A great step forward in the fight against human trafficking in the Nigerian region of Edo State
This action brings together governmental forces, through the task force of which Iroko is a member, and the most important traditional and spiritual leader of Edo State and has triggered a positive mechanism for change in the region, where a large majority of those trafficked from Nigeria to Europe come from. We are dedicating every available resource towards continuing this process, which represents a concrete opportunity for change for many Nigerians.
On 9th March Oba Ewuare II, during a well-attended ceremony held in the royal palace in Benin City, revoked the oaths imposed on victims of trafficking by native doctors in Edo State, putting a curse on anyone who creates or collaborates with underground criminal gangs who force people to take an oath. It is these criminal activities, which are not part of Edo culture and society that the Oba has distanced himself from.
Within Edo culture and traditions the Oba has the highest authority: he is the king, as well as the recognised religious and political leader.
On the throne since 2016, Ewuare II is the heir of the kings of the ancient Benin Empire, which was permanently broken up during the colonisation of what became modern day Nigeria. His influence today extends outside the borders of Edo State, reaching the banks of the Niger delta, towards the west and beyond.
During the public ceremony native doctors in the king’s service, considered among the most powerful in the region, revoked any constraint placed upon men and women.
Thus, the monarch has for the first time officially recognised a link between human trafficking and the oath ceremonies which many Nigerians are subjected to before their departure. Oath-takers are also bound to a promise, which follows them from Nigeria to Europe, to pay a significant financial debt, transforming the relationship between victims and organised criminals into a form of slavery.
The king has made it clear that this announcement isn’t directed against the traditional practices of native doctors, but against those among them who use juju, voodoo and other similar traditional practices to promote trafficking.
The king’s actions are attracting growing interest, not only in Nigeria, but also in Italy, where some estimates put the percentage of Nigerian women in the sex trade who come from Edo State as high as 80%.
Iroko has worked for many years in Italy in the fight against human trafficking, by offering accommodation, support to re-enter the job market, linguistic and cultural mediation, as well as legal and psychological support, in collaboration with other local and national organisations. Not only is Iroko part of the Coordinamento interregionale Antitratta di Piemonte e Valle d’Aosta – an inter-regional anti-trafficking network in Piedmont and Aosta Valley – but the organisation has also worked for many years with international NGOs, including the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women (CATW) and the Nigerian NGO Edo Women’s Development Initiative (EWDI), working to combat human trafficking in the region of Edo State alongside the local government agency there, NAPTIP.
In line with this ongoing work, we are very pleased to welcome this important stance taken by the Oba and we want to reiterate and strengthen our commitment in this fight against trafficking.
As part of our work alongside EWDI we have become the only international organisation to be part of the government task force put in place by governor Obaseki. We act as the link between the task force and international and European institutions and organisations that work in this field and our role involves managing requests made by various countries on behalf of people who want to return to Edo State.
Edo State Parliament recently approved a law which prohibits the trafficking of persons, officially recognising the value and the work done by the task force, who have, in fact, been running projects and initiatives at a local level for a long time. They have focused on increasing awareness of the risks of trafficking and discouraging citizens from embarking on dangerous journeys towards Europe, putting themselves in the hands of traffickers.
Furthermore, since last autumn, the task force has been supporting the return of Edo people from Libya and Europe, having requested financial support from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). This support is not only in terms of the necessary transport, but also economic assistance and training to promote employment for those who decide to return. So far more than 4,000 Nigerians, both residents of and those who originate from Edo State, have been returned by the government of the region and enrolled in these assistance and training courses provided by the task force.
This action, bringing together the strength of government forces and the most important traditional and spiritual leader of Edo State, has triggered a positive mechanism for change.
We are receiving hundreds of messages from Nigerian women and girls via the task force and phone calls from those living in Italy, who are victims of trafficking and prostitution, requesting more information on the Oba’s public announcement. They can hardly believe the news and are making the decision, following the annulment of their oaths, to free themselves from those exploiting them. For many women in this situation it’s not a simple decision or process, especially for those who still receive serious threats against themselves or their loved ones. Unfortunately the majority of these cases involve women who, if they do decide to get out of the network of exploitation and prostitution, don’t have a realistic immediate alternative way to sustain themselves or even a place to go. They turn to us requesting, above all else, shelter.
As members of the task force we are working to put in place the necessary services to offer shelter in Italy for whoever, among those from Edo State, want to return to their home country.
Iroko has been working for some time on the renovation of Casale del Rio, a farmhouse in the countryside of Monferrato, so that it can become a shelter to host female victims of violence. We are therefore asking for everyone’s help in ensuring that this place will soon be available to those escaping the criminal trafficking network, who need accommodation and education as an opportunity to return to their home country.
Finally, we are appealing to local and international organisations who can support us and help strengthen our collaboration in this fight against human trafficking, especially at an important and sensitive time like this.
Associazione Iroko Onlus
www.associazioneiroko.org Via Ceva 40. 10144 Torino
Facebook: IROKO Onlus
@iroko_onlus Tel. +39 011 5131427
+39 338 7286467/ +39 3884309096