Tale of returnees from the Libyan slave market

Wednesday December 6 2017

An injured Nigerian returnee is wheeled to an

An injured Nigerian returnee is wheeled to an ambulance for medical attention after alighting from a chartered aircraft that brought home 150 migrants from Libya at the Murtala Mohammed International Airport in Lagos, on December 5, 2017.AFP PHOTO | PIUS UTOMI EKPEI 

By MOHAMMED MOMOH
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More than 6,000 Nigerians have been deported from Libya this year and no fewer than 400,000 others were still held up in the North African country where slave trade and criminality have taken over.

Authorities also say that more than 1,200 Nigerians died this year, in different but invariably controversial circumstances, and many others were unaccounted for in their bid to cross the Libya desert to the Mediterranean and then Europe.

Until the conscious efforts by the government and agencies, such as the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), to repatriate distressed Nigerians in Libya, little was known of a thriving slave trade in black persons.

A gang of Nigerian human traffickers, in collusion with their Libyan collaborators, have made the criminal act a thriving business.

Although Arab countries have a tradition of slavery, Libya has over the years respected human dignity as it aimed to be leader of Africa, until the fall of Col Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

The country has since never been the same again. It is today enveloped in turmoil and is the home to more than one government. One is, however, backed by the United Nations.

Harrowing tales

The slavery and human trafficking situation has brought global attention to Libya.

The accounts of some of the returnees were heart-rending, but now flowing freely, thanks to the age of communication where nothing good or bad can be hidden for long.

Nigerian deportees have told of how they were sold into slavery by, among others, their own Nigerian brothers and sisters.

Many of them were sold for as little as $400 each, besides the indignity they suffered, including rape, extortion and torture.

Mr Sunday Anyaegbunam, who left Nigeria in April 2017, with his wife narrated: “The Nigerians selling people in Libya are more wicked than many of the Arabs. I have never seen people so heartless as the Nigerians who bought and sold me.

"There are many of them in Agadez and Sabha, who are making so much money from selling their own people. But there are other West Africans doing the business too. When you approach them and say 'please, my brother, help me', they would tell you: "'No brother in the jungle".

Ms Loveth Ekumabo, 25, a returnee from Edo in southern Nigeria, blamed her father's attempted incestuous act for her decision to flee to Libya.

Her fate could best be likened to the love triangle in Ola Rotimi's; The gods are not to blame. But her case was akin to jumping from the fire to the frying pan.

In just a few months of her sojourn, she experienced untold bitterness and forced labour in faraway North Africa country.

Ekumabo, now pregnant, is one of the hundreds of returnees the Nigerian government was trying to re-integrate into society.

Apart from the traumatic experience during the seven-month sojourn, Ekumabo may have to live with the pain of not knowing the father of her unborn baby.

Foka Fotsi, a Cameroonian, who was trafficked twice, said those in charge of one of the places where he was held in Libya included Ghanaians and Nigerians.

Fotsi's story corroborated the testimony that one Charles, a Nigerian, was the trafficking kingpin.

“There is torture like I’ve never seen. They hit you with wooden bats, with iron bars,” he said.

“They hang you from the ceiling by (your) arms and legs and then throw you down to the floor. They swing you and throw you against the wall, over and over again, ten times.

“They are not human beings. They are the devil personified.”

Ms Christelle Timdi, said: “I saw it with my own eyes,” narrating how she saw a Senegalese man buying an African migrant.

The jungle

The US North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato) intervention to remove Gaddafi, who they described as the “mad dog of the Middle East”, resulted into the mayhem that has since got the better of the once stable Libya.

As a self-styled pan-Africanist, Gaddafi encouraged closer relations with other African nations, leading to many people from other countries living and working in Libya.

Today, anything is possible in Libya because there was no responsible government in charge. Libya is indeed a jungle in the hands of armed militants, the Islamic State, tribal gangs and an interim authority.

In November, 26 Nigerian girls were reported drowned while trying to cross into Italy. But Nigerians were also involved in the trafficking and dehumanisation of their own compatriots.

The UN-backed Libyan government said it was investigating the stories and has promised to bring the perpetrators to justice.

Ecowas

The Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) said it would not take lightly the maltreatment of its citizens in northern Africa.

Ecowas Commission President Marcel Alain de Souza issued the warning while presenting the Status Report on the State of the Community to the Second Ordinary Session of the regional parliament in Abuja.

Following the report, parliamentarians raised concerns over efforts made by the bloc to investigate reports on African migrants being maltreated and sold into slavery in some North African countries.

The commission’s president, however, called for thorough interrogation of such reports and judicial enquiries to ensure that perpetrators of acts of abuse were brought to justice.

He said Ecowas had commenced the assessment of the situation and sought assistance from the international community to repatriate and reintegrate citizens.

He also reiterated that there were several measures by the 15-member bloc to engage the youth to curb the illegal migration.

“We do not have enough funds to go to Libya and bring them, so we have written to the International Organisation for Migration for immediate and urgent assistance."

Nigeria’s National Council for Women Societies (NCWS) condemned the continued violence against women and children in Libya and Italy, describing it as “man’s inhumanity to man”.

The President of the Council, Mrs Gloria Shoda, said it would not fold its hands and watch women and children being brutalised all over the world.

The recent African Union and European Union (EU) summit in Abidjan also set a goal of immediately repatriating 3,800 migrants languishing in a camp near Tripoli.

“It is a step in the right direction,” IOM Europe Director Eugenio Ambrosi said of the AU decision.

“It is a little bit too much to think it will solve the slavery issue, but it would definitely mitigate (it) to some extent,” Mr Ambrosi said.

Nigeria has resolved that all its citizens stranded in Libya and other parts would be brought home and be rehabilitated.

President Muhammadu Buhari vowed to reduce the number of Nigerians heading for Europe illegally through the Sahara Desert and the Mediterranean Sea, by providing basic social amenities such as education, healthcare and food security at home.

President Buhari said it was appalling that “some Nigerians were being sold like goats for few dollars in Libya’’.