Nigerians had thought that Libya was the sole transit camp for young Nigerians ‘voting with their feet’ and fleeing the country for their imagined “greener pastures” of Europe. That was until last week when the Director-General of the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP), Mrs. Julie Okah-Donli, disclosed that more than 20,000 Nigerian women and girls were stuck and languishing in Southern Mali and having no choice but to subsist through prostitution.
She said that a fact-finding team of NAPTIP and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) uncovered the existence of the stranded ladies last month. Dozens of Nigerian girls had been repatriated from the Kangaba area of Southern Mali a few months ago, not knowing that thousands more were being held in the area. Local residents told the agencies that more than 200 such locations exist in which between 150 and 200 stranded Nigerian women and girls can be found.
The women who were mostly young, aged between 16 and 30, the same demographic profile like their compatriots found in Libya, had been promised a new abode in Malaysia where they would be provided with lucrative jobs in the hospitality industry. But as in similar stories told by thousands in Libya and elsewhere, they ended up marooned in Southern Mali and had to fend for themselves and to also repay the usurious contract fees of the traffickers through prostitution.
In addition to being held in the ‘middle of nowhere’ they also have to contend with the frightening rituals they were obliged to go through before they embarked on their misadventure by which they must pay the traffickers the agreed sums under the pain of death if they reneged. Given the circumstances, they would rather choose to die in slave labour than violate their oaths.
This all-too-familiar story is blamed on the inability of the country to provide gainful employment for its youths. Unemployment among Nigerian youths has continued to deteriorate. Government measures like N-Power and others seem like palliatives which barely scratch the surface. The youths are fleeing not only due to the absence of gainful employment but their desperation seems based on the absence of hope. That is where we think the Federal Government should do everything to secure attitude change through visible investment in human capital, training youths in marketable skills in technical and vocational occupations and providing incentives for entrepreneurship for young graduates and motivated school leavers.
The ‘hope deficit’ is at the core of desperate dangerous migrations and are difficult to curb when basic infrastructure like power is epileptic, transportation is expensive and interest rates are going through the roof. It is not just that the migration of Nigerian women and girls is giving the country a poor image; it is beginning to look like a world-wide debasement of Nigerian womanhood. The figures from Europe are grim: 11,000 Nigerian women and girls landed in Italy in 2018 for prostitution. The CNN recently aired a special report on the prostitution of Nigerian women and girls in France. Mrs. Okah-Donli and her agency suspect that even more women and girls are in other countries beside Libya and Mali, and she intends to look into Ghana, Burkina Faso, and Senegal.
We commend the Federal Government for its willingness to repatriate these citizens whenever they have been found. But it would appear our chancelleries and consulates are not doing the vital reporting of the fate of Nigerians in the various countries. We would have thought that Nigerian diplomats should be the first to alert the government about the plight of Nigerians in such dire circumstances, not the NAPTIP or the IOM.
Nigerian citizens are the most valuable assets of the nation and should be viewed and treated as such by our government. It is when we respect our own that other countries would, in turn, accord our compatriots their deserved respect. But when we treat citizens as if they are of little or no value, other countries would treat them like animals. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs should remind our embassies of this basic fact that it is their duty to report and act on the fate and well-being of Nigerian citizens wherever they may be. Our envoys in Mali should comb the neighbourhoods of Mali to ensure that Nigerian women and girls are repatriated at once.