Over the years, Nigeria has acquired a reputation for being one of the leading African countries in human trafficking with increased cases of cross-border and internal trafficking. Victims of such illegal migration usually become candidates for sexual exploitation, forced labour and organ harvesting.
However, to combat this social menace and its multi-dimensional damaging effect, the wife of the former Governor of Edo State, Mrs. Eki Igbinedion, stood out among concerned Nigerians who had deployed personal resources against human trafficking.
In 1999, Igbinedion established the Idia Renaissance as an outfit geared towards checking the activities of the sponsors of human trafficking. When she started the campaign many people kicked against it because they felt it was an attempt to stop their children from traveling abroad for greener pasture.
Today, the reality is clear, as human trafficking has turned to a big monster with tales of sorrow and depression on the returnees.In a chat with The Guardian, Igbinedion said: “The foundation started out of my determination to combat the disturbing scourge of human trafficking, prostitution, maternal mortality, drug abuse, cultism, youth restiveness, HIV/AIDS and other social and health problems prevalent, especially among children, youths and women in the society.
“We seek to challenge society to be more responsive to the needs and aspirations of the less privileged with a view to restoring hope and dignity to the lives of children, youths and women.She highlighted some of the aims and objectives of the foundation to include; promotion of positive cultural values and restoration of human dignity through education, information, communication, advocacy, mobilisation and counseling.
On how the outfit arrived at its core issues of engagement, Igbinedion said, “We conducted formal and informal researches into social, economic and health problems affecting children, youths and woman such as human trafficking, prostitution, restiveness, cultism and then initiated appropriate intervention programmes addressing these vices.
“Issues identified through our researches enabled us to embark on advocacy activities, targeting relevant stakeholders and gatekeepers in the community, like policy makers, political leaders, traditional rulers, religious institution, focal groups and local/international organisation /agencies with a view to getting their understandings, cooperation and support.”
Igbinedion through her unrelenting efforts sponsored bills, with a view to providing legislative basis for protecting and empowering vulnerable groups and victims of trafficking in addition to criminalizing exploitation of women and young people in the society.“Bills successfully sponsored by Idia Renaissance, which have also been passed into law include: the law against human trafficking and law against prostitution at the Edo State House of Assembly. The foundation also co-sponsored National Bill against Human trafficking at the House of Representatives, which brought about the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons and other Related Matters (NAPTIP) Act.
The organisation also participated in domestication of Child Right Act in Edo State.” The former first lady, who now focuses on indigent girls, engages them in different vocations for free.Igbinedion informed that as part of efforts to ensure the protection of the rights of children and young people in Nigeria, Idia Renaissance in 2004 partnered with UNICEF Nigeria to establish a Youth Resource Centre in Edo.
The centre she said, is to build local capacity by empowering young people with information, skill and services to reduce their vulnerability to human trafficking, illegal migration, sexual exploitation, violence and sexually transmitted infections including HIV/AIDS.According to her, the Centre has four basic vocational departments, which include: catering and hotel management, computer studies, fashion design and tailoring, hairdressing, cosmetology and beadwork.
“It also provides life skills training, social and health counseling services, library and indoor recreational facilities for the youths. The project has graduated about 5,000 youths including more than 300 victims of human trafficking in the various vocational skills departments.”Speaking at the 6th graduation ceremony in Edo State, Igbinedion lamented that the desperation to travel abroad has led people who hitherto had good jobs and businesses to abandon the certainty for uncertainty.She urged government to make the country safe for everyone and support NGOs with infrastructure to help in rehabilitating and rejuvenating the rescued victims from Libya and the Mediterranean Sea.
“No doubt, the economic situation at the time occasioned by the introduction of several harsh economic policies by the then military governments was a major factor that resulted to “brain drain” and the mass exodus of our professionals, artisans and even those without education and skills. In the process, many became victims of human trafficking. The traditional and social media platforms have been awashed with videos and photos in the Middle East, Libya, the Sahara desert and the Mediterranean Sea capturing the plight of our youths and women.”
Igbinedion commended the Governor of the State, Godwin Obaseki for continuing in the fight against human trafficking and illegal migration in the state.Also speaking at the event, the project coordinator, Roland Nwoha hinted that over 1,500 people who returned to Edo State from Libya in the last two months celebrated their safe return from the airport thanking God for being alive.
“I personally had the opportunity to interact with some of the returnees and the stories are sordid. Many of the boys and men came back deformed, some of the girls are with children while some are pregnant, others are with diseases. One of the girls even told me she has lost counts of the number of men that raped her during the six months sojourn in Libya. She even said some had bad cases worse than hers. The ugly side is that some of them were artisans, welders, electricians, bricklayers, tailors, etc who sold off their machines and equipment to embark on the journey”.
“The fact that the Edo State government is currently doing its best to assist some of the migrants doesn’t mean that all of them will be completely rehabilitated and reintegrated. Some, for life, may never be able to recover from the ordeal and trauma they have gone through.” Nwoha hinted that most people offering international jobs opportunities in Dubai, Qatar, Jordan, Russia etc are human traffickers specialist engaged in domestic exploitation and organs harvesting and selling.
“We hear of racism, xenophobic attacks against Nigerians in some parts of Europe, in South Africa and recently even in Ghana.“This is the time to stop this illegal migration and human trafficking among our youths. We must continue to talk against it using all available channels until it is completely eliminated from our society. Our parents cannot continue to mourn the death of their children in senseless journeys of no return.
“We cannot afford to lose our strong and virile workforce who should be contributing to the development of their families, communities and the nation at large.” He therefore appealed to the governments to reorder priorities and focus on provision of basic amenities for the citizens
“At the end of the return of the over 20,000 Nigerians stranded in Libya, the Nigerian government would have spent fortune that would have otherwise been spent on establishing industries, good roads, etc. This is the time to act for the interest of the future.”
The 2017 graduation ceremony coincided with the 13th year anniversary of the commissioning of the Youth Resource Centre and 46 out of the 635 youths that graduated were victims of human trafficking. The event also witnessed the official commissioning of the Videography and Photography department of the Youth Resource Centre.