Nigeria: Human Trafficking Factsheet

• Human trafficking, a form of modern day slavery, involves the illegal trade of people for exploitation or commercial gain and is a $150 billion global industry. Two thirds of this figure ($99 billion) is generated from commercial sexual exploitation, while another $51 billion results from forced economic exploitation, including domestic work, agriculture and other economic activities. Supra. The average woman trafficked for forced sexual servitude/exploitation generates $100,000 in annual profits (anywhere from 100% to 1,000% return on investment) (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE)). According to the United Nations, the smuggling route from East, North and West Africa to Europe is said to generate $150 million in annual profits ( $35 billion globally).

Estimates released by the Global Slavery Index in July 2018 indicate that there are 40.3 million victims of modern slavery worldwide, 71% of whom are women and girls and 25% of which are children. (It is noteworthy that the UNODC’s January 7, 2019 Report now estimates the number of children in slavery at almost 1/3 of all global victims.) 99% of the 4.8 million victims of commercial sexual exploitation in 2016 were women and girls, with one in five being children (ILO, 2017). Women and girls represented 84% of the 15.4 million people in forced marriages, and 59% of those in private forced labour (8.7 Alliance 2017 Report). The Index maintains that modern day slavery is most prevalent in Africa (with 9.24 million slaves and an average vulnerability score of 62/100).

• Human trafficking is a high profit, low risk business which allows traffickers to generally operate with impunity. Globally, in 2019, there were only a total of 11,841 prosecutions (down from 11,096 in 2018) and 9,548 convictions (up from 7,481 in 2018). Of all the global victims, only 118,932 were identified (up from 85,613 in 2018).  See 2020 U.S. State Department Trafficking In Persons Report.  In Africa, a total of 955 prosecutions (down from 1,253 in 2018) and 2,112 convictions (up from 1,190 in 2018) were generated in 2019.  A total of 42,517 victims (almost double the previous year- 24,407) were identified.  See 2020 U.S. State Department Trafficking in Persons Report.

• Nigeria remains a source, transit and destination country when it comes to human trafficking. See 2020 U.S. State Department Trafficking In Persons Report.  Per the latest Global Slavery Index (2018) Report, Nigeria ranks 32/167 of the countries with the highest number of slaves – 1,386,000 – and its National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP) reports that the average age of trafficked children in Nigeria, recently downgraded to a Tier 2 Watch country on the U.S. State Department’s Trafficking In Persons Report (2020), is 15. NAPTIP further contends that 75% of those who are trafficked within Nigeria are trafficked across states, while 23% are trafficked within states. Only 2% of those who are trafficked are trafficked outside the country, according to NAPTIP (2016). It is the third most common crime in Nigeria after drug trafficking and economic fraud (UNESCO, 2006).  The general factors that increase vulnerability to trafficking in Nigeria include extreme poverty (now the world’s poverty capital), corruption, conflict, climate change/resulting migration and western consumerism.

• The total number of human trafficking victims outside of Nigeria is largely unknown. However, it is undisputed that principally due to Nigeria’s population, Nigeria is routinely listed as one of the countries with the largest number of trafficking victims overseas (particularly in Europe), with victims identified in 34 countries in four regions in 2018. The recent scourge of unsafe migration has highlighted Nigeria’s challenges in this area, with one former Nigerian Permanent Representative to the United Nations (Mr. Martin Uhomoibhi) contending in June 2017 that in 2016 alone, 602,000 Nigerians endeavoured to migrate to Europe via the Sahara Desert. According to Mr. Uhomoibhi, 27,000 of these migrants died en route. Also pretty alarming is his claim that of those who perished on the journey, 68% were Nigerian university graduates. Most estimates, however, place the total number of Nigerians arriving Europe in 2016 at about 40,000 and about 18,000 in 2017 (men, women and children). In 2016, Nigerians accounted for about 21% of the total 181,000 migrants braving the Mediterranean to arrive into Italy. In 2017, that number decreased to 15.5% of total migrants arriving Italy (119,000) in light of the numerous efforts made by Italy and the European Union to stem the flow of migrants from Libya.  UNHCR statistics indicate that in 2018, the number of Nigerian arrivals by sea and land into Europe continued to decline (1,250 arrived in Italy- 5% of total arrivals).  Since then, Nigerian  arrivals have continued to decline.  According to UNHCR statistics, Nigerians were not amongst the top 10 nationalities of arrivals by land or sea into Greece, Spain or Italy (the three primary countries for arrivals) in 2019 or in 2020.  (In fact, in Italy, Nigerians represented a meagre 2.1% of the total 11,000 land and sea arrivals in 2019 and numbers have continued to drop since 2017.)  The UN’s International Organization for Migration (IOM) further reports that as of December 2020, there were approximately 570,000 migrants in Libya, of which Nigerians represented approximately 6% (34,000). According to UNHCR, it currently has (as of March 1, 2021) 43,600 registered refugees and asylum-seekers in Libya.  Again, Nigerians are not within the top 10 nationalities of those registered with UNHCR in Libya, the country which many experts have considered the unsafe migration gateway into Europe (particularly from Sub-Saharan Africa) in recent years.  Those statistics notwithstanding, the total number that currently embark on the journey from Nigeria to Europe remains largely unknown.

The overwhelming majority of trafficking victims and migrants make the treacherous journey from Edo State (particularly Benin) and Delta States to Kano, from where they are smuggled into Niger or Algeria before traversing 500 miles over the Sahara Desert into Libya.  (It is noteworthy that even during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and its supposed lockdowns in MarchApril 2020, migration flows continued from Nigeria, with Nigerian men (primarily) crossing from Nigeria into Niger.)

CNN contends that Edo State is the most trafficked through destination in Africa.  In Libya, migrants are held in detention camps, generally for several weeks to months, before they are placed in unseaworthy dinghies or boats on the Mediterranean Sea. According to IOM, there are approximately 356,000 IDPs  (as of November 2019) and 636,000 refugees and migrants in Libya (as of January 2020), the country from which a large percentage of migrants attempt the journey into Europe.  Organ trafficking has been on the rise in Libya.  According to IOM, in July 2018, over 60,000 Nigerians remained trapped in Libya, with 50% of them hailing from Edo State.  NAPTIP, in its 2019 Report, confirms that the largest number of victims rescued outside of Nigeria were rescued from Mali and Niger and are from Edo State, followed by Imo.  Statistics for 2020 have yet to be released.

• There are more readily available statistics on the numbers of women who are trafficked from Nigeria into Europe, particularly into Italy. According to IOM, approximately 11,000 women arrived via the Mediterranean Sea into Italy in 2016, again mostly from Edo. IOM estimates that 80% of these young women arriving from Nigeria – whose numbers have soared from 1,454 in 2014 to 11,009 in 2016 – will likely be forced into prostitution as sex trafficking victims. Supra.  (According to Italian authorities, there are between 10,000 to 30,000 Nigerian women working in prostitution on the streets of Italy.)  90% of migrant women arriving into Italy from Libya arrive with bruises and other signs of violence. (In general, 83.5% of all Nigerians interviewed in 2017 reported to have suffered from physical violence of any kind during the journey, most often in Libya. A more recent December 2018 UN Report notes narratives by Nigerian migrants of unlawful killings, gang rape, prostitution, arbitrary detention, torture and inhumane treatment, unpaid wages, slavery, human trafficking, racism and xenophobia in Libya.)  In 2017, a total of 18,000 Nigerian migrants were recorded to have arrived into Europe via the Mediterranean, 5,400 of which were women (UNHCR, 2018).  It is noteworthy that between 2014-2016, IOM recorded an almost 600% increase in the number of potential sex trafficking victims arriving in Italy via the Mediterranean. That figure is now on the decline, as Nigerians are no longer within the top ten nationalities of arrivals by land or sea in 2019.

• According to IOM, an astounding 94% of all Nigerian women trafficked to Europe for prostitution hail from Edo State, with Italy being the number one destination country.  In fact, a 2003 United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute Report concluded that “virtually every Benin family has one member or the other involved in trafficking either as a victim, sponsor, madam or trafficker.”  The souls and bodies of survivors are turned into commodities for financial gain while the survivors themselves are held in debt bondage, severely abused (often gang raped and physically assaulted), starved, tortured or infected with various sexually transmitted diseases before being deported back to Nigeria. (On average, each survivor we partner with has ensured sexual slavery for 3-5 years, having been forced into prostitution an average of 4,000 times.) Others who are victims of organ trafficking are murdered and never make it back to Nigeria.

In August 2017, the current Edo State Governor, Mr. Godwin Obaseki, launched the Edo State Task Force Against Human Trafficking to fight the scourge of human trafficking and unsafe migration in the State.  (The multiagency and multidisciplinary Task Force was a recommendation by Pathfinders to the Governor following our successful consultation for the state and organization of the Edo State Workshop on Human Trafficking in May 2017.)  Codification of the Task Force to investigate and prosecute trafficking cases in Edo (total of 38 investigations and 22 pending prosecutions in 2019- down from 56 investigations and 20 prosecutions in 2018), following an allocation of N242 million by the state government) occurred on May 23, 2018 when Governor Obaseki signed into law the Edo State Trafficking in Persons Prohibition Bill (2018) in Abuja.  The new Act, which was approved by the Edo State House of Assembly in March 2018 (just shortly after the Oba of Benin’s pronouncement on March 9th renouncing all curses which had been placed on victims of human trafficking in Edo State by juju priests), “provides an effective and comprehensive legal and institutional framework for the prohibition, prevention, detection, prosecution and punishment of human trafficking and related offenses in Edo State,” according to Governor Obaseki.  Delta State has since followed suit, creating its own anti-trafficking Task Force in April 2019.  (In October 2020, NAPTIP went on to initiate, in partnership with the state governments of Ebonyi, Enugu, Anambra, Ogun, Oyo, Lagos and Cross-River, additional anti-trafficking task forces.)

It is noteworthy that since the Oba of Benin’s March 2018 pronouncement, the introduction of the Edo State law and the Task Force’s efforts, international donor efforts targeting the reduction of trafficking in Edo State and the European Union’s  (EU) externalization policies of border control and accompanying legislative wall, traffickers are pushing the trade underground and/or recruiting naive victims from other States, including Kogi, Ondo, Bayelsa and Calabar.  Trafficking from Nigeria to other African countries (particularly Cameroon, Niger, Ghana and Mali) and the Middle East is also on the rise, with Mali being the primary destination country from which would be victims are rescued by NAPTIP.

• In December 2016, the EU and IOM developed the Joint Initiative for Migrant Protection and Re-integration in Africa to address the challenges of unsafe migration. The Initiative is being implemented in 14 African countries, including Nigeria, where as of September 2019, close to 12,000 migrants have been voluntarily repatriated (mostly from Niger and Libya). As of September 2019, a total of 14,849 Nigerians have received return, post arrival reception and reintegration assistance via the Joint Initiative.  Prior to the development of the aforementioned Joint Initiative, i.e., in March 2015, Nigeria entered into the Common Agenda for Migration and Mobility Agreement with the EU to address the following: (1) improving legal migration and mobility; (2) preventing and combatting unsafe migration and human trafficking; (3) addressing the root causes and maximizing the development impact of migration; and (4) promoting international protection and support for internally displaced persons. The EU is currently negotiating a readmission agreement with Nigeria that would force repatriations.

• Although prostitution remains the largest category for Nigerian female trafficking victims who travel abroad, child labour is certainly another, with children engaged in domestic labour, forced begging, quarrying gravel and armed conflict. Women and girls are also engaged in domestic servitude, with NAPTIP’s 2018 Report noting this category as the second highest in reported cases after foreign travel for prostitution. (In 2019, child abuse cases superseded cases of domestic servitude as the second highest number of cases reported to NAPTIP).  According to the same Report, most reported male victims of trafficking are age 11 and under, with most female victims (the overwhelming majority of identified victims in Nigeria) being over 18 years of age. Most rescued victims from NAPTIP’s 2019 Report remain from Edo State, with Imo and Delta States following.  According to the US State Department’s 2020 TIP Report, NAPTIP received 943 cases for investigation, completed 210 investigations, prosecuted at least 64 suspects in 64 cases, and convicted 27 traffickers, compared with receiving 938 cases for investigation, completing 192 investigations, 64 prosecutions, and 43 convictions in the previous reporting period. (It is noteworthy that NAPTIP’s 2019 Report contradicts these figures, instead noting that it received 915 cases for investigation, completed 203 investigations, is devoid of the number of prosecuted cases and convicted 25 persons following a total of 18 convictions.) In addition, according to NAPTIP, 38.9% of all convictions in 2019 related to the procurement of persons for sexual exploitation, with 22.2% of convictions relating to foreign travel which promotes prostitution.

• According to our preliminary research gleaned from hundreds of repatriating survivors of sex trafficking in Edo State, poverty remains the number one factor rendering women and girls vulnerable to sex trafficking.  However, additional factors such as parental pressure, eroded mindset/values, cultural acceptance of prostitution, limited education and economic opportunities combine to render young women and girls vulnerable to being trafficked.  As a result, we at Pathfinders have successfully developed a trafficking profile based on 12 factors that establish our vulnerability criteria for potential female victims aged 15-25 years.

• At Pathfinders, our theory of change is that trafficking ends when human dignity is restored.  That restoration requires government engagement, empowered communities and access for individuals.  We also believe that the fight against sex trafficking requires an interdisciplinary approach that utilizes a combined human rights, cognitive/behavior restructuring and an economic development methodology. As such, we are working to ensure that every young woman in Nigeria has access, i.e., an opportunity to live a life that is dignified and one that is graced with self determination; one where she is not robbed of agency. To advance our goal of structural transformation on the African continent, we are building a community of survivors who are becoming awakened to their potential and are not only poverty reduction driven, but are laser focused on wealth creation for themselves, their local communities and the continent. Many are returning to school, while others are small business owners; all are committed to changing their narratives from victim to survivor to Pathfinders advocate.

• Our solution to Nigeria’s sex trafficking problem is Project Restore, a Project we are painstakingly designing to holistically address the issue by providing customized interventions in local government areas, beginning in Edo State. For more information, please email

Last updated: March 2, 2021