ECOWAS Protocol to which Nigeria is signatory is one of the key factors aiding trans-border trafficking in persons, Public Relations Officer, Nigerian Immigration Service, NIS, E. S King, a deputy comptroller, has said.
The Protocol allows for free movement of persons within the 16-member ECOWAS nation upon possession and presentation of the ECOWAS Passport.
Following the lead roles of Nigerians in trans-border human trafficking activities, especially within the West African sub-region, King told LEADERSHIP Sunday that the opportunity provided by the Protocol is being abused.
“What happens is that for easy access and economic integration based on the ECOWAS Protocol, people are free to travel within the member states, with ECOWAS Passport, unhindered and that is why traffickers also easily travel with their victims to their destinations.”
Few days back, intelligence from Malian authorities, showed how an under-aged prostitution cell run by Nigerians in the country was unearthed.
In the crackdown, one Mama Rose, a Nigerian and 12 adolescent Nigerian girls engaged in prostitution in Kangaba Village, located on Guinea-Conakry Road, outside Bamako, the capital city of Mali were arrested. It was revealed that the girls are mainly from Edo and Delta states. Mama Rose, is the proprietor of the restaurant popularly called “Nigeria” in which the trafficked Nigerian girls were living and carrying out their business of commercial sex work.
Aside from the ECOWAS Protocol on free movement among people of member states, King acknowledged that human traffickers in the country are further helped in the criminal business by the porous nature of Nigerian borders. He, however, said that the NIS, adequately man the border areas that fall within its purview.
An NIS report shows that the Service has proposed a new strategy to the European Union to curb irregular migration while at the same time encouraging seamless global management of migrants.
With the new proposal, the Service directs emphasis to what happens to deported Nigerians when they arrive the country, given that some of them had left the nation for more than 15 years and lost contact with friends and family, while some were even born abroad and not given the citizenship of those countries because of immigration issues involving one or the both of the parents.
Spokesperson of the National Agency for the Prohibition of Traffic in Persons, NAPTIP, Josiah Emerole, said that through the Anti-trafficking Act, over 300, persons have been convicted in Nigeria yet the tricks of traffickers keep evolving. “They deceive their hapless victims with offers of assistance elsewhere, capitalising on poverty in the land. Some trafficked persons are abducted. In most cases the victims do not know the magnitude of exploitation they will face at the destination.”
Emerole disclosed that NAPTIP, through the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation got aware of the arrest of 13 under-aged Nigerian girls in Mali by the Malian authorities, and that since then, the Agency has been interfacing with relevant authorities in Nigeria, especially the Ministry of Foreign affairs whose duty it is to step in on behalf of the country on matters outside the shores of Nigeria.
According to him, “The essence is to get direction on the extent of intervention that NAPTIP could get involved. On matters concerning cross border trafficking, NAPTIP cannot go on its own, but follow laid down international procedures,” he said.
Emerole further revealed to LEADERSHIP Sunday that there are many trafficked Nigerian victims in Mali who are stranded in the country because they cannot continue their journey to Europe, as their traffickers had earlier promised them and Mali eventually became their terminal point.
It could be recalled that in 2012, NAPTIP, in conjunction with relevant authorities, rescued and evacuated 104 Nigerian, trafficked victims in Mali back to country. The operation was code named “Operation Timbuktu.”
NAPTIP, he disclosed was also aware of the fact that many Nigerians who are stranded in different parts of the world, who are victims of deceit by criminal gangs who promise to assist them for better opportunities abroad and some others, who gave themselves out to be trafficked with the hope for greener pastures. According to Emerole, “Many of these people have died, while on the way to Europe through the sea and desert and by so doing drag the image of the country in mud and many who succeeded are subject of exploitation by their deceivers,” Emerole said.