Opinion: Rehabilitating Libya returnees By – DAN UWEGIE

libya returnees

THE news of the travails of Nigerians trapped in  Libya and the Mediterranean  went virile even as the whole world was stunned with the expose of return of slave trade in the 21st century. Shockingly, most of the victims are from Edo State who fell prey to human traffickers, a global cartel with strong links to some unpatriotic Nigerians who have sold their souls to the devil. Libya returnees The very sad story is also a  clear indication of the failure of government over the years.

What would have forced our young ones into such harrowing experience of life is that they were not served alternatives by previous governments. Day in day out Nigerians and indeed Edo people are hit with news of the next batch of returnees coming from Libya.  Only last week, no fewer than 275 Edo indigenes voluntarily arrived Benin from Libya with the help of the state government.

The number of the victims wallowing in different prisons and slave centres in the war-ravaged Libya is even unknown. Governor Godwin Obaseki of Edo state, recently disclosed that about 10,000 indigenes of the state left the shores of Nigeria, illegally in most cases, in the last one year.

According to him, about 3000 out of them lost their lives in the process of crossing the desert and the sea. Many of these illegal migrants, especially young girls in their late teens and early 20s fell victim of the slave merchants. Most illegal migrants recently have not been as lucky as in previous years as even Europe, their dream destination had tightened the noose for illegal migrants while the wicked trolleys capitalised on the weaknesses of Institutions in the country to perpetrate their evil deeds against the victims. Aside from being subjected to hostile weather conditions both in the desert and on the sea, they have been  reportedly confronted by hostile Libyans who molested, tortured, raped, maimed and gruesomely murdered thousands of Nigerian  travellers. Several  others have suffered untold and horrible experiences  in prison cells across the country.

The returnees have all sorts of tales of woe to tell. But we are glad that the Edo State Government, realising early enough in the life of the current administration established an anti-human trafficking Task Force led by the State Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Prof. Yinka Omorogbe. She recently informed Edo people that  a Nigerian returnee from Libya revealed that 25 compatriots, ferried from Nigeria to Libya by a trafficker identified as Charles, perished in the Sahara Desert, in the course of the journey. The returnee, also  said seven members of the group also died inside a Libyan jail from hunger and thirst. In the heat of the stories, the State Governor  appointed  a  Human Rights Activist, Mr. Solomon Okoduwa, who has been campaigning relentlessly  for government to take the issue of Nigerian migrants in Libya seriously as a  Senior Special Assistant, SSA, on Human Trafficking and Illegal Migration .

He is the  President, Initiative for Youth Awareness on Migration, Immigration, Development and Reintegration, IYAMIDR, and  also a member of the state committee against human trafficking. Most of the Civil Society activists  in the state has since applauded his appointment as well deserved because Okoduwa has made several personal sacrifices to bring the issue of Nigerian migrants in Libya to the attention of the authorities without much success until the CNN blew the issue open to the  world of the modern slavery in Libya and Europe. Now that we have thousands of Nigerians returning from their ill-fated journey in search of hope and greener pastures, it is incumbent on government and the Non-State actors alike to  work out their rehabilitation  and reintegration into the society.

It is not time for trading blames. It is time for all hands to be on deck to show them love and care. It is not a job for government alone. Government needs the support of the public in not only rehabilitating the returnees, but also to take measures to burst the cartels involved in the  trade. The Edo State Government has started well. Already, it has  commenced the payment of N20,000 monthly stipend to four sets of Libya returnees in the state. At the  Idia College venue of convergence of the returnees for this purpose, the  Chairman, Edo State Taskforce Against Human Trafficking, Prof. Yinka Omorogbe, said the stipend would be paid for three months.

Public Spirited individuals and private establishments should collaborate with the   State Government to give the returnees a new lease of life. Some of the returnees already have some skills and capacity to establish businesses for  themselves. The banks operating in the State should help provide them with soft loans  to establish businesses of their choice. They could even be employers of labour very shortly if well supported.

The returnees without capacities and skills need to be empowered. It is heartwarming  to know that the State Government is on the driver’s seat also for this. This should not be left for government alone. Business counselors and experts need to move in to provide some technical training and support for the returnees. This is the only way society can prove and correct the injustices they have suffered. Tackling human trafficking at all fronts would require very strong institutions. It is quite good also that the taskforce  against human trafficking has tendered a bill for passage at the State House of Assembly to give bite to the campaign and set effective punitive measures against those fuelling the illegal trade in the state.

The proposed law must provide very stringent punishments for offenders to deter them whether in Nigeria or abroad from the illicit trade. The National Assembly also needs to accelerate the Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Bill and provide serious sanctions against human traffickers in the country and should be able to track their overseas links and dismantle them.  Modern slavery must be brought to an immediate end. The onus of achieving this lies with both government and citizens. Vanguard

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