Curbing Human Trafficking Between Nigeria and the UK



By Alex Otti;

Exactly a week ago, on Monday, April 30, 2018, Dr. May Ikeora presented her book titled “Bilateral Cooperation and Human Trafficking, Eradicating Modern Slavery Between Nigeria and the United Kingdom”. The book presentation was hosted by the Deputy British High Commissioner in her residence in Ikoyi, Lagos. In attendance were The Governor of Edo State, Godwin Obaseki, Former Governor of Anambra State, Peter Obi and the representative of the Oba of Benin amongst other dignitaries. I was privileged to function as the book reviewer. I have taken liberty to publish my review of the book in this column today, hoping that you will enjoy it.

Just like Winston Churchill once remarked, this review would be like a lady’s skirt. Long enough to cover the subject, and short enough to create interest.

The 294 paged book sets out by reminding us that though transatlantic slave trade ended centuries ago, modern slavery is still very much around.

The major thrust of the study is to understand human trafficking, its causes and consequences and measures that would work in eradicating it. In explaining trafficking, Dr. Ikeora adopts the United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime definition as follows: “the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of a threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person for the purpose of exploitation”.

In spite of the apparent clarity of this definition, the author concedes that sometimes it is difficult for law enforcement officers to build a strong case of trafficking because the trafficker’s intent can be disguised. The magnitude of human trafficking is so pervasive that it has become the second largest source of illegal income after drug trafficking. Human trafficking occurs for several purposes, mainly for sexual exploitation, forced Labour, domestic servitude and organ harvesting.

In the year 2000, the Trafficking Protocol was adopted. This requires states to take necessary measures to Prevent, Protect and Prosecute (3Ps) in order to end trafficking.

I must at this point observe that this book is based on research involving fieldwork and interviews. The author therefore starts by formulating a research question thus: “to what extent have Nigeria and the UK cooperated to combat the prevalence of human trafficking across their borders?”

The book is organized into three sections and eight chapters.

In trying to understand and tackle human trafficking, a lot of perspectives are discernible . The author, however, adopts the human rights perspective to anti-trafficking. This perspective, according to the author, amongst other things, insists that victims have a right to be treated with dignity and are entitled to measures that ensure their well being and avoid revictimization. This approach also recognizes that victims may enter countries unlawfully and may face vulnerabilities as a result. They may also commit crimes under duress during the trafficking process which may result in their being arrested detained and even prosecuted. Criminalization of victims is frowned at by the human rights approach. The book highlights some of the drawbacks of the human rights approach and therefore extends the perspective to a human centered approach which basically says that rather than focusing on the state and its interest, the people’s interest should be paramount. The importance of the human rights approach is its assumption that victims are vulnerable because of lack of socio economic opportunities in origin countries. This, in my opinion, is the most important part of this study. As quoted in the book, “human trafficking persists in part, when societies tolerate denials of the dignity and humanity of vulnerable individuals. This includes the denial of economic and social rights, discrimination and poverty”.

Having identified the above, the author posits that restrictive UK immigration policies, somehow result in very weak protection of victims of trafficking. Once victims fear that they may be deported, they would rather remain in the UK at the mercy of their abductors. This is logical as the victims would rather not go back to the country from where they were coming for all sorts of reasons.

Because trafficking is mostly a cross border crime, there is need for cooperation amongst states if this scourge is to be contained. In this regard, the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (UNTOC), ratified by at least 117 nations has remained the most universally accepted international legal framework specific to addressing human trafficking. Without the cooperation of states, successful prosecution of traffickers may just be a pipe dream. In reality, some states find it difficult to allow victims to enjoy immigration status, thereby criminalizing them and sometimes, prosecuting them for breaking Immigration and Labour laws or simply repatriating them without any reprimand of the real criminals, the traffickers themselves. The author took time to analyze several other legal frameworks and arrangements which I believe would interest readers.

Dr. Ikeora describes Nigeria as a source, transit and destination country for trafficking people and states that 92% of Nigerians trafficked to Europe are from Edo State. These are figures provided by UNESCO. She goes into details on the different stages of trafficking which starts with the recruitment stage through the transportation stage to the exploitation stage.

In the 5th chapter of the book, the author delves into the efforts that Nigeria had made to stem trafficking to the UK and the challenges militating against these efforts.

The traditional fostering and apprenticeship system which ordinarily is helpful to families and communities in reducing pressure on the poor has also been fingered as responsible for the abuse of children and in some cases child trafficking. In 2003, the National Agency for Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP) act as amended was passed by the National Assembly. Its main purpose was to provide a comprehensive legal framework to prohibit human trafficking, protect victims and facilitate national and international cooperation to fight trafficking. One of the strongest points made by the author is that the best way to deal with human trafficking is to deal with vulnerabilities. Hear her “human trafficking preys on the vulnerability of people, which often makes it easier for traffickers to coerce and exploit them. For instance, poverty and search for a better life have driven people into the hands of traffickers as seen in many cases of trafficking. In this regard, addressing the vulnerabilities of persons in Nigeria can serve as a preventive strategic option towards addressing human trafficking from Nigeria to the UK”. She insists that it is the responsibility of states to prevent the occurrence of wrongful acts of which human trafficking is one. For the state to effectively tackle the problem, it must address the root causes by creating an environment that reduces vulnerability and makes it difficult for traffickers to operate with impunity. From her study, she found that poverty, greed, and low level of education as against the ‘better life syndrome’ sold by traffickers and others alike, have been major factors driving the trade in Nigeria. In addition, social exclusion that appears in the form of forced marriages, inequality, traditional servitude, homelessness, family instability and domestic violence must be focused on to prevent trafficking. She identifies limited ‘successes’ made by a few trafficked individuals by way of sending money home, building houses, drilling of boreholes, purchase of fairly used vehicles and a few other community development efforts as contributing in the push-back by potential victims. Some of the potential victims who in some cases, offer themselves to be trafficked and even when deported, willingly make efforts to be re-trafficked would insist that those who want to stop them do not mean well for them, their families and the community. She also fingered corruption as one of the reasons why anti-trafficking efforts have continued to fail.

The author also looks at the response of the UK to human trafficking and notes that there seems to be a lot more efforts through legislation to reduce trafficking. The major drawback identified is that the UK seems to be focused on immigration law than protecting the rights and interests of the victim. The UK adopted the 3D (Detention, Deportation and Disempowerment) approach in a bid to rid the country of victims of human trafficking. Nigerian victims are usually in breach of UK immigration rules and therefore are subject to arrest, detention and subsequent deportation irrespective of the circumstances under which the victim accessed the country. Even in cases where the victim opts to remain in the UK for fear of harm in Nigeria by their more powerful traffickers or for fear of re-trafficking, the tendency is for the UK authorities to decline. The author is optimistic that the Modern Slavery Act, 2015 would be able to address all the sides to the hitherto ignored trafficking regulation issues.  She, however, admits that the law is still too fresh to assess its effectiveness.

In 2004, Nigeria and the UK signed a bilateral agreement to work together to eliminate human trafficking across their borders. It is instructive that the understanding of the two nations are not exactly the same. While the UK would like to collaborate with Nigeria as a source country, Nigeria would rather see itself as a destination country from other African countries and a source to few European countries. Compared to countries like Italy and The Netherlands, Nigeria feels that the UK is insignificant as a destination country from Nigeria. To the UK, Nigeria is a big challenge to anti- trafficking efforts within its territory, maintaining a position as top five source country for trafficking into the UK. Nigeria on the other hand, does not see UK’s case as serious given that it is not within the top five destination countries for trafficking from Nigeria. In an interesting section she titled “Negotiating Rights or Negotiating Borders” the author contends that while on the face of it, eradicating human trafficking comes across as a common goal for both countries, border security, minimizing the cost of anti-trafficking and criminality seem to be the major focus of the UK over and above the human rights of the Nigerian victims. UK and some other countries believe that migration threatens national security and therefore regards human trafficking as an immigration problem which should be solved accordingly.

Like we pointed out earlier, Nigerian victims are most likely to take the risk of submitting themselves to their captors than come back to Nigeria to return to the same situation that they were running away from in the first place. Given the mismanagement of the Nigerian economy over time, living in Nigeria has become a nightmare for most people as they battle with extreme poverty and unemployment. Over 70% of the population lives below poverty line. An environment like this cannot but support trafficking and migration, she posits.

She concludes by calling on both countries to wake up to their responsibilities for trafficking to be successfully fought and defeated. If Nigeria does not make its environment more conducive for its people, the fight against trafficking cannot be won. While the fight is on, she advises the UK to pay more attention to the rights of victims rather than criminalizing them for crimes committed either unknowingly or under duress.

I must commend Dr. May Ikeora for such a great outing and for the painstaking manner in which she delivered the work. The style is attractive, the language simple and the logic, unassailable. Like every work of this nature, a few typographical errors were noticed. I will pass the ones I identified to her for correction in subsequent editions. While I must confess that the research was conducted professionally and conclusions were well founded, it is my belief that this exercise has also left room for further research. It may not be within the ambit of the present study, but I am of the opinion that knowledge would be aided if further research is able to establish the role of the current kidnappings particularly by Boko Haram, in human trafficking. For instance, the abduction of school girls from Chibok. Is it possible that some of those girls could be or could have been trafficked? If it is what would be the destination countries?

Your excellencies, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, this book is a must read for everyone who can read and reason. Finally, it is interesting that some of the findings of Dr. Ikeora’s research were consistent with a piece I did recently in this column titled “If you travel, you’ll die, if you don’t, you’ll die” (Thisday, March 12, 2018, Backpage).