find the popular adage that says, “When you educate a man you educate an individual, but when you educate a woman you educate the nation” at this juncture apt.
For the judges and prosecutors, it beholds on us to handle cases of human trafficking and organized crime with the firmness they deserve, since there are enabling laws for it.
I hope this Summit in the long run will serve as a wakeup call to duty for us here present to support our various governments by virtue of the position we hold to guarantee the future of our various citizens and the world at large. It is hoped that we shall continue to appraise and evaluate our performance with the opportunities given to us here to interact and approach the issues in the form that will suit our various needs and to further ensure that traffickers, and child abusers, are stopped from achieving their nefarious goals in the society through these organized crimes.
It is my fervent hope that the almighty God will continue to strengthen this group and to imbue us with the wisdom and courage to discharge this onerous task.
Your Eminence, your Lordships, fellow participants, ladies and gentlemen, I look forward to learning more from you at the end of our various presentations through a further robust discussion on the grey areas.
I wish all of us happy presentations. Thank you for listening and God bless.