Stemming Human Trafficking Through Literature

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Tobore Ovourie is a senior investigative journalist and Health Editor at Premium Times. She is the founder of Media Initiative Against Human Trafficking and Women’s Right Abuse (MIAHWRA), an anti-human trafficking NGO that debuted a poetry anthology titled ‘I Am Not To Be Sold’ as part of its ‘end human trafficking’ project . In this interview with IBRAHIM RAMALAN, Ovourie speaks about the book, causes of human trafficking in Nigeria and the way forward.

What is MIAHWRA all about?
MIAHWRA is a non-profit, non-denominational and non-partisan organisation, and its principles of intervention and philosophy are oriented by a human rights and gender-based perspective. Based in Lagos, Nigeria, MIAHWRA centres its efforts on combating the trafficking of individuals and abuse of women. Its goal is that individuals who suffer sexual exploitation and human trafficking should recover their freedom and dignity and asserts their rights; that they achieve the necessary autonomy to begin a life outside of the control and abuse of their exploiters.

What inspired you to begin this crusade?
The inspiration came as a result of an investigation I did on human trafficking in 2013. I went undercover to infiltrate the human trafficking world and unfortunately for me, they turned out to be dare-devils. When I was travelling with them, things went out of hand. I didn’t quite get my risk assessments right that was why I went through a lot of hell while trying to escape. At a point I broke down. I had to be flown to the USA for medical attention that has to do with depression, trauma and post-traumatic disorder. As we are talking, am still under therapy, taking my recovery every day after day.

While in the USA, I felt that the thing that really disturbed me was and still is disturbing me, chiefly because those young girls in Nigeria are going through the same hell every now and again.

Let me tell you that on a daily basis, our young girls and even men are being shipped or trafficked to these countries for varying trafficking purposed.
I then said what input could I make in pushing back the tide, even if it was just a life that I would be able to save, what really could I do? Fortunately, some of my friends who who I got in touch with here in Nigeria, were like ‘hey stay back there, Nigeria is still like hell.’ It was really a very tough decision for someone that is staying in America, where life is virtually rosy, to come back to Nigeria. Above all, my doctors in the US were afraid that Nigeria would trigger me. I didn’t understand what that meant anyways.

I then decided to come back to Nigeria and talk with children particularly of secondary-school-going age so as to catch them young before they get polluted. I returned to this country August last year and the Media Initiative Against Human Trafficking and Women’s Right Abuse was founded.

What can you say about human trafficking?
Human trafficking is the recruitment, the transportation (at time transfer), harboring of any individual with the intent, (it could be with force, deception and what so ever) of exploiting the person being trafficked. Human traffickers operate in different modes. The very moment they take you out of the country, to Europe of wherever, they would collect all your documents. At that point they would start forcing you, whether am on my period or not, you must make money for them. That is where the force comes in. Also, when you are going by road, at a point when you notice a switch or an exchange of persons, be rest assured that you have already been sold, especially when another person walks up to you and say ‘see you are now my ATM oo, I bought you. You must work and pay me my money back.

What in your own opinion is the cause of human trafficking in Nigeria?
In Nigeria People keep saying that trafficking is caused by poverty. However, I am of a very different opinion. It is caused by greed. Those days, it was the traffickers that would go out to the village or wherever, tell you amazing stories, throw some Dollars or Nairas and you go wild and follow them. Now it is the youth that are looking for the traffickers. It will shock you to know that parents, particularly mothers are the ones looking for traffickers. I think something has so much eroded our value system in Nigeria, especially this ‘I wanna get rich syndrome’. I mean everybody wants to get rich fast, we don’t want to toil to make both ends meet.

You would see a lot young ladies whose dream, aim and ambition is to drive big cars, hold an iphone, use designer hand bags and live in big houses in highbrow areas of this country, but they put little effort to realize this humungous lifestyle. Our definition of success in this country baffles me. Our value system is seemingly eroded because people are not ready to work. They just want to ‘hammer’. Then they decide what short-cut are available.

How did I Am Not To Be Sold come about?
The book is my ‘end human trafficking’ debut project. It is a collection of poems written by students aged 8 – 14 in our 2015 secondary school outreach program in Lagos. We began to move from school to school to talk to children so that they could know the A to Z about Human Trafficking – the signs, the symptoms and much other related stuff. And to make learning interesting, especially because am coming from a literary background, we asked them to write poems with the theme: ‘Am not To be Sold’ .

So was what we kept doing for every school we went. And at the end we had over 200 poems. As a result, we graded them and gave them prizes and gifts and about 6 of them got a scholarship to complete their studies. My team and I came together and said, since we could not really tour all the schools in Nigeria so fast, what could we do to push the message out? We then said Ok let’s turn this manuscript of these poems we collected from these students into a book. As you know, publishing in Nigeria is way too expensive.

So due to fiscal reasons, out of the 200 poems, we were able to prune them into 19. Al though we hope that when we get stronger we will be able to collate as many as we can get.
The title of the book looks self-assertive. What is the rationale behind the title?
The title is aimed at building on one’s self-esteem to tell these traffickers that ‘hey I am not to be sold!’ When I was in the US, at my spare time, and also while speaking with my therapists about human trafficking, we kept talking about girls being sold and I remembered that I was almost sold, except for the fact that I had been able to escape. Mind you, when you get trafficked you are sold. They sell you over and over again till you outlive your usefulness.

There is an agency of government charged with the responsibility of tackling trafficking in Nigeria, NAPTIP. In your opinion, is government doing enough to curtail this menace?
It’s a two-way thing. I want to believe that NAPTIP is trying everything within its perimeters. They can’t be everywhere. However, NAPTIP alone cannot do it. It behooves on every Nigerian to fight human trafficking. On the other hand, when it comes to the laws of our land, I am not particularly satisfied with it. A snail is faster than the process of our judicial system. Also, it is one thing to make laws and it is another to execute them. So we need to step up our games when it comes to execution. I wouldn’t want to apportion the blame to a particular set of people because I believe the government that people always blame is you and I. It is not just those in the National Assembly.

What is your call on the government?
The government at all levels should step up their game by coming up with better welfare programmes so that parents can really take good care of their children.  To be honest, there is hunger in the rural areas. So government should try to do something tangible. Also, trauma centres for the once-trafficked people is necessary, especially because psychiatric doctors are very few in the country. You know, treating trauma is quite expensive, so issues of mental health should be included in our NHIS. And to the society, let’s do away with the stigma.

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