July 1, 2021- WASHINGTON, D.C. Earlier today, the United State Department of State released its 2021 Trafficking in Persons Report which ranks countries based on their respective government’s response to human trafficking in the preceding year (2020).
In 2019, Nigeria was downgraded to Tier 2 Watch (second to lowest ranking). However, in light of various strides made despite the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, Nigeria was upgraded to Tier 2.
According to the Report’s Executive Summary on Nigeria: “The government demonstrated overall increasing efforts compared to the previous reporting period, considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on its anti-trafficking capacity; therefore Nigeria was upgraded to Tier 2. These efforts included convicting more traffickers and sanctioning the majority of perpetrators with significant prison terms; prosecuting officials suspected of being complicit in trafficking crimes; improving intra-governmental coordination on anti-trafficking operations; launching nine new state task forces; and for the first time, the Ministry of Defense acknowledged service members sexually exploited internally displaced persons (IDPs). Additionally, officials increased collaboration with foreign governments on international trafficking investigations. However, the government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas. Members of the Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF) in Borno State used two children at an IDP camp checkpoint; there continued to be reports of sex trafficking in government-run IDP camps; and officials prosecuted fewer suspected traffickers. Further, corruption remained a significant concern in the judiciary and immigration services, and the Ministry of Defense did not finalize its handover protocol to refer child soldiers to care for the sixth consecutive year.”
The Report’s prioritized recommendations for Nigeria include:
- CJTF members cease the recruitment and use of child soldiers, including in support roles, and refer all children to appropriate care.
- Hold complicit officials as well as individuals affiliated with the government – including security officials and CJTF members – criminally accountable for trafficking offenses, including for the sex trafficking of IDPs and unlawful recruitment and use of child soldiers.
- National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP) and Nigeria Police Force (NPF) enhance coordination on law enforcement efforts – including investigating illicit centers exploiting women in forced surrogacy – and prosecute suspects while respecting the rights of the accused.
- Finalize the draft protocol to refer children identified in armed conflict to civilian authorities, screen for trafficking among those detained, and provide appropriate care for all those identified as victims.
- Strengthen efforts to identify trafficking victims among vulnerable groups, such as children in religious schools, IDPs, returning migrants, and children in domestic service.
- Increase public awareness programming to educate more of the population on human trafficking indicators. • Expand shelter capacity for identified victims in coordination with other government entities, civil society, NGOs, international organizations, and the private sector.
- Increase efforts to investigate, prosecute, and convict traffickers – including labor traffickers and those who force children to beg – and impose sufficiently stringent sentences involving imprisonment.
- Work with CJTF and the UN to implement fully the child soldier action plan and confirm all children have been removed from the CJTF’s ranks.
- Facilitate training for local, state, and federal judges on the 2015 law, specifically the provision prohibiting the issuance of fines in lieu of imprisonment in collaboration with international partners.
- Increase the capacity of Nigerian embassies to identify and provide assistance to victims abroad, including by providing replacement travel or identity documents free of charge.
- Finalize, resource, and implement the country’s 2021-2025 draft anti-trafficking national action plan in coordination with civil society, NGOs, partner governments, as well as the private sector.
- Develop and implement a centralized database linking NAPTIP, NPF, and other relevant law enforcement agencies.
Other highlights from the Report include:
- An increase in overall state and federal convictions (up from 2019), but overall law enforcement efforts were deemed “mixed.” (During the Reporting Period, collective state and federal authorities investigated 409 cases, prosecuted 49 suspects, and convicted 36 traffickers, compared to a total of 943 investigations, 64 prosecutions and 27 convictions in 2019.) It is noteworthy that in light of the onset of COVID-19, pandemic-related court closures lasted from April to June 2020, an occurrence that arguably limited overall judicial activity in 2020.
- On the state level, the Edo State Task Force Against Human Trafficking (ETAHT) reported conducting 17 investigations (including one against a government official for complicity), 13 of which related to labour trafficking and 4 relating to sex trafficking), while prosecuting 9 suspects (a decrease from 2019 when it investigated 38 cases and prosecuted 22 suspects). Since inauguration by Governor Godwin Obaseki in 2018, the ETAHT has as not reported a conviction.
- In 2020, prison sentences ranged from 2-10 years imprisonment, although at least one convicted trafficker was given the option of fines in lieu of imprisonment (an option that is against the 2015 law.)
- Nigeria also pivoted to the use of online technology for place of in-person meetings in light of COVID-19 restrictions.
- NAPTIP reported delivering 32 trainings for 963 officials in 2020 (with topics including identifying and investigating human trafficking).
- The Report noted that in August 2020, NAPTIP coordinated with an international organization to launch two legal hubs in Edo and Lagos states, in collaboration with the Ministry of Justice and NGOs, including Pathfinders. The objective of both hubs is to enhance victims’ access to justice through legal aid counseling and court representation.
- The Joint Border Task Force, which is Nigeria led and UK supported, reported that Nigerian judges convicted the country’s first perpetrator for conspiracy related to human trafficking. The Task Force also reported their first conviction based solely on digital evidence.
- In 2020, Nigerian law enforcement officials collaborated with the governments of 8 countries on joint investigations, intelligence sharing, and prosecutions, with NAPTIP specifically investigating 19 cases of transnational human trafficking crimes.
- On the issue of protection of victims, the Report notes that services remain “insufficient.” Combined federal and state efforts resulted in the identification of approximately 499 victims and 812 potential victims, according to official, NGO, and media reporting. A total of 181 forced labor victims and 636 potential victims were identified by NAPTIP, while the ETAHT identified 195 victims. NAPTIP reported identifying 434 victims (135 forced labor and 299 sex trafficking) as well as 321 potential victims, compared with 181 forced labor victims and 636 potential trafficking victims in the previous reporting period. Sheltering was provided by NAPTIP for all 434 victims and 321 potential victims, which may have included referrals to government facilities for medical care, shelter, legal assistance, psychological services, vocational training, or education assistance. Direct support was reported to have been provided by NAPTIP to 1,009 victims at NAPTIP shelters, while a total of 71 victims were referred to NGO shelters.
- ETAHT reported providing services to 65 victims, while delivering pandemic relief materials to more than 1,000 returning migrants, some of whom may have been victims (compared to assisting 428 returned migrants, 195 of whom were trafficking victims, in the previous reporting period).
- The Report notes that according to observers, victim identification and referral to services remains a gap in the government’s efforts.
- On the subject of prevention, the Report notes that coordination efforts between federal ministries increased (as compared to the past). Although in November, NAPTIP culled key federal and state officials as well as other stakeholders together to develop a draft for Nigeria’s 2021-2025 National Action Plan, same has yet to be officially adopted.
- The Report highlights NAPTIP’s partnerships in 2020 with state governments to establish nine new state task forces in Rivers, Cross Rivers, Akwa Ibom, Ogun, Oyo, Enugu, Anambara, and Ebonyi, while reestablishing Lagos’ Task Force.
- The foregoing notwithstanding, the Report fails to highlight the fact that like 2019, Nigerian nationals did not feature in the top ten countries of arriving migrants into Europe by sea (in 2020). This fact continues to substantiate the reality that the number of potential trafficking victims unsafely arriving into Europe by sea from Nigeria has been on the steady decline since 2018.
- In addition, the Report also fails to highlight and/or take into consideration what is often the complaisancy and complicity of many developed countries in the proliferation of human trafficking around the developing world (their involvement in wars, demand for prostituted African bodies, demand for fast fashion, cheap labour, racism, etc.). Significantly, however, it generally notes for the first time, that systemic racism and discriminatory policies often perpetuate human trafficking globally. Perhaps, this acknowledgment may amount to the first step in taking accountability.
To read the full report on Nigeria, visit: https://www.state.gov/reports/2021-trafficking-in-persons-report/nigeria/.