Opinion: Libya’s unacceptable trade in African slaves – By LEKAN SOTE
Some Nigerians recently evacuated back home from Libya claim that they suffered indignities like starvation; dehydration; drinking salty water, petrol, and urine; sodomy; battery; denial of medical attention for damaged genitals; forced and unpaid manual labour on plantations.
Many of these Nigerian, and other African, refugees got sucked into the slave ring as economic migrants seeking passage to a better life in Europe through Libya, whose borders became loose after the death of strongman Muammar Gaddafi to the violent Arab Spring of 2011.
Libya’s half-way Government of National Accord admits that “Libya is going through difficult times which affected its own citizens as well.” That’s fair enough, but when the GNA demurs from accepting responsibility for the heinous acts of some of its nationals, the international community must take firm steps to correct that lapse.
It is heartwarming however, that Anas Alazadi of Libya’s Anti-Illegal Immigration Agency, has announced that “a high level committee has been convened, encompassing representatives from all the security apparatus, to oversee investigations (into this rather bad business).”
Alazadi gives the assurance that the “priorities of the investigations are not only to convict those responsible for these inhumane acts, but also to identify the location of those who have been sold, in order to bring them to safety, and return them to their countries.” The entire world must compel Libya to live up to these humane words.
While it may be plausible that “when Gaddafi was in power, there was no slave trade of Black Africans,” as claimed by Reno Omokiri, former Special Adviser on New Media to former President Goodluck Jonathan, the history books record that in the 15th Century North Africa, sale of Africans occurred routinely in “souks” in Cairo, Algiers, and Libya’s Tripoli.
There is a history to the scourge, even if you want to stretch the logic to connect the dots of Gaddafi’s ouster to Libya’s modern trade in Black Africans; slave trade is not new to Libya. And that former American President “Barack Obama staged (the) removal (of Gaddafi)” does not quite explain why “Black Africans are being sold (as slaves) in Libya.”
A 27-year-old Ethiopian, Harun Ahmed, claims to have been kidnapped and sold by Libyan renegades while seeking passage to Europe through Libya. He discloses that even Libyan police officers, some of whom own private cells, sell illegal immigrants who can’t bribe them, for as little as $500.
A CNN investigative crew visited a private cell where slaves were being auctioned, the same way Africans were auctioned during the slave trade era in the Americas. The auctioneers described the slaves as “merchandise.”
The CNN claims to have delivered the tapes of the wicked transactions to the Libyan government for necessary action. Perhaps, the best description that anyone can give of the Libyan slave trade is in the words, “totally unacceptable, despicable, and inhumane,” as expressed by Abike Dabiri-Erewa, Senior Special Assistant to Nigeria’s President on Foreign Relations and the Diaspora.
Antonio Guterei, Secretary-General of the United Nations, who confesses to have been “horrified at news reports and video footage showing (Black) African migrants in Libya reportedly being sold as slaves,” strongly “abhors these appalling acts.”
He has called on all competent authorities, meaning all nations, as well as regional and global multilateral organisations, “to… bring the perpetrators to justice.” In declaring that “Slavery has no place in our world,” Guterei enjoins all nations to adopt the UN Convention Against Transnational Organised Crime’s Protocols on Trafficking in Persons.
The Protocol, “To Prevent, Suppress, and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children,” commits “ratifying nations to prevent and control trafficking in persons, protecting and assisting victims of trafficking, and promoting cooperation among states, in order to meet those objectives.”
By ending its participation in the Global Compact on Migration that addresses migrant and refugee issues, America appears set to stall the gathering momentum for global sanction against Libya that is turning migrant Black Africans into slaves.
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime describes Human Trafficking as “the acquisition of people by improper means, such as force, fraud, or deception, with the aim of exploiting them.” It adds that “Smuggling of migrants involves the procurement of material benefit of illegal entry of a person into a State of which that person is not a national or resident.”
The submission by Libya’s GNA that “the practical solution (to economic migration) is to address the real reasons that drive people to leave their countries,” is brilliant. And countries, like Nigeria, whose citizens are seeking greener pastures via the treacherous sand dunes of the Sahara Desert, must urgently reorder their priorities for economic prosperity.
But would Libya’s GNA deny that there are Libyan refugees or economic migrants in other countries, especially after the “anomie,” or state of hopelessness, and breakdown of law and order, that resulted from the devastating Arab Spring? If there are such Libyan refugees, then Libya cannot be the first to cast a stone against refugees.
It is welcoming news that the Nigerian Mission in Libya has been visiting detention camps in Libya to identify Nigerian victims for registration, in order to provide them with Emergency Travelling Certificates to enable them to return to Nigeria. A few batches of economic migrants have already been repatriated in recent weeks.
It is however, unethical for the Federal Government to take credit for the evacuation of Nigerians from Libya if it was actually done by some International Organisations. It is also shameful, if indeed the Ministry of Foreign Affairs initially denied that Nigerians were being treated as slaves in Libya.
It reminds you of the initial cruel cynicism exhibited by Nigeria state actors when news of the abduction of the Chibok girls broke. Most of them have yet to be recovered, more than four years after they were abducted.
Now, the revelation that the Nigerian Mission in Libya (?) reported cases of this slave racket to many host authorities suggests that the evil is not limited to Libya. And because there are human trafficking syndicates that send young nubile girls to places like Dubai and Abu Dhabi for sexual exploitation, the duo of Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyema, and Abike Dabiri-Erewa, have more combing work to do around the world.
Nigeria’s National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons and Other Related Offences must bust the local ring of traffickers or “burghers,” by seeking the cooperation of travel agents, tour and tourism planners, and operators in the aviation industry in Nigeria.
And President Muhammadu Buhari should not be saying stuff like, “For anyone who dared the desert without recommendation to prove that he or she is a Nigerian, there is nothing we can do. There is absolutely nothing we can do.” He can do plenty.
He should search for, retrieve, evacuate, and rehabilitate Nigerians in this migratory “hell hole,” and scold them later. While an alien may be sanctioned for illegal entry into Nigeria, you could hardly sanction a Nigerian for illegally exiting Nigeria especially as economic or political refugees.
And while Black Africans who live in London join the National Anti-Slavery March from Belgravia Square to the Libyan Embassy in London on Saturday, they should also tell their home governments to run their economies well.