Petrified mothers and fathers have flooded the office of the Human Rights Group, Alliance of Rights Defenders (ARD), with petitions, calling on the Nigerian government and appropriate agencies to rescue daughters from sex slavery in Libya.
This was even as a 19-year-old secondary schoolgirl (SS2), Basirat, relieves her horrifying experience in Libya before she was rescued. Last week, Saturday Telegraph reported how some Nigerian girls were lured to Libya for prostitution by a grandmother, Mrs. Bankole, her daughter Lateefat and her son-in-law, Sanni.
Two girls, Hasfat Omobanle and Basirat were rescued by the ARD whose President, Mr. Ojay Akinwale, hired a private investigator, Mr. Tunji Oshokoya, to investigate the syndicate. Oshokoya who went to Libya, discovered that over 500 Nigerians girls were imprisoned in a brothel’s underground rooms for prostitution.
One of the girls, Miss Hafsat Omobolanle, a nurse, told her story last week. This week, the second victim, Basirat, also recounted her own experience. Another girl still held in sexual bondage in Libya is 21-year-old Rufiat. Her mother, Deborah Diyaolu, who was in the ARD’s office, urged the government and the agency to intervene and rescue her daughter before it is too late.
Fighting back tears, Deborah said: “I didn’t give her money to travel. She told me that the people who took her paid for her fare. She’s in Libya now, desperately looking for money to come home. She and other girls are being watched. She told me that if I could raise N2m and send to Lateefat and Sanni, they would release her.
My daughter is in bondage. Government should help us. Many Nigerian girls are held in Libya. They want to come home.” Adisa Diyaolu, 59, Rufiat’s step-father, said: “Rufiat was 18-year-old when I married her mother. She has a three-monthold- baby. She’s a hairdresser. She was living with me and her mother in Lagos, but relocated to Abeokuta in Ogun State. She set up a hairdressing salon with a friend.
“Last year, she told us that she and her friend wanted to travel to America. It was when I asked her the person taking them that she introduced Mrs. Bankole to me. Mrs. Bankole assured me that Rufiat would be in good hands with her daughter, Lateefat. “A few weeks later, Rufiat called that she was going to America. The next time she called, she said she was in Libya.
I was shocked! I asked what she was doing in Libya. She said Libya was their destination. I became worried when she kept calling with different phone numbers. I called one of the numbers and a man picked. Another time Rufiat called, I asked her what was going on. She opened up; she told me she was in trouble. She said she was trafficked for prostitution.
I have been calling her to return to Nigeria but she told me that the Oodua People’s Congress men were monitoring them. I’m appealing to government to help rescue Rufiat.” The schoolgirl, Basirat, who was rescued, is presently undergoing counselling.
Basirat said she was lured to Libya by a cartel in Abeokuta. Just like Omobolanle, they promised her employment in America. She was however moved through desert to Libya for prostitution. Basirat said: “One of my parents’ former tenants in Oyo State, Amoke Yemi, called me. She said her brother lives in America. She asked if I would like to go to America, I said yes. I was excited.
I told my parents. My parents spoke with her on the phone. She told my parents she had a friend who could handle all my travelling documents. That was how she linked me with Alhaji Sanni. Sanni told me to come to the National Theatre, Iganmu with N500, 000. I met Omobolanle who wanted to travel there. I also met Alhaja Lateefat, her mother, Mrs. Bankole and Amoke Yemi.
I ended up paying them N520, 000. My parents gave me the money. That was on December 18, 2015.” She was shocked when Sanni told her that they would travel that same day. She and Omobolanle were moved into a bus heading to Kano. She said: “I asked if we were not travelling by air anymore, but Sanni said we would travel by road before he would put us in a plane.” When they got to Kano, they were handed over to an agent who took them to Niger. “We travelled in a Hilux van through the desert.
We travelled for 11 days and got to Agadeshe.There were a lot of other girls in the van. The journey became difficult. Girls fell off the speeding van into sand dunes. The driver would shout ‘Allahu Akbar’, but wouldn’t assist the girls. The girls were left behind. The driver assumed that the girls are dead. He said sand would cover their corpses.
I was horrified. I pleaded with them to allow me go back home, but they refused,” said Basirat. When they got to Libya, she was taken to Lateefat. She counted over 100 girls. She learnt that the girls belonged to Lateefat and were camped in the Nigerian couple’s house in Libya. When she was presented to Sanni, he looked at her coldly and said, “You’re going to be a prostitute.”
Basirat, shaken by the encounter, said: “I refused and decided not to eat. But after much pleading with the couple, they said I could leave if my parents could send N2m. I got across to my parents. My parents contacted Mr. Ojay Akinwale of the ARD. They came to my rescue.
Lateefat has a brother in Tripoli called AZ; he’s in charge of the girls. His job is to prepare the girls for prostitution.” She said: “AZ told me that they usually give soft tissues like facial wipes to girls to insert in their private parts, so they wouldn’t feel pains or contract diseases. I however learnt from the other girls that the tissue could get stuck inside a woman’s body and she could die.
They said many young virgin girls had died after they used the tissue and it got stuck inside them. All the stories I heard made me to beg my parents the more to rescue me.” She said that attempt to escape from the brothel was almost impossible because of the OPC members employed by the couple. Basirat recounted: “I don’t know what the human rights lawyer told the couple, but Lateefat ordered that Omobolanle and I should return to Nigeria.
The girls were made to sleep with 10 men in a day. They have nurses that abort pregnancies for the girls. Lateefat had shops which serve as boutique, hairdressing salon and a tailoring shop in front of the brothel. These shops were just camouflage.” She said that because of the pressure from the ARD, Lateefat grudgingly paid for their flight from Libya to Ghana.
They later travelled by road from Ghana to Nigeria. She said: “When we got to seme border, Oshokoya was already on ground with policemen. They forced the bus driver to stop. That was how we were rescued.” She described her experience in Libya as horrific, stressing that she would never leave Nigeria again. She added: “I feel sorry for the other girls still in custody of the trafficking ring in Libya. Our government should rescue and bring them back to Nigeria. The government should also arrest those behind trafficking of girls out of the country.”
One of the trafficked girls, a mother of one who spoke on the phone from Libya, said: “I was trafficked alongside my two friends in 2014. We didn’t pay money to Lateefat and her husband. It was Mrs. Bankole who talked us into travelling. She said her daughter and son-in-law would give us good jobs in America.
I was a hairdresser in Abeokuta. We have been working as prostitutes since we got to Libya. Anytime we begged to be returned to Nigeria, Lateefat and her husband would tell us to inform our families to pay N2m. They said it was either we paid N2m or prostitute to cover the expenses they spent in bringing us to Libya.”
The National Agency for the Prohibition for Trafficking in Persons and Other Related Matters (NAPTIP), officials arrested Mrs. Bankole over her alleged role in trafficking the girls from Ogun State to Libya. Akinwale urged the government and NAPTIP to take urgent measures to repatriate the girls and arrest members of the cartel. Akinwale said: “We heard Lateefat is bragging that she would use her connection to get her mother released from the NAPTIP. Government should provide the finance and equipment for the NAPTIP to do its work in Nigeria and overseas. It’s sad that the Nigerian Embassy in Libya has failed in its responsibility to Nigerians.
NAPTIP should have police team backing them for their operations. Better still, NAPTIP officials should be empowered to carry arms. Government should take human trafficking issues with seriousness.” Akinwale said that investigation showed that the couple had been running the cartel for over 20 years. They had never been arrested until ARD exposed them.
The lawyer alleged that Lateefat has some members of her community in Abeokuta on her pay roll. He said that the NAPTIP officials had already arrested Lateefat and were taking her to their van when community members attacked the officials, allowing Lateefat to escape in the melee.
Akinwale said: “We want NAPTIP to prosecute Mrs. Bankole in Lagos; where the crime was committed. We learnt they want to arraign her in Ogun State. We want NAPTIP to declare Lateefat and her husband wanted. Interpol should repatriate them, so they can come to Nigeria and face the law.”
The NAPTIP Zonal Commander, Lagos State, Mr. Joseph Famakin said the agency was working with international partners to arrest and repatriate Lateefat and Sanni to Nigeria. The NAPTIP boss confirmed that Mrs. Bankole was in their custody. He added: “Mrs. Bankole is in our custody.
She was arrested for human trafficking with her daughter and son-in-law. The syndicate trafficked girls to Libya. Efforts are on to arrest the couple. We’re working with our international partners to get them back to Nigeria to face their crime.” Famakin added: “NAPTIP operatives arrested Lateefat in Abeokuta, but she escaped.
Mrs. Bankole has been charged to court and is on bail. But she is yet to perfect her bail. But in a swift reaction, the leader of Oodua People’s Congress (OPC), Otunba Gani Adams denied knowledge of the illicit sex trade, while exonerating the OPC in the saga. Speaking with Saturday Telegraph via a telephone conversation, the OPC leader, who spoke through his spokesman, Mr. Segun Akanni, explained that there are two organisations with similar objectives. According to Akanni, while the OPC is for Yorubas based within the geographical entity called Nigeria, the other group, Oodua Progressives Union (OPU) caters for the Yoruba outside the country.
“The OPC is for people within Nigeria, while the OPU is for the Yoruba outside Nigeria, but I doubt very much what they are saying. Though the OPU is different from the OPC, they are similar in nature, and I doubt that the OPU could be used for such a dastardly act. No, it is not possible. He added: “I will call Libya now and even link you up with them to speak directly with the OPU”, but he was yet to get back to our correspondent as at press time.
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