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2012 London Olympics: 'Supporters club could become victims of trafficking'

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Abdulganiyu Abubakar is the chief executive of Save the Child Initiative in Sokoto, and also national coordinator of the West African Network for the protection of children. In this interview with Jamila Nuhu Musa, he said Nigeria should watch out for its water ways even as he said the supporters' club and contingents could become victims of trafficking during the 2012 London Olympics, amongst other issues when a team of NGOs visited the NAPTIP as part of project to develop campaign materials and build capacity for organizations working on anti -trafficking in the UK, Nigeria and Morocco spear headed by the Development Research and Projects Centre (DRPC) Kano, under the guidance of development partners resource centre in conjunction with the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR).

What is your mission in NAPTIP?
It was an advocacy visit to the executive secretary  and management of NAPTIP,  and the essence is to introduce a new project, that is a partnership between three  organizations in Nigeria, Development Research Project Centre, (DRPC) Public Enlightenment Projects (PEP) and Save the Child Initiative, to work on the areas of research, sensitization and awareness creation on irregular migration and trafficking in persons, and also to solicit support of NAPTIP as the government agency in charge of trafficking and at the same time, to know if the agency has any programme in place to prevent trafficking in persons towards the 2012 London Olympics. Our mission is also to identify with NAPTIP as one of the partners that will be attending the capacity programme coming up end of March.
What is irregular migration?
It is movement of people irregularly without necessary documents, like visa, or ECOWAS traveler certificate or ECOWAS certificate in the case of West African countries. Migration in terms of exploitation of children, young minors or even adults either for economic, sexual or hard labour purposes, and then migration by any group whether children, youths or adults, leaving their country for another country without any genuine or legal means.
What is the role of NAPTIP here, considering that the 2012 London Olympics is not taking place in Nigeria?
As a statutory government agency in terms of preventing and controlling traffic, NAPTIP has a very great role to play. Yes, the Olympics is not going to be held in Nigeria, but people are going to be travelling from Nigeria to London for the games either as contingents, officials or supporters' club. If you understand the dynamics of trafficking in Nigeria, you will know that traffickers employ every means to perpetrate their heinous activities and exploit their victims. For instance, they could use the Olympic Games to entice and lure young people into believing that it is easy to get to London now before the Olympics. And before you know it, people who are willing to go in search of greener pastures outside Nigeria could easily be convinced by this kind of event. Even among the supporters' club we have had instances where athletes or contingents will go for international events and not come back. We have had instances where pilgrims will go for pilgrimage either in Israel or Saudi Arabia and will not come back, and will move on from there. We know that NAPTIP has been doing a lot of campaign on awareness in this aspect, but it could also go further to strengthen the knowledge of the community and other stake holders and make it very clear that it is possible to have trafficking persons during the Olympics and that it is still an offence to traffic persons during this period just like any other time.
What is your own experience in the field?
We discovered that traffickers are very clever when it comes to dealing with security agencies. For example when we started our intervention on the West African Network for the Protection of children in collaboration with the Swiss Foundation of the international Social service, on daily basis we get lots of victims who want to go out. The war in Libya and Tunisia provided opportunity for traffickers to exploit young people because they make them believe that the borders are porous now and there is no security at the borders and you could easily get across. There was a particular day we had 47 young boys and girls trying to go out of Nigeria, intercepted by police in Niger Republic and sent back to us in Sokoto through the national coordinator in Niger and we received them in collaboration with NAPTIP and our organization and reintegrated them back to their homes. There was also a day we had 28 of them, some of the young girls were pregnant and had children.
What would you say is the rate of trafficking in persons given this experience?
From the statistics however, it is reducing. For example during the project phase of the intervention which lasted for about 5 months, through the Sokoto, Illelah, Korni, Tawal and Agadas borders, we were able to reintegrate 189 Nigerians. Forty-seven of them have different projects going on. Some have gone back to school; two days ago I was in Lagos to pay the school fees of two girls that we returned from Accra Ghana. They were victims of trafficking; someone took them from Nigeria in the name of going to work in a gold factory and they ended up in prostitution business. There was another young girl too that was forcefully married out.
Does marrying a girl out forcefully translate to trafficking? 
No, but her father from Zamfara state married her out to somebody in Ghana, the girl is 17 years old and she was accompanied by her 11year old sister to Ghana, their mother is not alive so the family raised the case up with NAPTIP and through our coordinator in Ghana, they were successfully returned to Nigeria and as we speak, those children are back to school in Zamfara state. They opted to remain with their mother's sister who was taking care of them before the incident. Generally when we rescue victims we also empower their parents, those who had their businesses before had them strengthened. 
What exit points apart from the usual ones, do traffickers use now for their activities?
Traffickers are very dynamic, before now they used the airports but when it was becoming very difficult they resorted to land borders because of their porous nature, now that most of the borders are closed they are looking for alternative means. We have heard of bunkering and what have you. Particularly the riverine areas you will see a lot young people being transported enmasse,  so we call the attention of the Navy and other security agencies working along the water ways to watch out. When we had our last regional meeting of coordinators in Accra and while our partners were sharing their experiences, they told us about an incident of about 28 children who were trafficked into Ghana through the water ways and unfortunately for the traffickers they were intercepted and the children rescued, the children had not eaten for about 5 days and you could see the effect on them. So Nigeria needs to pay attention to her water ways.
Security personnel have been criticized for manhandling victims when they are rescued, what is your own opinion on this?
There is very weak capacity. When we had the 47 victims, among them we had the traffickers, the agents' traffickers and we had the victims. So you can see that they all require some form of attention, counseling and encouragement to open up to us but what we understand is that most of our security agencies would want to use force by using the Para military or military ways and for us who are social workers, it does not work that way.  When a child is intercepted for instance and the first person he sees is a policeman with a very big gun it will be very difficult for that child to tell you his story. The fact however, is that most victims, especially the children are from unstable or broken home. There was a case of a 16 year old young girl that was trafficked all the way to Mali. This girl's father owns a very big house in Benin and is a very big farmer, yet, he was party to trafficking of his daughter. In this case, it was not poverty per se but the home front was difficult for the girl because even when she came back she did not want to go back to her father's house. Now she is in school as we were able to support her mother.  We also had the case of a young girl who had a child and was also pregnant  even though she was not married, leaving her parent's home to go to Libyas and she insisted that it was better for her to go to that country than remain in Nigeria.   

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