THE Senate Roundtable on Migration and Human Trafficking held in Benin City, the Edo State capital, may have come and gone, but the lessons therefrom will go a long way in drastically mitigating the negative implications of illegal migration and human trafficking on the national psyche, prevent the scourge and help refocus young persons who feel that the only way to happiness and good life is to migrate to a foreign country at all cost. The first lesson is that the 8th Senate has raised the ante on legislative interventions by practically moving its sitting to different parts of the country which it considers as requiring its reach, intervention, and influence on key issues of urgent national importance. The method has led to the staging of national discussion in certain areas of the country to galvanize needed consciousness, resources, policy and legislative input from a broad spectrum in tackling different crucial socioeconomic issues that are assuming grave implications for the overall wellbeing of the people and development of the country. The Senate’s roundtables on Drug Use in Kano in December and the one on Migration and Human Trafficking in Benin City are cases in point.
Another takeaway is the fact that Nigeria and the international community are genuinely losing sleep and are ready to do something about the spike in illegal migration and human trafficking as evidenced by the impressive attendance and contributions. From victims of human trafficking to returnees to community leaders, traditional institutions like the Oba of Benin who was represented by the Obasogie of Benin Kingdom, Chief Eduwu Ekhator, State Governments represented by Edo State Governor, Godwin Obaseki, his deputy, Phillip Shuaibu, Delta State Governor, Senator Ifeanyi Okowa – who sent a representative – senators, ministers, heads of federal agencies, ambassadors, members of the global diplomatic community, heads of security agencies, the media, academia and civil society, the event had quality audience.
The presentations, analyses and facts made available at the sessions, it was clear that the root cause of this national malaise stems from a convergence of multiple factors including but not limited to economic hardship, individual and collective greed, cultural values – where negative practices are discretely encouraged – and the high cost and gaps in the educational system that do not emphasize the acquisition of skills among others. Testimonies from some returnees and experts at the session point to issues like having a landed property to bury ones parents, lack of jobs, epileptic power supply and high level of school dropouts – due to high cost of education – as potent fuels for the raging desire to illegally migrate at all costs or yield to the guile of trafficking cartels. Some even expressed the desire to embark on similar trips in future, irrespective of present dangers. Another takeaway is the fact that apart from the low international image foisted on the country by the increasing criminal acts of human trafficking and illegal migration, the victims often have a tale of anguish, exploitation, dehumanisation, bloodied nose, psychological and social disorientation to tell. While many suffer death in the process, others survive by the whiskers after serving jail term, forced labour, s3xual exploitation and outright sale into slavery as being witnessed in Libya.
The horrific signals of acts of torture, wholesale slavery emanating from major international media on the ordeal of Nigerians being trafficked or involved in illegal migration across international borders has been ineffectual in terms of deterrence as the orgy has not only become an epidemic of grave concern to government at all levels, communities and the international community, but remains a festering sore on the relations between Nigeria and global community in terms of individual, corporate and diplomatic engagements.
Moreover, things have become worse in that other Nigerians who are legally making forays into European countries often suffer the indignity of being treated with ignominy until they can prove that they are ‘clean and legit’ in line with the laws of individual countries.
It is further noteworthy that even though governments, in transit and destination countries, have since rolled up their sleeves and initiated plans aimed at mitigating the modern slavery through effective law enforcement and provision of social incentives – to prevent the practice, prosecute traffickers, protect and reintegrate victims – the measures still seem like a drop in the ocean. This is in view of the sheer number of persons willing to embark on the tortuous expeditions through the apparent graveyards of the Sahara Desert and the Mediterranean Sea. Also worthy of mention is the undertaking by the Senate President, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki, that the roundtable would not be an end in itself, but the beginning of a series of initiatives and activities involving legislation, improvement in the quality of policy and implementation capacities as well as a re-engineered social response in tackling the menace of illegal migration and human trafficking. Appalled by the seeming helplessness of state, Federal and international agencies who daily sweat to put a stop to the whirlwind of human cargo with little success, the Roundtable proffered both short and long term strategies as a way of taming the monster.
After the two-day intense deliberations, the participants in their communique recommended that strong measures involving all governments and communities must be adopted immediately to stem the tide of young persons still undertaking dangerous and illegal journeys out of the country. They also canvassed that Nigerians in distress in countries wherever they are located should be assisted to return home. Their safety, security, and other rights must be protected by the Nigerian government and host governments until their status are clarified or they are returned home. They also advocated that intense awareness campaigns must be mounted to warn gullible young people against embarking on dangerous journeys, and to destroy the perceptions that foreign lands are the only route to wealth and happiness. They further stated that law, order and other regulatory agencies must be made more effective, efficient and accountable while their capacities to prevent, arrest and prosecute traffickers and collaborators in illegal or irregular migration should be strengthened and made evident. The conferees further urged the global community to improve its responses to the issues of irregular migration and human trafficking, adding that there is the need to intensify collaboration and cooperation between the Nigerian government and other governments to strengthen legal frameworks, innovative steps in dealing with repatriation and re-integration matters.
- Onogu is Chief Press Secretary to the Senate President