Thursday, November 23, 2023 11:06 pm
Abuja, Nigeria: It was a well-organized event by a government agency and a traditional church. About 300 youths were brought from different parts of the country for a conference on the prevention of human trafficking. They were housed and fed by the church for 3 days. The event hall was packed with important dignitaries in attendance: government officials, practicing and academic experts from far and near, diplomats, representatives of foreign anti-trafficking agencies, men and women of God and others.
The youths were all seated and attentively listened to one speaker after the other speak about why they should not allow themselves to be trafficked. “If you allow yourselves to be trafficked, you may be abused mentally, physically, psychologically, sexually, emotionally and may even get killed. You will suffer starvation too. If you are lucky to make it through to your destination, you may end up becoming a sex slave or laborer against your interest. You will be exposed to all kinds of diseases and your family members might never see you again. You basically become a commodity for sale. Trafficking is evil. Avoid it and inform your friends too. The traffickers will approach you with all kinds of promises. Please don’t listen to them. If you must travel, please find out about how to relocate from this country legally and work towards that.” A Canadian immigration lawyer who was a speaker at the event said. This was also the common position of other speakers.
Then it was question and answer time. A young lady perhaps in her early twenties stood and started speaking:
“You said if we allow traffickers to take me from this country, I might be raped, abused, starved or get killed. What’s the difference between that and my life now in Nigeria? I am already dead. I am starving. I graduated a couple of years now but no employment. Many men in positions of power ask for sex to consider me for employment. I had to give in, but nothing came out of that. My boyfriends had physically and sexually abused me in the past. Help came from nowhere. I have been raped and the Police did nothing to help me. Nobody respects me in this country because I am poor. My parents put pressure on me to cater for them and my siblings. They remind me of how well the families of women that went to Europe to work are doing on our street. At least, if I make it to Europe, people will sleep with me and pay me hard currency unlike here where they don’t. And if I die on the way, it is ok. At least I would have tried to leave this place where I am a walking dead since I am dead already. When you are poor and have no hope, you are vulnerable to everything. Rich people will never understand the situations of people like me.”
At this time, the room was dead silent. Unfortunately, most of the government representatives had left. They left after delivering their opening speeches and taking part in photo ops. Their jobs were done. To them, there was no need to interact with the youths and hear their stories.
You said if we allow traffickers to take me from this country, I might be raped, abused, starved or get killed. What’s the difference between that and my life now in Nigeria? I am already dead. I am starving. I graduated a couple of years now but no employment.
The speakers that remained did their best to dissect the issues and address them. They spent quality time with the youths, counselling and educating them. The young lady was recommended for one-on-one counselling. The experts knew there was a lot of work to be done because sadly, the young lady spoke the minds of many across the globe who out of desperation, have concluded that anywhere else would be better than their countries, notwithstanding the risks involved. The grass, to them, is always greener at the other side.
Every Nigerian has a duty to address the evils of human trafficking and every level of government must understand that beyond the words, there is a need for concrete actions that will address the social, cultural, economic, and legal realities that contribute to the problem, including:
· Consistent and well directed awareness campaigns on the evils of human trafficking including workshops and counseling sessions targeting the youths.
· Funding for anti-human trafficking agencies and organizations.
· Enforcement of legislations that make human trafficking illegal.
· Provision of basic amenities for the citizens.
· Provision of economic opportunities for the citizens including gainful employment.
· Respect for human rights of the citizens by all, including the security agencies.
Human trafficking is a serious matter that deserves serious attention by all. In her poem titled “Home”, British-Somali poet Warsan Shire wrote:
“no one leaves home unless/ home is the mouth of a shark”
May we not have situations that will force us to leave our homes and embark on a journey that may end in sorrow for self and/or loved ones.
_Johnson Babalola is a Canadian immigration lawyer, writer, storyteller, and story-based leadership trainer. Follow him on IG @jbdlaw; FB: https://www.facebook.com/jbdlaw and www.johnsonbabalola.com/www.tpmattorneys.com