From Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja
The National Agency for Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP), has disclosed that it has rescued, sheltered and rehabilitated in least 17,727 victims of human trafficking for the past 19 years it was created.
This is even as it blamed poor funding for not performing optimally, calling on the Federal Government to increase and regularise funding for the agency.
Director General of NAPTIP, Fatima Waziri-Azi, made the disclosure in the 37th Session of the State House briefing organized by the Presidential communication team held in the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
According to her, of the 17,727 victims, 13,026 are females, 4,727 are males with 8,935 being children and 8, 818 adults.
According to the NAPTIP boss, of the 8,005 arrests in the past years, the agency has only secured 511 convictions, blaming the low conviction rate, on the refusal of victims to cooperate during investigations.
Waziri-Azi, who briefed on key updates in her agency’s efforts to arrest and prosecute perpetrators of human trafficking, domestic violence and other related offences, further disclosed that there are 261 ongoing cases in various courts nationwide.
According to her, “The agency has so far rescued, sheltered and rehabilitated over 17,727 victims of human trafficking. 4,272 are males while 13,026 are females. Children also form the bulk of that number; amounting to 8,935.
“NAPTIP has also rescued 15,992 and 1,805 non-Nigerians in the past years. They hail from China, Lebanon, Egypt, Sri Lanka, Central African Republic, Ghana, Benin Republic, Guinea Conakry, Togo, Burkina Faso, Cameroun Chad, Ivory Coast and Mali.
“The 394 victims who have gone through our shelters between January 2022 to date received medical support, psycho-social support and legal assistance. NAPTIP has also sponsored 16 VoTs to universities across the country. Three of such graduates are now officers of NAPTIP.”
On why the agency has only secured a little over 500 convictions despite arresting over 8000 human traffickers, Waziri-Azi explained that most of the victims were not cooperative with the agency because their families were being threatened and in some circumstances their traffickers are closed relatives.
“One of the challenges we have is victims not wanting to cooperate with us, because the traffickers are most times, family members. You hear stories of sisters trafficking sisters, brothers trafficking brothers, uncles trafficking nieces and nephews; even husbands trafficking their wives and children.
“International law stipulates that you don’t force victims to cooperate with the system. What you do is encourage them, and for us in NAPTIP, when we come, we debrief them, ‘Okay, tell me the name of your trafficker.’ And they say ‘Oh, I don’t remember.’
“The simple fact is that these people are being threatened. Most of them are threatened personally. Some of them, their families have been threatened. And like I said in my presentations, sometimes your trafficker might not force you to take oaths in Federal Republic of Nigeria, because they don’t want you to suspect anything. But when you get to the destination country, they make you swear oaths there.
“So they have their own foreign shrine, where they’ll make you swear oaths. And for those that don’t operate in the oath realm, they now video you nude and keep threatening you that, ‘if you report, we’ll expose you,’” she said.
Waziri-Azi noted that the lack of cooperation from source or vulnerable communities also stems from beliefs that the traffickers are helpers and should, therefore, be protected from NAPTIP.
According to her, the low conviction rate is also due to the “unavailability of lawyers to take up civil cases on behalf of victims on Pro Bono basis; making it difficult for victims to get compensation from their traffickers.”
She noted that the best the agency could do is sensitize the public and encourage trafficked victims to report to its operatives and bases closest to them.
Speaking more on funding and how it affects the agency, she explained that NAPTIP has been finding it difficult to repartriate those that have been trafficked outside the country due to inadequate funding.
On the emerging trends of Organ trafficking, the NAPTIP boss said the agency has already embarked on research to determine the value chain in the country.