Six out of ten people who are trafficked to the West are Nigerian. Nigerian investigative reporter Tobore Ovuorie was motivated by years of research into the plight of trafficked women in her country, as well as the loss of a friend, to go undercover in a multi-billion dollar criminal enterprise. She emerged, bruised and beaten but thankfully alive, after witnessing orgies, big money deals in jute bags, police-supervised pickpocketing, beatings and even murder.
Ovuorie, who recently shared her experience in the dungeon and how she had a close shave with death, also explained the reason she had to go on bald hair.
Although she completed the investigation in November 2013, after spending four months underground, the reporter is yet to overcome the shock caused by the. Many horrible things she saw and has therefore called on her friends and fans to remember her in prayers.
This is her story:
We are ten at the boot camp: Adesuwa, Isoken, Lizzy, Mairo, Adamu, Ini, Tessy, Omai, Sammy and I. We have travelled together in a 14 seater bus from Lagos, hoping to arrive in Italy soon. We are eager to get to the ‘next level’ as it is called: from local prostitution to hopefully earning big bucks abroad. But first, it turns out, we have to pass through ‘training’ in this massive secluded compound guarded by armed military men, far from any other human being, somewhere in the thick bushes outside Ikorodu. Our trafficker, Mama Caro, welcomes us in flawless English, telling us how lucky and special we are; then she ushers us to a room where we are to sleep on the floor without any dinner.
Our trafficker, Mama Caro, welcomes us in flawless English, telling us how lucky and special we are; then she ushers us to a room where we are to sleep on the floor without any dinner.
I had not expected this. We had exercised through a risk analysis in advance: my paper The Premium Times, our colleague Reece Adanwenon in Benin, ZAM Chronicle in Amsterdam, and I. We had put in place contacts, emergency phone numbers, safe houses, emergency money accounts. We had made transport and extraction arrangements. Reece is waiting in Cotonou, 100 kilometers to the West in neighbouring Benin, to pick me up from an agreed meeting place. But we hadn’t foreseen that there was to be another stop first: this isolated, guarded camp in the middle of nowhere. It dawns on me that we could be in big trouble.
Risk analysis and preparation:
It had all started in Abuja, with me deciding to expose the human traffic syndicates that caused the death, through Aids, of my friend Ifuoke and countless others. As a health journalist, I had interviewed several returnees from sex traffic who had not only been encouraged to have unprotected sex, but who had also been denied health care or even to return home when they felt ill. They were now suffering from Aids, anal gonorrhoea, bowel ruptures and incontinence. In the case of some of them, who hailed from conservative religious backgrounds, doctors in their home towns had denied them any treatment because they had been ‘bad’. I was also aware that powerful politicians and government and army officials, who outwardly professed religious purity, were servicing and protecting the traffickers. I wanted to break through the hypocrisy and official propaganda and show how, every day, criminals in Nigeria are helped by the powerful to enslave my fellow young citizens. My Premium Times colleagues had done undercover work before; they had warned me of the risks, but had agreed to support me in my decision to go through with it. With my colleagues, and with the help of ZAM Chronicle, we had then started in earnest.
I wanted to break through the hypocrisy and official propaganda and show how, every day, criminals in Nigeria are helped by the powerful to enslave my fellow young citizens.
I had advertised my wish to get to know a ‘madam’ whilst walking the streets of Lagos, dressed as a call girl. It worked. I had met Oghogho Irhiogbe, an accomplished, well-groomed graduate in her thirties (though she claimed to be only 26), and a wealthy human trafficker of note. My lucky hunch to tell her that my name was ‘Oghogho’ too had immediately warmed her to me. She told me I looked like her kid sister and from then on treated me like a favourite.
“Don’t worry about crossing borders and getting caught,” she had told me. “Immigration, customs, police, army and even foreign embassies are part of our network. You only run into trouble with them if you fail to be obedient to us.” I already knew this to be true. Two of the trafficked sex workers I had interviewed had tried to find help at Nigerian embassies in Madrid and Moscow, only to realise that the very embassy officials from whom they had sought deportation had immediately informed their pimps. They had eventually made it back to Nigeria only after they had developed visible diseases, such as AIDS-related Kaposi sarcoma.
Precious had already made enough money to start building her own house in Enugu, halfway between Abuja and Port Harcourt.
Oghogho Irhiogbe had been luckier. She owned four luxury cars, two houses in Edo State, and was busy completing the building of a third house near the Warri airport in Delta State. Others I had met through my initial ‘call girl’ exploits were clearly on their way to riches, too. Priye was set to go back to the Netherlands, where she worked before, to become a ‘madam’. Ivie and Precious were quite happy to go back to Italy. Precious had already made enough money to start building her own house in Enugu, halfway between Abuja and Port Harcourt.
It is on the windy Sunday evening of October 6 that I make my first contact with the outer ring of this mafia. A big party with VIPs is on the cards; the kind of party an ordinary girl, or rather ‘product’, as we are called by traffickers, is not usually invited to. But I am currently on a fortune ride: Oghogho’s favourite. Additionally, I have been classified as ‘Special Forces’, or ‘Forza Speciale’ as my new contacts say, borrowing the Italian term. It’s a rule of thumb, I understand, that a syndicate subjects girls to classification through a check on their nude bodies and I, too – in the company of some male and female judges, headed by a trafficker called Auntie Precious – had been checked. I had received the highest classification. “This means that you don’t have to walk the streets. You can be an escort for important clients,” Auntie Precious had told me in a soft, congratulatory tone. The ones of ‘lesser’ classification were referred to as Forza Strada, the Road Force.
The party is held at a gorgeous residence along the Agunyi Ironsi Way in Maitama, Abuja. This is designed to be a festive end to a great day, in which we went to church, hung out at the choicest places in town, shopped and got dressed in a suite at the Abuja power citadel, meeting point of the elite, the Transcorp Hilton.
It is more like an orgy. Male and female strippers entertain guests, drugs abound, alcohol is everywhere in unrestrained flow; there is romping in the open. Also, big bags of money are changing hands. Barely an hour after we arrive, Oghogho receives a big jute bag, which is delivered from another room. As we walk out and she puts the money in the boot of her car, she smiles at me. “Don’t worry; very soon, you’ll get to receive dividend.” This ‘dividend’ is not from prostitution and trafficking alone, but Oghogho won’t tell me what the other source is. “When you come on board fully, you’ll know.”
The ‘dividend’ is not from prostitution and trafficking alone, but Oghogho won’t tell me what the other source is.
A retired army colonel from the Abacha era sees to it that we are not disturbed. “He has top connections and sees to a smooth flow of the business,” Oghogho tells me.
How ‘top’ these connections are, I find when I am taken with a group of girls to be trained in pickpocketing. We, a group of ten ‘products’, are placed at various crowded bus stops in the suburb of Ikorodu, where we must ‘practice’ under the guard of two army officers, a policeman as well as a number of male ‘trainers’. The policeman doesn’t even bother to cover his name badge: Babatunde Ajala, it reads.
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