By Rakiya A.Muhammad
Human trafficking may be easily hidden, even in plain sight. But in Sokoto state, Northwest Nigeria, community champions are using their voices to help tackle one of the underlying problems in combating this global concern: societies lack a complete understanding of human trafficking.
It has got volunteers such as Mabudin Binji Aminu Dikko tapping into existing social networks to help bridge the gap in knowledge about the practice of human trafficking and child abuse at the grassroots.
“Our task is sensitisation, mobilisation and community dialogue to reduce, if not to stop, any form of trafficking and forced labour,” says Dikko, the Community Champion for Binji Local government area.
“What we do at the community level is to use our traditional institution and some network at the grassroots to raise awareness of the issues.”
SOURCE, TRANSIT, DESTINATION
Nigeria remains a source, transit, and destination country for human trafficking, described as the trade of humans for forced labour and sexual or commercial exploitation.
According to the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP), 65 per cent of the cases happen internally and 35 per cent externally.
A Global Report on Trafficking in Persons by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) shows the most common form of human trafficking is sexual exploitation (79 per cent), with victims predominantly women and girls.
It adds that worldwide, almost 20 per cent of all trafficking victims are children, but in some parts of Africa and the Mekong region, children are the majority.
“Although trafficking seems to imply people moving across continents,” the United Nations notes.
“Most exploitation takes place close to home. Data show intra-regional and domestic trafficking are the major forms of trafficking in person.”
With many oblivious to the nature, scope and concept of human traffic trafficking, Dikko and other volunteers are raising awareness of the social ill.
SIMULATING REPORTING, ACTION
The anti-human trafficking champions, including representatives of local organisations, teachers, survivors and community leaders, emerged under the TALKAM Against Trafficking in Persons (TATIP) project by the DEVATOP Centre for Africa Development.
They leverage the TALKAM reporting platform, a civic tech initiative Executive Director DEVATOP, Joseph Osuigwe, says the centre introduced to address human rights abuses, stimulating reportage and actions among citizens, agencies and organisations.
The project utilises technology, capacity strengthening, community sensitisation, private sector engagement and case studies to enhance prevention, accelerate identification protection of trafficked people, improve responses to reported cases and, increase investigation and strengthen synergy with the private sector.
“It aims to contribute to the ongoing countering trafficking in persons effort of the Strengthening the Civic Advocacy and Local Engagement (SCALE) program of Palladium in Nigeria as funded by USAID,” he discloses.
“We are implementing TATIP in Sokoto, Delta, and Enugu states to stimulate civil society leaders, community leaders, youth, women, journalists and students at the grassroots levels and in urban cities to take strategic actions towards tackling human trafficking and harmful practices that make people, especially women and children vulnerable to exploitation.”
The project trained 90 participants from 18 communities across 9 LGAs in three states as community champions.
“One thing that we emphasise is for people to voice out when they see anything concerning trafficking, forced labour or any form of violence,” the Binji LGA advocate adds.
“Nigeria Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW), market men and women, commercial motorcycle operators, youth leaders, and women groups are part of our networks. When we get information, we act promptly, ensuring requisite investigation.”
Until about six months ago, Faith Abbah had limited knowledge of human trafficking.
“Initially, I wasn’t in the know; someone prompted me to join, so when I went for the capacity building programme for community champions, it opened my eyes to a new view about how perpetrators carry out the acts,” she reveals.
“We have seen these things in our environment but thought it normal. But the illumination provided by the training programme spurred me to try as much as possible to reach out with the message to as many people as I can because many are uninformed.”
The youth group member is now a strong voice against human trafficking in the Sokoto South local government area. She believes education and knowledge of trafficking among all members of society are vital to beating the culprits.
“As community champions, our main work is to reach out to people in our localities, tell people about human trafficking, and let them know the effect,” she explains.
“Even child abuse is part of trafficking; some have children of school age but keep them at home without giving them education.”
Getting people’s attention could be challenging but manageable. It takes willpower and tenacity, which Faith demonstrates.
She states: “Some people feel the issue does not concern them because they don’t know what it entails; thus when you try to talk to them at first, they do not show interest. Some will say you should forget it.”
However, the anti-trafficking campaigner expresses joy that she has achieved much towards changing people’s mindsets with perseverance.
“Since I have tried to talk to many people, and they have agreed and are now well aware of how these things play out, I guess, to a large extent, that’s an achievement.” Faith declares.
“The way I always talk about the issue and bring it to our discussions piqued the interest of the President of our youths’ group who works with a radio station, and he plans on a programme to create more awareness on human trafficking.”
CAMPAIGN TARGETS BORDER COMMUNITIES, OTHERS
Mrs Gloria Chukwudi has deep insight and understanding of issues in Illela, Sokoto’s local government area bordering the Niger Republic to the north.
As a community champion, she shares her time and knowledge with locals in Illela, which has a multisectoral surveillance team comprising critical stakeholders in the fight against trafficking and a shelter for survivors.
“We work to promote knowledge of the issue by visiting border communities. I usually sensitise women at Islamic school and ceremonies to enlighten them on avoiding falling prey to traffickers.”
“We educate them on the deceptive tactics of the traffickers who promise lucrative jobs only to exploit the prey later; we urge them to report any case, and we ensure we are easily reachable.”
Gloria is happy about the rising level of awareness of the communities about human trafficking.
She speaks about what inspired her to join the crusade.” I have children, boys and girls; If I help tackle it, it will not affect me, it will not affect my children, it will not affect my brothers and sister.”
TAKING ANTI-TRAFFICKING EDUCATION TO SCHOOL
For Zikrullahi Abdullahi, Community Champion for the metropolitan Sokoto North local government area, it has been more of raising awareness of signs and risks of human trafficking in schools.
It is not surprising that, as a teacher, he is educating students on how to prevent and report human trafficking to develop their sense of agency.
“As a community champion, I assess the environments and check out for the vulnerable kids within the community, rescue them and facilitate referral, if need be,” he says.
“For a while now, we have been embarking on school visits; we’ve been having successful sessions with the students; we talk about how to identify trafficked victims, how to rescue them, and we give them the platform they could use for referral, the TALKAM tool.”
Abdullahi has always wanted to contribute towards social justice and rid society of vices.
CHALLENGES IN CRUSADING
However, the champions identify security and logistic problems as significant challenges.
“Our greatest achievement is reducing trafficking; people now know about it, and if they see anything unfamiliar, they call us, and we investigate,” Dikko states.
“But security is a challenge; for instance, we learned of children at the border of Binji and Silame, but moving to that place is difficult due to security challenges.”
He adds: “Another challenge is transport and communication. Sometimes, you must invite people from several communities; they need transportation to the meeting points because you cannot go to every nook and cranny. ”
Similarly, the Ilella community champion notes: “Some locals are interested in joining the anti-trafficking crusade, but they want recognition and support towards transportation and communication to carry out the task effectively.”
“Financing our movements has been challenging as we need to visit many villages bordering the Niger Republic. For instance, I spent more than N2,000. We need support if we have to reach all disadvantaged communities.”
Her counterpart in Sokoto South corroborates:” To be a campaigner is voluntary, but even if it is small support, it will go a long way in aiding our work and facilitating a wider reach.”
For his part, the Sokoto North anti-trafficking advocate urges more government and other critical stakeholders’ support to enhance public acceptance of their sensitisation efforts.
They underscore the need to address barriers to engagement and boost individual and community empowerment.
CHEERS FOR CHAMPIONS
Nonetheless, many locals acknowledge the champions’ efforts in educating their communities on what the average person can do to help fight trafficking.
A mother of five, Malama Aisha, states: “We are now better informed on what to do to avoid being potential victims of human trafficking.”
Another resident, Nasir Aliyu, describes their efforts as stimulating social action to end trafficking and related social ills such as child abuse and sexual and gender-based violence.
“We appreciate these volunteers whose works help our communities take early preventive steps to address human trafficking,” he says.
“They have been key connectors in our communities, increasing engagement towards tackling the menace.”