The epistle of the horrendous journey by many Nigerians in search of greener pastures in climes other than what the immediate environment provides for the citizens is one full of uncertainties and riddles. There is no doubt that the failure of families, governments and institutional leadership, overwhelming greed, and the Nigerian mentality of ‘get rich quick’ have contributed to the rise in violent crimes such as armed robbery, kidnapping, pipeline vandalism, corruption and other criminalities that stare the society in the face.
In Edo State, the snag of prostitution and illegal migration seems to have gone a step to sink deep into the psyche of many homes. Consequently, it is quite sad to know that parents have silently compromised their primary responsibilities as the breadwinners of their homes. Wives and daughters have taken the drivers’ seat and the center seems not to hold in the families. The result today is the resurgence of an alarming boost of slave markets making waves in most African countries, Europe and other developed nations.
Investigations have shown Libya, Togo, Ghana, Spain, Netherland, Belgium, Italy and others have taken the lead in the promotion of these ugly trades in human slavery. Rituals usually take place at popular rivers and shrines where blood oaths that compromise destinies and life threatening incantations are made.
This happens where the child or one about to travel is being sponsored by relations such as aunties, uncles and or benefactors who hide under the guise of looking for house helps or deploy deceitful tactics on unsuspecting parents to look for young ladies to be sent to school or training when indeed they are actually going for prostitution. In addition, some of these children are usually required to submit to either allowing their public hair to be shared or submits their underwear to guarantee to their loyalty to the madam or auntie taking them overseas.
Churches and other institutions have in recent times intensified campaigns to discourage various wards, families and societies from encouraging the practice. For instance, a promising young lady from Delta State, Miss Florence Abu, narrated how she was lured into prostitution by a Russian based woman through her pastor in Edo State.
“It all started in 2012 when a Pastor in my church, Endurance Ehioze (of the Heavenly Ambassadors Ministries Inc.) at Isihor, asked me to see him. He asked if I would like to travel out of the country and I said yes. I told him that I am constrained financially. So, he said money is not the problem but that he has a sister abroad that would finance my trip.
“He further told me that I can pay off the sister in less than two months, and that, I shouldn’t be afraid since I am a good singer and hairstylist. He also assured me that I might be lucky to come across a white man that will support me. After that day, he gave me the telephone number of his sister in Russia, her name was Vivian Ehioze.
“When I flashed her, she called me and introduced herself. She asked me if I am interested in leaving the country (Nigeria), and she said as long as I am interested I should get my passport which I did by borrowing N30, 000 from LAPO (Live Above Poverty Organisation), and I called her to tell her that my passport is ready,” Miss Abu said.
“She (Ms Ehioze) asked me to give the passport to Endurance (her brother) that he would handle everything. The sister often called me to give me words of encouragement that everything will be fine. Few days later, she called again that I should pack my belongings and move to her mother’s place en route to Lagos. So, when I got there, her mother said it was late to travel to Lagos that day.
The next morning she woke me up and said there must be agreements between us because many girls when they get to Russia don’t often pay her daughter back money spent to take them abroad. So, she said that she must take something from me as an oath and that whenever I finish paying her daughter, I will have to pay her some amount of money as well. I was surprise that Endurance who is a pastor encouraged me to undertake such an oath. I had thought that as Christians we would do it in the Christian way.
“Finally, the mother took strands of hair from my head, armpit, private part and she also collected my pant for oath taking. By the time I arrived Lagos the next day, the elder brother to my Madam, Festus Ehioze, came to pick me from God is Good Motors Park and took me to a hotel. He brought out a slip of paper from his pocket and said it is my visa and that everything was genuine. He asked me to relax and said that I should use what I have to get what I want. He said his sister is abroad and being molested by people, so, he wants to avenge for her. I was shocked. I even pleaded with him but he refused. He took my phone according to orders from Vivian so that nobody might discourage me.
“When I asked him how I would be able to communicate with my mother, he assured me that Endurance (Pastor) would be the link man if I want to speak to my mother. Immediately, he brought out a gold circle condom that I should pull off my clothes. I resisted him but he forcefully had his way. He said it should be a secret between the two of us and threatened that if I disclosed it to any one something terrible would happen to me. He took me to his house and asked me to pretend about it. For the two weeks period I waited for my visa it was hell for me in the house. He molested me regularly but thankfully my visa came in February 2013.”
Continuing, Abu said: “When I arrived in Russia, Vivian came to pick me up at the airport and she took me to her place in Moscow. The first thing she did was to take my passport away from me. On the third day at about 9pm, she asked me to dress up for a walk. She took me on a road walk where I met a lot of Nigerian prostituting on the streets and that was how I was lured into prostitution. I started paying the money ($45,000). When I finished payment, I was deported to Nigeria.
“After I finish paying I was inflicted by a strange illness; life was so unbearable for me and I was placed under medication for almost one year. The doctors treating me couldn’t handle my case. When I couldn’t bear it, I had to tell my mother about it. It was my mother that used to send me black soap and cream from Nigeria through courier. At a time, it was my mother that sent money to me to pay my house rent. Life there became difficult so I had to go to Nigeria authority in Russia before I was deported.”
When asked if she was not aware she was going to be trafficked for prostitution, Abu said: “I was 18 years old then, my madam lied to me that life was far better over there and that if I don’t want to stay in Russia I can travel to another country. I made all my credits at the ordinary level (School Certificate) but there was no money to further my education. So, when the opportunity came I jumped at it. Besides, my mum owed a lot of debt so, I wanted to help her because of the embarrassment.
“But, what I experienced was completely different from her promises. I was molested to a point that I fell sick. I was using gas water because of the chest pain complications from the torture I received from my madam. Sometimes I would just collapse on the way to church. I was always on drugs. She abandoned me in Russian and came to Nigeria to look for other girls. I couldn’t cope with life so I was deported back with other girls who were going through the same situation with me. If it is possible, some of our girls in Russia would trek back home because the suffering there is much, some of them are beggars there.”
Sober and pained, she advised: “Young girls, all that glitters is not gold. Yes, abroad is beautiful but if you are going to be trafficked by someone you should cry out. Life there is not what they paint to you. Many girls have died; a lot of girls out there are dead and their parents might think they are alive. Out of 300 deported in the last one year about 100 of them are HIV positive. Our girls should learn a trade and empowerment skills by themselves.
In her own account, Florence’s mother, Josephine Abu, who fought back fears repeatedly said: “My daughter was assisted to travel through Endurance our church member; he is second in command to the senior Pastor. The suffering was too much for me to bear. He said since I owe debts that he would help my daughter to travel abroad. After my daughter travelled, I was paying N1, 300 monthly to LAPO to offset the amount I borrowed to get an International passport for her. He (Endurance) assured me that since my daughter is a hairstylist, she will make money in Russia. For a long time, I didn’t hear from my daughter until recently when information came that my daughter has been deported.”
Similarly, another victim of the Russian prostitution ring to Russia, Miss Naomi Otoijuamu, aged 23, also narrated her ordeal saying she was also trafficked and lured into the red light business in Russia.
“I was living with my elder brother when someone introduced me to a lady called Pat who arranged my travelling.”
Otoijuamu added: “The humiliation was much in Russia; my mum used to call me often to find out how I was coping. I told my mum I wanted to come home but she insisted I must pay back the money used to traffick me to Russian before coming back. I paid about $23, 000 to the trafficker and I fell sick immediately. In a day, I slept with about 17 men on an average; we usually paid the money to who we call an ‘administrator’. I have been very sick since I came back. I stayed in Russia for four years.”
At the moment, both Pastor Endurance and his sister, Vivian, are not only guests of the Edo State Police Command where they are giving account of their ugly deals to make quick money and luxury but also are in the dark rooms at the Oko Prisons after court remanded them. While the state government in collaboration with security agencies spread wide their net to catch more promoters of heinous crime of prostitution, the former is not also taking the matter lightly to improve the image of the state and protect its people.
Speaking on how parents help throw their children into slavery, Mr. Solomon Okoduwa, the Senior Special Adviser to Governor Godwin Obaseki of Edo State on Human Trafficking and Illegal Migration said: “For me I will say that the role of mothers and fathers in this issue of trafficking or sending children abroad has been very unhelpful. Mothers have in times past promoted illegal migration and trafficking without knowing what their children are going over there to do.
From experience, I have travelled with a lot of boys and girls on the journey and they said this is the prayer points their mothers led them into and this is how they asked them to move; they have their mothers accompany them to the shrines, solicit for their madams that their daughter is good enough, she can vouch for the daughter. How their mothers cried that she is selling pure water; that she cannot survive with the pure water.
“They should please ‘assist’, her daughter to cross; when she crosses, she will not betray you.” So, these are the roles of mothers. The mothers also engage in fetish activities to ensure their sons and daughters who are travelling through legal or illegal means, have prosperous journey. Many of them have also gone the extra miles to borrow money from micro finance banks and the question is since you have the contact to borrow money why not use it to stabilise the life of this one who you really want to have a good future.”
More worrisome is the fact that about 2, 910 male and female citizens of the state have so far been deported and assisted home from Libya and other countries by the state government and are being rehabilitated to be meaningful citizens to both the state and their families. However, some of the returnees are still bent on travelling back to their former locations.
It was not surprising therefore when the leadership of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) last week vowed to go after pastors who are in the habit of promoting human trafficking with prayers and sales of unholy anointing oil and handkerchiefs to facilitate the illicit business. The body warned that the perpetrators would face the wrath of God if they fail to repent. Chairman of the CAN in the state, Bishop Oriname Oyonnude Kure, described human trafficking as a sin against God and man, pointing out that the activities of traffickers, which had led to deaths of thousands of youths of Edo State, is worrisome and declared that any pastor involved in the act either through prayers or directly is an enemy of the church.
“The Bible is the spiritual force that binds us all as Christians, therefore anyone involved in human trafficking in the name of a pastor is not of the Bible. CAN is therefore saying to such pastors to repent from such sins and stop this evil. God is against it, our culture is against it; our religion is against it and CAN condemns it in totality. We commend Governor Godwin Obaseki for his efforts so far in fighting the illicit trade and we are urging those involved in it to stop or face the wrath of God,” he declared.
However, the state government with the effort of the Benin monarch, His Royal Majesty Oba Ewuare II, has taken far reaching measures to tackle the menace of slavery of Edo citizens and also encourage them with productive ventures such as agriculture and other skill acquisition programmes to improve their wellbeing.
However, speaking to journalists recently in the capital, Benin City, the Secretary of the state Taskforce on Anti-Human Trafficking, Mrs. Abieyuwa Onyemwense said that the state government has said that there are plans to construct permanent shelters for returnee Edo indigenes who were victims of human trafficking and irregular migration.
Onyemwense said that such a facility was necessary to fast-track short, medium and long-term objectives of rehabilitating and reintegrating the returnees.
She explained that the state government already has a robust plan on reintegrating and rehabilitating the returnees, who the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), the federal and state governments, have facilitated their return to the state. Onyemwense noted that the approach to receiving the returnees by the state government are far-reaching, which includes medicals, payment of stipends, capacity building and provision of starter-packs, reunion with families and regular monitoring and follow-ups.
“The returnees need a lot of guidance. We have a security team that does background checks right from when we receive them at the airports. There was a recent video of a lady that was threatening to take to arms that went viral; we tracked her down and now she is working very closely with us. So, the system is so robust to spotlight issues and resolve them as quickly as possible.”
Speaking further she said: “We are looking at building permanent shelters for the returnees. It is one of the initiatives of the Edo State Government to see an end to this menace. With that, we can do so much.”
Noting that the centre will serve to harmonise several activities and campaigns against irregular migration and human trafficking, she added: “We intend to run short, medium and long term programmes for the returnees. This will enable us follow through with the resettlement programme and ensure that we achieve 100 percent success in resettling the returnees.”
Meanwhile, in a further effort to check the menace the realm has waded in with the monarch of Benin, Oba Ewuare II, forcing the native doctors in Edo State to revoke the curses and oaths placed on victims of human trafficking in the state, which is used to keep the victims under the control of the traffickers.
Following the revocation of the curses on March 9, 2018, Oba Ewuare II declared that trafficked persons are now free from their traffickers and whatever oaths they were placed on.
Going further, the monarch also placed a curse on human traffickers and those aiding and abetting human trafficking in the state.
The king also cursed the native doctors who subject victims to oath of secrecies and banned the violators of the Community Development Associations and others whose business is to initiate the sons and daughters of the land into various cult groups.
Those who took part in the swearing exercise were priests from various shrines in the state such as the Ohen Okhuae, Ohen Ovia, Ohen noriyekeogba, Ohen Ake, Ohen Niwuo, Native Doctors, Ohen Sango, Odionwere, Iwueki and the Enigies.
Speaking at the event, the monarch said: “You native doctors whose business are to subject people to the oath of secrecies and encouraging this evil act on the land, you have to repent, stop doing it. This is not a joking matter and if you do not repent, you have to wait for the repercussion.
“The palace is not against those practicing the act of native doctors but those who use it to perpetrate evil in the land through aiding and abetting human trafficking in the state.
“We want to use this medium to tell those who are under any oaths of secrecies that they are now free. We revoke the oath today.
“What the palace stands for is peace and the development of the state. I want to use this medium to tell you that the act of using charms to aid trafficking, the palace seriously frowns at it.
“We want us to join hands together to fight against human trafficking in the land.”
He added that the state governor, Godwin Obaseki, pleaded with him to help curtail the spate of human trafficking in the state.
According to the United Nations, nine in 10 of the Nigerian women trafficked to Europe come from Edo State, a predominantly Christian state with a population of about three million.