Illegal migration and trafficking have been on the increase in Nigeria because the country does not have laws to stop people from leaving, a former Controller-General of the Nigerian Immigration Service, Muhammad Babandede, has said.
According to him, the trend could stop if there would be good leaders who should be committed to doing good for the people.
While stressing the need for the media, civil society and law enforcement agencies to make sure that they work together to combat the crime, he said Nigeria does not have any law to stop anybody from living country.
Babandede stated these during a one-day national learning, experience sharing and policy brief dissemination on combating human trafficking and unsafe migration in Abuja.
The event held under the project titled: “Scaling up prevention of human trafficking and unsafe migration through traditional and new approach,” was organised by the Women Aid Collective with the support of the Swiss Government, managed by the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs.
He said, “Trafficking is not only a matter of crime, good governance is a major issue. I could remember when we started NAPTIP, my young daughter, who is also now a mother used to ask me, do they try to pick people from London to Nigeria?
“And that was a big question for me because it doesn’t happen. I believe if we continue to have leaders who are committed to doing good for the people, I am sure trafficking will reduce in Nigeria.
“Nigeria does not have laws to stop people from leaving. Some strict countries in the world have what we called exit visas, which means before you leave the country, you need to get a visa to leave. But Nigeria does not have an exit visa, which means that any immigration officer or law enforcement officer at the border must allow anyone who has a visa to leave the country otherwise you get a court case.”
The Director of Intellignce and Public Enlightenment at the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons, Josiah Emerole, said that about 32 persons had been convicted of various crimes related to human trafficking between January and May 2023.
According to him, migration should be regular and must be safer for everybody, adding that the world must negotiate the peaceful transfer of labour.
He said all hands must be on deck to curb both illegal migration and human trafficking, adding that criminal elements were capitalizing on the desperation of Nigerians to move out of the country.
Emerole said, “When you talk about the volume of illegal migration in Nigeria if anybody tells you that there is genuine data, the person will be lying to you because irregular migration and trafficking are all clandestine crimes. What this means is that when they are happening, you may not know.
“But over the years, NAPTIP, for instance, on human trafficking, has rescued over 19,000 Nigerians. We have also intercepted many people from making this dangerous journey, and several people have been prosecuted. This year alone, between January and now, about 32 people have been convicted.”
Emerole said the prosecution of suspects suffer setbacks many times because the victims were not willing to speak out.
The Executive Director of WACOL, Prof. Joy Ngozi Ezeilo, expressed concern that one of every four Africans trafficked is a Nigerian and observed that the country is not doing enough in terms of prevention.
According to her, Nigeria is hugely affected as both a source country, a transit and a destination for human trafficking.
She said, “I believe we’re not doing enough prevention because prevention is key to curbing human trafficking and also addressing the root causes because if you look at the push and pull factors, you will find that poverty, youth unemployment, security issues, inequalities, exclusion, conflict, even corruption, all fuel and exacerbate human trafficking.
“One out of every four Africans trafficked is Nigerian, and in my role as UN United Nations Special Rapporteur on human trafficking for six years, I can’t imagine that in all the countries I have travelled to you must find a Nigerian in the trafficked situation.
“I feel that yes, we have NAPTIP and they are doing an excellent job within the little money available to it. But I think we need to scale up and we need to realize that this is one thing that gives Nigeria a bad name around the world.”
The Migration Adviser, Swiss Federal Department Foreign Affairs Peace and Human Rights Division, Christian Brugger, said that the importance of community-level engagement cannot be overemphasised.
He said the fight against Trafficking in Persons can only be won by a “Whole-of-Society” Approach, adding that traditional and religious leaders must lead the way in protecting their community members who look up to them.