ECOWAS PARLIAMENT was told on Saturday, in a presentation by Julie Okah-Donli, Nigeria’s Director-General, National Agency for Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons, NAPTIP, during its First Ordinary Session, that Nigerian girls were being sold for between N210,000 and N240,000 to work as prostitutes in Mali.
“There are more than one million Nigerians residing in Mali. About 20,000 of these Nigerians are girls believed to be victims of trafficking and the number increases by 50 per day. Many victims are deceived to leave their livelihoods in Nigeria for greener pastures in ‘Mali.
“Some of the victims are abducted from Nigeria, including those that arrive in school uniforms. On arrival at the border town between Burkina Faso and Mali, many of the girls are sold off for CFA 350,000 to 400,000; their new owners then make them pay back about CFA 1.6 million to CFA 2 million with one CFA being 0.6 Naira,” she said.
Okah-Donli was presenting NAPTIP’s facts-finding report the visit to Mali. She said after the girls were sold, they were made to pay back between N1.08 million and N1.2 million within eight months, to their “madams” employers. The girls would free from their “madam” after full payments.
After their freedom, she said, Nigerian girls would commence their own sex-trade – making money for themselves through prostitution, eventually, becoming their own “madam”, and continue with the circle of employing other girls from Nigeria for the same sex-labour — prostitution.
Nigerian sex-slave labour girls lived in about 300 settlements in Malian bushes, each settlement holding between 100 to 150 girls. The girls are aged between 16 and over 30. They hang around bars and night clubs in sexually showy display to attract clients who take them into their huts made of polythene.
Okah-Donli said the border point between Nigeria and Seme-Krake and Burma Fas/Mali are “notoriously porous, and despite numerous reports and pictures of traffickers sent to law enforcement agencies at the borders, no arrests or rescues have been made”.
She said sex-labour employer “the trafficking madams” are well known by Nigerian community in Mali, but are afraid to report due to the complicity of Malian security agencies in human trafficking, especially the “Gendarmerie” who assist traffickers to carry out their activities.
As if they were parcels or goods in transit, the victims are way-billed from a motor-park in Cotonou, dropped at Sikasso near the border with Burkina Faso, and are picked by Malian Gendarmerie for delivery to their madams, Okah-Donli said.
Some of the sex-labour girls were made to sleep unprotected with several men. They were subjected to paying huge taxes by the “complicit Malian authority”. Malian authorities collect taxes from the victims on weekly basis and sell condoms and other medications compulsorily to their victims every month”, she said.
Okah-Donli is alarmed of growing possibility of Xenophobic attacks on Nigerian sex-labour girls by Malian women who were already grumbling that Nigerian girls were taking their men. She said “Three Nigerian girls were killed between November and December 2018.’’
Efforts to stop the illicit trade at the borders has not paid off. Efforts to repatriate the girls were usually foiled through complicity of Malian security forces, coupled with the willingness of many of the girls to return to the ‘sex-for-gold’ trade.
Border security had not made efforts to arrest the traffickers, in spite of information given to them. Some of the girls were trafficked to the northern parts of Mali, where they not only offered sex, but were radicalized.
She said many of the victims rescued in 2011 and 2017, were brought back to Nigeria, only for them to return back to Mali with more girls. NAPTIP is now seeking an agreement between Nigeria and neighbouring West African countries to end the practice of Nigerian girls being used as sex-slaves in Mali.
As part of efforts to curb the trend, Okah-Donli said the mission recommended among others, that Nigeria should develop Memorandum of Understanding, MoU, with Mali, Burkina Faso, Benin Republic, Guinea and Senegal. All motor-parks through which the girls were trafficked should be sanitized.
Efforts should be made to stop extortion of Nigerians traveling to or through the mentioned countries. She said “there is need for comprehensive sensitization of rescued victims before repatriation and a comprehensive blueprint worked out for training, empowerment and rehabilitation of victims”.
Okah-Donli said NAPTIP was ready to give technical support to Mali if sought, to establish anti-human trafficking agency. Nigerian team met with the Ministry of Justice in Mali to find solution to the menace. Malian Justice Ministry has requested NAPTIP to come up with MoU that would provide proper framework to end the trafficking and repatriate those already trafficked.
ECOWAS Parliament, recommended that protocol on Free Movement of persons and goods should be properly implemented, such that other nationals are not harassed in other ECOWAS countries, Okah-Donli said.