Worries over human trafficking menace in Benue | Dailytrust

Worries over human trafficking menace in Benue

The trafficked children boarding a vehicle to return to their parents
The trafficked children boarding a vehicle to return to their parents

Undoubtedly, there’s been an upsurge of cases of human trafficking in Benue State since the beginning of the new year, with several arrests made by relevant authorities in different locations in the state.

The arrests particularly involved children and young ladies suspected of being trafficked within and outside the country.

At least, in the first week of January alone, the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP) Makurdi zonal command recorded three separate cases involving a total of 45 victims and three suspected traffickers.

NAPTIP Commander Makurdi Zonal Command, Mrs Gloria Bai, identified the yuletide season as the peak period for crimes related to human trafficking in Nigeria. 

“This is because most traffickers return home during this period and recruit lots of youths, especially girls, to be taken to other parts of Nigeria as well as neighbouring African countries for various forms of exploitation,” she said.

The 32 children rescued by security operatives

Our correspondent reports that the state in the past years had dealt with many cases of trafficking which somehow abated in the wake of the global outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic.

However, the unusual trend recorded in recent weeks indicated that the illicit business might have returned to the state, this time with a bang.

For instance, in just one week, the NAPTIP in Makurdi, said, “At the moment, we have a total number of 45 victims from these recent cases at our command office. All the victims have been sheltered at the command where we separated the males from the females and we are trying our best to counsel, feed, provide basic needs including medical and psychosocial support, while we trace and reunite them back with their families. The three suspects are also detained at the command.”

The NAPTIP Makurdi zonal command, through the command boss Bai, stated the first case recorded followed a tip off that some girls were in the process of being trafficked and were camped at Amaco Hotel in Gboko.

“We quickly shared intelligence with officers of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) and joined them on 4th January 2022 to arrest one suspect Mnena Kwaghgande, 29, from Vandekya LGA. The six victims aged between 16 and 20 were recued by security men. They hail from three local government areas of Konshisha, Ushongo And Vandeikya.

“Barely three days after that feat, another case was unravelled on January 7, occasioned by a distress call put across to the agency’s zonal commander from Duku motor park in Makurdi on a suspected case of human trafficking involving seven young girls who were to be taken to Lagos from Makurdi. 

“We quickly moved to the scene and the suspect was arrested while the victims were rescued in collaboration with the Nigeria Police. The case involves one suspect, Madam Beauty Osagie, from Edo State. The victims were seven, three from Gwer East LGA, two from Gwer West, one from Guma, all in Benue state and one from the FCT.” 

The next day, being January 8, men of operation Zenda – a police outfit, intercepted two Nezam buses in Gboko enroute Osun State, carrying a suspected trafficker alongside 32 suspected victims of human trafficking; mostly underage children. 

Again, the suspect, Angbiandoo Akaasema, and the 32 children all from Ukum LGA, consisting of13 males and 19 females were apprehended and moved into NAPTIP’s custody for further investigation. 

Bai, apparently worried over the development, has called on citizens and residents of Benue State, motor park owners and transport operators to be vigilant, look out for suspicious travellers and report to NAPTIP promptly.

Our correspondent gathered that the agency would prosecute the three suspected traffickers in its custody upon completion of investigations.

One of the suspects, Madam Beauty Osagie, from Edo State, was apprehended at Duku park with seven young girls allegedly being trafficked to an undisclosed African country via Lagos.

The second suspect, Mnena Kwaghmande, 29, was nabbed with her victims in a Gboko hotel by the agency officials in collaboration with the NSCDC.

State Commandant of NSCDC, Dr. Philip Okoh, who earlier paraded Kwaghmande before handing her over to NAPTIP, said that on interrogation, it was discovered that the suspect had told parents of the young girls whom she picked from Vandeikya that she was taking them to go and sell food at her restaurant in Bukina-Faso.

Kwaghmande’s victims, who are mainly teenagers, disclosed that the suspect is their relative and had told their parents that she was sick and therefore needed them to go with her to Bukina-Faso to help sell food at her restaurant.

The state NSCDC commandant warned parents against releasing their wards to people who promise them greener pastures abroad, while stressing that such journeys had and are still landing many in unimaginable troubles.

Meanwhile, the third suspect, Angbiandoo Akaasema, caught with the 32 children all from Ukum LGA in Benue who were enroute Osun State when they were intercepted told NAPTIP that they were being conveyed for education purposes.

NAPTIP commander Bai explained that of the 32 children, 29 were already there (Osun) but only returned home for Christmas while 11 were being taken as freshers.

“The suspect said her husband owns a Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) and wants to help the children get access to education because of the crisis in their area.

“So, when they land in Osun, they distribute them to people in their church as house helps and shop attendants and in return, the people send them to school.

“We are yet to find out whether the organisation is genuine and if the children were being exploited but the suspect is still in our custody for further investigation,” the NAPTIP commander said.

At the time of this report, the 32 victims who had been in the agency’s protective custody for eight days were returned home to their families accompanied by NAPTIP officials.

Bai, who was on ground to ensure they were safely returned, disclosed that the 32 victims, mostly underage children were taken at the age of 10 and others below 18 years just as she pointed out that it is against the law to engage any child below the age of 18 as a house help or for any form of labour.

The Ukum council chairman, Stevie Ayua, represented by his assistant, Eruka Henry, who received the children, thanked NAPTIP for its commitment to rid the state of trafficking.

Some of the children, Orya Michael and Cynthia Vihimga, said they are happy to go home and appealed to the government not to allow their education to suffer.

In the meantime, Lawyers Alert, a non-governmental organisation seeking justice for trafficked victims in the state, presently have two cases on human trafficking involving Cop versus Jennifer Patrick coming up in court on February 11 and another State versus Savoir Dabo also in Court 9, Northbank, Makurdi.

The case of Dabo had been in court since in 2018 when the Lawyers Alert indicated readiness to ensure justice for a 22-year-old female victim of human trafficking who escaped from her captors in far away Burkina Faso after spending days in their den.

Also, the organisation, its partners and other relevant stakeholders are doing everything within their limits to secure the release of two other girls from the state who are still held captive by the trafficking syndicate.

Dabo, an indigene of Benue was arrested and detained by the police in Makurdi for an alleged case of human trafficking of the young lady and four other girls, whom he (Dabo) took (total of the five girls) to Lagos State under the pretence of giving them jobs to make life more meaningful for them.

But, on arriving Lagos, the girls were handed over to an unknown woman and the ladies were further taken out of Nigeria to Burkina Faso obviously for prostitution and sex slavery rather than a conventional job promised by Dabo.

However, following a medical examination on the girls as part of requirement for the illegal job, it was discovered that one of the girls was pregnant and another sick which wasn’t good for the job so the two were sent back home which resulted in the arrest of Dabo and the pressure thereafter eventually resulted in the return of the third 22-year- old lady.

The 22-year-old victim, whose mother first reported the matter to the Police ‘D’ Division in Makurdi, corroborated the story in an interview granted to our correspondent at the time, as she stressed that Dabo was a well-known neighbour who convinced her that a branch of his office in Lagos had vacancy and accommodation for her.

But unknown to her, there was no such job that was supposed to earn her N50,000 income monthly, instead, she alongside the other girls were forcefully taken to another country where they were told the job was prostitution.

It would be recalled that the Director-General of NAPTIP, Imaan Sulaiman-Ibrahim, in February 2021, described Benue State as being endemic in human trafficking.

Ibrahim had spoken in Makurdi during the inauguration of the Benue State Task Force on Human Trafficking.

“Almost all the states in Nigeria are affected by irregular migration and human trafficking but Benue State is endemic for trafficking of children for domestic servitude, exploitative labour in farms in the western part of Nigeria, and sexual exploitation in brothels.”

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