Scripta Varia

Nigeria - Helen Moronkeji Ogunwumiju

Organized Crime and Human Trafficking in Nigeria

Helen Moronkeji Ogunwumiju

Justice, Court of Appeal, Nigeria


Nigeria is the most populous, ethno-linguistically configured and religiously diverse nation in Africa. It is the world’s eighth largest oil exporter, the fifth largest crude oil supplier to the United States, and the country with the seventh-largest gas reserves in the world. We have an estimated population of 180 million people. It is a dominant sub-regional power in Africa, a major player in international oil market and a strategic country within the geopolitical calculation of the world order.

Forms of organized crimes

Several forms of transnational criminal activity by organizations and individuals in Nigeria and West Africa have been documented. The major forms include:

·      Corruption and money laundering in West African countries, and in Europe and the United States of America. Human trafficking across West African countries, and from West Africa to the Middle East and Europe.

·      Human trafficking within the Nigeria border of young children and trafficking of young women into other West African countries, Arab countries and Europe.

·      Drug trafficking: West African countries are used as transit routes for cocaine and heroin. However, cannabis is produced in Nigeria and some West African countries and traded within and beyond the region.

·      Arms trafficking into and within the West African region. There have been in the last few months large importations of pump rifle guns from Turkey into Nigeria.

·      Advance fee fraud with propositions emanating mainly from Nigeria and sometimes from West African countries to Europe and North America.

·      Internet fraud including identity theft.

·      Smuggling of used cars. For example, used cars are stolen or imported from Europe into the Republic of Benin and smuggled into Nigeria.

·      Smuggling of prohibited or controlled goods such as pharmaceutical psychotropic drugs, chemicals, etc.

·      Piracy, especially in the Gulf of Guinea, which sometimes affect shipping vessels entering Nigerian ports.

·      Armed robbery, especially automobile-hijacking. Gangs of robbers, for example, snatch expensive cars from their owners in Nigeria, which are then taken to neighboring countries such as Benin, Togo and Chad.

·      Smuggling of goods out of West Africa: diamonds from Sierra Leone through Liberia and Guinea; oil and precious stones from Nigeria; gold from Ghana.

·      Fraudulent trade practices, including dumping of sub-standard products and misrepresentation; illicit foreign exchange transactions (including money laundering) and siphoning of assets from Africa to developing economies (for instance over-invoicing, under-invoicing, abuse of investment concessions, tax and duty evasions, etc.).

·      Dumping of toxic waste on the shores of Nigeria or even in rural areas where the rural communities do not understand the health hazards of the waste and utilize it to their peril.

The effect and impact of organized crimes in Nigeria is enormous. It affects the development of the country and discourages investment. Particularly in the area of insecurity, organized crime has eroded the people’s confidence in the social order.

On 21 February 2012, the United Nations Security Council met to consider matters related to peace and security in Africa, focusing on the impact of transnational organized crime on peace, security and stability in West Africa and the Sahel region.

After the meeting it issued a statement (S/PRST/2012/2) in which it expressed concern about the serious threats to international peace and stability in different regions of the world, in particular in West Africa and the Sahel Region, posed by transnational organized crime, including illicit weapons and drug trafficking, piracy and armed robbery at sea, as well as terrorism and its increasing links, in some cases, with transnational organized crime and drug trafficking.

The Council stressed that these growing international threats, particularly in West Africa and the Sahel Region, contribute to undermining governance, social and economic development and stability, and are creating difficulties for the delivery of humanitarian assistance, while threatening to reverse peace-building advances in the region.

However, the persistent school of thought by succeeding governments in Nigeria is that there are no organized crime cartels in Nigeria as found in Europe, North or South America but rather organized criminality, thus there is no concerted government effort to combat organized crime. Rather, there are efforts to combat individual criminality like money laundering and corruption among government officials. Several government agencies have been set up for this. Also, a specialized agency has been set up to deal with human trafficking.

In Nigeria certain interventions by way of legislative measures have been put in place against what we call organized criminality. These include Anti-Terrorism Act, Anti-Piracy Act, Money Laundering and Terrorism Financing (Prohibition) Act, etc. The legal texts are there but empirical evidence is rare on what impact the laws have had in the fight against transnational organized crime and terrorist activities, and if the provisions of the laws are sufficient or if there are gaps that need to be filled.

Human trafficking shares a number of linkages with other organized criminal activities, and is often a negative externality that facilitates other forms of organized crime, not only as an end in itself but as a means to an end. Human trafficking has a close relationship with environmental crimes, specifically mineral resource crimes. Victims, especially trafficked child victims, are trafficked to mineral rich areas and are engaged or forced to mine for little or nothing. Children are also trafficked into military and rebel groups and exploited as child soldiers. In this respect, the crimes of child soldier trafficking and small arms trafficking are closely interlinked and have both played major roles in regional conflicts over the years.

Human smuggling has grown in predominance in a period when global migration has never been higher, but the institutional barriers to free labor migration, and the capacity of the international humanitarian system to sustain significant refugee populations, ensure that the smuggling industry has an important role to play. Criminal actors have profited significantly in recent years, with human smuggling into the EU alone estimated to be worth in the region of €6 billion per year in 2015. There is a blurred line between smuggled migration and human trafficking, with the two often overlapping, and the growing number of zones of fragility and protracted refugee situations leave migrants vulnerable to abuses and trafficking.

Nigeria is a source, transit, and destination country for girls, boys and children subjected to trafficking, including forced labor and forced prostitution. Trafficked Nigerian women, men and children are recruited from urban and rural areas within the country’s borders − women and girls for voluntary domestic servitude and involuntary sexual exploitation, and boys for forced labor in street vending, domestic servitude, mining, and begging.

West African destination countries for Nigerian trafficked women and children are Republic of Benin, Togo, Côte d’Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea, Cameroon, Gabon and Guinea where trafficked persons are destined to work mostly as domestic servants and on farm plantations. The Middle East is another destination, especially Libya and Saudi Arabia, where the women work as commercial sex workers.

Nigerian women and children are taken from Nigeria to other West and Central African countries, primarily Gabon, Cameroon, Ghana, Chad, Benin, Togo, Niger, Burkina Faso, and the Gambia, for the same purposes. Children from West African states like Benin, Togo, and Ghana – where Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) rules allow for easy entry – are also forced to work in Nigeria, and some are subjected to hazardous jobs in Nigeria’s granite mines. Nigerian women and girls are taken to Europe, especially to Italy and Russia, and to the Middle East and North Africa, for forced prostitution.

Internationally trafficked Nigerians come from all parts of Nigeria but some States tend to provide more trafficked persons than others. These states include Akwa-Ibom, Cross River, Delta, Edo, Imo, Ebonyi, Kano, Kaduna, Adamawa, Delta, Ogun, Oyo and Lagos.

According to the 2014 trafficking report, trafficking of young women from Nigeria to Europe for the purpose of sexual exploitation is one of the most lucrative and persistent trafficking flows, as it is very well organized.

International and Regional Legislative Framework

Nigeria is party to the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in persons, especially women and children (Trafficking Protocol) supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, as well as to a number of international human rights instruments, including the United Nations Slavery Convention (1927), the Convention for the suppression of Trafficking in Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others (1949), the ILO Forced Labor Convention (1930, No. 29), the ILO Abolition of Forced Labor Convention (1957, No. 105), the ILO Worst Forms of Child Labor Convention (1999, No. 182).

Nigeria also ratified other international instruments which have provisions that can apply by extension to the protection of the human rights of trafficked persons, including: the Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (1979), the Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989), the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography (2000), the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (1984), the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (1965), the UN General Assembly Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women (1993), the Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families (1990), the ILO Conventions 97 and 143 on Migrant Workers and 181 on Private Employment Agencies.

The previous lack of adequate provisions regarding trafficking in Nigeria’s criminal laws led the Federal Government to enact a new law on trafficking. In 2003 Nigeria became the first African country to enact an anti-trafficking legislation with the Trafficking in Persons (Prohibition) Law Enforcement and Administration Act (2003). In March 2015 the Trafficking in Persons (Prohibition) Enforcement and Administration Act, 2015 was passed and repealed the previous law.

For instance, it ensures that the penalties for breaching the provisions of the law are consistent with the spirit of the Trafficking Protocol. The 2015 Act increases the penalties for trafficking offenders. It prescribes a minimum penalty of five years’ imprisonment and a minimum fine of one million naira ($5,470) for labor trafficking offences. The law prescribes a minimum penalty of five years’ imprisonment for sex trafficking offences and a minimum fine of one million naira ($5,470); the minimum penalty increases to seven years’ imprisonment if the case involves a child.

The new law prohibits all forms of trafficking, including trafficking for organ trade or ritual murders. The 2003 Act created the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP)

Section 8 of the Act, concerning the implementation of the Agency’s mandate, created specialized operational departments, such as Investigation and Monitoring; Counseling and Rehabilitation; Public Enlightenment; Legal and Prosecution. In order to address every aspect of the human trafficking phenomenon, NAPTIP adopted a 4Ps strategy:

(1) Prevention: The NAPTIP, using strategic tools such as conferences, workshops and mass media campaigns, promotes awareness within the population. It also conducts research on the root causes, magnitude and patterns of human trafficking in the country.

The Public Enlightenment Unit of NAPTIP has partnered with Devatop Centre for Africa Development to educate over 5000 women, teenagers, educators and youth on how to prevent human trafficking. In 2015 they supported Devatop Centre for Africa Development to implement a pilot project: “The Academy for Prevention of Human Trafficking and Other Related Matters (TAPHOM)”. The project was initiated to raise anti-human trafficking advocates who will be actively involved in combating human trafficking in their various communities and states. 120 women, youth, educators, law enforcement, legal practitioners, media professionals, health caregivers, and community volunteers from 6 states were trained between July 2015 and May 2016. The participants have been actively involved in preventing human trafficking by interfacing with their communities. The next phase is to establish The Academy for Prevention of Human Trafficking, which will focus on training, research, advocacy, counseling and publications. The building of the academy has been stalled in recent years due to paucity of funds.

Every year, a national convention tagged ‘Model UN Conference for secondary students with a theme of combating human trafficking’ is organized. Furthermore, a nine-state tour was launched to establish state working groups against human trafficking. In August 2014 NAPTIP held a stakeholders’ workshop in Kaduna to set program priorities and cost estimates for implementing the National Plan of Action. Nigerian troops undergo mandatory human rights and human trafficking training in preparation for peacekeeping duties abroad.

(2) Protection: The NAPTIP is involved in activities with the aim to rehabilitate and reintegrate victims into the society. In 2013, it developed a National Referral Mechanism for Protection and Assistance to Trafficked Persons in Nigeria, which provides formal guidelines for law enforcement, immigration officials, and service providers to improve protection and assistance to trafficked victims.

There is in place the National Policy on Protection and Assistance to Trafficked Persons, which was adopted in 2008 with the aim of increasing protection and rehabilitation efforts. Its goal is to provide “appropriate and relevant services that will empower victims of trafficking in effective integration into their various communities”.

The national policy includes provision related to free and qualitative legal assistance to trafficked persons; non pursuit of prosecution of victims; respect for the rights of victims; non forcible return to countries of origin. It also gives a broad definition of vulnerable persons, focusing on child victims of trafficking and the demand for gender sensitive responses to trafficking.

Police, customs, immigration, and NAPTIP officials systematically employed procedures to identify victims among high-risk persons, such as young women or girls traveling with non-family members. Data provided by NAPTIP for 2014 reflected a total of 1,109 victims identified and provided assistance at one of NAPTIP’s eight shelters throughout the country during the reporting period; 624 were cases of trafficking for commercial sexual exploitation and 328 for labor exploitation. Various government agencies referred trafficking victims to NAPTIP for sheltering and other protective services: immigration referred 465; police referred 277; Social Services referred 192; and the State Security Service referred 9. Shelter staff assessed the needs of victims upon arrival and provided food, clothing, shelter, recreational activities, and instruction on various skills, including vocational training; psychological counseling was provided to only the most severe cases. While at NAPTIP’s shelters, 70 victims received vocational training assistance provided by government funding. NAPTIP estimated the government’s 2009 spending on its shelter facilities to be $666,000. The 2015 Trafficking in Persons Law Enforcement and Administration Act provides for treatment, protection, and non-discriminatory practices for victims.

The law specified that no trafficked victim could be detained for any offence committed as a result of being trafficked. During the reporting period, the government took steps to relocate victims’ quarters a considerable distance from detention areas for trafficking offenders, greatly reducing the possibility that traffickers could exert undue influence over their victims. Victims were allowed to stay in government shelters for six weeks. If a longer time period was needed, civil society partner agencies were contacted to take in the victim.

(3) Prosecution: The NAPTIP is involved in the investigation of human trafficking cases, monitors cross-border movements and prosecutes trafficking cases in law courts. Nigeria was the first country in Africa to record successful anti-trafficking prosecutions, with 258 convictions between December 2004 and December 2014. In 2014 only, a total of 603 cases of human trafficking and other related matters were reported to the Agency, which conducted 509 trafficking investigations, completed 56 prosecutions, and secured 30 convictions. In the first quarter of the year 2015, the NAPTIP received a total of 130 cases of human trafficking and other related matters.

Officials encouraged victims to assist with the investigation and prosecution of traffickers, and victims served as witnesses in all of NAPTIP’s successful cases. Victims could theoretically seek redress through civil suits against traffickers, or claim funds from a Victims’ Trust Fund set up in 2009, through which assets confiscated from traffickers are transferred to victims. The Trust Fund committee is chaired by the Minister of Justice and meets four times per year. The government provided a limited legal alternative to the removal of foreign victims to countries where they face hardship or retribution – short-term residency that cannot be extended. Within the 15 years of his establishment, NAPTIP has secured over 329 convictions, having prosecuted over 4,000 cases within the period. Several cases are in court.

4) Partnership: NAPTIP works in collaboration with other regional and international agencies or bodies that may ensure elimination and prevention of the root causes of the problem of traffic in any person in Nigeria and in the bordering countries.

Nigeria has entered into various bilateral agreements of understanding with individual countries within Africa that have a direct relationship with the problems of human trafficking, forced labor and migration in general. In 2006 the African Union adopted the Ouagadougou Action Plan to Combat Trafficking in Human Beings, Especially Women and Children. This Action Plan reaffirms international instruments on human trafficking and encourages African States to adopt legislative, administrative and institutional measures to combat trafficking in human beings. Additionally, it took sub-regional initiatives to combat human trafficking such as the ECOWAS Initial Plan of Action against Trafficking in Persons (2002-2003), the joint ECOWAS/ECCAS Regional Plan of Action to Combat Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children (2006-2009) and the SADC Regional Plan of Action on Trafficking in Persons (2009-2019).

Our hope is that neighbouring countries increase surveillance in form of security checks along the controversial migration routes, especially within the North Africa countries, so as to complement the efforts of Nigeria in combating human trafficking and reduce the associated tragedies.

We still have a pending issue that is being resolved between Nigeria and Mali. Reports indicate that over 5000 Nigerians are presently in different parts of Mali being forced into prostitution by their traffickers who had lured them to Mali with the promise of helping them to Europe. There are heart-breaking stories of some of the survivors which have alerted the authorities on the new tricks and trends used by human traffickers. They have evolved new ways of luring and trafficking their victims. Intelligence reports indicate that these individuals have diversified their nefarious activities to include fabricating fake stories of providing educational supports in forms of scholarships, recruitment for sporting activities and the most frightening being the organ harvesting.

Judicial Intervention

There is the proposal in the advanced stages of the setting up of a special court to adjudicate on certain categories of organized crimes like corruption, kidnapping and Human Trafficking. Meanwhile, since 2013, there has been in place in all tiers of Courts, Practice Directions to the effect that corruption, Human Trafficking and kidnapping cases should be expeditiously investigated, prosecuted by law enforcement and swiftly determined by the courts. Interlocutory appeals are discouraged in order to facilitate the swift determination of this genre of cases.

Thank you for listening.



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