Damilola Falomo is a 27-year-old mother of one and survivour of human trafficking and slavery in Oman. After surviving torture and sexual molestation in the Middle-East and returning to Nigeria, Damilola now leads the battle against what she calls ‘modern day slavery’.
At 16, she was vulnerable and naïve, coupled with the fact that she was an orphan fending for herself and desperately in search of a reprieve, perhaps, a Good Samaritan who would shoulder the responsibility of her education, among other financial challenges.
“As at the time I was trafficked to Oman, I had just lost my parents. There was nobody to help me. There was no way I could fund my education, I had no money to take care of myself, so travelling at that time seemed like the only way out of the problem,” Damilola Falomo said.
While searching for a way out, Damilola fell prey to human traffickers and landed herself in the middle eastern country of Oman. She was one of many Nigerian youths trafficked through illegal routes. Hundreds of them perished on the way, while the lucky ones were sold into slavery. Damilola was a lucky one.
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Journey of pains and torture
The need to travel out of Nigeria appeared to her like a ray of hope and open doors to a better life, but it soon turned out to be a journey into torture and pain.
She was introduced to a human trafficking kingpin disguised as a travel agent. When she landed in Oman, Damilola was sold into “slavery”. She worked as a house maid to a family where she was constantly harassed, tortured and molested by the man of the house.
The man threatened to kill her if she did not have sex with him and all her complaints to the human trafficking merchant fell on deaf ears.
“They (our employers) told us they have bought us for two years and therefore they can do anything with us for that period of two years.
“I was faced with sexual harassment on a regular basis. I could not cope because the man was seriously harassing me; he was insisting on having sex with me. He told me that I won’t have peace in the house until I have sex with him.
“I could not speak Arabic and there was no way I could complain to the office because they wouldn’t hear me out. Things became unbearable for me and all I could do was to find an escape route back to Nigeria,” Falomo said.
The second chance
Unlike other young women who fell into slave trade in Oman, Damilola said she was able to buy her freedom from the Omani family. Many of her colleagues who were trafficked together could not make it back alive, she said.
Damilola said “My coming back was just God giving me a second chance to live, so that I can let people know what is happening out there.
“I worked for almost a year over there and all the money I made was used to buy my freedom to come back home because I could not cope.
“I was lucky that they even agreed that I use my earnings to buy back my freedom because a lot of people I left Nigeria together with died, while some of them could not come back home again.
“I’m happy that I’m among those who could come back and tell my story to the youths about what is going on out there.
“It is better to stay back in Nigeria and be safe and sound than to be enslaved in a foreign land where you don’t have friends and family members.”
Upon returning to Nigeria, Damilola was confronted with a fresh challenge of starting a new life.
However, the Moremi Ajasoro Beauty Pageant – a pet project of the Ooni of Ife, Oba Adeyeye Enitan Ogunwusi, to empower young girls, came to her as a reprieve.
“When I got back, I was not helped by the government. I started my life all over again with the help of Olori Aderonke Ogunwusi, she was the only one who was ready to listen to my story at that time and she was also ready to support me.
“I came back with nothing and I was helpless. I came back at the time the Moremi Ajasoro beauty pageant was being organised, so I joined the pageant and I had the opportunity of meeting the queen and the Ooni of Ife and that was how they helped me,” she said.
With support from the royals, Damilola’s life had experienced a tremendous turnaround. She is married with a kid.
Fighting human trafficking
Armed with bitter sweet experience, Damilola with her campaign project #SayNoToSlavery now leads the battle against slavery and human trafficking.
The campaign is targeted at creating awareness and educating students of secondary schools on the dangers of human trafficking.
She said human trafficking poses grave danger to the social and economic development of the country.
She lamented that thousands of Nigerian girls who were trafficked overseas, especially Arab countries, are forced into commercial sex trade or forced labour.
The campaign in January took her to 5 select schools in Ogun State where she shared the gospel on ending modern day Slavery.
“We believe that the scourge of human trafficking will be reduced when people hear the right message and perhaps from someone who has first-hand experience.
“With our foundation, we hope to rehabilitate and empower the restored victims with practical and life skills to enable them reintegrate into the society.
“The ‘say no to slavery’ team is structured around three components that will together ensure a coordinated and evidence-based response to tackling the root causes of human trafficking and unsafe migration in Nigeria, strengthening government’s response to modern slavery, supporting law enforcement and victims of modern slavery and providing support for testing and developing pilot interventions focused on changing norms and behaviours in Ogun State that are conducive to human trafficking and unsafe migration,” she said.
How to end the scourge
She described human trafficking as a coordinated chain of corruption, saying the kingpins work with some officials in government.
“Human traffickers are not working alone, they are working with some bad government officials, especially at the immigration office because when we got to the airport here in Nigeria, they didn’t even check us, they just allowed us easy passage. That means some of the officials know about the trafficking business.
“The government needs to stop travelling girls to Arab countries, especially Libya, Oman, Dubia and other Arab countries without any meaningful reason because in those countries, Nigerians are being enslaved most. This is the only way we can reduce modern day slavery. I’m ready to partner with the government to end human trafficking, that is if the government is serious about ending it,” she said.
Better safe at home than fall into slavery abroad
Speaking to Daily Trust on Sunday on the ongoing ‘japa’ syndrome, Damilola warned Nigerian youths to be cautious before falling into slavery in the name of relocating abroad.
She said “It is better to stay back in Nigeria and be safe and sound, than to be enslaved in a foreign land where you don’t have friends and family members.
“I’m not saying travelling is not good, but you have to be sure of what you are going abroad to do. Even when your family members ask you to come abroad, be sure of what the person is doing to avoid falling into traps. Even family members sell their relatives into slavery.
“I was very young and ignorant when I was trafficked abroad. If I had known better, I wouldn’t have travelled abroad, I would have stayed in Nigeria and worked hard to become a better version of myself.
“Many stories you hear of people living abroad are not true.”
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