Two months ago, I had a chat with a man in my work place who is from Benin city, the capital of ancient Benin empire. He explained how it is a thing of pride among his people to travel out of the country, even without legal papers. He had gone on such a trip about 12 years ago with the aid of agents who helped illegal migrants travel to Spain through Morocco. Eventually, he was deported by the Spanish authorities 3 months after his arrival there. His experience made me to begin to make further enquiries about the veracity of his claims about Benin folks.
As a boy, when I was in secondary school I recall first learning about the Benin Empire from my Fine Arts teacher when she taught us about their ancient art. The Benin bronzes, when they were discovered by the Europeans in the pre-colonial days , made a great impression on the foreigners that Africans had such sophisticated artistic skills. I further learned about the kingdom when we were taught that one of the sons of Oduduwa (progenitor of the Yorubas and the founder of Ile-Ife, which later became the Oyo empire) ruled as king of the Benin empire. The Benin people were so powerful and the kingdom rose to prominence among West African kingdoms before colonialism under the British. All of that is history because things have taken a different twist.
In modern times, the city has earned a different reputation than power or prosperity. The BBC reported that Benin (not the similarly named West African country) is one of the main sources of West African girls and women trafficked into prostitution in Europe (largely Italy and the UK). Unfortunately, so many naive girls and their families are deceived by promises of education and good jobs abroad. While many girls die along the land route, the lucky ones who arrive there alive work as slaves for their traffickers in exchange for the ‘favor’ of being brought to Europe. It’s sickening to learn of such a high volume of trade in human lives. However, this human trafficking business isn’t restricted to Nigeria but is a global phenomenon. Indeed our country is favorably ranked amongst nations fighting this unethical source of billions of dollars.
As a way to further curb this sale of human lives, our government can do better. The Edo state government needs to urgently arise to fight this organized unethical network of modern day slavery thriving under its watch. We have heard of the Mexican drug war, an indication that the Mexican government is making concerted efforts to stop drug cartels. On the other hand, we’re yet to hear of a Nigerian human trafficking war. Maybe it’s not yet necessary because the magnitude hasn’t yet reached alarming levels. Nevertheless, this year’s World Day against Trafficking in Persons is an opportunity to remind stakeholders that drastic action need be taken in local cities that emerge on human abuse watch lists.
(c) Leke Babayomi, 2015