It is no more business as usual for perpetrators of human trafficking and illegal migration in Edo State and their collaborators anywhere in the world. The Oba of Benin, His Royal Majesty, Oba Ewuarell, has prayed the ancestors to deal with anyone who henceforth violates the royal order to stop the modern day slavery and evil trade in humans that has brought avoidable deaths and global shame to Edo land. The Benin monarch made this clear on Friday, 9th of March, 2018, when he summoned  native doctors, traditional priests and priestesses, enigies, edionweres, market women, community leaders, etc. in Edo State to an epochal meeting aimed at ending human trafficking and illegal migration in Edo State.

Oba Ewaure at the special meeting, ordered  hundreds of male and female native doctors gathered at the palace to revoke all the curses they placed on victims of human trafficking and illegal migration in Edo State at the instance of agents and sponsors of the crime which he said had caused avoidable deaths and brought great shame to Edo land.

Reactions have since then been trailing the Benin monarch’s historical pronouncements. BARRISTER NDUKA NWAWWENNE, Benin zonal commander of the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP), spoke with FRANCIS UMENDU ODUPUTE on the matter. Excerpts:

 

 

Barr Nduka Nwawwenne

Barr Nduka Nwawwenne

SIR, WHY ARE WE HERE…?

We’re here at the instance of His Royal Majesty, Omo N’ Oba N’EdoUkuAkpolokpolor, Oba Ewuare II, Ogidigan, who has called all the native doctors, juju priests and priestess, to look at the issue of administering oaths by some juju priests and priestesses on victims of human trafficking because, victims when oaths are administered on them they’re not able to open up, and if they are not able to open up we can’t do our investigation. So we believe that with the intervention of His Royal Majesty, half of our case are already done because the victims will open up, we will be able to arrest the traffickers, we’ll be able to rescue some other victims and our investigation will be properly done, which at the end of the day will bring convictions to traffickers and it will deter others from engaging in it.

SO, WHAT IS YOUR TAKE ON THE OBA’S PRONOUNCEMENT?

What has happened here today is a giant stride in the fight against human trafficking. Before now perpetuators of the evil trade on human beings use native doctors to force their victims to take oaths with certain parts of their bodies which is used as a medium to spiritually hold them captive until they paid fully for the money spent by the agents to traffic them overseas for undisclosed jobs, where they end up in prostitution, forced labour and slavery. Many victims out there are not able to open up to us because of the oaths they have been made to take, and because of this we are not able to rescue the victims and to prosecute offenders of human trafficking…but now that His Royal Majesty has intervened and made the native doctors to revoke their curses on the victims, our job has been made much easier…

THIS IS A GLOBAL PROBLEM RIGHT NOW AND NIGERIA IS AT THE CENTER STAGE AND BENIN CITY IS THE NUCLEUS OF THE WHOLE THING, EDO STATE PARTICULARLY AND IN EDO STATE IT IS THE YOUTHS THAT ARE ACUALLY THE MAIN VICTIMS OF THIS; WHAT IS THE PLAN OF NAPTIP TO GET THIS MESSAGE ACROSS TO YOUTHS TO BE ABLE TO HELP THEM?

Yes, Government is very concerned about this. Taking care of victims of human trafficking is central to NAPTIP law. There are plans to empower a lot of them; there are also plans to send those who are ready to go back to schools to school. But the most important thing is – at the end of the day the victims will be rehabilitated and reintegrated back to the society and, of course, the society will be the better for it when they are fully reintegrated and pick up with their lives again. So they are not going to be abandoned, the government and all other stake holders are in it to make sure that the victims get on with their lives again through reintegration and rehabilitation processes.

AFTER THE STRATEGIC MEETING OF LAST MAY, 2016, WHEN THE EDO GOVERNMENT BROUGHT STAKEHOLDERS TOGETHER TO THINK-TANK ON HOW TO CURB HUMAN TRAFFICKING, YOUR D-G WAS THERE DURING THE EVENT AND SHE MADE PRESENTATIONS OF WHAT NAPTIP IS DOING AND CALLED ON NGOs TO ASSIST IN EDUCATION, AWARENESS CREATION AND OTHER MEANS THAT CAN BE USED THAT YOUTHS CAN BE ENLIGHTENED AND HELPED OUT OF THIS PROBLEM. HOW CAN NAPTIP SUPPORT NGOs TO PARTNER NAPTIP…?

Yes, the law establishing NAPTIP is quite clear – NAPTIP cannot do it alone; so we need synergy, we need the collaboration of all non-governmental organizations and other development partners to make sure that issues of human trafficking is brought to the barest minimum. We collaborate with NGOs to go to schools, to go to communities, to go to target youth organizations, market places and all that, to raise the awareness on issues of human trafficking.

So we can support them very well; yesterday we had a sensitization campaign somewhere at Ekiosa market and we collaborated with even students from the Federal Polytechnic, Auchi. They came all the way from Auchi to collaborate with us and we had a wonderful sensitization. So we can support the NGOs, in terms of technical support – for now. I can’t say anything about financial support because we get our allocations from the federal government. But we can give technical supports to NGOs, partner with them to even carry out the sensitization in the first place and that partnership goes a long way to also let the international community, development partners, know that we are collaborating with critical stakeholders to bring the issues of human trafficking to an end.

SO FAR, WE HEARD THAT THERE IS SHELTER IN BENIN CITY… CAN YOU TELL US MORE ABOUT THIS SHELTER AND HOW IT’S BEEN HELPFUL SO FAR?

Yes, taking care of victims of human trafficking is central to NAPTIP law and we have a shelter in Benin City. Apart from that all zonal commands – 9 Zonal commands – are attached to the shelter including Abuja, the headquarters. The victims of human trafficking are brought into the shelter where they are counseled, first of all, by psycho-social experts, counselors and care-givers, for at least two weeks during which period we also take care of their health needs. We have a sick bay manned by a nurse who takes care of the health needs of victims of human trafficking. But where the nurse cannot take care of these, we do referrals. We collaborate with the Military Base Hospital and the Zuma Brother Hospital here in Benin where we send victims of human trafficking so that their health challenges can be solved. So the shelter is a place where victims are brought in, they are debriefed, they’re counseled so that we’ll be able to know the choices they want to make in terms of rehabilitation; we don’t force them to pick up any trade. But whatever they’re going to choose we plan how we are going to send them for training in various vocational skills –  catering and hotel management, fashion, hairdressing and cosmetology, bead-making and all that. We send them to these trainings for 6 months after which they are empowered. We look for shop for them. They can equally look for shop where they want to operate from. But whenever they are empowered with trades and vocational skills they have learnt, we do follow up by monitoring what is happening in their shops. So there’s a holistic plan because, that is the only way they can avoid been re-trafficked.

EDO STATE IS KNOWN FOR CULTURE AND ARTS; AS A MATTER OF FACT, ART AND CULTURE IS OUR WEALTH AND THOSE YOUTHS, THEY’RE FULL OF CREATIVE ABILITIES. IF SOME STAKEHOLDERS WANT TO SUPPORT YOUR EFFORTS AT THE SHELTER WITH MAYBE CREATIVE TRAININGS THAT WILL EMPOWER THOSE YOUTHS WITH ART THERAPHY AND CREATIVE ART AND CULTURAL SKILLS, IS THERE ROOM FOR THAT?

Answer: Sure, we’re ready to partner with any stakeholder, any NGO that would help us with our victims of human trafficking to train them…. Anybody that expresses interest and there’s a trainer or there is an NGO who would want to handle that, of course we’ll refer them to him, well make an arrangement for that. ..

…AT THE SHELTER?

Answer: No, we don’t do the training at the shelter because we operate a closed shelter; the victims don’t come out during the counseling because we have care-givers, we have the matron, we have cooks that take care of them there. It’s at the end of it all – for at least 2 weeks – that the training can commence. Because, after 2 weeks we reunite them with their families and from their places of abode they can access whatever training that is available.

WHAT DO YOU EXPECT TO BE THE RESULT OF THEROYAL FATHER’S MEETING WITH THE NATIVE DOCTORS, JUJU PRIESTS AND THE REST OF THEM…?

You know, our Royal Father, the Oba, whenever he makes pronouncement, everybody must comply. That is why NAPTIP finds it very gladdening to see that our Royal Father, His Royal Majesty is intervening in this. We expect that after this intervention, a lot of our work is half done. Because so many victims go for oaths taking with juju priests in shrines and all that, and the moment the Oba has made his pronouncement I’m sure that they will get to know that what they’re doing does not help the agency in any way. Now that the pronouncement is made, I tell you that we have solved half of the cases of issues of human trafficking because they’ll comply and they will no longer take victims on oath taking and all that, because the moment they’re administered with oaths they don’t open up and when they don’t open up we can’t do our cases. So with this positive intervention by His Royal Majesty it’s a world record, and we’re very positive that it’s going to produce results and we’re very grateful to His Royal Majesty, to the Director General of NAPTIP, Dame Julie Okah – Donli, who is away to the United Nations to make presentations. I have been in discussions with her, she’d have gladly been here but for the fact that she is in the UN right now making presentations. So, NAPTIP is very pleased about this and I’m sure the outcome will be very positive in the fight against human trafficking.

THE LAST WORDS, …AT THE BOTTOM OF ALL THESE HUMAN TRAFFICKING SHAME GAMES, IS POVERTY AND THE AVERAGE NIGERIAN CITIZEN IS STILL STRUGGLING UNDER POVERTY SO THAT NO MATTER WHAT EFFORTS WE PUT IN, THE MEDIA AND OTHER STAKEHOLDERS, IF THE POVERTY ISSUE IS NOT ADDRESSED BY THE GOVERNMENT -UNDER WHOM NAPTIP IS WORKING- HOW DO YOU THINK THIS BATTLE WILL BE WON, WHEN THE KEY ISSUES, THE ROOTS CAUSES THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT HAS NOT ADDRESSED: UNEMPLOYMENT, YOUTH UNEMPLOYMENT, POVERTY IN THE LAND…  SO HOW DO YOU THINK THAT PEOPLE WILL NOT KEEP ON RUNNING AWAY FROM THE COUNTRY TO FIND GREENER PASTURES?

Nobody is saying that people should not go outside the country, but if you want to go outside the country travel rightly, get your proper documents, not going through the deserts, not going through the land routes, dying in the deserts, dying in the Mediterranean Sea. Migration is a legitimate issue all over the world. But if you want to travel, travel rightly; that does not mean that government would not play its role by making sure that employments are provided. But government cannot do it alone. Poverty is not enough for our children to be sacrificed because a lot of them die in the desert, in the Mediterranean Sea. So at the end of the day even those who are able to cross to make the money don’t live to enjoy the money because, they come back sick, they come back with all kinds of illnesses. So at the end of the day the wealth they have made goes to their relations and goes to some other persons who may have exploited them.

Poverty is all over the world. I’ve been to Italy, I also saw people who were begging in Italy. So it’s not as if the streets of Italy are paved with gold, it’s not as if you can pick gold on the streets of Italy. Poverty is everywhere; poverty is not enough for people to die in the desert, poverty is not enough for people to die in the Sea, that’s what I can say, but that does not mean that the issues of poverty should not be addressed in the country. But government alone cannot do it. The collaboration of all stakeholders is also required to address the issues of poverty. Government can only create enabling environments to make sure that people are employed; people are engaged in all sense of human endeavours.