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In Delta, stakeholders meet to prevent, detect and punish human trafficking

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Front row: Dame Julie Okah-Donli, DG, NAPTIP; Peter Mrakpor Esq.; Delta State Attorney General & Commissioner for Justice/ Chairman, Delta State Taskforce on Human Trafficking & Irregular Migration; Miiko Anderson, Senior Deputy District Attorney for Fresno County, USA and Joseph Abang Esq., Attorney General & Commissioner for Justice, Cross River State; Markus Green Esq., Assistant General Counsel, for Pfizer Inc., and counsel to AGA/AAP Advisory Board, Chief Anthony Idigbe (SAN) Senior Partner at Panuka Attorneys & Solicitors, and other dignitaries at the workshop.<br />

The global fight against trafficking in persons and other related vices came under scrutiny, in Asaba, Delta State, as the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking In Persons (NAPTIP) engaged stakeholders on how to tackle the menace.

Attention was drawn to the United Nations’ (UN) Parlemo Protocol, which is to prevent, suppress and punish trafficking in persons, especially women and children. The Protocol supplements the UN Convention Against Transnational Organised Crime.

Themed: ‘Winning the Fight Against Human Trafficking in Nigeria,’ the topics were carefully chosen to reflect the mood, as it was collectively agreed that human trafficking is an evil trade ravaging the society, and must be uprooted. Unfortunately, the criminal activity remains attractive, despite concerted efforts by government and conviction of 404 traffickers, with several others being prosecuted across the country.

It was fireworks at the two-day workshop, organised by the Attorneys General Aliance/African Alliance Partnership, AGA/AAP, in conjunction with Delta State Task Force on Human Trafficking, as international and local legal luminaries, top security operatives, the clergy, and human rights activists debated reasons, shortfalls and ways out of the web human traffickers have cleverly knitted.

However, there was a consensus that lack of good governance, discriminatory traditions against women, greed, failed family values, and low self-esteem are some of the contributory factors that must be tackled, especially by faith-based organisations, seen as the greatest societal influencers, if the battle against perpetrators is to succeed.

It was also agreed that the main cause of human trafficking in Nigeria is the complete disregard for human rights. Mostly affected are women and children, who are not only ignored in the implementation of laws, but are also often viewed as objects that can be sold, and forced into slavery, sexual exploitation and forced marriages. Other causes listed were impunity, poverty, natural disasters, search for a better life and deliberate neglect of the downtrodden.

A Senior Deputy District Attorney, Human Trafficking Unit, Miiko Anderson, from the United States elaborated on the unique dynamics between the trafficker, victim and the community while noting the importance of collaboration among countries and the need for preventive actions.

She said: “Human trafficking is a federal and state crime that involves recruiting, habouring, providing, obtaining and transporting a person for the purpose of labour or commercial sex; through the use of force or cohesion. It is exploitation for the purpose of profit, and is a deprivation of personal liberty, which is sustained and substantiated.”

Markus Green Esq., a former Executive Assistant Attorney General for the state of New Jersey, United States of America, currently serving on the AGA/AAP Advisory board, which provides training for prosecutors, judges, and prosecutors in the areas of transnational crimes in various African countries, said: “Human trafficking is estimated to be a $150bn industry that affects twenty-seven million people globally. We work with attorneys general across Africa nations. We are in eight countries combating human trafficking, one of the most serious transnational crimes.  

“We are at a crossroads as a society. We have to choose whether we have to stand up for the voiceless or stand down for the victims of this terrible tragedy. Unlike other crimes, trafficked victims have been oppressed over and over again. So, it is important to ensure that the justice system does not continue to victimise them again.

“So many victims are treated like the defendants, which should not be. So, we have brought experts from Kenya and the USA to show the best practice to work on how we can prosecute these cases, and how to best serve the victims. How do we make survivors out of the victims? The Attorney general of Delta State is a great partner. We are here to train experts, and we hope to return to train the judges. We have done 14 programmes round Nigeria…”

He explained that one of their major challenges is culture, as some people involved in human trafficking return home with the money and are able to buy cars and built houses, which serves as a great incentive.

He said: “So, others will ask, ‘who am I not to be involved, if it results in houses and or cars?’ It is a very difficult argument, as poverty is one of the great attractions to traffickers. So, what we are trying to do is focus more on children, because no one can argue that a boy or girl under 14 could consent to anything…”

Beyond cultural challenges, he explained that they are trying to make destination countries frustrate traffickers.

“One of the misunderstandings is that countries of origin often get the blame for trafficking, but we all know it takes two to tango. So, what we are doing is to get the countries that are providing the customers to countries to cooperate. Unfortunately, not all of them are cooperating, so we need to do better in that aspect.

“Countries need to work together. It takes individuals in the justice system to stand up for victims, to work towards more perfect justice system. Just like the criminals are organised, we must also organise the justice system. What I am taking away from this event is that slow progress is better than no progress.

“We won’t solve this problem in two days, but every step, every little effort will help to eliminate this terrible tragedy. We need all hands on deck. The judiciary, the prosecutor and the defence lawyers must be trained so that we do not victimise the victims…”

The Director-General of NAPTIP, Dame Julie Okah-Donli, said corruption and security agencies are frustrating justice. She described the race for menial jobs and slavery abroad as a lack of self-esteem. She advocated a total national reorientation on moral values and self-esteem as the solution that will help stem the ugly trend.

An advocate of the High Court of Kenya, who is a member of Kenyan Judiciary Taskforce on Informal and/or Alternative Justice Mechanism, Anita Nyonjong, laid the blame squarely at the doorstep of poor governance and discriminatory traditions against women in Africa.

She said: “After the two-day sincere conversations by stakeholders, I am taking away the fact that more people are becoming aware of their roles as citizens. Representatives of Delta State government also realise that they have a big role to play in the area of human trafficking…”

Nyonjong, a researcher, analysing the impact of strategic litigation on torture in detention with the Open Society Justice Initiative said: “Delta State has so many resources that could be tapped for greater development. I think it is something that will support the state’s economy to end young people embarking on such dangerous trips to Europe. The leaders should just try and take care of these young ones.”

The workshop coordinator, Barr. Ebelechukwu Enedah said: “In the last decade, we witnessed substantial progress in the efforts to combat trafficking in persons, with a number of countries enacting specific legislations against human trafficking, and further implemented programmes to assist victims detected within their borders and those returned from other countries.  

“The advent of the UN Trafficking Protocol to the UN Convention against Transnational Crime, which was signed years ago, got signatory countries to take steps to comply with the provisions of the protocol. Through the support of UN Office on Drugs and Crime, NAPTIP recently established taskforces on human trafficking in some states of the country.

“The establishment of these bodies reflects a multi-sectorial response from both the public and private stakeholders, to raise awareness, protect victims, increase their access to justice, as well as provide support for the prosecution of traffickers.”
 
“In Nigeria, though different laws have been enacted, in addition to efforts of different states and government agencies in combating the menace, only the implementation of these laws and the sensitisation of the epidemic will assure the success of the fight against human trafficking…”

Considering the progress made so far, she said stakeholders must continue to come together to address the areas where the crime intersects with trend in globalisation and the new challenges presented.

Joseph Abang Esq., Cross River State Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice said: “We have to put our efforts together, as the Cross River example has shown, being a state bordering Cameroon and Fernanda Po, among others. We are by the Atlantic Ocean with neighbouring countries, when people are taken and ferried across, negotiations become difficult.

“Most orphanage homes are conduit pipes. Two of such have been closed down, and their principals are cooling off in jail. Slave trade has since ended, and any attempt to re-enact it would be resisted. It is apparent that some willingly make themselves available, while others are taken, unaware of what they will face out there.”

Delta State Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Mr. Peter Mrakpor, had set the tune in his welcome address, saying, “Perpetrators of the heinous crime have become more daring in their approaches, which therefore means that stakeholders must not relent in the battle against the menace.

“The problem in Nigeria is not merely that of poverty of the pocket, but of the mind, which is worrisome, as the country’s future is at stake. The crime of trafficking in persons is a complex and deeply disturbing menace, which is growing and has expanded significantly to the extent that it has come to represent one of the world’s most pressing human rights violations.

“This is particularly in the area of trafficking in children and teenagers, whether for sexual exploitation, slavery, organ sales or the recruitment of child beggars or soldiers. There is, therefore, the need to strengthen our enforcement mechanism, both preventive and punitive, internationally and domestically…”


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