"Addressing human trafficking without seeking to eradicate the root causes can be likened to treating the symptoms of a disease without treating the disease itself."
Chinomso Osuji, Arise Nigeria Coordinator, describes the state of human trafficking in Nigeria, including recent developments, before discussing some parts of the new National Action Plan to fight human trafficking.
Nigeria remains a source, transit and destination country for human trafficking, attributable to many issues that have persisted over time, despite the efforts and investments of the government and stakeholders. Many of the known root causes of human trafficking in Nigeria are factors that increase human vulnerability, including poverty, greed, lack of job opportunities, exclusion, gender inequality, corruption, violent conflicts and discrimination.
The recently launched 2022-2026 National Action Plan on Human Trafficking borders around 5 thematic areas which include (i) Protection and Assistance (ii) Prevention (iii) Research and Assessment (iv) Data Management and Statistics/Monitoring and Evaluation (v) Prosecution, Law Enforcement and Access to Justice. The plan emphasises effective coordination of stakeholders’ (including CSOs, development partners and the private sector) efforts, investment in data and research, and monitoring and evaluation for better results.
Trafficking in Nigeria
In recent years, the world has seen regression in some progress indicators - such as poverty, unemployment, gender and inequality – all of which increase economic vulnerability, making more citizens vulnerable to human trafficking and modern slavery. In 2021, the World Bank forecasted that over 10 million Nigerians will have fallen into poverty by 2022 “as a result of the adverse effects of COVID-19 crisis” on the economy. Understanding the links between economic vulnerability and modern slavery, this means over 10 million new potential victims.
A Human Rights Watch and Justice and Empowerment Initiative Nigeria report titled "Between Hunger and the Virus: The Economic Impact of the Covid-19 Pandemic on People Living in Poverty in Lagos, Nigeria” describes the devastating impact of the pandemic on communities’ livelihoods and access to food. It then shows how, in the absence of an effective social security system, federal and state government responses struggled to fill the gap, and these harsh realities leave one wondering; will the 2022-2026 Plan actively confront the known root causes of human trafficking (such as poverty, lack of employment, insecurity, gender inequality)? This is not to suggest that the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP) should address all developmental issues that enable human trafficking, however addressing structural factors is critical to effectively tackling the problem from the root.
National Action Plan
There are some encouraging signs in the 2022-2026 NAP on Human Trafficking. It makes provisions for government collaboration with actors, such as civil society organisations, development partners, the private sector and other ministries and agencies, to address root issues that can lead to trafficking or re-trafficking. Specifically, items on pages 6 to 14 include; the facilitation of standardised shelters and homes and provision of care and assistance to trafficked victims; the reduction of gender inequality and vulnerability through promotion of economic empowerment; the development of programmes to raise financial status and alternative livelihoods for women and young adults.
In principle, components of the plan could translate to the economic empowerment of women and young people, the reduction of gender inequality, and answering the needs of persons with disabilities – all of which should be encouraged. But given the complexities of human trafficking, the NAP provisions alone will not address the problem. Action is needed, and we must promote a holistic approach and call for CSOs, development partners and government agencies to intensify efforts and prioritise addressing root causes.
Addressing human trafficking without seeking to eradicate the root causes can be likened to treating the symptoms of a disease without treating the disease itself.
By Chinomso Osuji
Arise Nigeria Coordinator