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End of visit statement, Nigeria (3-10 September) by Maria Grazia Giammarinaro, UN Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children

Abuja, 10 September 2018 - I am grateful to the Government of Nigeria for the invitation to carry out an official country visit from 3 to 10 September 2018. I would also like to thank the authorities I have met at the Federal and State levels, as well as the diplomatic community and the United Nations Country Team for their openness to engage in frank discussions with me. During my visit, I also had the opportunity to meet with representatives from civil society, who, despite their limited capacity and funding, are incredibly committed to engage in the daily struggle of providing assistance to victims. I also had the privilege of speaking with survivors, whom I would like to thank warmly for courageously sharing their painful experiences and aspirations with me.

According to United Nations Sustainable Development Partnership Framework (2018-2022), Nigeria has one of the fastest growing economy in Africa with a GDP per capita of 1,645 USD. Nigeria is also Africa’s largest oil producer and ranks sixth in the world, with 2.5 million of oil produced every day.  Yet, as per the National Bureau of statistics, 64% of Nigerians live below the poverty line and trafficking in persons continues unabated. With the wealth and political leverage it has been generating, the Government of Nigeria cannot be seen to leave its people behind. To put people at the forefront of development in line with Agenda 2030, it is of utmost importance to ensure that the fight against trafficking in persons, remains high on the national agenda. In this regard, I note with appreciation the declared political will of the Government to stop the scourge of human trafficking. I equally wish to commend the efforts of the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP) both at federal and state level, as well as the recent initiative of the Governor of Edo State to put in place the ‘Edo State Task Force against Human Trafficking’ chaired by the Edo State Attorney General. I also note with appreciation the role of the Nigerian government in facilitating, including with the support of specialised UN agencies, the repatriation of many Nigerians held in slavery-like conditions from Libya, Mali and elsewhere.

However, I would like to highlight that the first indicator of political commitment lies in allocating adequate resources to specialised agencies and programs dedicated to the fight against trafficking, which, at present, appear significantly underfunded by the Government and highly relying on other actors, and particularly civil society organisations. Revived political will and better coordination across relevant federal inter-governmental departments, as well as between NAPTIP and State’s initiatives is also needed to put in place dedicated actions and holistic anti-trafficking responses.

Main manifestations of trafficking

Nigeria remains a source, transit and destination country for victims of trafficking. Victims are trafficked to Europe through the Central Mediterranean Route, but also to Gulf countries, as well as Russia and other West and Southern African countries mainly for the purpose of sexual and labour exploitation. Some are already recruited by their traffickers in the country of origin, others may start their migration journey voluntarily. However, due also to the absence of safe and regular migration channels, the vast majority of them fall prey to traffickers in transit countries, especially in Libya,  and is subject to all forms of human rights violations including torture, rape, extortion, and exploitation amounting to trafficking, slavery and forced labour. In destination countries, severe forms of exploitation are also perpetrated by traffickers and final exploiters, through organised crime networks. In relation to this, international trafficking for the purpose of organ removal has also been reported throughout my visit, through anecdotal evidence.

Internal trafficking mainly from rural to urban areas is also rampant in Nigeria, although often overlooked, and it mainly affects women and girls for the purpose of domestic servitude and sexual exploitation and men and boys for the purpose of child begging, including in connection with Almajiri practice in some parts of the country, as well as labour exploitation in street vending, domestic servitude, mining and stone quarrying, agriculture and textile manufacturing.

Other forms of internal trafficking reported include the issue of so-called ‘baby factories’, namely orphanages, maternity homes or religious centres where women are held against their will, raped and forced to carry and deliver children who are sometimes sold with the intent to exploit them in sexual and labour exploitation. In this regard, I welcome efforts from the Nigerian army’s special task force in Plateau State for having arrested 12 suspects allegedly running a baby trafficking ring in February 2017, according to information received during the visit.

Moreover, the displacement affecting the Northeast, as well as other parts of the country, has also exponentially increased vulnerability of the affected population to a number of risks, including risks of exploitation and trafficking in persons. All my interlocutors acknowledged how the IDPs population, for example, may be at a heightened risk of trafficking, in light of their vulnerable situation, but assessments on this have not yet been carried out. There is an urgent need to dig deeper into this issue, including assessing risks of exploitation and trafficking among the vulnerable categories in order to prevent the unfolding of additional human rights violations and suffering on these already strained groups of the population.

Finally, Nigeria also remains a transit and destination country for trafficking in persons from neighbouring countries, especially with the purpose of labour exploitation.

Legal and institutional framework

Nigeria has a solid legal foundation to combat trafficking, starting from the Constitution which prohibits slavery or servitude, and forced or compulsory labour (Article 34.1). In addition and well before the adoption of the Trafficking in Persons (Prohibition) Law Enforcement and Administration Act (so called Anti-Trafficking Act), the criminal and penal codes of Nigeria outlaw a number of conducts and acts which may amount to trafficking too.

The most comprehensive framework is provided by the Anti-Trafficking Act adopted in 2003 and amended in 2005 and 2015, which provides for a definition of trafficking in accordance with the Palermo Protocol, ratified by Nigeria in 2001. The Act has taken an innovative approach in criminalizing commercial carriers who transport potential trafficked persons and has instituted stiffer penalties, amongst others.

At State level, some States have enacted their own laws such as for example the Edo State Trafficking in Persons Act adopted in May 2018.

The fact that Nigeria was one of the first African countries to enact specific anti-trafficking legislation is noticeable. Yet even the most innovative legislation remains a dead letter if it is not seriously and strongly enforced. From all the stakeholders I met, the message came out loud and clear that the key challenge remains implementation of the law. Implementation and enforcement are proportionally linked to the capacity of the various institutions, including law enforcement agencies and the judiciary, to exercise their mandate and functions in relation to the fight against trafficking. In this regard, I am convinced that lack of resources, training and equipment for the various public offices involved in the fight against trafficking are important obstacles to robust implementation and enforcement.

The Anti-Trafficking Act established the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons and other Related Matters (NAPTIP) which is a unique model of specialized public entity with the primary responsibility to investigate and prosecute the perpetrators of trafficking in persons and counselling and rehabilitating the victims/survivors. It is meant to be a “one stop shop” to provide a holistic response to trafficking in persons based on the tenets of prevention, protection, prosecution and partnership.

NAPTIP has put emphasis on prevention and to this end, it has carried out awareness raising programmes, including by working in partnerships with CSOs. It was also successful in advocating for the integration of anti-trafficking education in the curricula for primary and secondary schools.  The component of prosecution is carried out by NAPTIP team of investigators and lawyers, including collaborating with pro bono lawyers, whereas victims’ protection is under the responsibility of social workers, trainers and educators working in the shelters. NAPTIP has also established a number of partnerships, the most prominent seeming to be with CSOs, to which NAPTIP refers trafficked victims that require assistance that is not available to the agency. The efforts made by NAPTIP in operating amidst shrinking resources and underfunding cannot go unnoticed. In addition, the presence of zonal offices on the Nigerian territory and 10 shelters is proof of the efforts of NAPTIP to reach out to the largest segment of the population.

The uniqueness of a specialized agency to combat trafficking is important. However I fear that this may have the risk of other public agencies with a mandate to combat trafficking delegating anti-trafficking cases/work to NAPTIP, instead of doing their part in coordination and cooperation with the agency.

I learnt of another experience, namely that of the Edo State Anti-trafficking Task Force, which coordinates the anti-trafficking work of all relevant State departments, NAPTIP inclusive, and other actors, including CSOs. This Task Force, which is only slightly over a year old, seems to have produced already some interesting results and therefore I will follow its work with interest.

Prevention

Prevention of trafficking in persons has been identified as one of the main priorities during my visit. Strategies aimed at preventing trafficking should analyse root causes as well as factors that increase vulnerability to trafficking, including displacement, economic and gender inequality, poverty and unemployment. For instance, during my fruitful discussions with communities, faith-based organisations, civil society and local researchers, I was informed that, in Edo State, inheritance is mainly primogenital and from father to son and, in most cases, the eldest son inherits the bulk of the property. As a consequence, when the husband in a polygamous marriage and low income family dies and has just one property to be inherited by his first son, many women are often left behind and need to look for alternative ways of surviving, one of which is for their daughters to migrate abroad.

Gender inequality, discrimination and stereotypes are also coupled with strong traditional practices and beliefs, particularly entrenched in certain regions, such as Edo State. Other than the well-known practice of ‘juju’, which has been condemning victims of trafficking to the ‘oath of secrecy’, families also tend to see children as an ‘investment’ for the family and even push them into the hands of traffickers and later tolerate their exploitation, as far as they are able to lift their families from poverty and improve the household’s economic status.

In addition, madams operating the trafficking ring and returning with their fortune to Edo State to invest in expensive properties have been seen as major examples of success and have contributed to foster the false perception that ‘life abroad is always better than in Nigeria’. In this regard, engaging with traditional rulers, community and religious leaders is paramount to ensure effective preventive anti-trafficking actions. The initiative of the Oba of Benin, who  lifted victims of trafficking from the ‘oath of secrecy’ and placed the curse on traffickers has produced unprecedented results and proven to be extremely impactful on the lives of thousands of women and girls in Nigeria and also abroad.

During my visit, I have noted with appreciation several initiatives, including many sponsored by the European Union as well as by its member States, aimed at supporting awareness raising campaigns on the risks of human trafficking and ‘irregular migration’. However, given the very limited existing channels for safe and regular migration, especially to Europe, awareness raising has proven to be insufficient if not coupled with developing programmes offering education, vocational training and literacy but also long-term interventions resulting in real economic empowerment. While trafficking in persons cuts across all social classes and ages, those who are willing to attempt perilous journeys, even before becoming victims of trafficking, are affected by poverty and inequality and, especially when forcibly repatriated, they often return to the same vulnerabilities that pushed them to resort to traffickers. It is therefore important to find better ways to address the issue of prevention, by investing in education and job creation, which could offer a real and meaningful alternative to trafficking.

Protection

Trafficking in persons cannot be eradicated without paying attention to the rights and needs of those that have been trafficked.

Lack of official data represents a major challenge in ensuring that all victims of trafficking are protected. In this regard, I welcome the initiative of the National Human Rights Commission on the management of a database of missing persons in Nigeria which is triggered upon families’ complaint and which is directly linked to trafficking in persons as, most times, victims are reported missing before being identified as trafficked.

I note with appreciation NAPTIP’s efforts in setting up 10 shelters in Nigeria and in establishing a dedicated team of social workers in charge of psycho-social support and reintegration of victims.

However, while visiting NAPTIP shelters I noticed with concern that they are “closed shelters”, infringing the freedom of movement of survivors and perpetuating the false assumption that victims of trafficking have to be locked up for their security, even though they have not committed any crime. I would like to stress that shelters managed by civil society organisations are open and are in fact used by NAPTIP itself to refer its victims after the six-week period of stay in NAPTIP shelters has expired. This shows that operating open shelters for victims of trafficking is possible and does not imply major security problems. On the other hand, six weeks is a very short period compared to the intensive counselling required to ensure rehabilitation of survivors. I welcome the good cooperation between NAPTIP and civil society organisations in this field. However, the mere fact that a specialised government agency relies on the work of civil society organisations in providing assistance and protection of trafficked persons in the long-term, clearly shows the need of appropriate funding for CSOs.

In addition, lack of sufficient resources to manage and maintain NAPTIP shelters has detrimental consequences on the quality of services provided, in particular with regard to social reintegration of trafficked victims.

I have also been informed that in Abuja and Lagos, NAPTIP has been mandated to provide assistance both for victims of trafficking under the 2015 Anti-Trafficking Act and victims of other forms of abuses covered by the Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act of 2015. In this regard, while visiting Abuja NAPTIP shelter, I noted that out of 43 persons and 4 babies accommodated, only 3 or 4 were victims of trafficking. While implementation of this Act is urgently needed, NAPTIP, in cooperation with its partners, may consider assessing how to carry out the mandate given by this Act in a way that does not have negative repercussions on the specialized services for trafficked persons. I have also noted that protection gaps exist with regard to protection and assistance of men above the age of 18, many of whom have been recently rescued from Libya.

Reintegration and rehabilitation of trafficked victims in Nigeria has proven to be particularly challenging, especially following important returns from Libya and other countries in the last few months.

While I commend NAPTIP efforts in dealing with such challenges, more concerted efforts should be dedicated into providing returnees with valuable job opportunities other than life-skill trainings and professions of sewing, tailoring and make up, traditionally associated with women’s role in society. In order to ensure effective economic empowerment of returnees and prevent further re-trafficking, all relevant Governmental ministries, such as the Ministries of Women’s Affairs, Health, Labour and Youth Development have to step up and work side by side with NAPTIP and civil society in the fight against trafficking.

During the visit, I heard about some promising experiences, which could be replicated at a larger scale. For instance, I learnt of a project, implemented by civil society organisations with the support of international partners, which promotes community-based interventions whereby in consultation with the community a mapping of business opportunities available is conducted and community businesses, such as pineapple juice, palm oil and cassava processing factories are set up. I also commend similar projects run by civil society organisations and aiming at boosting youth economic empowerment but also prevention and awareness raising, as they function on the basis of mixed groups of young people composed of both returnees and those who are vulnerable and may be potential victims of trafficking.

I also appreciate the work of the Edo State Task Force in receiving and welcoming returnees and assisting their reintegration into society. I particularly commend the decision to pay 3 months stipends to 3,211 returnees from Libya by the Edo State Governor, following a monitoring and evaluation phase aimed at assessing the progress of returnee resettlement in collaboration with the Edo Taskforce. I encourage more of such initiatives by other States, as well as by the Federal Government.

Several sources, including UN sources, indicate that many boys and girls have been recruited by Boko Haram and used as combatants or held in sexual slavery or otherwise exploited in forced labour, which amount to child trafficking. These children are deeply traumatised and need specialised rehabilitation after they escaped or were liberated from Boko Haram by Nigerian military. Their detention in appalling conditions, which has been reported by civil society, constitutes a violation of children’s rights and should be avoided at all times.

Furthermore, we cannot forget the hundreds of girls abducted by Boko Haram, whose fate is still unknown and that might have been trafficked for sexual or other forms of exploitation. I urge the Nigerian government to continue operating for their immediate release.

Prosecution and access to justice for victims

In terms of prosecution, I thank NAPTIP for having shared with me the details of convictions carried out so far and I note with appreciation that, since 2004, it has convicted 362 individuals, of which 21 in 2018. However, considering the magnitude of the phenomenon, investigation and prosecution need serious and robust improvement. The main challenges identified by civil society organisations relate to corruption, lack of confidence in the judicial system, lack of training and specialised knowledge on trafficking in persons among law enforcement officials, police departments, judges and prosecutors, poor capacity in targeting high-level perpetrators and lengthy of judicial proceedings leading to delayed, and hence, denied, justice.

Coordination between NAPTIP and ordinary law enforcement officials should be improved and standard operating procedures should be put in place to ensure better synergies between investigators, prosecutors and counsellors already at the investigation phase, to tackle trafficking from a holistic manner as well as to avoid overlapping and duplication of work.

Another major challenge identified is that investigation and prosecution still heavily rely on the victim’s testimony, often resulting in cases being dropped due to lack of evidence and, among others, pressure from the family, especially when involved in trafficking at the recruitment phase, to withdraw the complaint. In addition, Nigerian authorities and a large number of the public continue to see trafficking as being exclusively for sexual exploitation and in lacking empathy for those victims that started their journey voluntarily in search for a better life and became exploited in transit and destination countries, as if this was simply the result of their choice, instead of investigating the sophisticated criminal network operating this organised crime. The newly established option of producing electronic evidence in courts, by, for instance, video linked interviews, is a positive development that should be encouraged together with other ways of securing and corroborating evidence not requiring the physical presence of a victim.

Furthermore, in the narratives of victims and survivors, the role of corrupted law enforcement officers has often been highlighted. A special attention should be paid by investigative authorities on possible involvement or collusion of public officials with trafficking rings.

Access to justice for victims of trafficking has been fraught with challenges. No compensation for victims seems to have been awarded from what I learnt in my conversations. The establishment of a Trust Fund for victims of trafficking is a welcome step; 10 years after its establishment, though, it is high time that the Fund is implemented and funded for the benefits of victims.

Role of civil society organisations (CSOs)

I was very impressed by the role that CSOs have played in the fight against trafficking in Nigeria. With extremely limited funds and other resources, they have provided psychosocial, medical, legal and other types of assistance to survivors of trafficking including returnees from Libya and other countries. Under the most constricting conditions, they have also been operating shelters for all victims, women, men, boys and girls, often hosting survivors that public entities cannot care for. CSOs have made relentless efforts to provide skills training and identify viable employment and business opportunities for survivors in a context of economic recession and high rates of youth unemployment. Yet some of these organizations often work in isolation and their efforts have been frustrated by a general short term vision of policy makers in the country and abroad.

I was taken aback to learn that the Government, while valuing the contribution of CSOs in anti-trafficking work, has not been providing any financial support to ensure sustainability of their work. CSOs have had to scramble for funding from private entities and international donors. As the primary responsibility to assist survivors remain with the State, cooperation with CSOs must be seen as a win-win response to trafficking, where state institutions benefit from the expertise and flexibility of CSOs and CSOs in turn are given the means for solid long-term planning, which will eventually lead to alternative and sustainable life projects for people vulnerable to trafficking. Therefore I advocate for the establishment of a dedicated budget at the federal and state level to provide for appropriate resources to CSOs working with trafficking victims and survivors.

International cooperation

I was told on several occasions during the visit that strengthening international cooperation is urgent. I agree that political will and commitment domestically must go hand in hand with strong commitment of international partners to cooperate in the fight against trafficking. In my view, this should not only entail increasing dedicated resources for joint projects and operations, which is absolutely needed, but also a shift in the approach to such projects. For example, projects should integrate a long term perspective for the rehabilitation and re-integration of victims/survivors; awareness raising campaigns, albeit important, should not only aim at raising awareness of the risks of unsafe migration and inform on safe migration channels, although extremely limited, but, more importantly, they should create viable alternatives to live and work in dignity in the country.

I was pleased to learn about the Joint Border Task Force, a project aimed at building the capacity of Nigerian law enforcement officers in investigating and prosecuting traffickers, building confidence among cross border law enforcement agencies and create an environment conducive to joint investigations. One tangible success of this was the recent Iyamu case, whereby a British female trafficker was sentenced to 14 years in jail for trafficking five Nigerian women into Germany for sexual exploitation after subjecting them to the “juju” rituals. She was the first trafficker prosecuted under the Modern Slavery Act in relation to trafficking victims outside the UK. She was also convicted of perverting the course of justice, by arranging for relatives of her victims in Nigeria to be arrested.

These are my preliminary findings and recommendations in a spirit of constructive dialogue, for the common goal of eradicating trafficking in persons.

I thank you.