The Director-General of the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons, Dame Julie Okah-Donli, speaks on detention centres discovered in some states, the operations of the agency and other issues in this interview with OLALEYE ALUKO
What are some projections the agency has been able to achieve this year?
So far, we have established task forces on human trafficking in four states. And we hope that before the end of the next year, we will complete the establishment of the force in the 36 states. It is a gradual process and don’t forget that the state governors have a role to play. We have written to all of them but some of them have not responded yet.
We cannot set up task forces in states if the state governments don’t support the vision. We are hoping that as times goes on, they will see the need for task forces to be set up in their states, because for me, this is one of the most important steps towards curbing the scourge of trafficking.
With the state task forces, dissemination of information and awareness to the grassroots will be easier. We want to ensure that the state governors are in the drivers’ seats of the task forces. They must take charge of the state forces, as they are the chief security officers of their states.
Presently, we have the task force on human trafficking in Edo, Delta, Ekiti and Ondo states.
Apart from the task force, people are also now more aware of the dangers of trafficking. If people are beginning to be more aware of the evils of human trafficking and they report cases constantly to us, I think that is a success story. Nigerians are beginning to know what to do.
Another area of success is that the agency just got an approval from the Federal Government through the Federal Ministry of Justice to issue out clearance certificates to schools, football academies and just about everyone that wants to travel out of the country. The clearance is especially for those who are travelling as unskilled labourers and under-aged children. I think that is huge because with that, we will be able to really address the issue of people just travelling indiscriminately out of the country for unskilled labour.
With the discoveries of detention centres across the country particularly in Kaduna, Kwara and Kano states, what role will your agency play in the rehabilitation of the victims and the prosecution of suspects?
NAPTIP cannot play any role except we are brought in by the police. We expect that when the police are going out on a raid of such centres, it should be a joint operation with NAPTIP. One of the reasons is because the police do not have shelters to keep these people. And under the rules of rehabilitation and reintegration, you cannot just release people who are highly traumatised and unhealthy into the society like that.
There should be a process. When they are rescued, they should be treated medically, given psycho-social support and others. Some of these victims are prone to have mental problems if they are just released without all this support. They need to get over the trauma they went through before they were released. Some of them had already given up hope and some of them were just waiting to die. So now that they are released, they have to be counselled properly, treated adequately and empowered.
It is not enough to go, rescue and release them back to the hands of the family members, some of whom were responsible for their predicament in the first place.
Has the agency reached out to the police, since it appears the police are not carrying you along in these operations?
We reached out when the first raid was done in Kaduna State. We reached out to the police commissioner in Kaduna State, but we did not get any response. We spoke to one of the police officers there who told us that those who were rescued were taken to the Ministry of Women Affairs. Our officers went to the ministry. We heard from the television that over 400 persons were released but our officers met 190 at the ministry. By the next day, they had all gone. So there was little or nothing we could do because we were not involved in the first instance.
Does this not show that internal human trafficking is still on the high side in the country?
Absolutely, internal human internal trafficking is very high and the external dimension is also high. What makes me very worried is because these victims are very angry, bitter and they are potential criminals if they are not empowered. We have to treat them carefully.
In the first place, their families claimed that they were very difficult people and that was why they had to take them to the detention centres to subdue them. This is not even an excuse to mete out inhumane treatment to any human being.
What do you say about the clamping of those trafficked internally in illegal detention centres, as we are now witnessing in northern Nigeria?
The Federal Government has made it clear that such practice is clearly illegal. Those were not rehabilitation centres, they were torture centres. Nobody has any right to put people somewhere and call it a rehabilitation centre without the necessary approval of the Federal Government of Nigeria. You cannot put people in very unhygienic conditions and call it rehabilitation.
There is a protocol for the establishment of a rehabilitation centre which must be followed. Look at the kind of people that were rescued and how they were malnourished. That cannot be a rehabilitation centre.
Thousands of Nigerians, particularly females, are still being used as sex slaves in various West African countries. How is NAPTIP going about rescue efforts?
We work very closely with the International Organisation for Migration and I know that almost every week, Nigerians are repatriated from Libya. NAPTIP is usually at the airports to receive them and to profile them to know those who are really victims of human trafficking. This is because not all of them are victims of trafficking. There are those on irregular migration. Some are just irregular migrants who find their way into Libya.
So when we find victims of human trafficking, we take them in and rehabilitate them. We also investigate to trace their traffickers and prosecute them.
Some Nigerian girls have reached out from Qatar that they are being used as sex slaves. How are you working with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to rescue them?
We still work with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Nigerian embassies in those countries to assist in bringing those girls back. If we are able to get across to their agents here in Nigeria, we arrest them and make sure they bring back those girls, even while we prosecute them.
So it is very important for us to get information. Once we get information leading to the arrest of those agents who sold these girls out, we pick those agents and we are able to prosecute them and extract other information from them.
Can we have one case study of such efforts?
I will not like to give specifics because all the cases are still under investigation as we speak and I will not like to endanger the lives of the girls – the victims. Some of the suspects are still on the run while some of them are already with us. I recall that someone recently went to press concerning some girls stranded in a Middle Eastern country without first coming to NAPTIP for us to properly handle it.
The bad guys read the report and started threatening that they would kill the girls. Then, the victims got back to the person who reported and said, “We don’t need your help. We did not ask you to go and publish this.” This is because there is tension and those girls can be easily killed.
The eyes of the traffickers are on them and even though, we are looking for the suspects to arrest. But the girls are still out there and we don’t want to risk their lives.
We still have fake job adverts and recruitment agencies which lure Nigerians abroad for human trafficking and organ harvesting. How are you working with intelligence agencies to arrest these culprits?
The clearance certificate approval which I said has just been given to us will help a lot in addressing this. At the counters in the airports henceforth, before anyone is given a boarding pass, they must show clearance certificate from NAPTIP. Otherwise, they should not be checked in. So, we are going to be engaging all the officials at the airport.
We are going to be writing the airlines and ensure that no one is checked in without our clearance certificate. Otherwise, we will sue the airlines.
Right now, we don’t have any bilateral agreements with any country for unskilled labour. So in the first place, they are not even meant to travel out for unskilled labour. It is illegal. The unskilled labourers include home helps, nannies, and auxiliary nurses. They cannot do that and they are abused sexually, emotionally and physically. Some of them are killed while others become mentally ill.
What type of clearance are you issuing?
The clearance we are issuing captures those who are being deceived to join non-existent football clubs. Henceforth, they have to be cleared and certified by us before they can proceed on any such trips abroad.
During the year, what have been the agency’s constraints or challenges?
The challenges are usually the same every year, ranging from inter-agency rivalry, lack of cooperation to lack of coordination of activities and others. You have been watching the television and seen the police releasing victims of human trafficking under religious guises.
But none of those operations was coordinated with NAPTIP. The police ought to come and work with us in a joint operation and investigation. We must find out who these culprits are and also ensure that these victims are well rehabilitated. So it is a problem and it is part of what we are talking about.
Do you think an appropriate budget is being given to your agency?
Everyone in government will say the budget is not appropriate for them. Of course, we want more and we need more funds, just like everyone else. The money appropriated can never be enough for everyone. We are hoping to get more from the government. We want our budget increased.
How do you source for funds outside your budget to rehabilitate victims and provide shelters?
We have our international partner agencies which help to fund projects. What we do is to try to list our projects in order of priority and approach some of these partners to assist us to fund the projects. They usually do this through their non-governmental organisations.
And we are very prudent with whatever we get from the donations coming to NAPTIP. That is how we are able to strike a balance to ensure that we carry out our mandate effectively.