Interfaith network to counter human trafficking launched in Nigeria

LWF President Archbishop Dr Panti Filibus Musa (second left), LCCN Abuja Bishop Dr Benjamin Fuduta (fourth left) and SOH national coordinator Rev. Dr Lesmore G. Ezekiel (third right), with SOH Ambassadors of Hope (from left to right) Osaretin Ushoma, Happiness Ehime, Ngozi Nwachuku and Kenneth Bright. Photo: ALCINET/Felix Samari

LWF President Musa: “human beings are not for sale”

(LWI) - The Lutheran Church of Christ in Nigeria (LCCN) has inaugurated a nationwide interfaith network to help different stakeholders mitigate the impact of irregular migration and human trafficking in the country.

LCCN Archbishop Dr Panti Musa Filibus launched the Symbols of Hope (SOH) Returnees Network at a public symposium on 31 July, held around events marking the World Day against Trafficking in Persons. He appealed to the government, non-governmental actors and other development agencies to join efforts in “developing economies that create legitimate jobs” and “empower our daughters and sons with the same chances to pursue their dreams.”

Addressing the symposium, Musa, who is President of The Lutheran World Federation (LWF), noted that the LCCN and LWF started the SOH project in 2017 to help stem irregular immigration within and outside the country. Extreme poverty and internal conflict are cited as key factors that increase vulnerability to trafficking in Nigeria.

Participants in the event included pastors and diaconal workers from LCCN congregations, representatives of other Christian and Muslim bodies, officials from the government’s anti-human trafficking and police units and civil society organizations. Benin City is considered as the epicenter of irregular migration and human trafficking in the West African country.

Ambassadors of hope

The SOH program has provided psycho social and economic empowerment support to more than 1,400 migrants returning mainly from Libya and European countries. This includes a group of nearly 270 women and men who have been trained as ‘SOH ambassadors of hope,’ with the goal of raising awareness about the risks of immigrating abroad in search of job opportunities.

Addressing the symposium, SOH ambassador Ms Ngozi Nwachukwu, who runs a dressmaking business, spoke of the hardship she experienced for three months in Libya in 2018 including imprisonment as she pursued the dream job her recruiter had promised. “I regretted all the money I had paid the trafficker to get me a job abroad. I was imprisoned for being an illegal migrant, and I lost hope to continue living. When I was deported, Symbols of Hope gave me a new beginning; I am very happy now.”

Mr Adelu Jerry said deportation to Nigeria from Libya in early 2019 had given him a new lease on life. “I saw people die on the high seas. I told myself that if ever I survived, I will tell everyone that if you must travel abroad, use the legal way.” The SOH ambassador works in the laundry service in Lagos where he resides.

No justification for human trafficking

Musa reiterated LWF’s 2017 Assembly commitment that “‘human beings are not for sale.’” He said concerted effort to dismantle human trafficking networks in Nigeria must include assistance to the victims and urgently address the “underlying forces that push many people into bondage.”

According to the 2018 Global Slavery Index, Nigeria remains a source of transit and destination country for human trafficking. It is ranked at position 32 out of 167, with more than 1.3 million people categorized as persons living in bondage. The National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons states that 75 percent of human trafficking occurs across the federal states, 23 percent within states, and two percent outside the country. The majority of the victims are young women.

For Musa, “there is no good reason to justify any act of human trafficking,” and initiatives such as SOH had shown that it is possible to address the vice. He noted the focus on girls during this year’s commemoration was a vivid reminder that “the most vulnerable and the most at risk population is the girl-child.”

The Lutheran church leader referred to the common practice of keeping young girls from the rural areas as domestic workers in urban homes “without giving them hope for the future” as a form of slavery. He said such exploitation “has no place in our world” and called for the restoration of all people with their most basic rights of freedom, dignity and justice.”