Thursday, May 10, 2012

In what appears like a recurrent cycle of shame, the men of Nigeria Immigration Services have foiled an attempt to export five Edo girls into slavery. The five teenagers and one boy were intercepted with a suspected human trafficker, simply identified as Stella Daniel, from Cross River State at Seme border as they were trying to enter neighbouring Republic of Benin enroute war-torn Republic of Mali.

The girls, Blessing, Abigael , Ella Ojo, Faith and Isabella and Lucky, the only boy, (other names withheld) had quietly absconded with Daniel to chase the proverbial Golden Fleece in Mali. They all claimed ignorance of the civil war in the country of their destination. For them, the attraction to work in a bar abroad was too tempting to ignore.

The promise of N30,000CFA, equivalent of N10,000 monthly, was more than enough consideration to ‘escape’ from the allure of love and care of their parents. They confessed to have sworn to on oath with their madam not to run away until they have fully refunded her through services to customers. However, the alertness of the eagle eyes men of Nigeria Immigration Service at the border post saved them from what appears like exportation into sex slavery in foreign land.

According to the Comproller of Immigration Services (CIS) at the border, Julius Ogbu, who explained the circumstances of the arrest of the girls and their madam to Crimewatch, the appearance of a woman and young girls of college age almost in the same age bracket aroused the suspicion of the officers. The suspicion of the officers was confirmed, when, upon interrogation, none of them had any traveling document while their destination also raised more curiosity.

“They said that were going to work in a restaurant for the trafficker. She said she recruited them from Nigeria. Incidentally, neither the trafficker nor any of the girls had traveling documents.“More curious was the fact that none of their parents was aware they were traveling outside the country. That was why we had to detain them and conducted further interrogation. By the time we put our facts together, we came to a conclusion that it was actually a case of human trafficking. Number one, no traveling document; number two, their parents and relatives were not aware that they were leaving the shore of this country.

“And their age is between 18 and 20. Only one of them is 22. That is the age they gave us in our records. They all claimed they were from Edo State. “By virtue of our training: you are trained to be a border patrol officer and patrol prepares you for jobs in mega routes while control officers are those you see in the main borders. You’re also trained to be very vigilant so that any movement that is suspicious, you apprehend, and interrogate and then you refer.

“At the end of the day, you come into a conclusion. So, on this night when they came out of the bus, it aroused the suspicion of our men. The driver and the bus are still being detained because we have not been able to ascertain if they are culpable or not. We want to know if they boarded the vehicle as just routing passengers or not. The National Agency for the Prohibition of Traffic in Persons (NAPTIP), the agency responsible for cases of human trafficking will be able to give their verdict along that line after we have handed them over to them.

“We always warn the transporters to be careful of strange movements. If you have five young girls, traveling with a woman and you could easily infer they are not her children, then you should be suspicious. Ours is to apprehend and hand the suspects to NAPTIP. By the time they conclude their investigation they will assist those girls to re-unite with their families while the trafficker will face prosecution,” he said.

While our reporter was still at the border with the officers, mother of one of the girls, Mrs Oforue Imagbosoria, came in tears all the way Edo from Benin State, in search of her daughter, who she claimed had disappeared since penultimate Sunday. She said her daughter called her on GSM and apologised for her conduct.

Her words: “My daughter just called me yesterday and informed me that she had been arrested. She just called me and said, ‘Mummy, I beg you to forgive me; they don catch me for road.’ I asked her, where you dey go my pikin? She said she dey Lagos. She said it was a woman from Cross River State that carried her to swear juju because she wanted to carry her travel abroad.

She explained that her daughter disclosed that she and her friends were at Seme border. “So, that was how I came from Benin,” she stressed. According to her, Abigael’s action was very strange because she had been well catered for by her parents.

“We made sure she does not lack anything. She said it was her friends that introduced her to the woman,” she said.

The alleged trafficker in a chat with our reporter, however, insisted that the decision to take the girls to the foreign country was motivated by compassion and pity. “Although I needed one girl and one boy to work in my restaurant and bar in Mali, I decided to take others along out of pity and from what they told me,” she said.

Madam Daniel, who claimed to have spent three and half years in Mali where she has a boyfriend, who she has a daughter for, said she planned to accommodate the girls in her apartment and that she promised to pay them N10,000 each every months as remuneration.

She confessed that she did not obtain any document to facilitate their traveling since the route is familiar to her. “I myself, I don’t have any paper because I do not know that I need to collect papers to travel,” she said.

She spoke on how she recruited the girls: “When I came for Easter, I told them where I was staying in Benin that I needed one boy and one girl to take along with me when I’m returning to Mali. My plan was that the boy would be operating the bar while the girl would take care of the restaurant.

So, they brought a girl and a boy to me.

“However, others started coming and said they must follow me. One of them said she was an orphan, two others joined us and started crying that they had nobody to support them. I told them, I didn’t have enough money but they were crying. So, I decided to help them. This one (pointing to one of the girls) came on Sunday morning, the day we wanted to leave Benin. She was crying.

She said she must follow us. I told her that I didn’t have enough money to take us to Mali but if we get to Cotonou, I could make phone call so that they would send money to us. I asked her to go and bring her parents because I could not take anybody away without the consent of her parents, who must also stand as surety. The one that said she didn’t have parents, I asked her to bring her sisters or any close relation.

“Now, in the morning we found this one (Abigael) waiting outside, crying that she must follow us. When I asked her to go and bring her parents, she said no. That was how they started crying. They said that life is tough for them because they don’t have any care from their parents.

It was the way they explained their plight to me that made me to accept them.”