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We went through inhumane treatment in Burkina Faso, victims recount

By Michael Danjuma, Katsina 
05 October 2019   |   3:02 am
The 23 victims of human trafficking and modern-day slavery rescued by the Katsina State government from Burkina Faso have recounted how they went through inhumane treatment and made to work long hours without pay.

The 23 victims of human trafficking and modern-day slavery rescued by the Katsina State government from Burkina Faso have recounted how they went through inhumane treatment and made to work long hours without pay.

They also said they were made to live in squalid conditions and slept in an uncompleted building, exposing them to the elements and rodents.

Some of them who spoke with journalists in Katsina shortly after they were rescued, said due to the situation they found themselves, they had to beg for food and other necessities to survive.

One of the victims, Abbas Audu, said they only agreed to go to Burkina Faso after assurances of decent wages and favourable living conditions by their prospective employer.

He, however, lamented that the harsh condition in which they found themselves led to several of them falling sick, while it took the assistance of sympathisers before they could get drugs and treatment.

“Some of us became sick and had to depend on some Nigerians and immigrants from neighbouring Niger Republic for drugs and other needs.

“When the suffering became unbearable, we decided to speak with them to pay us our wages and let us go. But they refused. Our condition continued like that until the intervention of the Sarkin Hausawa in the area,” he recalled.

Another victim, Abubakar Hassan, added that they worked as slaves for three months and had lost hope of ever coming back to Nigeria until their rescued.

Hassan, however, noted that the suffering became unbearable and they decided they had to do something about it, adding: “Some of us decided to escape and five managed to do so. They trekked long distance and were picked up by a sympathetic driver who ferried them to Lagos State.”

He said their benefactor became alarmed on learning of the five that escaped and measures were put in place to check further escape from reoccurring, saying seven of them later decided they were done with the work, since they were not receiving any wages, and informed those that brought them to the country about wanting to quit. But their request was not granted and the authorities were informed about their intentions.

The victims commended the effort of the Katsina State Government for rescuing them from Burkina Faso.

It was gathered that 21 of the victims are from Katsina State, while 10 are from neighbouring Zamfara, but all were residents of Kankara Council of Katsina State before they were lured with the promise of lucrative jobs in the French-speaking country. They never had the inkling that they would be victims of human traffickers and be tricked into slavery in the country. 

They had bid friends and loved ones goodbye before leaving Kankara Council for Benin Republic, en route to Burkina Faso. A man, simply identified as Usman Wagini, had approached one of them and asked him to recruit some able-bodied men to work in Burkina Faso, mainly to do with excavation work for laying underground cables for one of the mobile telecommunication companies in the country. 

When they arrived Benin Republic, they were handed over to a businesswoman, who thereafter took them to Gaoua, a town of about 150 kilometres from Ouagadougou, the country’s capital, where she kept them in servitude without food and money for some time.

Some of then took ill in the process and had to depend on sympathetic Nigerians and Nigeriens in the area for food and other necessities. It was after spending several weeks, living in squalor and working without pay that it actually dawned on them that something was amiss.

According to Abubakar Hassan: “On arrival at Burkina Faso, we were given uniforms and other work tools to commence work and all of us didn’t waste time to start work, because we were anticipating our first payday.

“Wagini and the woman, however, began to show a different side of themselves, as they were no longer friendly as they used to, making excuses to be away, sometimes for weeks, and left us hungry and without money.

“Since I began work in Burkina Faso, I saw Wagini only once, as he was away most of the time. He told us one day that he wanted to go back home to Nigeria and would spend 14 days. That was last time I saw him.

“The woman overworked us for hours on end. But she didn’t give pay us any wages or money for food. To our dismay, we were working without getting anything in return and living in poor conditions. We lived in such condition for three months.”

Hassan, who hails from Kankara Council, however, said their situation soon changed after a friend to the local leader of the Hausa community in the area, or Sarkin Hausawa, met them and asked why they were living in such condition.

He stated: “He was passing by one day and he saw us. He came and asked us if we were Hausa by tribe. We answered in the affirmative. He then asked us where we came from and we told him we were from Katsina. He told us he was also from Katsina.

“He then asked us why our condition was the way it was and we narrated to him how we found ourselves in the situation. He then promised to speak to the Sarkin Hausawa about us, so that he could wade in and assist us.”

Hassan said because of the suffering they were going through at the time, some of them decided to escape, explaining: “We were originally 39 in all and there were those among us that decided to escape due to hardship we were facing. Five of us managed to escape.

“When the woman learnt about it, she panicked and tried to put measures in place to keep us from escaping. We continued to work, but one day, we said to ourselves that the suffering had become unbearable and that it was time to do something about it.

“Seven of us said they wanted to leave immediately and we called one Abubakar, who is a friend to Wagini, to tell Wagini on phone of their intention. But the woman went and reported us to the authorities. She said we could not leave till her money was paid back, including monies used in buying tools we used for work. She even refused to let us go after it was agreed that she would be paid for expenses incurred.

“We even reminded her that she was yet to pay us our wages and was hardly giving us anything to eat, that she allows us to go, but she refused. For the three months we were there, we had lost all hope of ever coming back to Nigeria.

“They refused to tell us what they would pay us as wages and didn’t give us money for food. We realised that these people were up to no good and had no good intentions for us and that we had become slaves working for them.”

Several other victims, who spoke to journalists, including Abbas Usman from Kankara Council and Aliyu Gusau, an indigene of Zamfara State, corroborated Hassan’s narration.

Both men and 21 others have however been released to the Katsina State Government last Wednesday and were received by Governor Aminu Masari a few days ago.

The governor’s special adviser on Drugs, Narcotics and Trafficking, Hamza Borodo, who led the state officials to Burkina Faso to receive them, said 23 persons were brought back to Nigeria, while two others refused to come back.

Borodo said: “We later understood that the two persons were agents to Wagini, who took them there and sold them to a businesswoman.”

Masari said the Nigerian Ambassador to Burkina Faso, Mrs. Ramatu Mohammed, drew the attention of the state government to the plight of the victims through a letter about their presence in that country. 

“Immediately we received the letter, we dispatched our officials to Burkina Faso to rescue the victims. The government would continue to liaise with the foreign missions in situations like this and see what we can do to return Nigerians back home.

“What is more important is that we have cut bureaucracy to the lowest level, otherwise we would be here writing letters, contacting this and contacting that. What is most important to us is for them to be back home, and they are back home safely, and with a little amount, because we didn’t spend much to bring them all the way from Burkina Faso to Katsina in Nigeria.”

He assured that the government was working on measures to forestall a repeat of such incident in the future. 

It was gathered that Wagini has gone into hiding shortly after the incident came to light, but his mobile phone numbers were said to be in the possession of security and other government officials, while the Beninois businesswoman was reported to have been apprehended by the local authorities in Gaoua, a commune of Poni Province in southern Burkina Faso.