Every year, thousands of women and children become victims of sex trafficking in their own countries and abroad.
Nigeria is a source, transit, and destination country for women and children subjected to trafficking in persons including forced labor and forced prostitution.
Trafficked Nigerian women and children are recruited from rural areas within the country’s borders – women and girls for involuntary domestic servitude and sexual exploitation.
The quest to make it big in life coupled with the harsh living condition in the country forced these women to jump into the prospects of travelling abroad at any single opportunity not minding the consequences.
Many of these distraught and sometimes desperate Nigerians believe that the streets overseas are paved with gold, pounds and dollars that once you step into those countries it will be bye-bye to poverty and hardship.
Unfortunately, as it is said, not all that glitters is gold. To escape the hardship at home, many take great risks to travel abroad only to enter into a more harrowing experience.
Some die in the process while others escape with scars that may haunt them for the rest of their lives. While some were victims of circumstances, having been tricked and deceived into such journey, others take the risk of opting to travel abroad by land and sea routes knowing that they cannot afford the normal process of getting visas and honouring several embassy appointments. Some of the girls deceived into this route end up as sex slaves with so much regret and consequences.
reporter encountered two young women in Anambra, Amarachi Ojene, 23, and Tobechukwu Igboeri, who shared the chilling experiences of their near-death journey to get greener pastures overseas. Years after such ‘journey to hell’, their lives have never been the same again.
Amarachi, from Nibo, Awka South Local Government Area of Anambra State was an SS2 student in 2012 when she encountered a devil in human skin who not only took advantage of her naivety and innocence, but also exploited her poor parental background to trick her into a sex slavery trip abroad.
Having lost her dad when she was seven years, Amarachi relied on her mother who eked out a living by hawking cooked Okpa (a local delicacy) around the Awka metropolis. They also augmented the proceeds by engaging in manual labour in local farms for people at a fee.
So, she was so excited when she met her friends who told her that their aunt was looking for a house help that would live with her overseas. She reasoned that going abroad with the woman would ease a lot of load for her suffering mother as she would be paid in dollars, which she would send home to alleviate the family sufferings.
Hear Amarachi’s gory story:
“I vividly remember the day that two girls in my town, Chioma and Miracle, met me at the Eke Awka market, where I had gone to buy palm fruits for my mum’s Okpa business. They asked if I would like to travel abroad; they said their relation living in a foreign land was looking for a house-help to take along.
I was excited as I thought that a bright prospect for higher education and escape from poverty had come not knowing that I was walking into a death trap. They told me that the same relation was also taking them with her, so that they could be fixed into money-yielding ventures over there.
When I went home, I didn’t tell my mum immediately because I was afraid of her reaction, but when I eventually told her, she was also excited more so when she heard that the woman taking me abroad is from Awka. One week later, they came back and told me that we would leave in a few days.
They never told me the main thing we were going to do there and it was later that I realized that those girls were her agents who recruit unsuspecting ladies for her in the organized sex pimp business she does.
They took me to the woman called Aunty Ebube and I was surprised when I got there and saw many young girls there too. She asked me probing questions, wanting to know if I was aware of the business I had come to do and said no. We slept that night and the next morning she took us to a shrine at Umubelu Awka to take oath of allegiance and commitment.
The native doctor welcomed us saying that the expected guests had arrived. We were 19 girls in all and I was the youngest and the most immature among them, barely 16 years old then. Everything started happening in a jiffy as the man gave us white cloth to tie on our body.
The native doctor warned Ebube when we got there that I was going to spoil things for her, but I didn’t understand what was going on. I fainted there and they sprinkled water on me, but that didn’t deter them from administering the oath of secrecy.
Ebube said that we were going to pay her N450,000 each when we get to our destination and the native doctor warned us of the dire consequences of reneging in the deal as he told us that the deity of the shrine would strike any defaulter dead.
With a shaking body yet lacking the requisite courage to extricate myself from their grip, we got initiated there. We drank and chewed some substances there and were given a small calabash each. We danced round the shrine to complete the ritual.
The next day, we moved to Onitsha and boarded a luxury bus travelling to the North. She told us to tell any policeman we see on the road that we were going on holidays in the North to see our parents based there. She told us never to accept that we were together in the journey and that if we implicate ourselves, she would not hesitate to disown us.”
Hijab for all of us
“When we reached the northern part of the country, she told us to change into hijab and pretend that we are northern Muslim girls. A vehicle, which she had pre-arranged, was already waiting for us by the time we arrived. We were squeezed into the vehicle.
She kept picking more people on the road, which showed that a syndicate was involved. We slept in Zendel and by 3:00a.m we left for another route until we got to a place they called Agadez. She told us to stay there for the meantime and find our destiny pending when those who will take us overseas arrive.”
“When she told us that we should stay and test our destiny briefly, I never knew that it was a kick off for the prostitution business until I was handed over to some clients in a hotel. She forced us to wear skimpy dresses and singled me out having seen my demeanour.
She told me that I’m now in a no-man’s land and I should cooperate if I still wanted to remain alive. I was crying knowing that I had walked into a trap that would take divine intervention for me to wriggle out of it. I was deep in thought when she landed me a deafening slap. She told me to be ready to die if I won’t allow men to sleep with me.
My first time was a man old enough to be my father. The man was given option to make a choice among the bevy of girls quartered there and he picked me knowing that I was a fresh virgin. I told him that it was over my dead body that he would sleep with me. I stubbornly refused to succumb to their threats.
Short time sex there goes for 5,000 CFAs while full time is 10,000 CFA. We kept on arguing and she told me that I should not join issues with her. I was made to know that our batch of girls was the fourth trip for her while the final destination is Libya. Usually she would just sell the girls at Agadez and return to the Southeast to recruit more for the same purpose.”
How my Igbo dialect saved me
“On that fateful night, two men came to look for female companions. She spoke with them in the local language, which I did not understand. As I was about to be handed over to them, I exclaimed in Igbo language, ‘Ewooh, o kam si jee (Is this how I have ended up)?’ When the supposed sex customers heard my exclamation, they became more interested in taking me to their home at all costs that night. They offered Madam Ebube 15,000CFA and took me.
On our way, they started asking me probing questions and I opened up and told them my predicament and identity. They were shocked and also told me they were from Enugu State. Instead of taking advantage of me that night, they treated me like a sister.
One of the boys, Anayo, told me that perhaps God made them come to the brothel that night for my sake because they had already retired after the day’s business, but on a second thought decided to stroll to a happening joint.
The two boys kept me safe, took pity on me, refused to sleep with me and offered me a mattress where I slept in the sitting room and they retired to the bedroom. They took me back to the hotel the next morning and Madam asked me whether I enjoyed my night with those boys and I said yes.
I told her that I want to go home and she started another round of threats. She told me that I could go if I repay her N450, 000. She sold one girl there and told me that I would be the next; she also reminded us that the oath we took spelt out death or madness on anyone who attempted to leave the place secretly.”
At the crossroads
“At this point, my heart was pounding and I excused her and ran back in the direction to Anayo’s house, but he was not in. I wrote a notice on their gate telling him that if he doesn’t come to rescue me immediately, I would be either dead or sold off into slavery the next day.
As God would have it, I was apprehensive that night knowing that time was ticking away for me when suddenly Anayo showed up and told our madam that he needs me for another night again. Madam thought I treated him well and handed me to him, but he took me to the house of one of the villagers and hid me there.
I was hidden for three days and madam had to suspend her trip and kept searching for me. Anayo gave me a phone and was relating all that was happening to me until the fourth day that he took me to the park. If not that he hid me, I would have died in the desert en route Libya.
Of all the 19 girls, I was the only one who returned home. I have not set eyes again on Ifunanya, who she sold first. (Begins to sob). I don’t know their fate till today. Whether they eventually reached Libya, died of hunger or were devoured by wild beasts.
“Anayo and his brother bought a ticket for me, took me by 3:00 a.m from Zendel and landed in Kano. I boarded a vehicle to Abuja, but I didn’t know anybody there.”
Ran into kidnapper’s vehicle
“In Abuja, I entered a cab that promised to take me to Kuje where some of our brothers resided, but I never knew I had boarded the wrong vehicle. The man took me on a wrong route and headed towards a thick bush. I raised the alarm, but nobody could answer me.
The man showed me his undies and I saw all manner of weapons, guns, knife and other things he had on him. He told me to say my last prayer because he would kill me and take my body parts. He used the short knife to slash my clothes to pieces and I was stark naked.
He raped me and wanted to take my body parts fresh and I ran and he gave me a hot chase. I saw a vehicle laden with tomatoes and lay flat for the vehicle to crush me. The driver stopped abruptly, picked me naked like that and I passed out. When I regained consciousness, I saw myself in the military barracks, Abuja.”
She never knew I was still alive
Under the custody of the military, Amarachi was taken to the scene where she boarded the evil man’s cab, but the man could not be traced. The army later handed her to NAPTIP who documented her case and made efforts to rehabilitate her and also seek ways of punishing her trafficker. She was later sent home in Anambra where she reunited with her family. She later saw her trafficker and got her arrested.
“The day I saw her at Eke Awka, she was shocked because she thought I was dead. Because we reported to DSS and NAPTIP when I came home, they gave me a number to call them any day I sight her and that was what I did. When I called the phone line, she was picked up. They raided her home, detained her and the native doctor (he is dead now) and were also charged to court.”
Picking up the pieces of her life
Settling down to a normal life after the harrowing experience for Amarachi has not been easy. Though she managed to go back to school and finally wrote her senior school certificate exams, Amarachi’s problems are far from being over. Her mother suddenly collapsed and died from high blood pressure leaving her and the siblings as orphans.
She also fell in love with a man who is not financially buoyant. The uncle who now acts as her father insisted that all the traditional rites of marriage would be completed before she is pronounced married. Along the line, she got pregnant for the fiancé and had to give birth in her home. Now nursing a 10-month-old baby boy, life has remained tough and harsh for her.
“My uncle refused to allow the man take me home because he couldn’t fulfill the long list of requirements presented to him. My mother died heartbroken for all these shocks and now without both parents, we find it even difficult to feed,” she lamented.
Appeal and words of advice
“I still thank God I’m alive today. My advice is that people should not allow anybody deceiving them with fairy tale promises about travelling abroad. I need urgent help presently. Helpless without mum or dad and also nursing a baby, I desire to go back to school and upgrade my life, but now even to feed is a serious problem. Government and public-spirited individuals should help me,” she pleaded.