21st Century Slaves

In this four-part investigative feature, multiple-award winning journalist and Associate Editor of The Nation newspaper in Lagos, Nigeria, Olatunji Ololade, embarks on a risky journey that opens him up to sordid operations of the underworld, aided by those tasked with protecting Nigerian citizens.

Human trafficking has reached pandemic proportions, estimated to be worth $150 billion worldwide, with Nigeria occupying a central position in West Africa as a country of origin, transit and destination. Olatunji relays the sheer horror and trauma visited upon these victims of modern-day slavery.

For the first part of his investigation, published on February 22 2020, he interviewed victims of human trafficking. Girls found themselves stranded in Oman and Lebanon, where they had been sold to servitude. The plight of the girls in Oman was particularly worrisome because there is no Nigerian embassy there. Ololade tried to get government and immigration officials to intervene, but they rebuffed his overtures claiming the girls were on their own until they got to the nearest country with an embassy.

Olatunji Ololade. Picture: Supplied

He meets Zainab, a victim of human trafficking and returnee from Abobo in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire, who said plenty of Nigerian girls were being forcibly put to work as sex slaves in brothels there. Ololade said this sparked his interest in the Abidjan trafficking network and he went to Cote d’Ivoire to verify her story. His investigation took him to the most dangerous neighborhoods of Abidjan where he found brothels and sex camps that harboured Nigerian girls, mostly underage.

In Part two he visits a “’bitch bar”  in Bracody on the outskirts of Abidjan, looks at the influence of COVID-19 on the sex trade, what happens if the girls fall pregnant, and the economics of sex trafficking.

Part three continues in Abidjan, details the ritual oath ceremonies the girls experience which stop them from trying to escape, and the complicity of border officials in fueling this crisis.

Picture: Supplied

It reveals how Nigeria suffers from significant corruption and governance problems. It ranked 144 out of 180 countries in the 2018 Corruption Perceptions Index by Transparency International.

The final installment, published on May 23 2020, looks at the impact of the investigation. In spite of the blood oaths some were forced to take, which terrified them, the girls pulled off daring escapes as a result of the stories being published.

The investigation took two months and was published in print and online in The Nation. In the course of it, Ololade endured hostility and attacks at brothels in Abidjan. In one instance a prostitute called First Lady attacked him and smashed his glasses while he tried to talk to Princess, an underage captive. On two occasions he was forced to change hotels to escape surveillance by thugs on the payroll of Lady Jane and her colleagues. “I learned from the trafficked girls that it was useless seeking help from the Nigerian Embassy in Abidjan because the diplomatic attachés were in cahoots with the Nigerian madams,” says Ololade. He also faced hostility from immigration officers and embassy staff in Cote d’Ivoire and federal government agencies in Nigeria.

Dangerous as it was, this investigation achieved results. It contributed to the rescue and escape of 32 victims of sex trafficking, 25 of whom were airlifted back to Nigeria from Oman and Lebanon, and seven others escaped and found a safe haven in Cote d’Ivoire, for onward passage to Nigeria.

“21st century slaves” earned Ololade the 2020 Best Migration Reporter Prize (sponsored by IOM and UN Migration). It also made the finalist shortlist for the 2020 Fetisov Journalism Awards in the Outstanding Investigative Reporting category.

This is Ololade’s 31st award. Others include the UN Migration Reporting Prize, the CNN/Multichoice African Journalist Award, and the Wole Soyinka Prize for Investigative Journalism.

He is a three-time finalist for the Kurt Schork Award in International Journalism, and the only one to win the Nigeria Media Merit Award’s (NMMA) Newspaper Reporter of the Year for three consecutive years (2010-2012). He is Adjunct Faculty of the Pan Atlantic University in Lagos, and an alumnus of the UK’s Thomson Foundation, and a US International Visitor Leadership Program Fellow.

Featured Image: Picture Credit: Olatunji Ololade and Omotola Fawunmi

21st century slaves (Part 1) - February 22, 2020


  • Tragic fate of Nigerian girls sold to servitude in Oman, Lebanon Over 300 girls are stranded in Ivory Coast as sex slaves – Returnee 20,000 girls forced into prostitution in Mali – NAPTIP 

By Olatunji OLOLADE, Associate Editor 

Growing up, Zainab wanted to be an actress. She yearned to “write stories and act them”. She lived for her dream even when quick with monsters.

Then she grew up as all adults do, in time, to a sort of apprehension: that a little girl’s dreams, like a dismembered doll, may unfurl buried in quilted sleep. Ultimately, it gets tossed in the dump. Thus her imperative for a backup dream; Zainab decided to be a hairdresser.

It’s two decades from childhood and the 25-year-old has started to become knowledgeable. Zainab is a hairdresser now. From her remote base in Ijegun, Lagos, she recounted her forays into acting. But contrary to her fantasies of bliss, she would act as a prostitute and live as a sex slave, in a grisly reality that ran too deep.

Her “journey to hell” started several years after her parents’ separation. Zainab moved in with her aunt in Abuja as a young adult. There, she learnt hairdressing but the need to raise money to pay for her graduation and buy her equipment put her under severe pressure.

Enter “Mr. Ben,” a travel agent, like a knight in shining armour. Ben sold Zainab a colourful tale of gainful labour and enterprise in Europe.

“He said he would take me to the white man’s country, where I would make hair for big people and make big money. But I ended up in Cote D’Ivoire, where I saw hell,” said Zainab.

“There, he sold me to Madame Beauty, who forced me to work as a prostitute and sex slave from October 2017 to 2019,” she told The Nation in a private encounter.

At her arrival in Cote D’Ivoire, Ben took her to Abobo, a village in Abidjan. In Abobo, Madame Beauty told Zainab that she had bought her from Ben.

“She said I would work for her as a prostitute for two years for her to recoup her money, CFA 2.1 million,” said Zainab, adding that Madame Beauty forced her to drink a charmed water, as an oath binding Zainab to her.

“She warned me not to try to run away or betray her, else I would run mad or die. She then showed me a room in an area they called Tina Ghetto, from where she said I would be operating and that I would be delivering CFA 20,000 to her every day.

“I protested but she requested for a refund of her CFA 2.1 million, which I couldn’t raise. She then reminded me of the oath water and its consequences. I charged CFACFA 2, 100 (an equivalent of N1,200) per customer; and she gave me CFA500 daily for feeding,” said Zainab.

Life in Abobo 

Abobo was a purgatory her dreamy heart could make no sense of. It was her turning point, where she morphed to suit the random lusts of gangsters, petty thieves, commercial transporters, street urchins and thugs, widely called “vagabonds;” frequent patrons of her hidden graces at Tina Ghetto.

Zainab broke in Abobo, taking on the look of every ruffian’s fantasy and its fruits. Her base, Tina Ghetto, unfurled before her grisly and dark, like a ravine in a robe of pleated thorns.

She came in search of greener pasture but there in Abobo, several miles from her ancestral home in Osogbo, Osun State, she was paraded like a cow to be milked.

Her madame breathed thunder and fire. The vagabonds leered at her lustfully, cupping their calloused lusts to harvest her kernel.

The joke was on Zainab. “Temi bami (I am doomed); I cried,” she said. The truth dawned on her like eternal damnation; sadly, she acknowledged that she had become a sexual captive to a fiendish madame.

The horror she read and gossiped about back at home had become her fate. Her reality. She had become the victim whose pathetic fate hitherto incited from her the passing tribute of a sigh.

A radiant captive in a dingy brothel, she shed her honour on the fields of shame. Zainab slept with 15 to 20 men during the day. Sometimes 30. Even so, she would not sleep at night. “Menacing, ill-smelling vagabonds” banged on her door, intruding her private space, to ravage her paling body, under her Madame Beauty’s eagle eyes, till the wee hours of the morning.

Speaking with The Nation, her voice occasionally drifted and flailed, leaving on the wind a tinge of regret.

She lamented how reality imposed upon her reprobate acting skills. To survive, she had to adopt a fictive image and stay in character. To repay her enormous debt, she must strip to her bare flesh and work her supple behind to the bones.

Thus Zainab learnt to live and hustle in the nude. Everyday, she shed her body of clothing and clad in her vagabond patrons’ lustful wishes. Her hidden graces unclothed, the vagabonds drooled to her door, mauling and harvesting her womanly fruits, till all’s left was a mop of faith and a grain of acheke (also spelled attiéké), in her arid body.

Acheke is a side dish made from fermented cassava pulp (an equivalent of the Yoruba Garri) that has been grated or granulated and it was the staple food for Zainab and her co-hustlers in Tina Ghetto.

Sex work not movies 

Acting slatternly takes effort; being a bad actress frequently earned her starvation and severe beating by her madame and her thugs in her first year. Failure to moan a ndwriggle right earned her vicious blows from irate clients.

She was slapped, strangled and stabbed by her “customers for not servicing them well,” she said, adding that, “On the average, I slept with more than 15 men daily, in order to gross CFA 20, 000, the amount I needed to deliver to my madame. On a particular Sallah day, I slept with over 30 men and raked in CFA 200,000 for my madame. There was a day she had a case with the Nigerian Embassy officials and I tried to capitalise on that to escape, but it seemed like there was a conspiracy with them, as they simply told me to go and settle with my madame and pay her money. So I resigned myself to my fate and continued praying to God to come to my aid.”

Sometimes, the vagabonds would drug themselves and sleep with her thus spending as much as an hour. “On such occasions, I get dry with discomfort and the condom would break. I had to drink salt and water as the only antibiotic that I could afford, because Madame Beauty would not give me money for medication or invite a doctor to examine us,” she said.

Asides her mandatory CFA 20, 000 daily remittance to her madame, all other money that she made must be submitted to Madame Beauty at the end of each day. Failure to gross the figure earned her severe beating even if she had fallen ill.

Zainab must work through ailment, which imposed greater burden on her to act for the benefit of her clients. Soon, she matured into the act and everything fell into place.

A strategy of escape 

Every time she parted her thighs for a “vagabond” on her creaky bunk in Abobo, Zainab shut her mind to his painful gropes, the ‘sickening grunts’ and the ruts that he made all over her body. To the young adult, each session with a vagabond was akin to a bestial form of organised rape.

To escape her momentary pain, she often stole back in time to relive her quiet life in Ita Olowokan, Oja Oba, in Osogbo, where she lived with her father and stepmother as a child.

She remembered hauling her bag to Great Eureka Nursery and Primary School, while she lived with her mother in Ikare Akoko, Ondo State. She remembered her teenage pranks and saucy ripostes to seedy jokes by commercial transporters while she hastened to and from Mount Carmel Girls’ School, also in Ikare Akoko, as a teenager.

On her dreariest days in Abobo, she cringed from the painful irony of being pummelled and ravaged by random thugs for whom she wouldn’t deign a glance back

in Nigeria, and recalled her scenic strolls in Osogbo while the grim jewellery of harmattan glistened on fallen leaf and bow of grass.

She retreated to feel the gold rays of the early sun beams bathe her skin and the roof of her mother’s house in a brilliant, sallow glow, just before she departed for school on most days.

“I survived because I had faith. Faith in the possibility of rescue,” she said.


In November 2019, Zainab’s madame threw her on the streets, claiming she had recouped her money and she was free to go. At that point, she was faced with the choice of continuing with Madame Beauty on renegotiated terms or becoming a trafficker and scout for girls that she could sell into sexual slavery.

“She said the girls would work and make money for me. But I had sworn that I would not enslave a fellow human the way she did to me. She gave me two days to work and raise money for myself towards my next move, but I just couldn’t,” said Zainab.

Within the period, she met one of the women who came to sell Nigerian food at Tina Ghetto. “The food-seller took pity on me and agreed to shelter me in her apartment.”

At that time, Zainab stumbled on Project Ferry, a non-governmental organisation (NGO), run by United States-based Omotola Fawunmi, on Instagram. She sent representatives of the organisation her video and they intervened by bringing her home.

“Over 300 girls are currently stranded as sex slaves across Abidjan. Our government should rescue them,” said Zainab.

The Lebanon, Oman connection 

Unlike Zainab, Grace, 27, is still struggling to secure a passage back home. She got to Lebanon in August 2019 with the help of an old school mate, Lola. Speaking to The Nation from a safe-house in Lebanon, she said: “I got here through a lady working here (Lebanon). Her name is Lola. She was my old school mate. She told me that there is a teaching job here and that I should go and legalize my result in Abuja to apply for the job. She asked me to send N400, 000 as processing fee and that I will balance her up when I get here.”

Eventually, Grace sent N300, 000 to Adesakin. “My parents had to borrow the money from a cooperative society and they give it to me. When I got to the airport, one man, Mr. Hamad, came to pick me up and took me to his house. He said that I would be working with his wife as a house-help. I told him that I wasn’t here to work as a maid but he told me that he financed my trip to Lebanon; that he paid for everything and I have to work with them,” she said.

The Hamads forced Grace to sleep on their balcony, “like a dog” and she protested thus earning herself a severe thrashing. “ I told them that I couldn’t sleep on the

balcony and that is how they started beating me. Sometimes, they would take me to one Mr. Abdullah, who beat me with a belt,” said Grace.

Things got to a head at the dawn of winter; at the onset of the blistery cold, Grace’s master refused to buy her a jacket. “They gave me no jacket, and starved me. I couldn’t withstand it. I was sick and bleeding seriously and they did not pay my salary. So, I told them to use part of my salary to get a jacket for me but they ignored me. I didn’t wish to die, so, I made my move out of their house very early in the morning on December 27.

Grace and 25 others are currently lodged at the safe house in Beirut – at Project Ferry’s intervention – on January 16 after staging a protest.

“It’s over four weeks since we have been lodged here. We are tired. We want to come home. We don’t feed well and we don’t get good medical attention. Most of us are sick and we need to go back to our country,” she lamented.

True, the plight of the ladies deserve urgent attention; there is Busayo, a heavily pregnant woman afflicted with bouts of an inexplicable medical condition; there is Wuraola, a chronic ulcer patient whose persistent crisis and tears has become a cause of worry to her peers; and scariest of all is the case of severely ill Oyeronke, whose medical condition defies explanation. Recently, she gave her peers and Nigerian Embassy staff a frantic scare.

In a mobile video obtained by The Nation, Oyeronke is seen shuddering with spasms of an unidentifiable ailment. She couldn’t move parts of her body and a co-tenant in the safe house is seen massaging the immobile part of her body. Further findings revealed that she suffers such sporadic spasms for at least two hours every time it strikes.

According to Grace, “The doctors do not know what is wrong with Oyeronke. They don’t have good doctors here. They just prescribed ulcer drug for her ailment but she was trembling and couldn’t move parts of her body”.

Ayomide’s plight equally incites the passing tribute of a sigh. The young lady was subjected to severe abuse by her Lebanese master. She was made to sleep in the toilet and beaten several times. In her desperate search for freedom, she contacted Project Ferry with whose help she was rescued from her slave master. She is now at her agent’s office in preparation for her return journey back home.

Then, there is Monsurat Omolara, who is currently in dire straits in Oman. In an audio recording obtained by The Nation, Omolara complained of being subjected to physical abuse by her master, while pleading for urgent intervention from the Nigerian government. In another recording that has gone viral on social media, Omolara’s master could be heard issuing death threats to her. He said he would kill her and dump her body.

In a recent twist to her predicament, her slave master dragged her to Al Khoudh police station in Lebanon, because she refused to work in inhuman conditions, but she was returned back to his house. He subsequently beat her and smashed her phone on the

floor, ostensibly to cut her off from her people. Omolara has since been incommunicado.

A not so lucrative venture 

Several Nigerian women and girls embark on the perilous trip abroad, deceived by the assurances of highly lucrative overseas employment as domestic workers, hairdressers, or hoteliers given to them by traffickers. Some of them revealed to The Nation that they were shocked to learn that contrary to the promises made to them, there were no high-paying jobs abroad. Instead, they had huge debts imposed upon them.

Some actually pay more than the debts imposed upon them; for instance, Zainab’s slave master, Madame Beauty, spitefully revealed to her that she had recouped CFA3.1 million from Zainab even though the latter allegedly owed her CFA2.1 million.

Arbitrary charges for food, accommodation, medical care, contraception, and fines are also imposed on the victims by their traffickers and madames thus stalling their ability to have savings.

Some of the girls, argued a Lebanon based trafficker, knew the nature of jobs they were coming to do. “But when they get here and things aren’t as rosy as they expected, they start calling for rescue and attention. If you leave Nigeria to serve as a housemaid in Lebanon, don’t expect to live a life of luxury,” she said.

‘What we should focus on are preventive measures’ – NAPTIP DG

Julie Donli, Director General of the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP), disclosed that five of the trafficked girls in Lebanon have returned to the country.

In an exclusive interview with The Nation, Donli stated that the rest of them would return to the country in due time. Reacting to the plight of the trafficked girls in Oman, she said: “If there is any case in Oman, they have to make their way to the nearest country. Since there is no Nigerian Embassy in Oman, they have to make their way to the nearest embassy. There is nothing anybody can do about that.

“We have been trying to get approval to station NAPTIP operatives in all the countries where human trafficking is endemic. At least, we can have a NAPTIP officer in all the embassies to serve as a liaison between Nigerians there (including victims of trafficking) and the people here.”

The NAPTIP boss stated that her organisation has been working to stem the tide of trafficking of Nigerians within and outside the country. For instance, following the conviction of the Lebanese and Nigerian traffickers connected to recently rescued victims, Omolola Ajayi and Gloria Taye Bright, they have been charged in court and are currently detained in Ilorin.

NAPTIP has also secured the conviction of one Rosemary Amarachi at the Federal High Court, Ilorin, Kwara State. Amarachi pleaded guilty and was sentenced to one-year imprisonment and a fine of N150,000 to be paid to her victims, said Donli.


Challenges of a rescue mission 

Omotola Fawunmi of Project Ferry revealed that so far, the organisation has facilitated the return of 17 girls to the country.

She said, “One of our greatest challenges is getting the relevant authorities to act promptly or respond when we reach out to them. For instance, at the beginning, we usually reach out to NAPTIP. In the case of Lebanon, we reached out to the Nigerian Embassy in Lebanon and also Abike Dabiri, the Chairman of Nigerians in Diaspora Commission (NIDCOM). All our efforts at reaching them were not helpful. NAPTIP was for a very long time, between November and January, not responsive. At some point they complained about not having budget approved yet and so they could not work.

“I had to reach out to a contact in UNODC to get a NAPTIP official to respond to us. In fairness, the Office of the Chairman House Committee on Diaspora did reach out and we have continued to communicate via email. We have sent them a partial list of some of the girls in our care and they have done a letter to relevant agencies, a copy of which was sent to us in the course of the week.”

Fawunmi disclosed that two of the ladies in Lebanon received the assistance of NAPTIP to return home a few weeks ago, and are currently at the NAPTIP Shelter. Three more girls have returned to Nigeria, thus increasing the number of returnees from Lebanon to five.

Efforts to get in touch with the Nigerian Embassy in Lebanon proved futile. Consular Zainab, the diplomatic staff handling the case of the Lebanon girls, persistently evaded questions and calls in respect of the trafficked girls. “I will call back,” she promised on two different occasions. Now she isn’t picking up calls.

Going forward… 

Few days ago, NAPTIP revealed that it received concrete intelligence that around 20,000 Nigerian girls have been forced into prostitution in Mali. Many of the girls are working as sex slaves in hotels and nightclubs after being sold to prostitution rings by human traffickers, according to a fact-finding mission carried out by the agency in collaboration with Malian authorities in December 2019.

Authorities in Ivory Coast also rescued 137 children, aged six to 17, who were trafficked to the country to work on cocoa plantations or as sex workers in the eastern town of Aboisso. The children are from Nigeria, Ghana, Niger, Benin, and Togo.

There have been attempts to calculate the overall value of the smuggling of migrants;

Human trafficking earns profits of roughly $150 billion a year for traffickers, according to the 2014 International Labour Organisation (ILO) report.

Nigeria occupies a central position in West Africa as a country of origin, transit and destination for victims of human trafficking for labour exploitation and forced labour.

Victims are shuttled within and outside the country, into Cote D’Ivoire, Benin, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Cameroon, Mali, Niger and Europe in a wide range of industries, including domestic work, mining, stone quarrying, manufacturing, plantations and prostitution.

While the Nigerian government does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking, it is making significant efforts to do so. But the efforts are considered inadequate.

The government is expected to hold complicit officials, including security officials, accountable for trafficking offences.

Adedoyin Okin, a social worker and anti-trafficking campaigner, suggested improved coordination among law enforcement actors, including NAPTIP, the Nigerian Immigration Service, police, and others while supporting independent criminal investigations into alleged trafficking abuses among security officials in the country.

But while such efforts may bear good results in the long run, in the short run, more drastic measures are needed to check the burgeoning trade in humans, or modern slave trade if you like, within and outside the country.

In Abidjan, Nigerian girls are beaten and forced into sexual slavery in brothels administered by vengeful madames. In Beirut, slave masters force Nigerian girls and women to sleep on balconies, like dogs, under staircases and on top of kitchen cabinets.

In Oman, they make them sleep in toilets and advertise them on a website with order numbers and passport numbers. They are eventually sold and purchased like household items or garden implements.

Zainab’s case is instructive; in October 2017, she departed the country, ravishing and bustling with hope for gainful work in “the white man’s country.” But she ended upas a sex slave in Abobo. Two years later, precisely November 2019, she returned, her beauty severely ravaged.

“I am currently being treated for Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs). I have started taking my drugs and I have found work as a hairdresser. My life is picking up. But I cannot go home yet,” she said, with the lustre of a moonlike being truest in eclipse.

She is no longer the punching bag of dangerous vagabonds nor is she the sexual slave of a vengeful madame. But Abobo continually intrudes her peace, like an apparition, whose gruesome pangs flourishes in the ruins of her dreams.

21st century slaves (Part 2) - April 25, 2020
  • Tragic fate of Nigeria’s underage girls sold into sexual slavery across West Africa 
  • Victims allege gang rape, forced abortion and physical abuse by their captors
  • The economics of sex trafficking 

By Olatunji OLOLADE, Associate Editor 

Late Monday evening in Bracody, on the outskirts of Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire, I enter the darkness of a Nigerian nightmare. My taxi’s headlamps cast brilliant spokes of light onto swarms of people eddying through the night. My driver and guide, Dominique, turns off the ignition outside a decrepit bar. Together we alight and walk into the street, melding into the shanty’s nightly traffic. 

A few paces down the road, Dominique nudges me by the elbow, it was a mild gesture, a perfunctory prod, signalling a sudden detour off the busy street into a shed occupied by violent thugs otherwise known as “vagabonds.” 

Dominique approaches a gangly teen, with a deep scar on his face. He engages him in conversation, in a pidgin version of French. 

Two minutes into their conversation, Dominique walks up to me with the teen and introduces him. “His name is Yoofi. He will take us to the bitch bar where we will find your Nigerian bitch…Follow me closely behind. This is a very dangerous place,” he says, taking after Yoofi, into a pitch dark alley. I follow suit. 

In the alley, a rank smell knifes through the air into my nostrils. I take in a lungful at first sniff and it lands like a kick in my lungs through the belly. 

At the entrance to the alley, a noisy crew of vagabonds idle near the stall of a buxomly grocer; the latter sold acheke and deep fried fish. Uncooked fishes lay sprawled on a wooden slab, pot-bellied pikes, two-tone flounders and the smelts draped on each other, blubbery with roe. 

Marble cod and mackerel, sardines with their mouths open, still trying to eat, porgies with receding jaws hinged apart in a grimace of dejection, as if like cows, they haddied under the jackknife. 

The rank smell of fishes flit into the dark alley, where shanty stink and noise mesh in the blackness and interlock. It takes a while for my eyes to adjust to the darkness. As they do, visions of eroticism filter into view. Girls of various physique: chubby, fat, slim; slender, athletic, sweat in a blanket of extreme poses. I forge ahead with my guide, ducking the frantic grasp of girls whose hunger and lust burned in the darkness, like seedy neon lights.

From a distance, they look like vegetables of the deep, the Sheol-flowers of passion, merchandising lust, where the sun’s rays bow into darkness. Down the alley, twilight bounds softly on the part to Juliet’s spot. The teenager in skin-tight leggings and a transparent tank top, grabs my arm desperately. She whispers: “Come with me. I will give you a good time. I will give you jara!” 

There is an urgency to her need and vibrancy to her promise of a freebie, that stands her out amid the bevy of girls and women hawking sex on Bracody’s seediest boulevard. 

“Leave him alone, bitch!” screams Dominique, yanking her hands off my arm. “Come with me bro. Don’t let her give you the virus (Coronavirus aka COVID-19). You will find more girls in the bitch bar,” he says urging me down the alley, ahead of him. 

As we proceed, I glance back to see Juliet stare forlornly at our retreating figure. Instantly, I made a mental note to revisit her spot. 

Inside the ‘bitch bar’ 

The first time I heard Dominique mention the ‘bitch bar,’ I thought he was talking about liquor bars situated at an actual beach, or waterfront. But that night, as we strolled into the makeshift bar in Bracody, I understood that ‘bitch bar’ connotes a brothel or pub teeming with prostitutes, or commercial sex workers, if you like. 

Inside Ademeus Bar, arguably Bracody’s largest ‘bitch bar,’ a string of revellers and night-crawlers sit scattered across the open and closed sections of the pub. Yoofi leads us to sit at the extreme end, explaining that its best we sit there for easier access to the girls in the brothel bordering the bar. He draws out plastic chairs for us to sit and signals to a waitress who swiftly takes our order. 

Dominique and Yoofi engage in drawn-out conversation, in French; their exchange resonates like the intense haggling over beef between a consumer and butcher at Bracody’s nearby meat market. 

Soon after they reach a bargain, Yoofi gets up and leave. Dominique sidles up to me and says excitedly, “He has gone to call you some Nigerian bitches.” 

I learn that the bar isn’t packed to brim due to government warnings about the coronavirus pandemic; the girls and their customers fear getting arrested hence they have limited their enterprise to their doorsteps. Patrons have to visit them in their rooms or call their madame or pimp to gain access to gain access to them. 

“Nobody hear will catch the disease. We are not afraid of the virus. Folk don’t want trouble,” says Dominique. 

Eventually, Yoofi returns flanked by three scantily dressed girls; Chioma, 18, Gladys, 21 and Bridgette, 18. They are all new arrivals, he says. 

At introduction, the girls speak French to us and stare at us suspiciously. Dominique replies to them in French, assuring them that we are harmless and they loosen up. I start up a conversation with Bridgette in Nigerian pidgin and a few minutes into our banter, the trio completely warms up to us. 

“If na threesome you want, it will cost you CFA 75, 000,” says Chioma, who is apparently the most streetwise of the trio. 

“We will collect CFA 20, 000 each for the two sessions from midnight till daybreak. We will take CFA 5, 000 each for transport,” she says. 

Dominique attempts to beat down the price and after some fierce haggling, the girls agreed to take CFA 60, 000, that is, CFA 20, 000 per girl. 

Then they go in to bathe and prepare for the night. Twenty minutes later, their madame, Abigael, emerges from the brothel, picking her teeth. “Una well done o,” she says, walking past our table. Two minutes later, she walks past again flanked by two hefty men. 

“The bigger one is Jonnie, the other one is Prince. They are her bodyguards.  They protect the girls and keep watch over this place,” says Yoofi. 

Madam Abigael walks up to us and states in Nigerian pidgin that the girls would no longer be able to follow us because of the coronavirus. She grumbles in French, to Yoofi, that she wasn’t sure about our identity. 

“Who knows if they are from those nosey NGOs or the cops,” she says in French. I try to disabuse her mind but she sneers at me and walks away. An enraged Dominique ventures further explanation stating, “We have good money to pay. Don’t be tripping like that woman!” but the thugs charge at us, threatening to “slice” us. 

Yoofi gestures to us to comply and offers profuse apology to the madame and her goons. He promises to take us to a bar run by a friendlier madame. 

As we step out of the brothel, the jagged edges of adjacent brothels’ roof tops hover above us like a canopy of darkness. They cast a shadow, framing a pattern of fear, hunger and lust reflective on the faces and the demeanour of the girls hustling along the alley. 

Walking along, twilight bounds softly on the path that leads back to Juliet’s spot. As we approach, I crane my neck to see the teenager but it was hard to view her through the swarm of frantic hands and heavily mascaraed faces calling for our attention, inviting us to a “good time”. 

Just when I was about to give up, Juliet darts out of the darkness and urges me to come with her into her room. As she leads me up the brothel’s cobbled corridor, I see a festering wound on her shoulder. I ask her how she got the wound and she replies, “I fell down,” rubbing the edges tenderly as if to reduce its sting. 

On entering her room, I tell her, “I am here to help you if you don’t mind. You could come with me, I will get you help.”


In response, she slumps against the wall resignedly, and says, “My last roommate tried to escape with an NGO, and madame caused her to disappear. I have just 20 months left to repay my debt and I am free to work on my own…See this wound? I got it from the jagged end of a cudgel. My madame had me beaten for talking to a customer like you.” 

Then she switches to vixen-mode and says, “You can pay me now if you wish to do anything or leave me alone. I don’t want trouble.” 

As if on cue, her next door neighbour sounds an alert, shouting, “Wahala dey! Na talk dem dey talk o! No be fuck!” 

Juliet ushers me out of her room down an alternative route, stressing that her madame and pimp must not catch me with her. 

Two nights later, she opens up to me, stating that she was sold into slavery by her Aunt Chioma aka Tricia, who she hitherto believed was in Spain. “She was my mother’s younger cousin. She made us believe she worked as a nanny and hairdresser in Spain. When she came home three years ago, during the Yuletide, she was spending money carelessly. My mother was so moved by her seeming generosity that she suggested that I returned with her to Spain at the end of the holidays,” she says. 

But contrary to their expectation, Chioma wouldn’t help Juliet secure a nanny’s job with an American expatriate family in Spain, instead she sold her into prostitution in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire. 

“I suspected that things weren’t right when she took me on a road journey. Earlier, she told me we were travelling by air. She promised to pay for my air fare but advised mama to give her money to get me an international passport. She collected N120, 000 from mama claiming she would use it to quicken the processing of the passport. It’s so sad. Mama had to borrow N118, 000 and add it to the N22, 000 savings she made from her petty trade in order to give Aunt Chioma the money. 

“I didn’t know of her lies until we got to Abidjan. She took me to a house in Bel Air and I knew immediately that I was in trouble. She lives in a slum. There were pictures of her on the wall and her clothes were carelessly strewn on the floor. My second night with her, she told me that the welcome party was over and that I had to work to earn my keep.” 

Chioma forced Juliet, then 14, into a mini gown and dragged her along on a nightly tour of the streets. That night, she sent her niece to collect a package from one of her male acquaintances in Cocody. “I didn’t suspect anything as the house looked decent but when I entered, and said I had come for Tricia’s package, the man pounced on me. As I struggled with him, Aunt Chioma came in with a much younger man. She sat down and smoked a cigarette, watching nonchalantly as they gagged me and took turns to rape me. They made a video of it and she threatened to send it to people who knew me back home if I ever rebelled or told anyone about it,” says Juliet. 

Chioma eventually sold Juliet to a Madame Jane, at whose brothel she currently hustles in Bracody. There is no escape for Juliet. At 16, she is forced to dress up and act like a 22-year-old. Sometimes, she is forced to act her age in order to please vagabonds and elderly clients with paedophilic tendencies. 

Then there is Precious, who was sold into slavery in 2018 by a former boyfriend, who promised to help her secure employment as a house-help in Netherlands. “He said I would be earning $600 per month and introduced me to the woman who would take me there and help secure the job,” says Precious. 

“Eventually, I met the woman through my boyfriend. He suggested that I took her offer. I had no choice; I had no job and I had to support my mother in taking care of my younger ones. So, I agreed to go with her and she made the arrangements for me to travel with her from Nigeria to Togo by road. She said we would board a flight to Netherlands in Togo. 

“After a long, tortuous journey through the land borders, I arrived in Abidjan only to discover that I had been deceived. The “madame” treated me to a welcoming party whereby I was forced to undress and subjected to brutal rape by two of her pimps and a bodyguard. 

“I was 15 and a virgin but they deflowered me. For three nights, I refused to eat and have sex with her customers and in response, my madame locked me up in a toilet. She denied me food and water for three days. She said she would kill me and that I would regain my freedom once I pay a “debt” of N480, 000, to cover the money she spent as my travel expenses. I didn’t how she came by that figure. I can’t run away because she made me swear an oath that I would develop leprosy and run mad if I did,” she said. 

As you read, Precious lives in fear of her madame, who brings a lot of men to have sex with her and her fellow captives, often without a condom. 

Like Precious, 14-year-old Princess, who recently arrived in Abidjan via the land border, nurtures both outward and innate bruises, after she was raped by a quartet, who paid her madame CFA 100, 000 to lay with her for the night. 

“They force-fed her with hard drugs and atote, a local aphrodisiac often taken by many of the vagabonds and other patrons. She didn’t know what she was doing. She blacked out through her ordeal. I was privileged to be around when the pimps brought her back. They slapped her repeatedly to keep her awake as the thugs dragged her inside and dumped her on the floor of her room,” reveals Precious. 

As I attempt to speak with Princess, she recoils in fear, and a massive prostitute called First Lady attacks me. She yanks off my glasses and smashes it against the wall screaming: “Wetin una want. We no dey service Naija men. Make una carry una wahala go!” 

Further attempts to locate Princess proved abortive. The last I passed through the alley, a motley gang of thugs guarded the entrance to her unnamed brothel, which is identifiable by an amateur impression of the Nigerian flag, painted on its wall.


“They have increased security since your last visit. They are looking for you,” reveals Yoofi. 

Yaya…King of Bracody 

Gangs of thugs benefit from the misery of underage Nigerian sex captives. “They are the ones needing greater protection,” says Yaya aka King of Bracody. 

At 26, Yaya flaunts scars depicting a life of peril and interminable visits to the jail cell. He says, “I have been to prison over 16 times. Everybody knows me here. They fear Yaya. Nobody fucks with me. I am Yaya, King of Bracody. Nothing goes down here without my knowledge. All the Nigerian madames here, and their thugs fear me. They respect me.” 

What Yaya left out, however, is the fact that most of the girls would not touch him with a bargepole. 

“I will not let him touch me even if he comes here with a million francs,” says Loveth, a native of Auchi, Edo State. Loveth claims that Yaya is too violent, and to this, he responds: “I am a vagabond. I do what I have to, to survive. Everyone here is trying to survive. Just like I am doing. The real devils here are their madames. They pay me to silence stubborn girls. You know what I mean, the ones that are too troublesome,” he says. 

Before the sex trafficking business got more organised, Yaya and his gang made a killing by levying some kind of tax on the activities of the various traffickers, independent prostitutes and brothel owners. 

“I made about CFA 20, 000 in one night. But now things have changed. I am the only surviving member of my gang and the madames now do business with the police and people in government. They call me for the hardest work. The dirty jobs. I do some and l don’t do some…because I don’t wish to visit prison again,” he says. 

Asides Yaya, there are other thugs and enforcers working in Bracody’s underground economy. Oftentimes, their work takes them to seedier crannies in Abobo, Treichville, Markory. David, for instance, is a Ghanaian who has lived in Abidjan all his life, working as an enforcer for various club and brothel madames. In an encounter with The Nation, he reveals that while there is a lull in patronage at the ‘bitch bars’ in the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic, he still makes “cool money” transacting business with clients on phone. “Business has gone digital. If you need a good girl or two or three of them for instance, I send you their pictures and you pick the ones you want,” he says. 

The average pimp takes a percentage from the proceeds of the girls. “If I introduce a girl to you and she charges you CFA 20, 000 for the night, she must give me CFA7, 500 of her earning. Some take CFA 5, 000, I don’t. I deal with high profile clients,” says Nos-P, a pimp and enforcer in Youpogon. 

Sex in the time of coronavirus
The hardest hit are the street prostitutes who have seen patronage dwindle and have lost their clients to the lockdown. “Things are not easy at all. Coronavirus has killed our business. We just dey roast,” laments Joyce from Akwa Ibom State. 

Corroborating her, Meredith, a native of Ebonyi State, says that patronage has dwindled since the COVID-19 pandemic became an issue in Abidjan. Although they both live in Port Bouet, they travel deep into Abidjan to hustle every night. They often shop for customers on the streets of Markory, Youpogon, Abobo, Atteccoube, Treichville, and Cocody. 

The Madames 

A madame is the most important person in Nigerian sex trafficking and often also the sponsor financing the journey. Madames order the girls and sometimes recruit them. They often lead the trafficking organisations and monitor the trafficking process closely, from recruitment to exploitation. According to Europol, the number of women operating as traffickers is increasing. 

According to information dated 2005, madams in Italy were between 25 and 30 years old. In contrast, a 2007 study of Nigerian madams involved in the trafficking to the Netherlands showed that they were on an average 45 years old, had legal residence in the Netherlands, or were awaiting a residence permit based on a relationship or marriage to a Dutch partner. 

In Abidjan, the demography of the madames is more fluid, encompassing younger to older females. For instance, the youngest madame I encountered in my investigation was 22 and she runs a thin slice of a cartel that extends from Cote d’Ivoire’s metropolitan area to rustic, seedy communes. Her name is Cynthia. She is a native of Awka in Anambra State and she keeps a day job, working as a chef in Abidjan’s Angre region. In between meal orders, she assigns clients and subcontracts businesses to active girls on her payroll, via her smart-phone. These are the girls that have gained independence, having worked off their debts. Some of them are struggling to establish their own start-ups as madames and traffickers. 

Cynthia also keeps prostitutes across brothels in Bracody, Youpogon and Abobo. She gets paid a percentage of their daily earnings from the actual owners of the brothels, who take a fat share – about 50 per cent – of the girls’ proceeds. Cynthia takes 40 per cent and the remaining 10 per cent is spent on the feeding, clothing and medicals of the girls. The girls get to keep nothing of their earnings. 

“And we can’t even steal or siphon part of it away for our personal use because we are bound by oath,” according to Foluke aka Nancy, a popular call girl at Madame Tina’s brothel in Abobo. 

The Abattoir
Some of the girls interviewed by The Nation revealed that they hardly get treatment when they fall sick. “My madame crushes painkillers in a local alcoholic beverage and forces you to drink it. And you must get well by force. If you don’t, you get thrashed, starved and gang-raped. The fear of this prevents anyone among us from feigning sickness or declaring a true ailment. And if you get impregnated by clients who refuse to use condom, you will get hauled to a dark room. We call it the abattoir; there, a quack doctor is invited to operate on you and abort your pregnancy. I know this because I had one such abortion performed on me when I got pregnant in July2019. I knew what was happening but I hadn’t the strength to fight back. The doctor raped me before and after the abortion,” reveals Juliet. 

The abattoir is located at the crude end of a block of brothels, very close to Abigael’s Brothel in Bracody. 

All the madames had worked in prostitution in Nigeria, Abidjan, Bamako in Mali and other parts of West Africa and had worked their way up to the role of madame. 

Those that are still young among them, however, dream of travelling to Europe to engage in what they consider a more elevated form of hustle. The older ones are simply content with running the African end of the trafficking ring. 

The Nation findings reveal that most madames started as prostitutes. Some victims returned voluntarily to Nigeria after their debt was paid and some of them ended up as traffickers themselves. These ex-victims are allegedly the most brutal and vindictive traffickers. 

“They have been to hell and back, and survived. They have lost all human feelings. They would not mind pawning their blood relatives to the devil,” argues Perpetua Arikode, a former sex worker, and resident of Treichville, where she runs a local saloon and bureau de change. 

Victims often become members of the criminal groups exploiting them, ultimately assuming the role of “madame” in the exploitation of others. In turn, this cultural novelty reduces the likelihood that victims will cooperate with law enforcement, according to Europol. 

Nigeria is routinely listed as one of the countries with large numbers of trafficking victims overseas, particularly in Europe, with victims identified in more than 34 countries in 2018, according to the US State Department Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons. 

An estimated 80 percent of women and girls arriving from Nigeria – whose numbers had soared from 1,454 in 2014 to 11,009 in 2016 – were potential victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation in the streets and brothels of Europe, claimed the IOM in 2017. 

The figures often leave out the sad, desperate girls kept as sexual slaves in brothels across West Africa. Many of the girls believed they were being taken to do lucrative work in Europe until they were dumped in care of menacing madames and thugs in brothels across West Africa. Then reality sets upon them with vicious fangs.

21st century slaves (Part 3) - May 2, 2020
  • Nigerian girls risk death, disease on the streets of Abidjan Sex for cash in the time of coronavirus 

By Olatunji OLOLADE, Associate Editor 

Nkechi is capable of “love” in any kind of weather. Come rain or shine, in intense heat or cloudburst, she hitches up her skirt by the hem for random male clients “to penetrate,” by the roadside.

“Sometimes, I take men in abandoned buildings and in deserted market stalls,” she said. For the 20-year-old, it’s the practical thing to do since the government shut down brothels and bars in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire.

“I do female customers and couples too, sometimes. In this business, I can do anything as long as the price is right,” she said with a twinkle in her eyes.

“Couples pay good money. In the last week of February, I collected CFA65, 000 servicing an old customer and his wife, from 1:00 am till daybreak. They even gave me breakfast before I left. Some of these people are crazy but na money I find come here,” she said.

But how did she get here? What’s her backstory? Her eyes, weary and gaunt, darkened like two open graves, at the mention of her backstory. She said, “My father was a carpenter and my mother was a trader. I lost them both in a road accident in January 2017.”

Soon after their demise, precisely in July 2017, Nkechi was taken from her home in Ebonyi to Lagos by her late mom’s cousin, Aunt Clara, who promised to send her to school. But rather than send her to school, Aunt Clara apprenticed her to a hairdresser in Shomolu, Lagos.

“I thought I was there to learn hairdressing but my madam, her name is Christy; she made me prostitute with six others. I was 16 and I was staying with her with six other girls in her three-bedroom apartment. We would be eight but two of us came and left at will. I heard they were travelling out. I didn’t bother to ask where. The lust to travel out to Europe gripped me like a fever. I became very eager to enjoy their fate as our madam persistently bragged about them. She said they were sharp girls and would do well in life.

“Three months after I joined Madam Christy, she acknowledged that she never knew I would become a hard worker. She said she had been thinking of selling me off to some brothel because I proved difficult and a great loss to her. That was when I knew my aunt actually sold me off to her at N120, 000. Madam Christy said a brothel in Unity Estate, Ikeja, had agreed to purchase me at N250,000 but she had decided against selling me because I made N200, 000 for her in that month. So she kept me,” said Nkechi.

Just before she turned 16, Nkechi got to live her dream as her madam paid her fare to hustle internationally. “She said I would be going to Italy but through Burkina Faso. I spent two months in Ouagadougou and moved here (Abidjan). I was supposed to travel in September, last year (2019) but I had issues with travel documents and Madam Christy said I should wait till this year. But I later found out that she had no plans to send me to Italy. One of her friends, who is also a madam here, told me because we are from the same town and she likes me. I asked her to buy me from Madam Christy but she refused to sell me,” said Nkechi, adding that she couldn’t run away because she was bound by blood oath to her madam.

“It never ends well for girls who run away. They run mad and suffer hot death,” she said.

Nkechi is, however, determined to make it to Europe. I don’t care. Europe na Europe, whether Spain, Greece, Italy or France, I will go anywhere. I have no parents and my trusted aunt sold me off into slavery. Na the price tire me. How could she value me at N120, 000? Right now, I owe my madam N2.8 million. She claims it’s money for my feeding, clothing, and medicals since she bought me. I have paid N1.7 million so far. I intended to pay off my debt by January next year. If not for this COVID-19,” she said.

Sex for cash in the time of coronavirus 

Nkechi was on the path to achieving her dream until tragedy struck in the form of the coronavirus aka COVID-19. Since the pandemic spilled to Cote d’Ivoire, she has suffered a loss of patronage by her active clients.

“But I still make house calls…Sometimes, I take customers quickly in a garage or uncompleted building any time of the day. I discovered that the police are always looking out for us at night,” she said.

Gloria, however, cut a different portrait hustling from her home in Yopougon. Until the outbreak of COVID-19 in Abidjan, the 26-year-old native of Ohaji, in Imo State, ran a thriving enterprise with her girlfriend and roommate, Esther.

Her words rippled around, unveiling her secret fears about what new miseries the dreaded virus may bring.

She said, “This coronavirus has ruined business for us. But I will survive. I have started to learn how to process and prepare acheke. I intend to start making and selling it as a side hustle.”

For her main hustle, Gloria prowls the streets at night for male customers, and makes house calls during the day. For those who can’t receive me at home, we go to the nearest hotel and have sex or wherever they feel comfortable to do it. I charge between CFA20, 000 to CFA25, 000 from night till dawn. I charge between CFA10, 000 to CFA15, 000 for ‘short time’ sessions,” she said.


Gloria attended Community Primary School, Ohaji, and Owerri Girls Secondary School in Owerri, Imo State. She dropped out of secondary school in 2015 after her father died. Life became hard on Gloria and her family until January 1, 2020 when she met her childhood friend, Angel.

“She (Angel) came for her mother’s burial in Owerri. After the burial, I saw her and talked to her that I needed help. I asked her about her work here and she said she was doing fine. She said she was into buying and selling. She said she sold provisions and ‘services’ to people and that they paid her handsomely. I urged her to take me back with her to Abidjan, and she agreed. We arrived in Abidjan in January and she told me that I owed her CFA50, 000 for my transport fare to Abidjan. I said ‘no problem.’ It took us two days to get to Abidjan by road,” said Gloria.

On her first night in Abidjan, Angel asked Gloria to accompany her out very late in the night. “She told me to follow her to hustle. I asked what she meant by that. I told her provisions are sold during the day and not at night. She insisted but I told her that I was too tired from the road trip; hence, she dressed up and went out. She returned very early in the morning. Gloria couldn’t be bothered; she was too exhausted. The following day, however, Angel told her to dress up and join her on the streets.

“I asked her what we were going out to do at night and she told me that we were going out to hustle,” she said.

Looking askance, Gloria sought further clarification from Angel and the latter repeated, “I said we are going out to hustle. Dress up. You are not a small girl. Answer me.”

Angel told Gloria she ought to understand what was about to happen. “After she explained to me, I told her I couldn’t do it. Then she told me that if I couldn’t do it, I should move out of her house. She said I owed her CFA 50, 000 for my transport fare to Abidjan, and that I must hustle and refund her money. I refused to do her bidding and she threw me out of the house at midnight; I couldn’t beg her. My pride and anger couldn’t let me beg her.”

Gloria got robbed that night. “The robbers took my phone and threatened to kill me. When they realised I had no other valuable, they left,” she said.

Eventually, she met a Nigerian man that night while she loitered the streets of Abidjan, in tears. “He asked me what was wrong and that why was I outside with my luggage at that time of the night? I shared my travails with him and he offered to link me up with his sister. He took me to her in Yopougon.

To her chagrin, the man’s sister, Esther, also “hustled” but unlike Gloria’s childhood friend, she didn’t force her to join the commercial sex work.

After staying one month, free-boarding in her hostess’s house, Gloria couldn’t bear to live “like a parasite” anymore. “I had to join her and hustle. I had been staying for free in her house and eating her food. It didn’t feel right to me. I had to contribute my own quota,” said Gloria, adding that she started exchanging sex for money in February, one month after her arrival in Abidjan.


Back home, her family believed she was doing fine until she revealed to her mom what Angel did to her. “My mother was angry. She threatened to confront Angel’s people and register her displeasure but I advised her against that because the whole thing could become really messy and scandalous. Her late mother was my mother’s friend and they were both church elders. It would be a great shame on our families if people knew what happened,” she said.

Gloria could not summon the nerve to reveal to her mother that she had finally yielded to the lure of prostitution. “She doesn’t know the work I am doing but my brother knows. I have explained everything to him,” she said.

Several kilometres from Gloria’s base, Franca pulls daring tricks with her side-kick, Vivian. According to the duo, Franca, 17, serves as bait, while 18-year-old Vivian reels in their catches for the night.

The natives of Agbor, Delta State, and Enugu respectively, travel from their base in Port Bouet every night, into the heart of Abidjan, to search for customers. So doing, they prowl the streets of Treichville, Atteccoube, Abobo, Yopougon, Markory, and Cocody among others.

In an encounter with the duo, they offered a threesome encounter at CFA42, 000 –split CFA21, 000 per girl. Further findings revealed that asides working the streets as partners, Franca, for all her sass, answers to Vivian, who plays the role of a madame of sort to her “friend and partner.”

Franca is barely four months old in Abidjan although Vivian arrived several months earlier. “We came here to work,” said Vivian and corroborating her, Franca, said, “This place na hustle ground.”

Journey to the ‘hustle grounds’ 

Border police receive money from traffickers and turn a blind eye as they smuggle girls out of the country without any questioning. Both Nkechi and Gloria, for instance, admitted that their traffickers paid immigration officers and border police at the various land borders as they were being taken outside the country.

Nigeria suffers from significant corruption and governance problems. It ranked 144 out of 180 countries in the 2018 Corruption Perceptions Index by Transparency International, which ranks countries by their perceived levels of public sector corruption. According to a 2017 report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, “The vast majority of bribery episodes in Nigeria are initiated either directly or indirectly by public officials and almost 70 per cent of bribes are paid before a service is rendered.”

Law enforcement and the judiciary are areas of particular concern, according to the study, which also says that roughly N400 billion (approximately $1.1 billion) is spent on bribes each year, and that Nigerians consider bribery the third most important problem facing their country.


The 2018 US TIP Report chapter on Nigeria notes, “Widespread and pervasive corruption affected all levels of government and the security forces and undermined accountability for trafficking offenses.”

The 2019 report said there were “continued reports of, and only insufficient efforts to address, government officials’ complicity in human trafficking offences.”

The common route for most of the girls is through Lagos. Some of them work a bit in Lagos before saving up to foot their transport fare through West Africa’s road corridor. Some girls, including Gloria and Nkechi, however, enjoy the assistance of a sponsor. As citizens of ECOWAS member states they are allowed to cross borders without a passport and to stay legally in any other member country for 90 days. However, few migrants heading north towards Europe seem to experience crossing from one West African country as a major problem. When they cross to Algeria and Morocco, they are likely to be in contravention of the law, since a visa or other valid documents may be required. This greatly increases the motivation of migrants to approach professional smugglers or others with a sustained interest in criminal activity at the point when they cross from the ECOWAS zone into North Africa. Since this transition involves an element of illegality, it also greatly increases the profits to be made by criminal entrepreneurs.

Ritual oaths ceremonies 

The women and girls are often forced to undergo a voodoo oath-swearing ritual that commits them to repay the money they owe to their smugglers on pain of death or insanity. “The juju, the voodoo rite, it’s not a bad practice. It was used to bring justice, but they ruined everything,” said Isoke Aikpitanyi, a former victim of trafficking,  in anger. “They don’t care how they make their money as far as they make it. They use Juju to enslave.”

Madams are the key, she explained, stressing that they force girls into prostitution and ask for money to repay the debt. They work with “brothers,” men who are in charge of physically trafficking the “babies,” as girls forced into prostitution are called.

According to the Nigerian National Agency for Prohibition of Traffic in Persons (NAPTIP), about 90 percent of girls that are being trafficked to abroad are taken to shrines to take “oaths of secrecy.”

The oaths are taken in ceremonies that include body parts from the person on whom the oath is being administered, as well as from one of her relatives, usually her mother or sister. The use of body parts such as fingernails, blood, sweat, teeth and pubic hairs in the care of the voodoo priest creates a sense of fear and an unwillingness to speak out.

Consequences of breaking the oaths 

The inobservance of the pact can “anger the gods” and “jeopardise the victim’s life. ”The girls are strongly persuaded that terrible things such as illness, death and madness will befall them and their families if they don´t repay the debt. According to a victim,“those who do not respect the pact will eventually die gruesomely after living a wretched life.”

All the misfortunes or problems that may happen to the victim after breaking the ritual oath will be linked to this rupture. Sometimes, the trafficked girls may even think that voodoo magic has impregnated them as a form of punishment for breaking their pact with the traffickers. Victims usually believe they deserve these consequences because they broke the ritual oath. This reinforces other victims’ belief in the power of the oaths, as they witness how the rupture has caused misfortune to their peers who defaulted.

The fear of breaking the pact is so strong that traffickers usually do not even have to closely monitor the women. Some operators confirm that in contrast with other sex trafficking victims, African women enjoy considerable freedom unlike their peers from other regions of the world who are subjected to extreme violence and abuse by their traffickers. Nevertheless, physical threats and violence against the victims and their families is also a reality of these networks, as well as the confiscation of documents, money, and the lack of independence. Coercion only begins when the victims seek to escape the pact by breaking their oath, and not at the time when the oath is sworn. This is the moment when the women begin using the word “voodoo” as synonymous with black magic and spiritual entrapment.

To the grave 

A Nigerian diplomatic member of staff in Abidjan lamented the influx of girls into the city, claiming many of them were misled. “I have worked with some of those girls, even when you try to rescue some of them, you become their enemy,” she said.

Asides increasing awareness about the dangers of irregular migration, she urged the government to enhance the oversight of law enforcement agencies. According to her, law enforcement agencies play a key role in irregular migration either by curbing irregular flows or by letting them through.

“Some immigration officers receive bribe from smugglers and irregular migrants and let them through. This is wrong. We must work with Interpol and other nations affected by the activities of human traffickers to curtail the evil trade in humans,” she said.

A few years ago, a Nigerian girl, Queen Ebimaho, was murdered in Abidjan. On August 24, 2013, Ebimaho, 24, was found dead inside her room in a brothel in Ajame, Abidjan.

Eyewitnesses said the body of the girl, who arrived in Abidjan about two months before her demise, had a series of punctures. She was allegedly brought into the country by a Nigerian woman.

Although the Consular Department in the Nigerian Embassy in Abidjan was detailed to work with the Ivorian security agencies to ensure that those behind the murder were unravelled, nobody has been arrested for the girl’s murder to date. Ebimaho’s death, predictably, left many Nigerians in Ajame in fear as many described her fate as terrible.

Like Nkechi, Gloria, Franca and company, Ebimaho probably never regarded herself as a prostitute, but a hustler. She probably lived in cabins partitioned into rooms without a fan and proper sanitation. She probably toured the shanties and highways of West Africa, like Nkechi, offering sexual gratification to under-age boys and ubiquitous criminals called vagabonds, and gang lords on bug-infested mattresses at ridiculous rates and threat to her life.

It’s seven years since Ebimaho’s heart-rending demise and many more under-age girls, unemployed graduates and fortune hunters are trooping to Abidjan, Bamako, Ouagadougou and other West African cities in a daze spurred by prospects and attractions of the good life promised by the next “Good Samaritan” and ever generous “Madam Christy.” They will complain of crippling poverty, joblessness and persecution as their reasons for braving West Africa’s perilous road corridors in search of a better life.

Like their predecessors, they will watch their dreams disappear into thin air, while they toil, hopeless and stranded, far from home and saddled with debts that will take years to repay. But the lure will survive in captivating accounts of unbounded bliss and greener pasture promised by the fabled sidewalks of Europe, where the girls who made it out of West Africa, continue to loiter, ravaged and half-naked.

Like Ebimaho, their ends may be predictable.

21st century slaves (Part 4): ‘How we fled sex bondage’ - May 23, 2020
  • Following The Nation’s expose on Nigeria’s sex trafficking ring in Abidjan, victims escape captivity in Bracody, Papara, Daloa 

    By Olatunji OLOLADE, Associate Editor 

    Precious thought if she broke out of her jail cell, she would run into freedom. She thought if she fled Jane’s Ghetto (brothel), she would break into blossom, and finally be set on the path to achieve her dreams. 

    One month after The Nation revealed her predicament as a sex slave in Bracody’s underworld in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire, she has fled captivity by Lady Jane, her Nigerian madame, to whom she was sold by her boyfriend, Nonso, for a paltry N220, 000. Lady Jane, the trafficker and sex merchant, claimed that she owed her N480, 000, however. 

    “There was no way I could work off the debt. I am tired. My body is tired. My genitals are worn. Because I was too eager to make money and pay off my debt, I slept with an average of 17 men daily, ‘short time’ and till day break. 

    They were violent and mean. Most of my clients were vagabonds; street urchins, park thugs and criminals, and they did lots of wicked things to me,” she said, showing the scars of multiple cigarette burns on her left breast to the reporter. 

    She said, “I got these scars from Lady Jane’s body guard. His name is Franc. He is an enforcer. He is deployed to discipline girls who claim to be sick and whose daily remittances were incomplete. 

    The day he burned me with cigarettes, I was very sick. I serviced six customers between 4 am and 6 am. Then I became tired and I could not go on. I felt truly sick but my madame (Lady Jane) did not believe me. So she told Franc to discipline me. Franc beat me with a rod. He broke my jaw and burned me with cigarette on my left breast. I yielded when the pain became unbearable to me,” she said, stressing that she planned her escape from that point onwards. 

    Sold into slavery in 2018 by her boyfriend, Nonso, who claimed he was helping her process employment as a house-help in The Netherlands, Precious was instead trafficked via West Africa’s road corridor to Abidjan, where she was put to work as a prostitute in Lady Jane’s sex camp. 

    After a long, tortuous journey through land borders, the truth dawned on her with vicious pangs: she wasn’t going to The Netherlands to earn $600 a month as a housemaid. She arrived in Abidjan to a rude awakening eerily termed “The welcome party.”

    Precious was forced to undress and subjected to “brutal rape” by two of Lady Jane’s pimps and a bodyguard. “I was 15 and a virgin, but they deflowered me,” she lamented. 

    For three nights, Precious refused to eat and “service” customers and in response, her madame locked her up in a toilet. “She denied me food and water for three days. She said she would kill me and that I would regain my freedom once I pay a “debt” of N480, 000, to cover the money she spent as my travel expenses. 

    I didn’t know how she came by that figure,” she said, claiming that she couldn’t runaway because she was “very afraid” of the blood oath that she was forced to make. “They said I would develop leprosy and run mad if I ever ran away,” she said. 

    Precious, however, summoned the courage to flee two days after meeting with The Nation. “They saw me with you. 

    They knew I told you about Princess, because after my interview with you, Princess was forcibly removed from the brothel by a team comprising two of her clients, Festus, her brother and a policeman. 

    My madame was livid because she happened to be the hottest girl around. She attracted more patronage and bigger fish. Lady Jane swore to deal with anyone involved in her escape. I heard the girls talking about it. If I didn’t run, they would kill me,” she said. 

    Hence, a few weeks after her story got published in the second instalment of The Nation’s investigative series on sex trafficking, Precious fled Lady Jane’s sex camp in Bracody, on the pretext of going out to fetch water. 

    Speaking from her new base, she said: “I fled in a wrapper and bathroom slippers. A perfect opportunity presented itself around 8.15 am on a Tuesday. 

    We went out to fetch bath water in a group watched by Franc and his vagabonds. But I escaped while they retreated to smoke weed in a shed close to the reservoir. 

    I didn’t tell anyone of my plan. If not, some of the other girls would rat on me. If I got caught, they would make me ‘disappear’ (kill) me,” she said. 

    But freedom isn’t as rosy as it was cracked up to be, the 17-year-old would find. Since her escape, she has been finding it tough on the streets of Abidjan. 

    The first woman she approached for help in Marcory pawned her off to a couple in Treichville. “I thought she was a Good Samaritan but after giving me shelter for a week, she sold me off to a couple, Francis and Lydia Okon, in Treichville. 

    I don’t think those are their real names because they have three different international passports. The duo gave me a room in their apartment and initially urged me to sleep with men to pay for my boarding. When I resisted, the husband forced me. He beat me up.

    And he later gave me CFA 10, 000. He promised to help me return to Nigeria, if I cooperated. I believed him. I started hustling (prostituting) for them and they paid me CFA 2,500 everyday, even though I made at least CFA 30, 000 everyday servicing customers in their two-room apartment. 

    “Sometimes, the husband took me out to meet clients in their homes. Sometimes, they took me out and kept vigil while I slept with neighbours in their cars at night. Soon they begged me to get them more girls. 

    They said they were trying to set up a brothel and that they needed my experience in recruiting and managing fresh Nigerian girls,” she said. 

    Eight days ago, Precious escaped bondage – for the second time in two months – while shopping with Lydia, her new madame, in Yopougon. 

    She has decided to “lie low and hustle quietly,” until the Ivorien government totally lifts the lockdown imposed in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

    “Immediately they do, I will make good hustle and find my way to Nigeria. I have saved CFA 28, 000 now. Lady Jane is still looking for me. She sends her thugs to scour brothels in Abidjan,” she said. 

    Precious can only imagine what they would do to her, if she ever got caught. Likewise Princess. At The Nation’s first encounter with Princess one month ago, the 14-year-old, had just arrived in Abidjan via the land border. 

    Looking like a fish out of water, she nurtured both innate and outward bruises. Findings revealed that she was raped by a quartet, who paid her madame CFA100, 000 to lay with her for the night. 

    They force-fed her with hard drugs and atote, a local aphrodisiac often taken by many of the vagabonds and other patrons. She didn’t know what she was doing. 

    She blacked out through her ordeal. I was privileged to be around when the pimps brought her back. They slapped her repeatedly to keep her awake as the thugs dragged her inside and dumped her on the floor of her room, revealed Precious, who witnessed the episode. 

    As I attempted to speak with Princess, she recoiled in fear, and a massive prostitute called First Lady attacked me. She yanked off my glasses and smashed it against the wall, screaming: “Wetin una want? We no dey service Naija men. Make una carry unawahala go!” 

    ‘Police can’t save you’ 

    The Nation authoritatively reports that Princess has fled captivity in Bracody. Her brother, Festus, revealed that he wasn’t aware that she was put to work as a prostitute. The linoleum trader said he got wind of Princess’s situation after reading The Nation’s report.

    He said: “I left her in care of Ifeoma, a family friend, who brought her to Abidjan from Nigeria. She told me she was bringing her here to learn a trade but I was surprised to learn that she put her to work as a ‘runs girl’ (prostitute). I shuttled Abidjan and Bamako for my business. 

    Luckily I was around when the story broke out. I was squatting with a friend in Cocody but I became suspicious after I read of the Princess girl in Bracody. 

    “Although her real name is Ositadinma (meaning ‘It is well from today’), everybody called her Princess because of her beauty…Ifeoma dumped her with Lady Jane after collecting CFA 2 million on her head. 

    Ifeoma’s family is in Burkina Faso. I was able to rescue her with the help of one of her clients, a bus driver in Atteccoube. 

    Ifeoma called me afterwards to ask why I removed Princess from where she was learning ‘hustle.’ I cursed her in anger and she stopped picking my calls. I learnt Lady Jane called to threaten her and request for a refund of her money,” said Festus. 

    Further findings revealed that asides their fear of the blood oath that they were forced to make by their madames, most of the girls are wary of running away or approaching law enforcers for help. 

    “Police can’t save you. They work with the madames. I received the worst beating of my life after I told one of my clients, who was a policeman, to help me escape. 

    I thought he would help me but he revealed my secret to my madame and she subsequently enforced stricter measures to prevent us from getting friendly with clients. In my case, I wasn’t free to canvass for clients on my own. She assigned men to me. They paid to her. I was the youngest. They called me fresh meat,” said Princess, in an exclusive WhatsApp voice call with The Nation from her new base in Abidjan. 

    Escape from Papara 

    Gift, 20, recently fled sexual slavery in Papara, a six-hour drive from Abidjan, and which lies at the Ivorien border with Mali. According to her, she was lured from her village in Isheagu, Delta State, to Abidjan by a female trafficker through a friend in her village, Ada. 

    Ada convinced Gift to leave with the woman for Cote d’Ivoire with promises of a better life out there. “The woman told me and my mother that she was taking me to Abidjan to work in a boutique. She said I was coming here to sell clothes,” she said, adding that four different traffickers took her through the West African land corridor, leading them from Lagos through Cotonou, Benin to Abidjan. On arrival in Abidjan, another person took her and her sister, Beauty, on a six-hour journey to Tregrela, a village in the Papara sub-prefecture, along the Ivorien border with Mali.

    In Papara, they were handed over to a Nigerian couple, Bola and Ose. The duo ran Prince’s Club, a 10-room brothel in the village. 

    At that point, Gift’s initial fantasies of making it big by selling clothes in a big boutique, evaporated in the afternoon heat and the couple’s run-down brothel. Bola told her in an eerie, candid tenor that she was their madame and they were there to work for her as prostitutes. She told them that they owed her CFA 1.5 million each, being the cost of procuring them and transporting them from Nigeria to the remote northern Ivorien village. 

    “They built their brothel like a small bar with at least 10 rooms. The brothel is called Prince’s Club. Each girl they bring in from Nigeria is given a room. In that room, the girl is made to receive customers and sleep with them. They didn’t allow us to go out. We were closely monitored. Every morning, they give us CFA 1, 000 to feed. And when we go out to eat, we had to return to the hotel immediately. 

    My madame was very mean. She beat me with a plastic chair. During one of such beatings, she bruised my eye and left me with a scar. Oftentimes, she threatened to ship me off to her sister-in-law’s brothel where I would be severely beaten and bullied by her girls,” said Gift. 

    According to her, Ose’s sister has two larger brothels housing about 40 girls. “There are about 20 girls in each brothel,” she said. 

    Although Gift worked in a pure water factory in Nigeria, she was put to work as a sex slave in Papara on February 28 and escaped on Easter Monday, April 13. On arrival, Madame Bola prepared tea for Gift and Beauty and she infused it with a charm and forced them to drink it. 

    “After we drank it, she said if we tried to run away, we would run mad and die prematurely,” said Gift. Beauty, 18, arrived in Papara on the same day, February 28, as Gift. Using the name, Daniella, as her work identity, she resigned to fate in the hands of her captors. 

    “Everyday, I slept with at least five men. They paid me CFA 1, 000 per session. Sometimes, I met a generous customer, who paid me CFA 2, 000 or CFA5, 000 if he was satisfied by my performance. 

    “I met the trafficker who brought me here through a girl called Ada. Ada tricked gift and me to follow the trafficker to Abidjan. She said she was bringing us here to sell clothes in a boutique. She said we would make much money. 

    Beauty wants to attend the University of Ibadan (U.I) and become a doctor. Then she wants to attend UNILAG and become a journalist. “I want to become a journalist like my uncle, Tony Marshal. He is a journalist in Lagos.” 

    Gift and Beauty worked for the couple for two months, and quietly planned their escape. The day they escaped, they had no idea where they were going as they were new to the border community where they were held captive. They simply ran aboard a bus departing the village to Daloa, a nearby township. In Daloa, they met Olatunji Yusuf, a staff member of Project Ferry, an anti-trafficking agency, headed by Omotola Fawunmi. 

    Olatunji granted them refuge after rescuing them from the commercial transporter by whose vehicle they escaped captivity in Papara. “When they arrived in Daloa, they got into a loud argument with their bus driver because they didn’t have money to pay their bus fare. 

    So, the driver tried to reach someone that knew any Nigerian person around. They met with my father, who called me to go there and do my finding. When I got to them, I paid their transport fare and took them to my place,” said Yusuf. 

    Then there is 26-year-old Olaitan, a hairdresser, who got trafficked from her base in Ile-Ife, Osun State, to Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire, by an acquaintance who she simply described as Mama Sadiq. The latter sold a dream of fortune and glamour to Olaitan, claiming that if she migrated to Cote d’Ivoire, she would make lots of money and attain a sound footing, financially. 

    “She said I could get work in Abidjan as a hairdresser and I believed her. I thought I could come here (Abidjan) to make money with which I can start my own business when I return to Nigeria. But I was mistaken. On arrival here, I was taken by my trafficker to a madame in Daloa, where I was told that I would be working as a prostitute. She said I owed her CFA 2 million being cost of my transportation from Nigeria to the country, among other costs. She said I would pay for housing, feeding, clothing, protection and so on,” she said. 

    At that point, she became confused. “I protested, stating that I was here to work as a hairdresser, not a prostitute but my madame insisted that I was her sex slave and I owed her CFA 2million,” said Olaitan. 

    The 26-year-old resigned to fate and did her madame’s bidding. But after serving her for three months, Olaitan couldn’t continue sleeping with men for money that never stayed in her hands. Thus she absconded from her brothel one night, during work hours. From a temporary base in Daloa, she placed a call to Project Ferry. The organisation sent a representative to rescue her and give her shelter. 

    Speaking to The Nation from her base in the United States, founder of Project Ferry, Omotola Fawunmi, stated that her organisation is putting together papers and resources to assist the girls in Cote d’Ivoire sustain their newfound freedom. 

    She said, “Getting the girls home safely is our priority. We have connected them to the Nigerian Embassy in Cote d’Ivoire and we are hopeful that once the lockdown ends, they can safely return to Nigeria.” 

    Sex trafficking as a market system 

    The market in exploited workers for commercial sex is similar to other illicit markets: the goods are human beings, the demand is for prostitution and other forms of cheap

    and malleable labour, the goods (supply) and demands are dynamically matched, and there is a complex social network operating to make this happen. 

    This trafficking market is fostered – if not created – by three underlying factors: the seemingly endless supply of persons ‘available’ for exploitation in the source countries; the endless demand for the services they provide in destination countries; and organised criminal networks which have taken control of this economic supply and demand situation to traffic and exploit trafficked persons in order to generate enormous profits. 


    The supply of individuals willing to migrate and work is almost endless. And this has been blamed on Nigeria’s poverty situation. At the moment, poverty has risen in Nigeria with almost 82.9 million people living on less than one United States dollar per day, according to a National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) May 2020 report. 

    The figure represents 40.09 per cent of the total population, excluding insurgency-ravaged Borno, and the bureau predicted that this rising trend is likely to continue. 

    According to the report, 52.10 per cent of rural dwellers are living in poverty, while the poverty rate in urban centres is 18.04 per cent. But going by the UN’s definition of extreme poverty as a condition characterised by severe deprivation of basic human needs, including food, safe drinking water, sanitation facilities, health, shelter, education, and information, 82.9 million is a highly conservative estimate. 

    To escape the resultant hardship imposed by the stringent realities of living in the country, several Nigerians, mostly females, seek a way out through illegal migration. 

    Precious revealed that she was gripped by a yearning to escape the grinding poverty that marred her life back in Nigeria and improve her fortunes via the lure of trafficking. 

    Her boyfriend, Nonso, assured her that she was being trafficked to The Netherlands to work as a housemaid earning $600 a month, but she was instead taken to Cote d’Ivoire to serve as a sex slave. 

    No doubt, the steady supply of girls trying to improve their lives, or those of their children, siblings or parents, is created by a climate of poverty and political and social exclusion; a lack of educational or employment opportunities; domestic violence, discrimination and violence against women, according to Margaret Atebi, a gender rights activist based in Abidjan. 

    Globalisation has served to not only increase the supply of exploitable workers, but also the demand for them. Traffickers take advantage of this increasing need for cost efficiency and cheap labour by acting as intermediaries, offering low-cost labour in exchange for a profit – and in their search for cheap labour, employers such as brothel (or factory) owners sometimes remain indifferent to violating the human rights of their employees.

    The ease of movement of goods, services, and capital across regions where borders are porous or where the external borders have expanded and member states’ citizens are allowed to travel legally and visa-free between countries, has also reduced the risk of detection for traffickers. 

    For instance, Gift and Beauty revealed that they were hurtled across West Africa’s porous borders by a team of four traffickers. According to them, they hadn’t appropriate travel documents but money changed hands at the various entry points between their traffickers and border police or immigration officials. 


    In examining demand for trafficked sex workers, three distinct groups have been identified. The first group comprises customers or clients of trafficked persons; this is referred to as primary demand. 

    The second and third groups are the employers: owners, pornographic film producers, managers of brothels or massage parlours; and third parties involved in the trafficking process: recruiters, travel agents, transporters. 

    The Nation’s findings revealed that of those that were recruited, the majority were recruited by an acquaintance, friend or family member. Family members and relatives also played a role in the trafficking trajectories of sex trafficking victims. 

    Some of the girls interviewed by The Nation revealed that they were trafficked into sexual and domestic servitude by their relatives. For instance, Gladys, 16, was trafficked to Treichville by her maternal aunt, Adebisi aka Iya Tunde. “She brought me here after my mother died in 2018. My father died four years earlier. She said she was bringing me to learn clothes trade but when we got here she apprenticed me to an Nigerian bar owner, Lucy. Lucy made me sleep with customers for money. She made me collect CFA 2, 000 for a session on a mat at the back of her bar in Marcory,” said the teenager. 

    Since the lockdown was effected in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak, Bimpe has been “jobless.” But “I hustle in the neighbourhood. Lucy said we should manage whatever we get. These days, I collect as low as CFA 500 to sleep with men. Business is down. The bar is locked and nobody is coming to ask for sex. Sometimes, we service men in the neighbourhoods. Some of them ask for credit. Some ask to pay with food from their wives’ kitchen,” Gladys. 

    Going forward… 

    Julie Donli, Director General of the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP), disclosed that her organisation has been working to stem the tide of trafficking of Nigerians within and outside the country. She also said that there are plans to domicile NAPTIP staff in trafficking hot zones across Asia and the West Africa region.

    Few months ago, NAPTIP revealed that it received concrete intelligence that around 20,000 Nigerian girls have been forced into prostitution in Mali. Many of the girls are working as sex slaves in hotels and nightclubs after being sold to prostitution rings by human traffickers, according to a fact-finding mission carried out by the agency in collaboration with Malian authorities in December 2019. 

    Authorities in Ivory Coast also rescued 137 children of ages six to 17, who were trafficked to the country to work on cocoa plantations or as sex workers in the eastern town of Aboisso. The children are from Nigeria, Ghana, Niger, Benin, and Togo. 

    There have been attempts to calculate the overall value of the smuggling of migrants. Global estimates peg human trafficking as a $150 billion industry and Nigeria occupies a central position in West Africa as a country of origin, transit and destination for victims of human trafficking for labour exploitation and forced labour. 

    Two months after The Nation published the first instalment of the investigative series on the Nigerian human trafficking ring, which extends from West Africa, North Africa, and to Europe, Nigerian girls are still being beaten and forced into sexual slavery in brothels administered by vengeful madames across the regions. 

    In Beirut, slave masters still force Nigerian girls and women to sleep on balconies like dogs and on the top of the kitchen cabinets. In Oman, they make them sleep in toilets and advertise them, on a website with order numbers, passport numbers; they are eventually sold and purchased like household items and garden implements. 

    The plight of the West African victims is particularly heart-rending. Precious’s case is instructive. In 2018, she departed the country hoping to land a lucrative job as a housemaid, earning $600 per month, in The Netherlands. But she ended up as a sex slave in Bracody. Likewise Princess; the 14-year-old who was sold to a brothel by her maternal aunt, Ifeoma. Then, there are Gift, Beauty and Ola, who equally fell for the lure of gainful labour in Abidjan only to end up as sexual slaves in Papara. 

    Gift has dreams of returning to school. She wants to attend the University of Lagos and she wants to be a banker. Beauty wants to attend the University of Lagos (UNILAG) and become a journalist. “I want to become a journalist like my uncle, Tony Marshal. He is a journalist in Lagos,” she said. 

    At the time of their escape, Gift had paid CFA 100, 000 of her supposed CFA1.5 million debt to her madame. And Olaitan had paid CFA 150, 000 of her CFA2 million bond. The girls are still on the run.