The Senior Special Assistant to the President on Foreign Affairs and Diaspora, Abike Dabiri-Erewa, says that Nigeria will unravel the cause of the death of 26 Nigerian girls whose corpses were found on a vessel in the Mediterranean among other issues
What is the status of the investigation into the alleged death of 26 Nigerian girls in the Mediterranean?
The news of the burial of the girls was shocking and I was particularly surprised to watch the event on television because the message sent by the Italian embassy to the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons indicated that the girls would be buried on November 26. In fact, the Director-General of NAPTIP has been scheduled to attend a conference taking place on November 21 from where he would have continued the discussions on the burial arrangement on the 26th. It was expected that during the period, the result of the post-mortem would have been communicated to Nigeria and other countries involved. At the moment, only three girls had been identified to be Nigerians. The question now is: why are they in a hurry to bury them? Why did the Italian authorities decide to bury the girls, nine days ahead of the scheduled date? Why are they rushing things? Is there anything they are hiding? Is there anything we should know about the issue? We know that a lot of times, from the stories we heard from some survivors, the girls are usually sexually assaulted. Those who survived had experienced degrading and inhumane treatment, and they have told us their tales of woe. We are waiting for answers to the enquiries sent to the Italian embassy, we have officially communicated to them and we would follow this up. As of today, only three of the girls were said to be Nigerians. I’m not even worried about where they came from, Nigeria is the champion of Africa, we would champion the cause of these irregular migrants and you know, this is a global problem and the world must intervene, which brings us to the issue of modern day slavery.
Do you think the Italian authorities have something to hide necessitating the hurried burial of the bodies?
I am not going to assume but the first question is that we want to know why they buried them earlier than the date planned for their burial. We are waiting for the answer.
What is the government doing to rescue Nigerians who are victims of human trafficking in Libya?
Although the President Muhammadu Buhari administration has brought back almost 5,000 stranded Nigerians in Libyan detention centres with the support of the International Organisation for Migration, more people are still stranded there. The solution is for Nigeria to arrange a couple of planes to bring other Nigerians back. This would give all Nigerians, still trapped in Libya, the opportunity to return. Any other Nigerians, who refuse to utilise the opportunity and allowed themselves to be arrested and detained thereafter, would be on their own.
Is there any proof that Nigerians were among Africans being sold as slaves in Libya?
We know and we have been making noise about it that some people are being sold as slaves in Libya, but nobody listened to us. With the CNN report on the issue now, hopefully, the world would pay attention. I believe that we should hold the government of Libya responsible. The United Nations and the European Union must also be involved in the investigation. The world should not accept the new slave trade to thrive in Libya. We know that if there is no demand, there would be no supply. While we should do our best to curtail supply as a government, the Libyan government should do its best to curtail demand. We are talking of a high-level human trafficking syndicate which does not only operate in Nigeria but all over the world. We are talking of a high level syndicate that is bigger than the drug cartel. It is now easier to sell human beings nowadays in whole, or in parts but it is pretty difficult to sell drugs these days. Therefore human trafficking is not an issue anyone should joke with. I commend NAPTIP, which has been doing a lot to curb the menace. The agency has been able to apprehend more offenders, many of whom have been charged to court. There is also a whistle-blower policy by NAPTIP which I will encourage Nigerians to embrace by reporting the traffickers so that they could face instant prosecution. The administration of President Muhammadu Buhari has brought 5,000 Nigerians back to the country. The President has been bringing back those who want to come back home and more are still being expected. When they come back, we encouraged their states of origin to take care of them. I commend the Edo State Government in this regard. The government has been taking good care of their indigenes who returned to the country. The Edo State Attorney General has set up a special agency to deal with this matter; they take them back to the state and rehabilitate them. There have been cases of those who returned to the country and are doing well. It is not an Edo problem; it is a Nigerian problem. The demography is changing. The people you find in Burkina Faso, Mali, speak Yoruba; the ones you meet in Italy and other parts of Europe are from the South-South and those you find in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, are from the North. So, it is a problem we need to collectively tackle.
Some said many Nigerians were going to Europe through the desert and the Mediterranean because this government has failed to meet the yearnings of the citizens
The responsibility of government is to provide the basic necessity of life for its citizens. There is no doubt about that. This administration is doing that already. Under the Buhari administration, they (illegal migrants) are coming back. This is the first time Nigeria is getting back so many of its citizens that have been stranded abroad. A lot of them were stranded in Libya and they didn’t go there yesterday; some went there five years ago. We are embarking on a massive campaign on the dangers of illegal migration. In the first instance, the boats are getting smaller; the countries are rejecting illegal immigrants; and the likelihood of people dying is very, very high. Now, some African countries have signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the EU; so, when people go out through Agadez in Niger Republic to Europe, and they are caught, they would be returned to Agadez, where they would apply for asylum. That is the new thing now. So, it is going to get tougher and more difficult now. I agree that government should provide jobs, which this administration is trying to do since it assumed power two years ago, but what do you say about the person who sold everything he had, raise N3million and gave it to traffickers in order embark on this perilous journey? What do you say about a mother, who paid such money and gave her daughter away? Every person, who is paying, is empowering the trafficker. So, let’s get the points clear: some of those who came back have been enrolled in the N-Power (programme). Some of them, especially in Edo State, have gone through courses, training and they are going into small and medium scale businesses and enterprises. Some are going into agriculture; so, there are things to do. I know a guy who sells recharge cards in Ibadan, Oyo State, and he is surviving. Some people may claim that they embarked on the journey to Italy as a result of poverty. If they could raise $6,000 to pay for the trip, why didn’t they start a business with it? Yes, government needs to provide the enabling environment, do its bit, but like somebody said, if you give some people N500, 000 every month, they will still want to embark on the journey to Europe.
Beyond repatriating Nigerians, what is the FG doing to discourage illegal migration?
NAPTIP is creating a massive awareness but we all need to work together. The journey is dangerous, and people are now paying higher amount to the traffickers; somebody is making money from the migrants. A man sells everything he had for N3 million and went abroad, he is one of those Buhari has brought back with nothing. What do you say of a mother who sold all she had and raised $4,000 so that her child could be taken abroad by human traffickers? Will you attribute that to poverty? Will you engage in drug trafficking as a result of poverty? Human trafficking is now worse than drugs trafficking because they now harvest human organs. One of the girls we brought back from Libya with a baby was 14 years old. Will a 14-year-old sponsor herself to embark on such journey?
The FG seems to be powerless on the issue of Nigerians being killed in South Africa. Is there any plan to take a more aggressive stance against the South African government?
The last two killings were basically cases of robbery. If there are two attacks on Nigerians, maybe 50 South Africans would have experienced the same violent attacks. Violence is very high in South Africa, so we need to separate them. We have the case of the police killing our people and the officers involved have been charged to court. Investigations are ongoing and other culprits are likely to be charged to court very soon. In the case of xenophobia, which you know is a South African problem, which affects every African in that country, the solution is that the people should be educated on the disadvantages of xenophobia. This is the first time that people are being prosecuted, especially the policemen. We are demanding justice and we would get justice.
Will you push for compensation to families of Nigerians who were extrajudicially killed in South Africa?
Well, the embassy is working on that with the South African authorities.
Some students on scholarships are said to be stranded in some countries abroad. What is the FG doing about it?
The problem with that is that in the course of our investigation, we discovered that there were some students who were not beneficiaries of the (amnesty) programme but who pushed themselves to the forefront of the agitation. We need to separate the genuine beneficiaries from the impostors. Some of these impostors have been able to find their ways into the system and are making demands. The most important thing after getting rid of the impostors is that there must be a proper appropriation from the National Assembly. I am glad that the Senate President has intervened; there must be appropriate funds for the number of students abroad. That is at the federal level. The states that refused to pay their counterpart funding should also be held responsible because there is no point sending students abroad on scholarship only for you to turn them to scavengers. In Russia for instance, before our intervention, the students were begging other African students for money, but our intervention solved the problem for that year.
There have been reports of Nigerians being sentenced to long imprisonment over trivial issues in Ghana, China and other Asian countries. Is your office doing anything about it?
Yes, we handle them case-by-case. We are educating Nigerians that Chinese are hard on themselves; so, they are not going to be soft on foreigners. If you are found guilty of corruption in China, they would kill you; you carry drugs, they kill you. So, you have to behave responsibly in China. Somebody wrote to me to get him transferred from one prison to another in China. Of course, that was not possible. Unfortunately, we don’t have a treaty with China on prisoner exchange. Once you are arrested in China, maybe you stay beyond the period allowed by your visa, the law says you would pay almost $5,000 to get out; that is the law. Again, we appeal to our citizens to be careful. They must understand the law of the country they are visiting and respect their laws. There are some minor cases involving paying a little fine in which the embassies intervened from time to time. – Culled from Punch.