Titi Abubakar: Human trafficking is crime against humanity

Titi Abubakar<br />Photo: Wkipedia

Mrs. Amina Titi Abubakar is the founder and President of Women Trafficking and Child Labour Eradication Foundation (WOTCLEF). In this interview with LEO SOBECHI, she traces the efforts at tackling human trafficking and child labour.

Advocacy for gender inclusion and clamour for youth to take over leadership has gained momentum, what is your take?

OUR young people should have to learn from the elders. They are not learning. I am not saying the youth should not take over.

But they should bow their heads and learn under the adults. They are the ones they are to handover power to, so they have to learn under the adults.

They have to learn to comport themselves and get educated. Youth should hold a summit to talk sense among themselves.

What informed the establishment of WOTCLEF?
 
There is a stage of giving back to society what society has given you. I was a lecturer in Kaduna Polytechnic for almost a decade.

Usually in the classroom, I see some girls and as a mother, sister and a grandmother, I was particular about these children.

I wanted to know why some of them were badly dressed. If you ask them they will tell you, they went to Italy.

And they will tell you that what you taught the class several months ago they don’t understand.

So you have to start all over again. I was doing that for them.

Luckily in 1986, I was opportune to go to Rome to further my education.

The first thing I noticed, when we left the aircraft in Rome, a separate bus took us to the immigration.

There, honestly the people carrying the green passport were the last batch to be checked.

It never occurred to me; I never knew why all those things were happening, not until I got into town and started school.

Then I began to see so many black girls, I wouldn’t say they were Nigerians, on the streets of Rome in skimpy clothes.

As a concerned mother, I asked questions. What are all these girls doing on the street of Rome, dressed the way they were?

I was told the girls have some unscrupulous madams in Nigeria that facilitated their Visas, all their traveling documents and they bring them to Europe.

They lie to them that in Italy they don’t speak English, so they were coming to Italy to be teachers among other decent jobs. They even tell them that money is picked on the streets of Rome, so they deceive them.

And before they bring them along, they take them through some rites and rituals with voodoo priests.

They do this just to instill fear in them. As such, it is like they are in bondage; they have to work for that madam that has paid their passage for ten good years before they can be liberated.
 
When I was told all they do to those children and that the proceeds they make go solely to the madam, whom they are under oath not to disclose who the madam is, I was very angry at what was a case of inhumanity to man.

I resolved within me and before God that one day I would be in a position to help these children.

There is power in the tongue; it is good for one to speak positive things, because when my husband became the Vice President and they were sworn in May 1999, I remembered I had a covenant with God.

You know in Nigeria when you are not in the position of authority nobody listens to you. I recalled my promise to help those children out. So, precisely in October of that year, I had a workshop for three days, which was well attended.

Governors’ wives, local government chairmen’s wives, immigration, all the security operatives were all there and at the end of the day, people were taken aback, they could not believe the story. It sounded like a fairy tale, but it was not.

After the workshop, the Italian government started sending some of these children back to Nigeria. The girls were very reluctant, so they resisted.

The Italians sent back 70 girls then, accompanied by 144 policemen. They were taken to Lagos, it was discovered that most of them traveled with falsified names.

On their arrival, since it was me that asked them to come, the question was what do I do?

So, I asked that a handful of them be brought to Abuja, so I can give them succor. Many of them tested HIV positive, with other diseases.

About 30 of them were brought to Abuja and I told them my doors were open to them 24 hours that I was ready to help them.

Those that stayed I took care of them some even lived with me in the villa, I gave them education and when the United Nations (UN) heard what I was doing, they became interested.

The UN was very happy and sent me a letter in the year 2000, because there was going to be a protocol meeting at Palermo.

They even sent me an air ticket, saying they wanted me to come and talk on trafficking.

When I got there it was very beautiful, that at least somebody in Nigeria had started the fight against human trafficking.

On my return to Nigeria after the UN conference, ideas started coming to me that anything that is worth doing is worth doing well.

I said to myself, now that the Europeans have seen that somebody has started the fight, it would be good for me to stand and fight very well.

Do you recall the birth of NAPTIP?
 
The first thing I did was to call a meeting of the CSOs (Chief Security officers), security apparatus and Mrs. Mary Odili, she was then the first lady of Rivers State, now a Supreme Court Judge.

She chaired the meeting and we started working together, because I wanted a bill to go to the National Assembly.

I was there physically when that bill went to the National Assembly. It had to go through committee readings.

That the bill saw the light of the day was because I was there in person. I talked about why we needed the law.

It was an eye-sore to Nigerians travelling abroad who saw the sort of things the children were doing.

The Senate President then was Anyim Pius Anyim and when President Olusegun Obasanjo heard of it, he was very happy, because many times he had been faced with the embarrassment of young girls in skimpy clothes on the streets of foreign countries.

So, everybody became interested and in the year 2003, the bill was passed.

But, before then I had called a very large gathering where people from all over the world converged in Abuja.

I wanted to share with them what I saw in Palermo, it was like a post-Palermo conference. The three-day meeting was very successful.

Therefore, when the bill was eventually passed it was assented to by President Obasanjo and the law gave birth to National Agency for Prohibition of Trafficking In Persons (NAPTIP).

During the signing ceremony, President Obasanjo asked me, you are the originator of this bill and the founder, who do you want to be the head?

I continued traveling to all the countries, catching those little ones.

The UN recognised the work I was doing and gave me UN status regarding anything that has to do with human trafficking.

I expanded my rehabilitation center to be able to counsel over 7000 boys and girls.

We have been doing this for the past 18 years, since 1999 to date. Many organisations partnered with us in the areas of skill acquisition.

Organisations like UNICEF, UNIFEM and UNODC are our partners, even the British High Commission partners us, to the extent that if we want to do a programme they assist us 50 per cent on skill acquisition.

We have done so much I didn’t rest on my oars, we have children in the rehabilitation centre that go to school, some of them are in tertiary institutions, secondary school, even some are in primary schools, while many have become employers of labour.

There’s a lady that stayed with me when I was in the villa and she did so well.

She graduated from the University of Abuja, they even gave me slot at the University of Abuja. WOTCLEF now has five undergraduates in the university.

There is one boy in a boarding house in Nasarawa. I have about 25 in the house, two of the boys said they want to play football, so I am looking for a football academy to send them.

I am a silent achiever, I don’t blow my trumpet, I don’t tell the world, but somehow the world knows I am the founder of WOTCLEF.

For instance, last November I was in Italy to receive an award, and I have three trips to make to the USA, because they also want to bestow awards on me.

I started this fight in Nigeria. That is what we are doing and we will continue to do it.

I have told the children that are passing through me that the Foundation is not for my children and that someday they will take over from me.

When I was in the Villa, I never asked any minister for contract. In fact, no minister ever gave me contract.

I never did money laundering. All I did for the children was that I used government food to feed them, when we were in government and now that we are out of office, the grace of God continues to sustain them.

That is why I walk with my head high in the sky, because I never did any wrong when I was in the Villa.

Where is the role of education, cultural literacy and family values?

My advice to people is, be contented with whatever you have. When this child illicit migration first started we used blame it on greed.

I have been to many universities, like the girls here in Abuja can go to another part of the country, because they don’t want people to recognise them.

They just give their body freely; some of these big men also send their aides to bring these children for them.

There is the saying that if there were no buyers, there would be no sellers.

This is what we want to embark upon to label the men, the men that go out to look for these children I think we should be mentioning their names.

Some of these big men have been caught in social media in the act; if we continue to disgrace them maybe it will be reduced to barest minimum. 

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