|Liyel Imoke, C'River state governor|
MUDIAGA AFFE writes that despite government’s efforts at stamping out human trafficking, die-hard traffickers still use Cross River State as transit route
Reminiscent of the slave trade era in Cross River State where millions of slaves were reportedly sold and transported to Europe and America through the Calabar waterways, the recent proclamation by the National Agency for the Prohibition of Traffic in Persons and other related matters that it had rescued over 145 persons in the state from human trafficking has become a source of worry.
Border communities like Mfum in Etung Local Government Area, among others in the northern and central parts of the state, have been identified as routes where human traffickers still use to evade the prying eyes of security agencies to smuggle their victims to Cameroun and other African countries.
Besides the trafficking of humans outside the shores of the country, a 2011 discovery that an attempt to sell a boy took place in the Bogobiri axis of the Calabar metropolis was also indicative of the existence of human trafficking in the state.
Worried by these developments, NAPTIP, the judiciary and other security agencies have demonstrated that perpetrators of this illegal trade will no longer have their way in the state. Specifically, the judiciary has shown through its actions that it will continue to hand down stiffer penalties to those convicted of human trafficking.
In his disclosure, the Zonal Head of NAPTIP in the South-South, Mr. Peter Essien, recently noted that Mfum, which is an international border community, was critical to facilitating the agency’s operations since most of the smuggling of humans was taking place there.
Essien, who said this when he led a delegation made up of top officials of the agency, United Nations and World Health Organisation on a visit to the Executive Chairman of Ikom Local Government Council, Dr. Tony Ngban, said of the over 145 persons that had so far been rescued from human trafficking, 14 are from Ikom, while Yala Local Government Area topped the list with 45 victims.
NAPTIP’s fight against human trafficking recently got a boost when a Federal High Court in Calabar, presided over by Justice Adetokunbo Ademola, sentenced two women — Patience Omadiare and Juliet Omagbon — to five years’ imprisonment each with hard labour and a fine of N200,000 for human trafficking.
The two convicts, who hail from Edo State, in a Suit No: FHC/CA/CR/9/2007 had, on March 13, 2007 at Enyang in Benin City, allegedly induced one Hannah Osagie, 23 years, of Ugah in the same state to go from Ugbon in Edo State to Mfum border in Etung LGA of Cross River en route Cameroun.
According to the judgment, the convicts were found guilty on February 16, 2012 of trafficking in persons in Nigeria and outside its borders, with the attendant human abuse in its entire ramifications.
In the judgment, Justice Ademola described the actions of the convicts as “a crime against humanity and womanhood in the present circumstances. The first and second convicts (Patience Omadiare and Juliet Omagbon) are members of an international syndicate transcending the Nigerian borders in a place like Belgium, thus giving this country a bad image abroad.
“This cancerous growth of human trafficking in Nigeria and Edo State in particular must be eradicated at all levels of government — local, state and national. This country must be saved from this type of international crime and embarrassment as a matter of urgency.”
The judge, while pronouncing the judgment further stated, “In sentencing a convict, the court is guided by laid down principles. Having taken into consideration the said principles as well as accused person’s allocutus by their counsel, I hereby sentence the first convict, Patience Omadiare, on Count One to five years imprisonment with hard labour and a fine of N200,000. The 2nd convict, Juliet Omagbon, is also sentenced on Count Two to five years imprisonment with hard labour and a fine of N200,000.”
In the amended charge, the convicts were accused of committing an offence punishable under Section 19 (1) (b) of the Trafficking in Persons (prohibition) Law Enforcement and Administration Act, 2003 (as amended).
In the judgment, one Mr. Nkwendu Jacob, a Camerounian citizen who was formerly the first accused person but now at large after jumping bail after the Vice Consul, Cameroun Consulate, Mr. Emmanuel Nkwendu, had stood surety for him was, on March 13, 2007, arrested by officers of Nigerian Immigration Service at Mfum Border Control Post while attempting to cross over to Cameroun in the company of Miss Hannah Osagie.
After the arrest, they were moved to the Nigeria Immigration Service headquarters in Calabar and later transferred to NAPTIP zonal office in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, for further investigation and action.
Further investigations by NAPTIP led to the arrest of the convicts in Benin City, with the assistance of the State Security Service officers in the company of Mr. Nkwendu Jacob and Miss Hannah Osagie; and were taken to the SSS office in Benin, Edo State.
Also in 2011, the State Security Service picked up three persons who attempted to sell a 10-year old boy in the Bogobiri area of Calabar whose name was given as Master Mfon Bassey.
The SSS was said to have picked them up following a tip-off by one of the persons that wanted to buy the boy but had to alert the security agency upon realising that the deal was going the way of a competitor.
An assistant director in the agency had confirmed then that upon receipt of the information, his men were immediately sent to Gbogobiri where the sale was being concluded.
He said his men arrested the key suspect, Emmanuel Inyang (28), a maternal uncle to the 10-year old boy; alongside one Mallam Dahiru Abubakar, who said he was a wrist-watch retailer but allegedly facilitated the sale; and another Mallam Musa Mohammed, a 35-year old tailor who was to buy the boy for the sum of N3m. Investigation is still ongoing on the matter.
Considering the fact that Cross River State is a tourist destination in Nigeria, the task to stamp out activities of illegal human traffickers has become the collective responsibilities of all tiers of government.
by MUDIAGA AFFE