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Raising The Bar In The War Against Illicit Trafficking In Persons

By Odita Sunday
01 August 2021   |   6:00 am
Every year, dozens of men, women and children fall into the hands of illicit traffickers, in their own countries and abroad. Victims are exploited in restaurants, farms, construction sites, hotels, factories, markets, mines and so on. As custodian of the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organised Crimes and the supplementing Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and…

human trafficking. Photo Fact Retriever

Every year, dozens of men, women and children fall into the hands of illicit traffickers, in their own countries and abroad. Victims are exploited in restaurants, farms, construction sites, hotels, factories, markets, mines and so on.

As custodian of the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organised Crimes and the supplementing Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, UNODC (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime) is uniquely placed to undertake research of global scope on the crime of human trafficking.

According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Nigeria has become one of the leading African countries in human trafficking, with interior, cross-border and cross-country trafficking. UNODC’s report showed that dozens of Nigerian women have been forced into labour and prostitution in other countries causing pundits to believe that the government is not doing enough to check the tide.

Trafficking. Photo Time Magazine

To tackle this, the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP) has pledged to build on the existing operational platform, with collaboration, and policies to ensure the achievement of its mandate both nationally and internationally as it relates to member states of the Palermo Convention in order to effectively curtail the incidence of human trafficking and irregular migration not only in Nigeria but within the Sub-Sahara Africa.

According to the commander of NAPTIP, Lagos Zone, Aganran Ganiu Alao, “Human Trafficking continues to pose a threat globally, to countries due to its various forms, interaction with other criminal acts and effect on the individual victim(s) and society at large. The Nigerian government since its response to this menace with the domestication of the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children of December 2000 Palermo- Italy through the enactment of the Trafficking in Persons (Prohibition) Law Enforcement and Administration Act 2003 re-enacted 2015 and the establishment of the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (Agency), the government has continued to wage an unrelenting fight against human trafficking.

“Sustaining a five-pronged attack through Policy formation, preventive efforts through enlightenment campaigns geared at empowering vulnerable populations in the country (especially youths) to make informed decisions especially about migration plans and not fall prey to the baits of traffickers, protecting and providing assistance to rescued victims of TIP, prosecuting suspected traffickers and working assiduously to get as many state and non-state actors involved in the fight against Trafficking in Persons.

Trafficking. Photo Time Magazine

“Is the fight being won? I will say that despite the clandestine nature of the crime and the unfortunate continuous existence of predisposing factors (social, economic), the government has recorded notable successes and made inroads in efforts to reduce to the barest minimum the proliferation of human trafficking activities in the country especially in the area of awareness creation and law enforcement response which has led to the conviction of over 480 traffickers, rescued and rehabilitated over 16000 victims of human trafficking.

“The Director-General of the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP), Senator Basheer Garba Mohammed has promised to build on the existing operational platform, collaboration, and policies to ensure the achievement of the Agency’s mandate both nationally and internationally as it relates to member states of the Palermo Convention in order to effectively curtail the incidence of human trafficking and irregular migration not only in Nigeria but within the Sub-Sahara Africa,” he concluded.

State Of Affairs
If this is the case, then, “We should be asking ourselves how we slide from being in tier one in the global index ranking, during the period of DG, Carol Nduguba, to zero level,” Crime Editor of New Telegraph newspaper, Juliana Francis opined.

Going further, Francis expressed that the government and not the agency should be blamed because like labourers ready to work but are without tools to till the land, the personnel in NAPTIP cannot function if they are not funded.

Francis noted that during Nduguba’s era, the achievements, replete in the print and broadcast media, were loud enough. And because NAPTIP was seriously working then, a good number of international agencies partnered them in investigations and training.

“Back then, their investigators used to travel to different states to make arrests and rescue victims. Some agencies shouldn’t be denied funding and NAPTIP is one of those. Although human trafficking, which is a hydra-headed crime, attracting mafia syndicates or cartels, may not be completely eradicated, but it can be checked or curtailed.”

Traffickers capitalise on the desperation of young Nigerians, looking for jobs, to hoodwink and then traffic them due to the bad economy. And reiterating the stance of Francis is a Human Rights lawyer and founder, Crime Victims Foundation (CRFIVON), Gloria Egbuji, who also opined that NAPTIP is not winning the war against illicit trafficking in persons.

Besides the “Investigations (which) linger on for too long,” she argued that they have not been able to penetrate the hinterland to see what is going on.

Highlighting her case as an example, she said that she has two trafficking cases that have lasted for 5 years. “The trafficked child is 5-year-old since age 0 still no court hearing yet.”

Human Rights lawyer, Sarah Ene Unobe also believes that the government is failing in its assignment of checking international crime. She said that the “Government is not winning the battle against human trafficking, rather it is creating more reasons for human trafficking. The spate of insecurity and poverty level in the country is a fundamental reason so many people are fleeing the country in search of the safety of their lives and property.”

Unlike when people left the shores of the country in search of greener pastures, she noted that this time, they leave because of the present government’s intolerance to dissenting voice, wanton abuse of human rights, kidnapping, banditry, terrorism, armed robbery, rape, destruction of farmland by herders without repercussions, naira depression and unsafe schools causing NAPTIP to be overwhelmed with increasing cases of human trafficking.

“It is on record that under-developed countries are fertile ground for recruitment of person who is being trafficked, so the ultimate answer to human trafficking menace in Nigeria is to provide good governance based on the rule of law and social justice.”

Despite the criticisms, the immediate past DG of NAPTIP, Julie Okah-Donli, acknowledging the efforts of NAPTIP says that “Nigeria has been stepped down from tier 2 watch list to tier 2 in the trafficking in-person report and that means significant progress in terms of tackling the scourge of this progress can also be seen in terms of the number of convictions secured as well as a sustained increase in awareness and sensitization campaigns all over the country.”

However, because human trafficking is a global and complex crime that keeps metamorphosing into different patterns constantly, fighting the war must accommodate synergy between governmental and non-governmental Organisations, and other relevant agencies must complement the work of NAPTIP in fighting this scourge by sharing information, referring traffickers and victims speedily rather than trying to do the work of NAPTIP.

Abuses and Experiences
This year’s theme for the World Day Against Trafficking in Persons, “Victims’ Voices Lead the Way”, highlights the importance of listening to and learning from survivors of human trafficking. Survivors are key actors in the fight against human trafficking. They play a crucial role in establishing effective measures to prevent this crime, identifying and rescuing victims and supporting them on their road to rehabilitation.

Many victims of human trafficking have experienced ignorance or misunderstanding in their attempts to get help. They have had traumatic post-rescue experiences during identification interviews and legal proceedings. Some have faced victimisation and punishment for crimes they were forced to commit by their traffickers. Others have been subjected to stigmatisation or received inadequate support.

Learning from victims’ experiences and turning their suggestions into concrete actions will lead to a more victim-centred and effective approach in combating human trafficking.

In line with this, Francis recommended that “the agency should be funded, there should be a more deliberate partnership with international organisations. The judiciary should show marked seriousness in handling issues that have to do with human trafficking. Too many cases are pending in courts. There should be a way to protect victims so that they wouldn’t end up being hostile witnesses. They become hostile witnesses after the members of the cartels had been able to corner them, threatening them with death.

“A hostile witness will ensure that cases against traffickers are never won; this will naturally send a wrong signal to other victims.”

“We must ensure that survivors once victimised never fall victim again and we can do this by ending the impunity of silence by offering victims a platform for their voices to lead the way. We must provide more shelters and holistic interventions which include the provision of medical, legal, psychological and humanitarian support to victims so that traffickers do not take advantage of their vulnerability. We must also ensure that justice is served and perpetrators made to pay for their crimes speedily and victims compensated,” Okah-Donli concluded.