Security, Human Trafficking and Int’l Law: The Conflict between National Interest and Inhumanity


The Nigerian Society of International Law (NSIL) held its 41st Annual Conference on “Security, Human Trafficking and International Law” on Thursday, 22nd and Friday 23rd November, 2018 at the Great Benin Prestige Hotel, Benin City, Edo State. Mr. Godwin Noghaghase Obaseki, Governor of Edo State, who by virtue of this position, is one of the Patrons of the NSIL, played host to the conference. He was represented at the conference by the Commissioner for Justice and Attorney-General, Professor (Mrs) Yinka Omorogbe, who also was the First Vice President and newly elected President of the Society.

The conference was structured into three main parts: Taslim Elias Moot Court Competition, working sessions, and Annual General Assembly. The moot court competition took place on the sidelines of the working sessions and was specially organised in honour of the late Professor Michael Ayodele Ajomo, former president of the NSIL. True, the moot competition was quite interesting for many reasons: First, it is a moot. The actors are not real. Secondly, four universities participated in the concluding stage of the competition and they all showed very scholarly competence.

The contesting institutions are University of Uyo, whose team was led by their lecturer, Essang Edemunoh Asuquo, A.E. Nkereuwem Akpabio and Aniekan Emmanuel Udo-Okon, who led the arguments; Afe Babalola University, led by Hillary Okweguali, the lecturer, and James Favour Nkiru and Ukomadu Chijioke, the debaters; University of Ilorin, led by Dr. Azubike Onuora-Oguno, the lecturer, Opeoluwa Sanni and Haroon Ibrahim, the debaters; and Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma, led by Emmanuel Aigbe, lecturer, Omonhe Jennifer Osedebamen and Fasika Ayomikun Samuel, the debaters).

It is assumed that there is a dispute between the Republic of Belia and Republic of Akeria and the moot court was required to look into the misunderstanding. The court was presided over by Honourable Justice Oluwakayode-Ola Ogunjobi, Justice of the High Court, Lagos Judiciary. Dr. Debo Olagunju and Dr. Asikia Karibi-Whyte were other two members of the moot court. The issues for determination by the court were: whether Akeria is in violation of the international law on the basis of the rule of pacta sunt servanda; whether the agreement of 1975 concerning migrant workers is not binding on Akeria; whether the Boundria Declaration of 1975 is binding on Akeria; whether Akeria is in breach of the Constitutive Act of the African Union; whether Akeria is in breach of customary international law of uti possidetis juris; and whether the measures taken by the Government of Belia, its agents and/or representatives on the Islands of Isakab are not in violation of international law.

For purposes of objectivity, the four contestants were not identified by the names of their universities. They were simply identified as Team 1 (Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma), Team 2 (University of Afe Babalola, Ado Ekiti), Team 3 (University of Uyo), and Team 4 (University of Ilorin). There were two preliminary debates and the four teams were divided into two groups for purposes of convenience. In the two preliminaries, Team 3 obtained 912 points, followed by Team 4 with 818 points, Team 2 with 754 points and Team 1 with 697 points.

In terms of memorials, Team 4 led with 154 points, followed by Team 3 with 152 points, Team 2 with 139 points, and Team 1, with 132 points. In overall total points, Team 1 was the 4th best (Ekpoma) with 829 points. Team 2 (ABUAD) was 3rd best with 893 points. Team 4 (Ilorin) was second best. Team 3 (Uyo) was the best of the best and the winner, with 1,064 points.

Regarding the working sessions, the theme of discussion was structured into four sub-themes: security implications of international migration; investigation and prosecution of international crimes; human trafficking and armed conflict; and human rights implication of human trafficking. What is obvious as a challenge to be addressed in the four sub-themes are international migration, international crimes, and human trafficking.

Explained differently, how do we relate the problems of international migration, international crimes and human trafficking to international law, and particularly to human rights? This question reminds one of the slaughtering of a Saudi Arabian journalist, Kashoggi in the diplomatic premises of Saudi Arabia in Turkey, more specifically, in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. The killing of any journalist is abnormality and most unacceptable. If a journalist dies by accident, or killed during the exercise of his or her duty, God is there to forgive.

However, if a journalist holds an opinion, favourable or not to Government, and he is not only killed, but killed very brutally, questions must be raised on the essence and extent of relevance of the so-called press freedom, democratic ethos, freedom of speech and the right to hold an opinion. This is because the mere holding of an opinion can be antagonising and can warrant brutality of reaction. This is not only the case with Kashoggi but also with international migrants, especially the illegal ones, and with the victims of human trafficking.

The NSIL focused much attention on the protection of human rights within the context of human trafficking, armed conflicts, international migration and in the processes of investigation and prosecution of crimes. Without doubt, the issues generated much debate and interest. In this regard, the first day witnessed discussions on the first two sub-themes: security implications of international migration and investigation and prosecution of international crimes. In the two working sessions of the first day, issues of inhumanity, especially within the framework of human trafficking, were raised.

In recognition of the menace that human trafficking constitutes, Professor Yinka Omorogbe has it that Governor Godwin Obaseki established on August 15, 2017 the Edo State Taskforce Against Human Trafficking (ETAHT), which is also chaired by Professor Omorogbe. The ETAHT adopted a four-pronged operational methodology: welcoming of returnees, intensive advocacy programmes, vigorous investigation and prosecution, and studying and tackling the cultural and psychological-embedded root causes.

Amongst the objectives of the ETAHT are the need to actively combat this scourge, pass a state law against trafficking in humans, adopt measures to aid understanding of the nature and causes of the menace. And true enough, the ETAHT has welcomed more than 4000 returnees from Libya, passed the Edo State Trafficking in Persons (Prohibition) Enforcement and Administration Law, held several Town Hall meetings to create awareness about the ills of irregular migration and what is to be trafficked, and engaged in data collection from both the traffickers and the persons trafficked.

One important observation made by Professor Yinka Omorogbe was the report of the IOM that, in the first half of 2018, 2,225 irregular migrants arrived in Italy. The three top countries of origin of the migrants were Tunisia, Eritrea, and Nigeria.’ The IOM report also has it that there were more than 10,000 deportations of stranded migrants from Libya since the beginning of the second half of 2017 with so many casualties, and that 60% of this figure are from Edo State. This revelation cannot but partly explain the interest and commitment of the Edo State government in seeking an enduring solution to the menace of human trafficking and illegal migration.

In the keynote address given by Honourable Justice Esohe Frances Ikponmwen, FCJEI, FICMI, the Chief Judge of Edo State, ‘human trafficking is generally understood to refer to the process through which individuals are placed or maintained in an exploitative situation for economic gain. Trafficking in persons is a serious crime and a grave violation of human rights that mainly affects women and children. It is a threat to both national security and human security. It also undermines sustainable development and the rule of law. Along with drug trafficking and arms dealing, human trafficking has been described as one of the most profitable crimes in the world.’

The issue of brutality can be appreciated by noting that human trafficking is said to be one of the most profitable crimes in the world. The appreciation will still be better if it is also borne in mind that trafficked persons or victims of brutality are all entitled to enjoyment of human rights whenever they are outside their country. But how do we explain the enjoyment of human rights in the context of human trafficking?

There are many types of human trafficking: sex trafficking, child sex trafficking, trafficking in human organs, forced labour or involuntary servitude, debt bondage which is about forcing an individual to work in order to settle a debt. In this regard, Dr. Ademola A. Taiwo of the Babcock University, did not only reveal in his paper that 51% of identified victims of trafficking are women, 28% are children and 21% are men, that 72% of the people exploited in the sex industry are women, that 63% of identified traffickers were men and 37% are women, and that 43% of victims are trafficked domestically within national borders, but also that Nigeria is a major root of human trafficking. As he noted, ‘the States that produce victims of the scourge are Akwa-Ibom, Cross River, Delta, Edo, Ebonyi, Kano, Ogun, Oyo, and Lagos.’

What is perhaps more problematic about the foregoing is the observation of the Edo State Chief Judge. She has noted that ‘many states have introduced laws criminalising human trafficking but prosecutions are rare. Even when offenders are convicted, it is unusual for victims to be compensated. Where victims are compensated, extremely low sums are awarded that are not proportionate to the magnitude of the harm suffered.’ She also added that ‘anti-trafficking laws are problematic to enforce because victims of trafficking are hesitant to identify traffickers for fear of repercussion. Since trafficking is a crime that transcends borders and therefore jurisdictions applying international law to a person who resides in another state is a costly and complex endeavour.’

A second problem addressed during the working sessions is the question of investigation and prosecution of international crimes. Dr. Ernest O. Ugbeje of the Open University of Nigeria, identified the challenges as including difficulties in mutual legal assistance, especially in the area of evidence gathering (details of foreign bank account statements of relevant witnesses, etc; Lack of Diligent Prosecution, especially in terms of poor drafting of charges and preferring of many charges; political influence and interference; lack of independence; immunity and lack of political will.

Dr. Kenneth Uzor Eze, Head of the Academy Advancement Unit of the Nigeria Police Academy, also raised the dimension of cybercrime and noted that a person can only commit a crime in the country where he is physically present, meaning that jurisdiction in investigating can only also take place in that same place of physical presence. However, a cybercrime is a unique crime in that it may be committed in country A while being physically present in one’s home, country C.

Perhaps more disturbingly, the brutality with which illegal migrants are faced were discussed as raised in Professor Bola A. Akinterinwa’s paper. The trafficking in human organs was also raised by Dr. Pedi Obani and Dr. Hadiza O. Okunrobo in their papers. The Global Commission on International migration (GCIM) has it that there are about 200 million migrants the world over, 60% of whom reside in the developed world while the other 40% live in the developing countries. In this regard, the GCIM also has it that one of every ten people living in the developed world is a migrant. If this is admittedly so, it should therefore be borne in mind that migrants are human beings who have their mania of living before migrating to another country, who have to adapt to another cultural way of living on arriving at their new host state, and who following arrival, can infringe on local laws on the basis of psychology of human differences or even contribute to societal development in their host countries.

From the foregoing therefore, international migration cannot but be a critical issue in international law and relations, impinging on inter-personal relationships and on global peace and security in many ways. The importance of international migration can be gleaned from the perspective that it is one of the major issues that also explains in part the controversial Brexit policy in the United Kingdom as at today. In the same vein, one major headache with which the incumbent President of the United States, Mr. Donald Trump, is also faced is international migration.

And perhaps more notably, the cardinal objective of migration is not only security but also means of security. It is an anti-terrorism measure. Most unfortunately, however, the environment of migration is globally insecure. Its operational modalities are also insecurity-engendered, hence the growing anti-migration sentiments in many countries of the world. Explicated differently, it is not the act of migration that is the problem but the mania of going about it before, during, and after migration. This necessarily raises the challenge of management, implications for national unity and security, as well as the need to discuss migration and integration in the context of an environment of renewed and increasing nationalism that is increasingly very hostile to migration, and particularly to illegal migration.

This should be of a major concern to African leaders, especially the ECOWAS leaders because of insecurity in West Africa, and also because, of the 200 million migrants in the world, not less than 7 million of them reside in West Africa. Besides, one third of the people of West Africa not only live outside their district or village but also 42% of the total of international migrants residing in Africa are located in West Africa alone. The problem here is not the act of migration but the mistreatment to which migrants, especially the illegal ones, are subjected.

In spite of this, migration still constitutes a desideratum in contemporary international relations, and therefore, no country, and particularly Africa’s former colonial masters, can totally close its doors to migration. Since it is admitted that the colonial masters seriously undermined and underdeveloped Africa, the under-development of the African environment cannot but push Africans to seek greener pastures in Europe. If Europe wants to contain the inflow of African and non-African migrants, the European Union must redefine its policy of ‘Solidarity and the Management of Migration Flows,’ to reckon with the geo-political and the current situational realities in Africa as a whole.

In light of the foregoing, any objective of management of migration, especially ECOWAS integration in an era of national and regional security, ought to first reckon with the causal factors of migration and with the dynamics of national and regional insecurity. In this regard, the reckoning should be done at three different, but complementary, levels: reasons for migration; the act or form of migration, with emphasis on its manifestations; and the challenges of settlement or establishment in the receiving community or state.

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At the Annual General Assembly, Emeritus Professor Isaac Oluwole Agbede, Fellow and President of the NSIL, recalled the various travails of the Society so far and underscored the need to make more sustained efforts in acquiring land from the Lagos State Government for the construction of the Taslim Elias Academy of International Law. In his eyes, there is no reason why the NSIL should be playing the second fiddle.

In appreciation of his invaluable contributions, the Annual General Assembly unanimously endorsed Professor Isaac Oluwole Agbede as Honorary President of the Society. Professor Yinka Omorogbe was elected as the new President while Professors Bola A. Akinterinwa and Ademola Popoola were unanimously elected Vice President I and II respectively. In the same vein, Dr. Asikia Karibi-Whyte was elected the Secretary General, Professor Emmanuel Okon as Director of Publications, Dr. Olayinka Owoeye as Financial Secretary, Mr. C.N. Nwaneri as Publicity Secretary and Barrister Grace Ezeiruaku as Treasurer. Dr. Tete Michael Adam was elected Deputy Director of Publication while Dr. Ezekiel Mobolaji and Dr. Azubuike Onuora-Oguno were elected Deputy Secretary General I and II respectively.

Associate Professor Rufus Olaoluwa, who had served the NSIL for ten years as Secretary General, encouraged in his report that all members should be sustaining members. In his words, ‘if you are not contributing financially to the Society, your membership is questionable or rather inchoate.’ It was on this note that the Assembly expressed gratitude to the outgoing executives and that the new officers pledged renewed commitment to make the Society greater in status.