With 631 convictions in its 20 years of existence, Chiemelie Ezeobi writes that the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons, NAPTIP, is not resting on its oars to fulfill and sustain its mandate. Recently in Lagos, the agency partnered the Canadian Government to train its Public Relations and Public Enlightenment Officers on how to dispell news and raise public consciousness through effective storytelling, social media content and community engagement
In its two decades of existence, the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP), has continuously intensified measures at tackling trafficking in persons. Beyond creating awareness on the inherent dangers, they have also rescued so many victims, taken them through rehabilitation and even arrested and convicted the perpetrators.
Evolution of NAPTIP
As the agency charged to tackle the menace of human trafficking, the brief of NAPTIP is tasking.
Created on July 14, 2003 by the Trafficking in Persons (Prohibition) Enforcement and Administration Act 2003, the agency is the Federal Government of Nigeria’s response to addressing the scourge of trafficking in persons.
It was in fulfillment of the country’s international obligation under the Trafficking in Persons Protocol to prevent, suppress and punish trafficking in persons, especially women and children, supplementing the United Nations Transnational Organised Crime Convention (UNTOC) of which Nigeria became a signatory to the UNTOC and its Trafficking in Persons Protocol on December 13, 2000.
Although the Bill was passed by the National Assembly on July 7, 2003 and Presidential Assent given on July 14, 2003, the law which is operational throughout the country created NAPTIP as a specific multi-disciplinary crime-fighting agency and the nation’s focal institution to fight the scourge of trafficking in persons in the country using the four pronged approach of Prevention, Protection, Prosecution and Partnership.
The Trafficking in Persons (Prohibition) Law Enforcement and Administration Act, 2003 went through an amendment in 2005 in a bid to further strengthen the agency. However, in 2015, as a result of the new trends in the crime of trafficking in persons and the need to further strengthen the institutional framework, the Act was repealed and the Trafficking in Persons (Prohibition), Enforcement and Administration Act, 2015 was enacted. The new Act received Presidential assent on March 26, 2015.
Roles of NAPTIP
Accordingly, the roles of the agency include to enforce and administer the provisions of this Act; co-ordinate and enforce all other laws on Trafficking in persons and related offences; adopt effective measures for the prevention and eradication of trafficking in persons and related offences; and establish co-ordinated preventive, regulatory and investigatory machinery geared towards the eradication of trafficking in persons.
The agency is also to investigate all cases of trafficking in persons including forced labour, child labour, forced prostitution, exploitative labour and other forms of exploitation, slavery and slavery – like activities, bonded labour, removal of organs, illegal smuggling of migrants, sale and purchase of persons; encourage and facilitate the availability and participation of persons who voluntarily, consent to assist in investigations or proceedings relating to trafficking in persons and related offences; while enhancing the effectiveness of law enforcement agents and other partners in the suppression of trafficking in persons.
It also creates public enlightenment and awareness through seminars, workshops, publications, radio and television programmes and other means aimed at educating the public on the dangers of trafficking in persons; establish and maintain communications to facilitate rapid exchange of information concerning offences under this Act; conduct research and strengthen effective legal means of international co-operation in suppressing trafficking in persons; and implement all bilateral and multilateral treaties and conventions on trafficking in persons adopted by Nigeria.
They are also to strengthen co-operation and conduct joint operations with relevant law enforcement and security agencies, international authorities and other relevant partners in the eradication of trafficking in persons; co-ordinate, supervise and control the protection, assistance and rehabilitation of trafficked persons and all functions and activities relating to investigation and prosecution of all offences connected with or relating to trafficking in persons; and adopt measures to identify, trace, freeze, confiscate or seize proceeds, property, funds or other assets derived from trafficking in persons or related offences.
Not left out are its roles to conduct research on factors responsible for internal and external trafficking in persons and initiate programmes and strategies aimed at the prevention and elimination of the problem; facilitate rapid exchange of scientific and technical information concerning or relating to trafficking in persons; and collaborate with government bodies both within and outside Nigeria whose functions are similar to those of the agency in the area of the: movement of proceeds or properties derived from trafficking in persons and other related offences; identities, location and activities of persons suspected of being involved in trafficking in persons and other related offences; and
exchange of personnel and other experts.
Essentially, they are to establish and maintain a system for monitoring trans-border activities relating to trafficking in persons in order to identify suspicious movements and persons involved; deal with matters connected with the extradition and deportation of persons involved in trafficking in persons and other mutual legal assistance between Nigeria and any other country in trafficking in persons, subject to the supervision of the minister; and initiate, develop and improve special training programmes for personnel of the agency and relevant law enforcement agents charged with the responsibility of detecting offences created under this Act.
Arrests and Convictions
In recent years, NAPTIP, presently led by its Director General, Dr. Fatima Waziri-Azi, has intensified efforts to fulfill these roles. In the two decades of its existence, NAPTIP had secured 631 convictions in its fight against human trafficking in Nigeria among the recent convictions were two high-profile transnational human traffickers based outside the country.
Waziri-Azi made this disclosure at the recent flag off of a two-day workshop for Public Relations and Public Enlightenment Officers of the agency, in collaboration with the Canadian government.
Harping on the agency’s achievements, the DG said out of the 631 convictions, 80 were secured in 2022 and 55 between January and October 18, 2023, adding that “for the first, on March 8, 2023, we extradited a high profile human trafficker back to Italy to serve out her 13 years sentence and this we did with the collaboration of the Federal Ministry of Justice, International Police, INTERPOL and the Nigeria judiciary.
“Four weeks ago, we secured the conviction of a high-profile transnational criminal, a Nigerian based in Belgium, responsible for trafficking tens of girls all over Europe. She was sentenced to 12 years imprisonment and a fine of N24 million naira”.
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Meanwhile, who best to give face to these achievements and put them in limelight than the public reactions and public enlightenment officers of the agency.
Knowing the all important role these persons play in the fight against human trafficking, the agency recently partnered the Canadian Government to train them. Thus, drawn from the 32 state commands nationwide, the public relations and enlightenment officers, were brought together so they can speak with one vision and purpose.
According to Waziri-Azi, the training of the public relations and enlightenment officers was the first of its kind in the history of NAPTIP. She noted that it came about because it was necessary for everyone to speak with one voice and under one vision, as the vocal anti-human trafficking law enforcement agency in Nigeria.
She said: “We have had in the past where we have this disconnected silos, different PROs and Public Enlightenment officers doing their own thing and we felt it was important bringing everyone together to enhance their capacity in the area of strategic communication so that we can be seen as one agency, speaking with one voice, under one vision.
“The objective of the training is to raise awareness on the issue of human trafficking, with a view to dispelling news and raising public consciousness through effective storytelling, social media content and community engagement, in order to ensure that the harsh reality of the crime is not hidden;
“Preventing vulnerability which is paramount by crafting messages that resonate and encourage. Too often, victims and witnesses of human trafficking remain silent due to fear of coercion or a lack of trust in authorities. Here, strategic communication plays a crucial role by assuring confidentiality;
“Shaping policy: effective communication can mobilise support for policy change, advocacy campaigns that spot life policy gaps, combined with data-driven reports can rally public support and push lawmakers to take action;
“International collaboration: trafficking knows no borders. Strategic communication serves as the bridge facilitating the exchange of best practices, insight and resources among nations.”
As an effective partner in the fight against traffic in persons, the Director-General, International and Intergovernmental Relations at Immigration Refugees and Citizenship, Canada (RCC) Heather De Santis, noted that the training showed the importance Canada and Nigeria attached to their collective efforts to address irregular migration, as well as ensuring that the borders and entering points in the movement of people were effectively and well managed.
She said: “The government of Canada works diligently with domestic law enforcement agencies and bilateral international partners to not only enhance our own border management practices but also advance and support safe and regular global migration.
“This includes helping the fight against human trafficking and migrant smuggling. In doing so we work with regional and multilateral partners such as the United Nations to show our own best practices and strategies from Canada’s own national strategies to combat human trafficking from 2019 to 2024”.
On the training she said to see the result of work in action, the training received was vital to encourage awareness, promote vigilance, adding that there was need to strengthen the capacity of law enforcement and increase number of officers who have enhanced knowledge use of data in tackling human trafficking.
Also speaking, the Director General, the International Policy and Partnerships Directorate, Canada Border Services Agency, CBSA, Natasha Manji, applauded NAPTIP’s efforts in the fight against human trafficking, adding that there agency also commemorated its 20th anniversary like NAPTIP.
Stating that such milestone calls for review and reflection, with a view to creating an enabling footing that would stand in the next 20 years, she noted that “for all of us here today, the shared priority in protecting our immigration and border management become paramount.
“People are in the move more than ever before and Canada continues to see increased legal pathways for movements of people in business, education, work and family. But we know that with the increased opportunity for movement comes increased interest by criminals to exploit people. These two sided realities make it much more important that we collectively find a way to partner in preventing, detecting, disrupting and probably prosecuting those criminals.
“No matter the capacity in which we work, it is not only to address the problems in front of us now, but also to think bigger and beyond ourselves. We need to ask ourselves what action we should take now that our citizens will be glad for in 20 years from now”.
Decrying that increased opportunity for movement also increases opportunity for exploitation, she added that the training is key in tackling human trafficking because changing the narrative comes down to sending the right message, thus, they need to be proactive and reactive.
The objective of the training is to raise awareness on the issue of human trafficking, with a view to dispelling news and raising public consciousness through effective storytelling, social media content and community engagement, in order to ensure that the harsh reality of the crime is not hidden