Remarks by Rt. Hon. Yakubu Dogara at the Conference on Women Empowerment and the Fight Against Trafficking in Persons: Partnership between Nigeria and Italy
REMARKS BY THE SPEAKER, HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA, HIS EXCELLENCY, RT. HON. YAKUBU DOGARA AT THE CONFERENCE ON “WOMEN EMPOWERMENT AND THE FIGHT AGAINST TRAFFICKING IN PERSONS: PARTNERSHIP BETWEEN NIGERIA AND ITALY” ON 21ST NOVEMBER, 2017 AT ROME, ITALY
I consider it a very special honour and privilege to be invited to address you at this conference specifically convened by the President of Italy’s Chamber of Deputies, MS LAURA BOLDRINI, to discuss a very important but troubling issue: “Women Empowerment and the Fight against Trafficking in Persons. The Partnership between Nigeria & Italy”.
2. Let me first of all bring you warm greetings and felicitations from the government and people of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and in particular our parliament, the National Assembly.
3. This conference is coming at the heels of a very unfortunate incident that happened in the shores of Italy on 5th November, 2017, where 26 mostly Nigerian girls died in the Mediterranean Sea while trying to cross from Libya to Italy. The House of Representatives in Nigeria passed a Resolution (HR. 151/2017) on November 9, 2017 to investigate this tragedy. The Executive arm of Government in Nigeria is also investigating, all with a view to taking drastic measures aimed at putting a stop to this type of catastrophe. I understand that relevant authorities in ITALY are also conducting an investigation. It is hoped that the outcomes of these investigations will not only lead to bringing perpetrators to justice but helping us to take all necessary steps to ensure that we do not experience this type of monumental tragedy again.
ONE MINUTE SILENCE
4. Anyone forced into deep retrospection over these multiple regrettable tragedies cannot but ask these questions: What makes a young boy or girl leave their families and subject themselves to this terrible ordeal? What are the possible solutions to this inhuman trafficking in persons? Have the relevant authorities in Nigeria and Italy done enough to stop this crime against humanity? The Mediterranean has today become the world’s biggest cemetery leaving deep wounds on humanity’s conscience that will over a period of time produce historical scars to serve as a testimony to the ineptitude of our generation in dealing with this problem.
5. We are all involved in this crime either as perpetrators or those who are aiding and abetting human traffickers by standing aloof while they convince victims to embark on a supposed journey in search of a “better life” that has almost always ended in “bitter life” if not death.
6. How do we address the motivation for someone to want to be trafficked? The crisis most victims are faced with is that they are trapped in a kind of life that is worse than death where the potential victim has no flicker or glimmer of hope to cling to. Such desperate fellows can fall for anything especially if it offers them the slightest opportunity to break free from their hopelessness. The bad news is that in impoverished countries where human trafficking is rife, the population curve is far outpacing the hope and opportunity curve. That means more despondency. As long as this is the case, the motivation for individuals to want to be trafficked will always be there.
7. The next thing to deal with is the greed associated with this criminal enterprise that keeps the perpetrators (traffickers) rich and influential. In this crime it takes two to tango. If we do not have individuals from this end who receive and profit from this inhuman trade there will be no motivation for someone to engage in trafficking as no one will pay them. Once human trafficking is no longer lucrative, it will become history as no trafficker would want to assume those risks without any form of gain.
8. The partnership between our two friendly Nations must develop the needed tools to address the hopelessness that serve as motivation for the victims to want to risk to be trafficked and the greed of the traffickers. Any delay in dealing with these twin evils, is postponement of victory over this global scourge. I therefore comment the effort of the good people of Italy and the Government of Italy for the partnership with Nigeria especially their earlier work in Edo State entitled ‘Preventing and combating trafficking of women from Edo state to Italy’ that involved skill acquisition programmes, financial grants, enlightenment campaigns etc. I understand that this programme has ended. May I use this opportunity to kindly request the Italian government to restart and even expand this very useful and laudable initiative.
9. On our part as a Nation, we are giving this scourge the attention it deserves. The Federal, State and Local Governments, the private sector, and Civil Society Organisations in Nigeria have various forms of policies, programmes aimed at empowering women. Women empowerment involves the transformation of economic, social, psychological, political and legal circumstances of women. When the Buhari administration came into office in 2015, it introduced the Social Investment Intervention Programme.
10. In the 2016 Budget, over €1 Billion Euro was set aside to kick start the programme. This is being sustained every year including the 2018 budget proposals just submitted by President Buhari to the National Assembly. Some of the programmes include: School Feeding Programme, N-Power Programme, Government Enterprise Empowerment Programme and Conditional Cash Transfer Programme. One of the programmes called The Government Enterprise and Empowerment Programme (GEEP) has a sub programme called National Women Empowerment Fund (NAWEF). This is being administered exclusively for women who engage in productive enterprises.
11. All I have alluded to are financial inclusion and micro-credit programmes. They are aimed at reducing poverty among rural dwellers and providing skills development, training and business support services especially for women. Various agencies of the Federal Government such as Bank of Industry, Central Bank of Nigeria, Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Bank of Agriculture, Small and Medium Enterprises Development Agency (SMEDAN), National Directorate of Employment (NDE), have various Women Empowerment Programmes. They work in partnership with the Nigerian Federal Ministry of Women Affairs and various State Ministries of Women Affairs. Of course the private sector and NGO’s are also very active in the field of women empowerment in Nigeria.
12. Given the complexity and nature of the scourge, it is extremely difficult to provide precise data on victims of human trafficking from Nigeria to Italy. Information on human trafficking from Nigeria to Europe are not accurate. Yet, it is a fact that Nigeria produces one of the largest number of victims trafficked annually to Europe and Asia for the purposes of sexual exploitation. According to existing data, over the past 15 years, Italy has been increasingly the preferred destination for Nigerians trafficked outside Nigeria. In 2016 alone, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) states that 11,000 Nigerian women arrived in Italy with over 8,000 as potential trafficking victims.
13. Unquestionably, the menace of trafficking in Nigeria has been exacerbated by poverty and unemployment, unequal access to education that limits women’s opportunities to increase their earnings in more skilled occupations, peer pressure, and lack of legitimate and fulfilling employment opportunities particularly in rural communities. Other contributory factors Include collapse of traditional African family values and social safety nets, ignorance about the reality of life in Europe; illiteracy and potentially lucrative nature of the crime to traffickers and victims. However, the scourge of trafficking is also increasingly being exacerbated by less access to information on migration/job opportunities and risks, weak enforcement of existing legal framework; porous border control at the Nigerian end and possible collusion with security officials (immigration, border control, job agents, etc.) and organised criminal groups within Nigeria and destination countries.
14. The legal framework to combat human trafficking in Nigeria is fairly well developed. The Nigerian government ratified the UN Convention against Trans-national Organized Crime and the UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children (the Palermo Protocol) in 2001. Also, the National Assembly passed a domestic anti-trafficking legislation: the “Trafficking in Persons (Prohibition) Law Enforcement and Administration Act” of 2003, amended in 2015. The National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP) was created in July 2003 by this legislation to address the scourge of trafficking in persons. Other related legislations in force in Nigeria include: The Child Rights Act, 2003; Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act, 2015 and various policy documents and instruments. Furthermore, the government has provided officials with better training to recognise trafficking cases and collaborated with international law enforcement agencies from the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Italy, Malaysia, Austria, and Taiwan to investigate trafficking cases involving Nigerian nationals.
15. There exist also bilateral agreements between Nigeria and Italy such as the:
❖ Reciprocal Investment Promotion and protection Agreement (IPPA) which was ratified and came into force on 22nd August, 2005
❖ Nigeria-Italy Immigration Agreement signed in Rome on the 12th September, 2000. The Agreement was ratified by Italy on 30th November, 2002 and subsequently by Nigeria on 13th February 2007
❖ Agreement on Strengthening Cooperation in Combating Migrant Smuggling and illegal Immigration signed between Nigeria Police Force and Italian Department of Public Security on the 17th February 2009 in Abuja. Under this Agreement three (3) police officers are sent from Nigeria to jointly collaborate with their Italian counterparts at three (3) major Italian airports for a period of one year. The Agreement has a provision for renewal and has been renewed several times and it is still currently valid. At the request of Italian authorities, the period has now been extended to two years. Although, the Agreement has been mutually beneficial to both countries, the number of police officers posted from Nigeria was recently reduced to 2 at the instance of the Italian authorities. Furthermore, under this Agreement both countries would have to effectively combat illegal immigration of their citizens.
16. Some of these adopted strategies have yielded positive results. Between 2013 and 2016, a total number of 4,620cases of human trafficking were reported. In 2016 alone, a total of 721 cases were reported. Out of the 721 cases reported in 2016, 389 cases, representing 54% of the number were successfully investigated. 332 (46%) of cases reported were still under investigation. The most reported cases were alleged offences of exportation of persons for prostitution or sexual exploitation, with 195 cases (27.0%), closely followed by alleged cases of Employment of Children as domestic workers and inflicting grievous harm, with 188 (26.1%). Another emerging trend with an increasing frequency of reporting is the crime of buying and selling of human beings for any other purpose with a total of 46 (6.4%) cases received in this reporting season.
17. There has been a notable increase in the total number of suspects arrested for various trafficking related offences in Nigeria from 432 suspects apprehended in 2015 to 519arrested in 2016. Most significant increase was in the arrest of 73 offenders for alleged Procurement of Persons for Sexual Exploitation in 2016 as against 7 recorded the previous year. Furthermore, Nigeria has secured a total number of 261 convictions and 311 convicted persons between 2013 and 2016. In 2016 alone, Nigeria recorded a total of 25convictions, which saw 31persons convicted. Out of the 31 convicted persons, Fourteen (19) were Males and Seventeen (17) were Females. Furthermore, a total number of 10,470 victims have been rescued by Nigeria between 2013 and 2016. Who says the partnership between Nigeria and Italy is not working?
18. Despite these successes, there still remain multiple challenges that call for greater collaboration between our two countries. Indeed, Nigeria and Italy have a long history of economic collaboration since the establishment of diplomatic relations in 1961. Nigeria remains the second largest trading partner of Italy in sub – Saharan Africa exceeding 5 Billion US Dollars annually. Indeed a large concentration of Nigerians in Diaspora, over 80,000, live in Italy. Remittances of cash and other financial instruments from these Nigerians constitute a major economic boost for Nigeria. Recently, Nigeria signed an agreement with the Italian government on police training, logistic supply and intelligence sharing. The agreement was witnessed by Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari and former Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi in Abuja. Also, the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons, NAPTIP, and various Law Enforcement Agencies (LEAs) of Italy have agreed to collaborate more effectively to curb trafficking of human beings from Nigeria to Italy.
19. As observed by UNODC, parliaments and parliamentarians have the power to prevent human trafficking by raising awareness and curbing exploitative practices. As elected representatives, parliamentarians have a responsibility and the power to ensure that laws and other measures are put in place. We have an effective parliamentary tool of oversight to ensure implementation of our laws. We can enact or amend existing laws to make them more effective and adopt good practices that will strengthen the responses of our two countries to human trafficking.
20. I wish to conclude by highlighting some concrete steps both Nigeria and Italy can take to address the problem of these trans-national crimes which include; human trafficking, drug trafficking, money laundering, cybercrimes, financial scams prostitution, forgery, impersonation and irregular migration of Nigerians and their Italian collaborators.
21. The first, of course, relates to better utilisation of all existing global, mutual or bilateral Conventions, Agreements and Protocols on combating trafficking in persons, (TIP) to curb further trafficking of young persons from Nigeria to Italy. Secondly, we wish to canvass for a better partnership between NAPTIP (Nigeria) and Italian security forces in the arrest and prosecution of perpetrators of the crime of trafficking in persons. In this regard, I call for more commitment by Italian and European authorities in the fight against human trafficking by arresting and prosecuting their own nationals involved in trafficking. Our respective parliaments and others across Europe can also be more proactive by conducting oversight and regular enquiries into the frequency of the incidences along the Mediterranean region. Thirdly, I wish to advocate for increased joint training and operations for NAPTIP operatives and Italian authorities at Italian Airports, Sea and Border posts to help in identification and profiling of Nigerian victims and traffickers. Fourthly, equally important is the need for information sharing in a timely and open manner especially in light of the need for reliable and accurate statistics on this phenomenon. This should also include disclosures on assets of criminal gangs involved in human trafficking. Fifthly, exchange Programmes, Capacity building and Manpower development for the training of young women and officials; Sixthly, A coherent migration policy to combat Nigerian migrants crossing the Mediterranean Sea into Italy and other parts of Europe; and Seventhly, more active involvement of religious organisations and NGO’s in providing support for victims of trafficking and increased effort at prevention. Eighthly, support for education of women through scholarships, bursary awards, and increased emphasis on technical and vocational education opportunities where young women will learn new skills, that will enable them become self-sufficient and self-employed. Lastly, deliberately publicising the many opportunities that exist in the area of social and financial inclusion programmes available in many Government agencies, Non – Governmental Organisations and private sector organisations in Nigeria.
22. Other means of collaboration could include greater involvement of the Nigerian and Italian Government departments and agencies especially in the area of consular assistance to deserving victims as well as the humane and protective handling of victims of trafficking. Strengthening of existing partnership between our two countries based on signed MOUs, Mutual Legal Assistance (MLA), Extradition Treaty and exchange of prisoners and seizure and legal confiscation of assets of traffickers abroad and their forfeiture to the victims of trafficking trust fund. Other solutions will entail maximizing opportunities for comprehensive recovery through counseling, rehabilitation, vocational training, empowerment and reintegration such as Italy is currently Stepping up prosecution of traffickers and all involved in violating existing laws on the matter.
23. Finally, to effectively combat Trafficking in Humans will require the active networking and collaboration of nations and relevant stakeholders such as supranational bodies, the Media; Government agencies and religious organisations. May we all be challenged by the resonating words of no other person than His Holiness, Pope Francis who said: “Human trafficking is a crime against humanity. We must unite our efforts to free victims and stop this crime that’s become ever more aggressive, that threatens not just individuals, but the foundational values of society”. This is the time to unite our efforts, this is the time to free victims of human trafficking and this is the time to stop this crime!
24. Thank you for your kind attention.