As part of the commitment of the Federal Government of Nigeria to the international protocol towards preventing, suppressing and punishing those involved in the nefarious act of trafficking in persons especially women and children the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons NAPTIP was established on 14th July, 2003 with the Trafficking in Persons Prohibition Enforcement and Administration Act of 2003. The Agency was put in place to supplement the United Nation’s Transnational Organized Crime Convention which Nigeria became signatory to its protocol on 13th December, 2000.
Today, it is estimated that at least 15 million women and girls are trafficked every year. NAPTIP as an agency has gone through several teething challenges since its inception. Faced by a vicious and unrelenting backlash from desperate human traffickers, NAPTIP has had to retool its strategy to archive meaningful results. In the process it has amend the act establishing it to allow for a more aggressive response. Currently it is also advocating a twenty-five year jail term for Human Traffickers and plans to mainstream trafficking in person’s issues into basic and secondary education in Nigeria.
In the past two years NAPTIP under the leadership of DAME JULIE OKAH-DONLI, NAPTIP has improved its partnership and co-operation with relevant stake-holders within and outside Nigeria. To gain an insight into the inner workings of NAPTIP, the Nigeria Monthly Magazine crew took time out to exchange views with the Director General of the agency.
Her remarkable and revealing interview is reproduced below.
Nigeria Monthly: What does NAPTIP stand for and what is the primary responsibility of your agency?
DG NAPTIP: NAPTIP is a National Agency for the prohibition of trafficking in persons that was established in 2003 by the Federal Government of Nigeria in response to the scourge of human trafficking. NAPTIP is a law enforcement agency mandated to fight all forms of human trafficking, both external and internal. We have also been mandated to protect victims of violence. Violence against persons prohibition acts is now domicile with NAPTIP. And so what do we do? We prosecute offenders, we rescue victims both of trafficking and violence and rehabilitate them. That are why we have shelters attached to every office that NAPTIP has. We give them psycho-social support, check their medical condition and train them either in formal education or other skill acquisition
Nigeria Monthly: How would you describe your first two years at the helm of NAPTIP operations?
DG NAPTIP: So far so good. The Agency has recorded lots of achievement since inception and particularly my two years in office has seen the agency convicted about forty seven offenders, creation of the zonal command in Oshogbo, massive awareness campaigns in rural areas, border communities, rehabilitation of victims from Libya and Saudi Arabia. We have trained victims in schools and employed some victims in NAPTIP as full time staff and have ensured that most of the victims are in primary, secondary and tertiary institutions and others who have gone through various skills acquisition training.
In addition to this, the agency has also developed and published policy guidelines, guidance on national referral mechanisms and commenced a programme called NAPTIP on the move a News Magazine Programme on NTA. NAPTIP serves as a training ground for other countries’ agencies, they come to learn best practices and they adopt our operational procedures in their countries. We are trying to mainstream trafficking in persons issues into secondary and primary schools curriculum and still awaiting approval from the NERDC. NAPTIP has adopted whistle blowing policy which has helped us get a lot of information.
We have also created the Rapid Response Squad which was formed to enhance very quick responds to any distress calls within and outside the country. NAPTIP also started a joint operation with the United Kingdom National Crime Agency under the platform of the joint border task force which helped in the arrest, prosecution and conviction of a notorious female human trafficker, Casandra Iyamo who is presently in prison. We have been able to establish and develop an App which is known the NAPTIP Eye Report which can be downloaded from the Apps store where you can report cases of human trafficking.
Nigeria Monthly: What are the major challenges encountered by NAPTIP in the course of its activities?
DG NAPTIP: I see opportunities and not challenges. To get my work done, I think out of the box. Although one can talk of issues of financial constraints, but even that is not enough to limit our capacity of carrying out our work in a most effective and efficient manner. I see a case where I can collaborate with partners to sponsor and execute projects and not necessarily asking for the money. We identify projects and get them to fund the projects for us.
Nigeria Monthly: What level of cooperation do you get from the Federal Ministry of Justice?
DG NAPTIP: Federal Ministry of Justice is my supervisory ministry. Of course you expect that I enjoy total support from my Attorney General. He does not pry into my affairs; he gives me all the support and gives me room to perform my job as long as I fall in line with my mandate. I am very happy to have a boss like the Minister of Justice.
Nigeria Monthly: What is the punishment that awaits human traffickers in Nigeria?
DG NAPTIP: Punishment varies from between six months to life imprisonment, depending on the severity of the offence. Right now, in the new law the minimum punishment a trafficker can get is five years with no option of fine.
Nigeria Monthly: How does NAPTIP tackle child trafficking?
DG NAPTIP: Well, we apply the same tactics of attacking local and international traffickers. The first and major thing is massive sensitization campaign. Most people are not knowledgeable and that is why they fall into the hands of these traffickers. And so what we do is to try to go to the border areas, rural communities, places where you have children who are most vulnerable to be trafficked. Schools, churches, mosque, we give them tips on signs to look out for. We speak to their parents and educate them on the dangers that their children might go into. That they don’t get to benefit, their children don’t benefit. They just get a one off payment and someone is out there living big on the child that is working. We engage in massive sensitization campaign.
Nigeria Monthly: What level of international co-operation does NAPTIP enjoy?
DG NAPTIP: NAPTIP enjoys high level of international co-operation. NAPTIP has got very good will internationally. Even though I say that and I am very proud to say that. We have collaboration with almost all the international agencies that you can think of, The Interpo, the Europo, UN the NGOs. It was with the National Crime Agency NCA that we were able to prosecute and convict Cassandra Iyamo. We have had a lot of joint operations in countries like Spain, Italy, the Netherlands; with NAPTIP officers from Nigeria and that of those countries. We have also had joint operations with the UK border force in Hathrow and Guattro airports. They keep inviting us from different countries to replicate what we do in Nigeria.
Nigeria Monthly: Where does NAPTIP stand on the scorecard of prosecution and conviction of traffickers ?
DG NAPTIP: NAPTIP has prosecuted so many traffickers and convicted about forty seven convictions.
Nigeria Monthly: Do you have plans to ensure more stringent penalties for Human traffickers?
DG NAPTIP: Absolutely, We hope to make it twenty five years. The bill is presently with the National Assembly, we are working to see how it becomes laws and we are hoping that they get more stringent punishment, because human trafficking is deadly and evil, a lot of people killed maimed and destroyed for life. Left for me, I would even prescribe death penalty, it is not about shooting someone to death but what they make people go through is the worst situation they go through. Some of those trafficked are made to go through series of abortion, they go crazy and never recovered, they are traumatized and they come back with different types of diseases. So why won’t they be killed?
Nigeria Monthly: Victims of human trafficking are known to suffer severe trauma, what level of care and rehabilitation does NAPTIP extend to them?
DG NAPTIP: We give psycho-social support, offer medical care to victims, rehabilitate them and counsel them.
Nigeria Monthly: It is no news that human trafficking is fast becoming a clandestine business, how does your organization tackle the challenges thrown by desperate traffickers?
DG NAPTIP: All over the world, human trafficking is a big business which is controlled by deadly cabals that tried to frustrate the job, definitely, they will try but in NAPTIP we don’t give up. In NAPTIP there is no big man, there is no small man. We go after everybody and we deal with them equally.
Nigeria Monthly: Can you tell us the major innovations you have brought into NAPTIP since you assumed office?.
DG NAPTIP: Well for me the major innovations are the Eye Report Apps, the whistle blowing policy, the Rapid response Squad and the outstanding was the meeting with the Oba of Benin where I asked him to help us intervene on the issue of oath taking where he summoned all the herbalists together to denounce all the oaths taken in the past and promise him that never again will any herbalists’ engage in that. A lot of girls were freed from their bondage and that led to the arrest of so many. Awareness campaign was also one of the innovations, campaign has been taken to hotels, airports and airlines and so many. Prevention is better than cure.
Nigeria Monthly: How would you describe your response to international migration and the hazards they pose to Nigerians?
DG NAPTP: I want to use this opportunity to say a very big thank you to the International organization on Migration, IOM they have been of tremendous support to NAPTIP and the Nigeria government. IOM is mainly in the forefront of repatriating victims of trafficking and irregular immigrant. When they return to Nigeria NAPTIP take over from there. We profile them, screen them, rehabilitate them and empower them.
Nigeria Monthly: What is the Agency doing about Nigerian girls that refuse coming back home from Mali and other African countries due to the trauma they went through
DG NAPTIP: The Agency is in constant and continuous counseling because we work with an NGO War Against Human Trafficking based in Mali. I have requested them to go to the camp regularly and engage them in counseling because most of the girls have been traumatized, they have used their bodies, had multiple sex partners and some end up with deadly diseases. People have deceived them; they spend millions with the promise of going to Malaysia and end up in Mali. Some are scared of coming back to the unknown.
LIFE OUTSIDE THE NAPTIP ENVIRONMENT
Nigeria Monthly: Can you tell our readers a bit about Dame Julie Okah-Donli ?
DG NAPTIP: (she smiles) Hmm, The DG of NAPTIP is a proud ijaw lady (proudly Nigerian), I love my country very much. I would call myself a very loyal hardworking and dedicated and faithful person. I am so passionate about her job. When I set my mind to do anything, I do it very very well. Those are the qualities and virtues I got from my parents. My father was a Naval officer and my mum was one of the most successful business woman from Amasoma in Bayelsa state at that time. My mum at the age of forty three was into fishery business with cold rooms and trucks, also two houses in Lagos and was about to build her third house when she died of Kidney failure which is the reason I established a Kidney foundation to assist Nigerian who have Kidney issues. (laughs)Yes that is who I am and I love to dance.
Nigeria Monthly: …and your family?
DG NAPTIP: I come from a family of nine, six boys and three girls from my father and mother, when my mum died, my dad remarried and I then have three other half siblings. I have two children, a first-class graduate of international business studies and a lady graduate of law who is an upcoming musician.
Nigeria Monthly: Given your very schedule, do you ever find time for relaxation ?
DG NAPTIP: You know if you don’t find time for yourself, time will never find you. Before I came NAPTIP I have had this habit of exercise, I don’t joke with my exercise. I make sure that I Play gulf at least three times a week and I also go for my boxing classes, I am a boxer, though not a professional boxer (laughs).
I ensure that I am physically, spiritually and mentally fit. You need these three to keep you going and to be able to do this job. Besides that I am very passionate about my job I see it as a duty to Nigerians and to Nigeria. I like to dance; once in a while I go dancing with my friends. I am a very homely person. I hardly go out but when I do I make good use of my time. I like to write as well, I am a writer. I have authored three books already.
I would call myself a philanthropist. In my village I try as much as possible to empower as many as I can empower. I also have a Kidney foundation Known as Julie Donli Kidney Foundation where I give out free screening to check the kidneys of everyone to ensure it is working well; I also give out free literatures and presentation on how to take good care of kidneys. And when I have a little bit of money I pay for dialyses for indigent patients that can’t afford it. Dialysis is about twenty two to twenty five thousand per session. I partner with the National hospital, Teaching hospital Gwagwalada and Zenec Clinic and kidney centre. Those are the things that make me happy.
Nigeria Monthly: D0 you have any words of advice for Nigerian youths ?
DG NAPTIP: For the youths of Nigeria, I would like to advice that there is so much to do. There is dignity in labour. Be proud of what you do. There is no point travelling out to be slaves in other people’s countries. I would like to ask the youths and their parents why there are so many foreigners in the country. They are seeing what you are not seeing. There are so many business opportunities in the country that youths can engage in and be gainfully employed and contribute to the development and growth of the country.