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Director General, NAPTIP, Dr Fatima Waziri-Azi
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The Director-General, National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons, Prof Fatima Waziri-Azi, speaks with STEPHEN ANGBULU on the agency’s achievements in its 20 years existence, its challenges and why culpable Nigerians should shun trafficking of any kind

NAPTIP will be 20 years in July, what will you describe as the agency’s notable achievements so far?

I will say the expansion in terms of operational structure. Of course, NAPTIP now has offices in about 32 states. We recently acquired offices in Ogun, Zamfara and Jigawa states. It wasn’t like that 20 years ago. At the time, NAPTIP was just in the Federal Capital Territory, Lagos, Benin and Sokoto states. So, in terms of operational structure, NAPTIP has expanded its reach. Also, in terms of NAPTIP’s protective mandate to victims of human trafficking, we now have 13 shelters across Nigeria. It wasn’t like that before. Cumulatively, we have assisted about 19,000 victims of human trafficking. So I will say, notably, the spread, operational structure, and of course, the manpower. Now, we are pushing to about 900 staff members nationwide. It also wasn’t like that before.

NAPTIP is investigating some labour recruiters who hire and move women to Iraq for domestic servitude. How many of the recruiters and trafficked women have you identified?

We have identified about three labour recruiters in Nigeria. We have also identified two recruiters in Iraq. So, you have the Nigerian recruiters who recruit girls for the recruiters in Iraq. This was brought to our attention last year when we received reports about Nigerian women trafficked to Iraq. These women were mostly from the South-West; we have some from Ondo State and I remember Ekiti State being on the list. They were promised lucrative jobs, and I am certain these women didn’t understand that they were going to Iraq, because most of them were not so educated. All they knew was that Iraq is abroad and they would get on a plane and go somewhere. It’s very pathetic. For this particular case, the few that we have established contact with said there were as many as 45 women doing domestic servitude. So, when they got to Iraq, they were distributed to different homes. They work for 22 out of 24 hours in a day. That practically is slavery. Most of them said when they got there, their phones were taken away so they could not even communicate with people. They were not allowed to leave the premises. Even when we established contact with some of them, and we asked, ‘Where are you?’ They really didn’t know. All they knew was that they were either in Baghdad or Basrah (Iraq), but they couldn’t give you a specific location.

What is the success rate of your ongoing collaboration with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on this matter?


When it has to do with rescue and repatriation, there is state sovereignty. NAPTIP or Nigeria cannot, on its own, go into Iraq without collaborating with the local law enforcement agencies. For instance, when it has to do with Ghana, we have a very fantastic informal cooperation with our counterpart agency there; the Economic Organised Crime Office. They have helped us with a number of rescue operations. Last year, they assisted us with over 30 rescue operations, but this is just an informal arrangement. When it has to do with countries that we don’t have direct access to, we have to liaise with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. They would liaise with the Nigerian missions and embassies in the destination country who would collaborate with the local law enforcement agencies to rescue and eventually repatriate the victims.

However, last year, we strengthened collaboration with the National Intelligence Agency, which assisted us with a lot of rescue operations and repatriation, I think about 35.


Women and girls appear to be the most targeted demography by human trafficking rings. Do your records support this claim?

Our statistics actually affirm what you have said. Let me share some statistics from 2022. In 2022, we rescued 2,743 victims of human trafficking, comprising 1,459 female adults and 688 female minors. Then, we had 363 male adults and 283 male minors. So if you look at the trend, you have mostly adult women and then female children, then adult male and minors.


What do the traffickers use each group for?

The group at risk depends on the kind of exploitation. When you talk about sexual exploitation and forced prostitution, it is mostly women and young girls. When you talk about domestic servitude and child labour, it is female children. When you talk about labour exploitation, forced labour, that’s mostly men. Then of course, you have female or male children who are also used for domestic servitude and for labour exploitation. We have had very few cases of men trafficked for sexual exploitation. Last year, we handled the case of a young boy who was trafficked to Bahrain. It was the same labour recruitment; he was promised a job in Bahrain. When he got there, he landed in a brothel. He was used as a male prostitute for about six months until one of his clients helped him to escape. He sent a report to the agency sharing his story. He shared some intel with us and that led to the arrest of a criminal group in Anambra State. They have cells nationwide. In Anambra, they will recruit and send you to another cell in Lagos that will be responsible for procuring your passport if you need one and your visas. They will also match you with the end exploiter in the destination country.

How do these discoveries make you feel?

It’s pathetic when you hear these stories. I have been the director-general for about a year and eight months now, but I feel like I have been here for five years. The traumatising cases that go through my desk, you wouldn’t wish it for anyone. It’s like the world has gone haywire when you hear things like these.


In March at Nyanya axis in Abuja, NAPTIP rescued three infants being rented by their mothers to persons begging for alms at N3,000/day, have you apprehended and charged anyone for that crime?

Yes, we arrested a woman who rented these babies. We arrested her and three other babies and a teenager. The job of the teenager was to be on the lookout for the police and put the money together. When we arrested her with the teenager, she insisted that the babies were hers. Our investigators then isolated the teenager who said no, only one was actually the woman’s child. The other two were rented. With that information from the teenager and eventually the woman, the mother came and we detained them.


Further investigation led us to the house. These women are recruited from Enugu by a woman who brings them in droves. There is a house in Nyanya where they stay. The house is owned by a woman in her 60’s. We also arrested her and took her statement but she claimed that she didn’t know that was what the house was being used for. All she did was to rent out rooms and the women paid every month. Of course, any reasonable person will not believe that, but we later released her on bail.

What about the Enugu connection?

Lennox Mall

The end trafficker fled to Enugu. She is the one we are interested in because she preys on these women. Some of these women come with their children. Those who didn’t come with their children, she helps them get children they can rent. So for every child you rent, you pay N3,000 at the end of the day. They put these children under the hot, scorching sun. They don’t even feed them. It’s sad! I don’t think it’s poverty because it can’t be that bad. I will say it’s more of greed. We had to release all of them on bail pending when we can arrest the trafficker. Our office in Enugu has been tasked with locating that woman. This is how far we have gone with our investigations.

What do you think is the motivation behind this?


Trafficking in persons is a high-yielding crime with low risk because the end exploiters are largely invisible. They have recruiters, receivers and transporters everywhere and it’s a long value chain. The end exploiters can make continuous gains over and over from a single victim for years, and it takes a while before they are apprehended. They prey on the vulnerability of people. Everybody hopes for something better, and they know this. So they sell you hope that will never materialise. Even when we keep telling Nigerians about the risk of taking traffickers by their word, some people still fall for them because of the promise of hope. On the part of traffickers, it’s greed and they are faceless. When I came on board in 2021, the first of my four priorities was to intensify investigation and prosecution of high-profile traffickers, because when we have more prosecutions and less impunity, it sends a message.

What has the conviction been like?


Cumulatively, NAPTIP has recorded 605 convictions since 2004. In 2022, we recorded 80 convictions, which is the highest in a single year. As of May 2023, we have recorded 29 convictions. One of them is Charity Omoruyi. If you remember, on May 8, Omoruyi, aka Jeff Joy, was convicted and extradited to Italy. She migrated to Italy in the early 90s and built a criminal empire for herself, trafficking hundreds of girls across Europe. She was sentenced to jail in Italy in 2012 but she escaped to Nigeria believing ‘Oh, I’m home.’ But no, even though it took 11 years, the arm of the law caught up with her. That’s the message we want to pass to traffickers.

Do you think the penalties for human trafficking are severe enough? Do you think it should be more?

In terms of penalties, they are very stringent. Take for instance, if you talk about procurement for sexual exploitation, it clearly provides for a minimum of seven years in prison. If you get a very brutal judge, you can get a maximum of 20 or 25 years without the option of fine. The penalties are very clear. If you look at the Act, there are only two sections that provide for an option of fine; that is obstruction of justice and tampering with witnesses. The penalties in the Trafficking in Persons (Prohibition) Law Enforcement and Administration Act are extremely stringent. What we need to focus on is the implementation of these sections. The Act itself is currently undergoing amendment in the National Assembly to incorporate current trends in human trafficking. It was passed by the House of Representatives in February and it is currently at the Senate for concurrence.

Use of children as home helps has become a norm in Nigeria and it’s mostly done by the elite, do you think that the practice of hiring underage persons as home helps should be outlawed?


If you look at the African culture, it is expected that if you are a person of affluence, you also care for people in your village. However, there is a thin line between what is acceptable and what is not. We have had a number of cases where family members go into villages, get other people’s children, bring them to the city and maltreat them. Our Act is very clear on issues of child labour or domestic servitude. For domestic servitude, it criminalises hiring anyone below 12 years as a domestic servant. We see a lot of good cultural practices being abused. In the area of children being used as domestic servants, we see a lot. These are cases that happen behind closed doors. A lot of the reports that we get, especially in the FCT, we got from neighbours calling out their fellow neighbours.

Many people fall for trafficking because they do not know until it is too late. How are you bridging this knowledge gap?

Offline, we are amplifying awareness in rural and urban poor communities. We have been establishing what we call Trafficking in Persons and Violence Against Persons Vanguards in the 110 federal government unity schools nationwide. We started last year with approval from the Federal Ministry of Education. Out of the 110 schools, we have established 84. Last year, we got approval from the service chiefs and the Inspector-General Police to establish the same in their secondary schools. We have already started that with command schools.

What about online?

Online, we have seen a lot of fake job advertisements, scholarships and catfishing. Between September and October 2021, we partnered with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in the United States. This partnership has given us unrestricted access to millions and millions of child sexual assault materials on the internet. NAPTIP is the only agency in Nigeria that has direct access to that database. We also have direct access to Cyber TIP reports that emanate from all over the world, especially from Nigeria. In April, we inaugurated an active Cyber Security Response Team, which comprised of 20 well-trained officers. In the past year, these officers have been undergoing a series of training on investigating cyber TIP reports and online investigation facilitated by the International Justice Mission in the US with funding from Meta. We also have another training coming up in June, still facilitated by IJM with funding from Meta. People keep asking, why is trafficking not reducing in spite of what NAPTIP is doing? It may not be reducing at the level that we want, but the silver lining is that people are more informed. Traffickers are now finding it very difficult to convince people, which is why they keep coming up with different tactics because people now know.

In June 2022, you directed all privately-run rehabilitation shelters and homes for trafficked persons nationwide to obtain clearance certificates within 30 days or risk being shut down. How many have complied and have you shut down any?

Regulation 2019 covers organisations that run centers and homes for the rehabilitation of victims of human trafficking. The reason we came down hard was because we had cases where people used their orphanages to buy and sell children, while some gave out children for begging and human trafficking. This is why we said, ‘okay, all of you need to register.’ This is not a new regulation, but in terms of enforcement, we felt it was very important. It was a tough fight. When you try to introduce something like this, the system fights it, because they don’t understand what that policy is all about. So, my job was to make them understand that ‘this policy is to protect you to separate the wheat from the chaff.’ Registration is N100,000 every five years. So, if you break it down, it is about N1,600 every month. After five years, we will audit again to make sure that each centre meets the minimum standard. Even after the grace we gave them publicly, we kept giving them more. But now, we are done! We will publish the names of the accredited centres so donors can know who to fund and who not to.

You have served as the DG of NAPTIP for 21 months, what is your most challenging part of this journey?

It’s a lot of risk! So many people don’t understand the risks that come with the job. In a job like this, what people see is a person occupying a position of authority, and automatically they conclude that the person is having fun. It’s a lot of responsibility. People threaten you. Yes, openly. I have people who threaten me openly. You have faceless people who threaten you. So it’s a job that comes with a lot of pressure. And it requires courage. If you don’t have courage, you cannot do this job because you have to make tough decisions. Again, there is also the challenge of managing the expectations of Nigerians. If you work in this field, don’t expect anyone to tell you ‘thank you’. Just do your job with a clean conscience and do the best that you can. If they thank you, acknowledge it. If they don’t, move on and keep doing what you need to do. However, there are also a lot of success stories. There are victims who are doing very well now. NAPTIP has sponsored 19 victims of human trafficking to the university level and three of them work here.

What gives you satisfaction on the job?

My satisfaction and drive come from the hundreds and thousands of people that we assist as an institution. These are people I may never get to meet in my lifetime. That, in itself, is what gives me satisfaction, which is why every trafficker we jail or every successful rescue and reunion we do give me joy.

Having served for 21 months, has NAPTIP given you a new passion to pursue something other than law?

No, I’m a public servant. I’m a professor of law at the Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies. So, I was at the institute, seconded to the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption. That was when I was appointed Senior Special Assistant to the President on Rule of Law in the office of the Vice President in 2018. I moved to the Villa. I was doing my rule of law thing until I was appointed to head this great agency. Coming to NAPTIP, this is an area that I have always worked in terms of human rights issues. I have done a lot of work around domestic and sexual violence. In 2016, I incorporated my foundation called Safe Haven Foundation. It’s a foundation that caters for domestic violence victims. So, my ultimate goal is to have a shelter. Like I always tell my friends, the shelter I want to build is the kind that would feel so much like home that the victims of trafficking would not want to leave even after they have recovered.

Credit: Punch

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