When Florence Abu, a hairstylist, left the shores of Nigeria for Russia in 2012, she thought it would be for a good cause. She embarked on the journey abroad not just to better her lot but to improve the fortune of her family, but that was not the case.
Abu, an indigene of Edo state, soon found herself knee-deep in modern-day slavery. She had been trafficked out of Nigeria unsuspectingly. On getting to Russia, she had engaged in menial jobs until her handlers told her that the real reason she was in the country was prostitution.
Abu said she was wooed to travel abroad by an assistant “pastor” in her church. She said he claimed that he saw a “vision” of her prospering abroad. According to a 2016 UNESCO report, poverty is the reason women and children are vulnerable to being trafficked. Another report by the Global Slavery Index ranked Nigeria 32 out of 167 countries where persons are trafficked from.
For assurance that she would not abscond on getting to Russia, the hairstylist said she was asked to give her pubic hairs and fingernails to her pastor’s mother. Abu said she was also told to pay $46,000 to be free again or be killed.
“I, first of all, refused the offer but he now told me that I don’t have a choice because God showed him in a revelation that my destiny is not in the country, that my destiny is outside the country and for me to achieve that aim, I need to leave the country so I can earn better money and also help my family and take them away from poverty and for me to also have a better stay,” the hairstylist said.
“When he said that, I was like okay but I don’t have the money to leave, how am I going to leave, and he said that not the problem, and that they are the ones that are going to fix the bills to leave. The only thing they will request from me is for me to go and look for money to do my international passport, that if I can do my international passport, then the rest of the things they are doing is on them.
‘I Went Through Hell’
Abu said when she got to Russia, she was exposed to prostitution. She said sometimes she was forced to be on call with different “clients” for more than 24 hours.
The stylist said when she complained to her handler of how dangerous some of the clients were, the “madam” did not care and only requested the proceeds of her prostitution.
“I go out with men, at times for a week; sometimes, I have bad clients. Some carry guns, some chase me out of their house naked. In broad daylight, I’ll run for my life without wearing anything,” she said.
“I even went out one day and they threw me from a three-story building. I broke my hand, I was at home for two months and my madam said she would not be the one feeding me.”
Abu was repatriated back to Nigeria after she came down with a mysterious illness.
Victim Turned Activist
Having returned to the country in 2017 after spending five years in Russia, Abu has been working hard to re-establish her hairstyling business and collaborating with different groups to create enlightenment against trafficking and illegal migration.
“I spent five years in Russia, I have been here now since February 2017,” she said.
“What I’ve been doing, I’m a hairstylist but I don’t have a stall now, I’m planning to have one which is I’m looking for support so that I can be able to set up my business.
“I never said because I am afraid of them even with the threat and everything I said I can’t let them go because I know what I suffered back there in Russia and this person told me that my life is in her hands so I let her know that God that brought me here, he didn’t just bring me here for a purpose and I can’t see other girls also wasting their lives.”
‘Pastor Who Trafficked Abu Facing Charges’
Solomon Okoduwa, national coordinator, Initiative for Youth Awareness on Migration, Immigration, Development, and Reintegration (IYAMIDR), said some of those involved in the trafficking of Abu is being prosecuted.
“The case is still ongoing, the trafficker, the mother, the pastor, all the culprits involved have been arrested, and they are currently facing the charges filed by the federal government through the NAPTIP office, that is what is going on right now,” he said.
“Florence is very healthy though not economically healthy so we pray that through this interview, people that hear her ordeal, hear her speak, see her courage, see her determination to see that yes these people are brought to book will also come to support her.”
‘Ignorance, Illiteracy Aiding’
Julie Okah-Donli, director-general of the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP), said poverty, ignorance, illiteracy, and deceit are factors aiding the trafficking of people out of the country.
“First of all it is ignorance and then deceit and then off course illiteracy plays a major role I mean because when somebody tells you that you are going to be given a good job abroad, you don’t have a work visa, a work permit, you don’t have a stay, how are you going to survive in a place like that and that’s why because of their vulnerability by virtue of their status, they are easily trafficked,” the director-general said.
“So these are the major factors, I’m not ruling out poverty in the sense that they approach the parents and tell them, okay we are going to take your daughter somewhere to work, you know she’s going to have a better life and send you money and all of that but trust me 80 percent is ignorance, illiteracy, and deceit.”
Okah-Donli said over 16,000 victims have been rescued from human traffickers.
This story was put together by Osaruonamen Ibizugbe, Civic Hive Fellow 2020. With the support of the RoLAC programme funded by the EU and being implemented by BudgIT and British Council.