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Wage war on human trafficking too!

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PHOTO: AP

The most developed countries of the world were able to attain rapid industrialization riding on the wings of science and technology. Many Asian countries embraced this technology in the 80’s and are seeing great improvement on their economies. Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister said to his countrymen “I do not see any way out of our vicious circle of poverty except by utilizing the new sources of power which science has put at our disposal”. Nigeria was once a world leader in the palm oil industry, but today it is nowhere near the level of production enjoyed by Indonesia and Malaysia – two countries which use technology better. Our prospect as a nation began to dwindle with the neglect of our unproductive-steel industry that would have been a panacea to our industrial/technological growth, boost our economy and generate employment. The naira in 1980 was at its peak as 1 USD then exchanged for 0.550 Naira, however from the mid-80’s the Nigerian naira’s relationship with the US Dollar (and other foreign currencies) became erratic, till the present day where 1 UDS exchange for close the 400 Naira! These have led to widespread poverty in the land, with strong desire by citizens to relocate abroad for greener pasture. Our professionals are not left out, but they seek to travel, by legal means, as they obtaining visa to travel to these economically-prosperous countries for better economic deals.

Trafficking in persons operates according to the principle of supply and demand. This unlawful industry is built on the pain and suffering of victims, where traffickers and buyers reap the benefits. The Present day Nigeria provides an abundant supply of people who are desperate for a better life, due to the large pool of unemployment and severe economic hardship. These people are easily persuaded to relocate abroad for the promises of a better living standard. They embark on such dangerous voyage via, deserts, Mediterranean Sea, and finally Europe. Few of them get to their destinations in Europe others get stranded in the Middle-East. Women & girls are more vulnerable accounting for about 70% of trafficked persons, and boys account for the remaining 30%. Some would have committed many resources in terms of monetary, emotional and psychological resources before they realize that they have allowed themselves to be boxed into a corner with no feasible exit route. The European Union’s (EU) renewed strategy to stop migrants and refugees travelling across the Mediterranean have led to more people being stuck in the North African country without money or food. The power vacuum in Libya after the fall of Muammar Gaddafi has made human trafficking and people smuggling a booming trade.

Young Nigerians fall victim of these human traffickers, who have organized themselves into powerful syndicates with possible connections in high places. On reaching their destination, Europe or North Africa, the handlers seize their papers making it impossible for victims to return back to the country; thus they become stranded. The ladies are turned into sex slaves and forced to practice prostitution to make ends meet, while others are subjected to economic exploitation such as forced labor. Many of our youths are languishing in various slaves’ camps abroad.

Late last year, 26 Females between ages 18 to 22, believed to be Nigerians, were said to have drowned in an attempt to cross the Mediterranean into Italy from Libya by Italian authorities. The hurried burial, without autopsy, before the date communicated by the Italian Embassy to the Director General, Nigerian agency for prohibition of trafficking in persons (NAPTIP) & the Nigerian Government looks fishy as burial was done 9 days earlier than planned date. Were these ladies molested, killed, bodies mutilated, and horridly buried to cover up? These are question waiting for answers, especially these days where organ-harvesting is a big trade in Europe/Asia.

Nigeria External affairs ministry should be proactive and be on top of the game rather than always taken reactionary measures to stop these incessant and senseless killings of our youths in diaspora. The Nigerian Government should not allow the death and secret burial of this 26 ladies be swept under the carpet like has been done in the past. A strong investigation should be carried out to ascertain the cause of the mysterious deaths of these 26 women. This will be a litmus-test as to whether our government places high premium on lives of its citizens. Funds recovered from looters should be ploughed into the ongoing social/welfare programs, which will includes skill acquisition, sensitization programs to educate our youths from leaving the shores of Nigeria. If these loots are not put into immediate use to quickly re-stimulate the growth of the economy, such monies can be re-looted. National orientation agency should draw up a plan to sensitive and educate Nigerian on dangers and shun illegal travels. The approval of whistleblowing policy in the fight against human trafficking is welcome developments that will encourage people provide useful information to NAPTIP and other relevant agencies, without fear because of the incentives and protection. The Nigerian state must effectively use the media to protect the victims from stigmatization, encourage and give the media incentives for carrying out detailed reporting on human trafficking. Government should increase funding for NAPTIP and their strategic partners to vigorously fight this battle.

Poverty, lack of well-being and socio-economic inequalities make the perfect ground for human trafficking to develop and grow and puts people at risk for sexual-exploit and inhumane treatment. Our government should consider investing in incentive program which will encourage low-income earing families to invest in their children education. The government must now act in diversifying our economy and stop paying lips service, as it is so obvious that mono-product economy (oil) can no longer sustain the Nation’s economy. Also put in place the necessary security & infrastructures (particularly power & good road networks). This will attract foreign investors and our country will in no distant time join the league of industrialized nations and give jobs to our youths. An idle hand (they say) is the devil’s workshop!

• Albert Olawale Oyedokun, an Engineer, lives in Lagos


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