Prostitution is as old as humanity, but the trade has however assumed international dimension, dealing a deadly blow to Nigeria’s global image. The situation has degenerated to a sorry reality of a secondary slavery, OMONU NELSON writes.
The Nigeria criminal system prohibits national and trans-national trafficking of women for commercial sex or forced labour. Nigeria is a signatory to the 2000 United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children.
Despite this, prostitution remains a booming business in Nigeria and beyond.
If the biblical account of Rahab, the harlot, and King Hosea, who forgot his crown or staff of authority in the house of a prostitute is anything to go by, it means, prostitution is as old as humanity.
However, the trade that has remained local for time immemorial has been internationalised, giving way to criminal gangs to cash in on the vulnerability of the girl child to be lured or forced into prostitution abroad through trafficking.
The trade has found its way to become a cash cow for criminal elements, who smile to the banks, while Nigerian girls are held in inhuman conditions around the world.
Though, the real reason for the surge in internationalisation of prostitution is still debatable, some believe it is as a result of rising poverty, unemployment and general decline in social and economic conditions. Others believe it is as a result of tendency to greed and avarice.
Whatever the cause of the surge in this anomaly, Nigeria, a country, located on the south of the Sahara reputed for its huge economic and human resources, has been caught in this web of international prostitution.
This act by Nigerian girls abroad, coupled with other criminal records by some of its citizens has severely affected Nigeria’s global image. The situation is so worrisome that the Italian Ambassador to Nigeria, recently, revealed that about 1,500 Nigerians are in Italian prisons.
Good chunk of this number are trafficked girls and illegal migrants.
It is therefore, very difficult to draw a clear line between human trafficking and international prostitution.
Nigeria had its tail between its leg, when the National Agency for the Prohibition of Traffic in Persons (NAPTIP), recently revealed that traffickers now sell Nigerian girls for CFA 350,000, which is equivalent of 400,000 naira to slave masters at Burkina Faso-Mali border.
This revelation formed part of the report of a Fact-finding Delegation to Mali. Presenting the report before the Session of ECOWAS Parliament in Abuja, the Director General of the NAPTIP, Dame Julie Okah-Donli said, most of the trafficked persons are tricked to leave their livelihoods in Nigeria for “greener pastures” in ‘Mali-sia’ (Malaysia).
In her words, “On arrival at the border town between Burkina Faso and Mali, many of the girls are sold off for CFA 350,000 (400,000 naira); and their new owners then make them to pay back about CFA 1.8m (2 million naira) because CFA 1000 is equivalent of 600 naira.”
She said her Agency rescued 275 Nigerian girls trafficked to Mali, while about 20,000 are still in servitude in the country. She also revealed that about 50 are awaiting repatriation as at December 2018.
“The figure kept increasing with 50 Nigerian Girls being trafficked every day. Some of the victims are abducted from Nigeria, including some that arrived in School uniforms,” she said.
She further revealed that while some Nigerian girls are trafficked mainly to the mining areas in the south and central parts of Mali, substantial number is trafficked to rebel-held areas in the North, where become radicalised.
“Most of the Madams force the victims to sleep with numerous men without using any protection, hence the high incidence of sexually transmitted diseases and other ailments among the victim-community,” Okah-Donli said.
She bemoaned a situation whereby, the victims are treated as salves; and less than second-class citizens by some of the Malians and law enforcement agencies.
In her word, “The Malian authorities collect ‘taxes’ from the victims on a weekly basis, and sell condoms and other medications compulsorily to the victims every month.
“This development is making Malian women grumble that Nigerian women are taking their men, and there are fears of imminent xenophobic attacks.
She revealed that between November and December of 2018, three Nigerian girls were killed. Okah-Donli mentioned a notorious woman who has 150 girls under her control was apprehended with the support of the Malian Authorities, and is currently serving a three-year jail term.
Traffickers she said “no longer accompany their victims to Mali, but “waybill” them from a particular motor park in Cotonou, Benin Republic for onward transmission to Mali.”
Speaking on the duration of enslavement, Okah-Donli revealed that “The victims are usually able to pay up within six to eight months, and then go into business for themselves.
Similarly, the immediate past NAPTIP Director General, Beatrice Jeedy-Agba had in a parley with the House of Representatives Committee on Diaspora said that over 50,000 girls aged between 9 to 17 years have been trafficked for sexual exploitation from the country.
She also disclosed that sixty percent of the prostitutes in Turin, Italy and Antwerp in Belgium are Nigerian girls.
Mrs Jedy-Agba explained that the statistics were generated by TAMPEP, an Italian non-governmental orgainsation working on anti-trafficking reports, adding that about five of these girls die every quarter under explicable circumstances traced to ‘tavern brawls, mafia terrorist groups, extortionist madams, serial killers, location fights, race quarrels, HIV/AIDS and drug abuse.’
She revealed that a recent fact finding mission conducted by the agency confirmed the existence of many brothels in Bamako, Mopti, Kayes, Sikasso, Gao all in Mali populated by young Nigerian girls mostly between the ages of 14 and 17.
According to her, there are large number of Nigerian women regularly taken to other West and Central African countries, primarily Gabon, Cameroon, Ghana, Chad, Benin, Togo, Niger, Burkina Faso and The Gambia for sexual exploitation under the guise of taking them abroad for employment opportunities.
Not left out in their dastardly scheme of the traffickers under the cover of the annual pilgrimage saying ‘it appears that the traffickers have devised an insidious plan to desecrate the Holy land of Mecca with trafficked victims.
She noted that ‘over 1000 Nigerians were deported from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for trafficking related offences. Among the deportees were over three hundred and seventy minors between the ages of six and thirteen.”
An estimated 1,863 Nigerians who came to Russia last year for the FIFA World Cup are still on the loose in the country, more than two months after their Fan IDs expired.
Dozens of them, who were young women, have been forced into prostitution by the traffickers who brought them into the country under the guise of being football fans. Blessing Obuson, a teenager from Edo state was one of them.
According to a Reuters report, Blessing thought Russia’s soccer World Cup would be an opportunity to find a job and flew into Moscow from Nigeria last June on a fan ID. Instead, she found herself forced to work as a prostitute.
Fan IDs allowed visa-free entry to World Cup supporters with match tickets, but did not confer the right to work. Despite that, Obuson, 19, said she had hoped åto work as a shop assistant to provide for her two-year-old daughter and younger siblings back in Nigeria.
Instead, she said she was locked in a flat on the outskirts of Moscow and forced into sex work along with 11 other Nigerian women who were supervised by a madam, also from Nigeria.
“I cried really hard. But what choice did I have?” Obuson said after being freed by anti-slavery activists.
She said her madam had confiscated her passport and told her she’d only get it back once she’d worked off a fictional debt of $50,000.
Obuson told her story to a rare English-speaking client who got anti-slavery activists involved.
Two Nigerians were later arrested and charged with human trafficking after striking a deal to sell Obuson for two million rubles (around $30,000) to a police officer posing as a client, according to her lawyer, statements from prosecutors, and evidence presented at court hearings in the case attended by Reuters journalists.
Obuson’s case is not isolated. Reuters met eight Nigerian women aged between 16 and 22 brought into Russia on fan IDs and forced into sex work. All said they had endured violence.
“They don’t give you food for days, they slap you, they beat you, they spit in your face… It’s like a cage,” said one 21-year old woman, who declined to be named.
In September, a Nigerian woman was killed by a man who refused to pay for sex, police said. The Nigerian embassy later identified her as 22-year old Alifat Momoh who had come to Russia from Nigeria with a fan ID.
Experts are of the belief that an improvement in domestic socio-economic realities will help to arrest the out flow of illegal migration and by extension, international prostitution.