All posts by Tobore Ovuorie

Heads of Nigeria’s security, intelligence agencies trained on crisis management

National Seurity Adviser, Sambo Dasuki

The training was organised by a team from the United Kingdom Cabinet Office.

The heads of Nigeria’s security and intelligence agencies, as well as stakeholders, were on Tuesday and Wednesday trained on trends in crisis management.

The training was organised by a team from the United Kingdom Cabinet Office. It is aimed at upgrading the security management skills of the trainees to curtail Nigeria’s security challenges.

Hosted by the National Security Adviser, Mohammed Dasuki, at Presidential Communications, Command and Control Centre (PC4) Complex, State House, Abuja, the training also dwelt on roles and responsibilities, strategic policy and direction, dealing with dilemmas, and strategic level decision making in crisis management.

In a statement made available to PREMIUM TIMES by Adekunle Karounwi, Special Assistant, Media to the NSA, the Secretary General Of the Federation, Head Of Service, as well as ministers also had their turn with the team after the Executive Council meeting.

Other attendees were the British High Commissioner to Nigeria, Andrew Pocock; EFCC Chairman, Ibrahim Lamorde; Nigerian Army; Nigerian Navy; Nigeria Customs Service; Nigeria Immigration Service; Department of State Security and the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps.

In March, a similar event tagged Exercise Quick Think was organised. It engaged participants from the intelligence and security agencies in situation evaluation, execution of situation evaluation and developing plans for multi-agency crisis decision making.

Children more likely to die in Nigeria than in any other country participating in World Cup

Children Day 2013 7

Nearly half of all deaths in children under age five occur in the first 28 days of life.

Nigeria has the highest rate of child deaths among all the nations represented at the ongoing 2014 FIFA World Cup, a new scorecard of the 32 countries competing in the tournament has shown.

According to the scorecard, Nigeria has reduced child mortality by only 42 percent since 1990.

For every 1,000 births in Nigeria, 124 children will die before they reach age five, the report showed.

“The World Cup scorecard shows that when governments prioritize child health, dramatic progress can be made,” said Naveen Thacker, president-elect of the Asia Pacific Pediatric Association.

“Leaders from government, civil society and the business community must unite to ensure that preventable child deaths are soon consigned to the history books” he added.

However, the report says all countries have made significant progress in reducing childhood mortality since 1990, when the World Cup was hosted by Italy.

Yet, not all countries have progressed equally. This year’s host, Brazil, leads the way with a 77 percent reduction in deaths among children under age 5 since 1990.

The ranking, “Child Mortality: What’s the Score?” is being released in the run-up to the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health Partners Forum in Johannesburg, South Africa, on June 30 – July 1.

At the conference, global leaders will call for accelerated action to improve the health of children, newborns and mothers everywhere.

“There are two main reasons for the reduction of child mortality in Brazil: expanding access to primary health care and Bolsa Família, the world’s largest cash transfer program,” said Paulo Vicente Bonilha de Almeida, child health coordinator with the Brazilian Ministry of Health.

“The National Immunization Program increased immunization rates among Brazilian children, and the National Breastfeeding Policy more than quadrupled breastfeeding.”

Since 1988, Brazil’s constitution has guaranteed its citizens universal health coverage, so that they may access life-saving health services regardless of ability to pay.

Bolsa Família provides cash transfers to poor families in exchange for ensuring that children receive vaccines and attend school. Today, for every 1,000 births in Brazil, 14 children will die before their fifth birthday – down from 62 in 1990, the report further revealed.

Unfortunately, like Nigeria, not every country is doing well as Brazil in saving children’s lives.

A major challenge to saving children’s lives is that nearly half of all deaths in children under age five occur in the first 28 days of life.

A prevalent myth is that to save newborns, sophisticated hospitals and intensive care units are needed.

“Simple low-cost solutions could help every country dramatically reduce newborn deaths,” said Professor Zulfiqar Bhutta, co-director of the SickKids Centre for Global Child Health inCanada.

“For example, wiping the umbilical cord with a disinfectant reduces deaths by half. Putting the baby onto the mother’s chest and encouraging breastfeeding also help prevent life-threatening infections.”

America honours NAPTIP boss as 2014 trafficking in person hero

NAPTIP CHAIRPERSON

Appointed Executive Secretary of NAPTIP in 2011, Mrs. Jedy-Agba leads Nigeria’s effort to eradicate human trafficking, as well as ensure justice for trafficked persons.

The Executive Secretary of Nigeria’s National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons [NAPTIP], Beatrice Jefy-Agba, has been named a 2014 trafficking in persons hero.

The award was conferred on her by the United States Secretary of State, John Kerry, in the Benjamin Franklin Room of the State department, Wednesday.

According to a statement made available to PREMIUM TIMES by NAPTIP’s media director, Arinze Orakwue, the award is in recognition of her tireless efforts in fighting human trafficking and her passionate commitment to end modern day slavery.

The U.S. government said Mrs. Jedy-Agba is one of the 10 notable persons globally, who despite resistance, opposition and even threats to their lives protect victims, punish offenders and raise awareness of ongoing criminal practices in their countries and beyond.

During the award ceremony, Mr. Kerry said “the crime of human trafficking affects all parts of the world and no government is doing enough to combat it”.

He lauded the efforts of NAPTIP, noting that Mrs. Jedy-Agba has transformed the anti-human trafficking landscape by incorporating anti trafficking issues into national development discourse, planning and policy.

He also called on all the awardees to form a global network of action and actors to combat the scourge.

The Secretary of State said “it takes a global village working together to combat a global crime”.

Apparently delighted by the recognition, Mrs. Jedy-Agba said the award would spur NAPTIP further towards more effective initiative in the fight against human trafficking.

The NAPTIP boss said “in the fact of justice and equality, all humanity are connected and criminals thrive when we disconnect”.

Other activities lined up for the awardees include a two-week programme of meetings.

During the period, the awardees will meet with officials from the U.S. Department of State, NGO representatives, some U.S. government agencies, and professionals.

The meetings are for sharing ideas in a continued effort to further end modern slavery.

Mrs. Jedy-Agba was appointed Executive Secretary of NAPTIP in 2011. She has since then taken the lead in Nigeria’s effort to eradicate human trafficking, as well as ensure justice for trafficked persons.

The 2014 trafficking in persons report placed Nigeria on tier 2 ranking which means the country needed to increase its efforts in all areas including but not limited to justice for victims, prosecution for traffickers, and increasing prevention efforts through awareness creation.

The report called on NIgerian legislators to urgently amend the draft of the anti- trafficking bill to increase penalties to traffickers and ensure that the activities of the agency receive adequate funding as a national priority. .

NSA Dasuki writes Tambuwal, apologises for “mistreatment” of Speaker by security agents

National Seurity Adviser, Sambo Dasuki

The National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki, has written to the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Aminu Tambuwal, apologizing to him over his alleged harassment by security operatives, who allegedly insisted on searching his car for bombs.

The incident occurred on Monday at the 17th Hotel Kaduna, the venue of an international conference on security and development challenges of pastoralists in West and Central Africa.

The Speaker, who was one of the keynote speakers at the conference, arrived the Hotel at about 9:16 a.m., but soldiers at the gate were alleged to have insisted his cars would only be allowed entry after it is certified free of bombs.

An angry Mr. Tambuwal then stormed out of the car and walked the remaining distance to the event venue.

On Tuesday Mr. Dasuki, whose office organised the event, ordered a probe of the incident, to determine what happened and why the security officials acted the way they did.

But PREMIUM TIMES has now learnt that on the same day he constituted the investigative panel, Mr. Dasuki wrote to the Speaker, tendering “unreserved apology” and blaming the incident on “exuberance” by the security operatives involved.

“This is to tender an unreserved apology to the Right Honourable Speaker for the exuberance displayed by security personnel detailed at the Hotel Seventeen, Lafia Road, Off Tafawa Balewa Way, Kaduna, during the International Conference on Security and Development Challenges of Pastoralists in West and Central Africa,” Mr. Dasuki wrote in his June 24 letter obtained by this newspaper on Wednesday.

He continued, “Mr. Speaker, I wish to state that the action of the security personnel was not directed at your person or office but was just a case of poor discretion. I therefore regret any embarrassment this has caused to you and assure you that the case will be thoroughly investigated and such an incident will not occur again in the future.

“I wish to once again use this medium to express my gratitude to you for your very important contributions to the success of the event.

“Please, accept, Right Honourable Speaker, the assurances of my highest esteem.”

A top security source had told PREMIUM TIMES Tuesday that Mr. Dasuki himself felt embarrassed that the Speaker felt harassed at an event organized by his office.

“The issue has been blown out of proportion, creating the impression that the Speaker was targeted for raw treatment because of his perceived cold relationship with the President,” a top security official familiar with the matter said. “So the NSA has ordered an investigation. He wants an internal review of what happened. Our suspicion is that it was overzealous officers who misbehaved to the Speaker. But the NSA wants to get to the bottom of it all.”

The officials did not disclose the membership of the investigative team and whether the outcome of the probe would be made public.

When further pressed for comments, he said, “It’s an internal investigation and members were drawn mainly from the office of the NSA.”

When contacted, the NSA, Mr. Dasuki, confirmed he has commissioned a probe.

“I just want to know what really happened,” he said. Mr. Sambo declined further comments.

The NSA has however drawn praises for apologizing to the speaker.

Shortly after news of the apology broke, Mouftah Baba-Ahmed, a member of an influential discussion forum, NigeriaCollective, described the NSA as an “exemplary gentleman” for his action.

“As the news story below, shows, NigeriaCollective is blessed with exemplary gentlemen,” Mr. Baba-Ahmed posted to the forum.  “Last week, our very own Dr. Kayode Fayemi conceded an election even before the nation could digest the results. He instantly met his rival and shook his hand. That concession was the first, in our recent political history, as far as I know.

“Today, another gentleman of standards, ethics and values, Mallam Sambo Dasuki, has raised the standard of the code of behaviour, conduct and practice of public officials. He has publicly, and in writing, apologised to the Speaker, HoR, for a protocol infringement by security operatives at a function, earlier in the week.

“Such emotional intelligence has been rare in our politics and governance. As some good guys I know always say, “It is morning, yet”, NC (NigeriaCollective) is proud of Mallam Sambo and Dr. Fayemi. Such exemplary conduct will have significant impact on colleagues and underlings. We pray their examples form the tipping point in our true transformation.”

 

 

NSA orders probe into alleged mistreatment of Speaker Tambuwal by security agents

Speaker Aminu Waziri Tambuwal

The National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki, has raised a panel to investigate Monday’s alleged harassment of the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Aminu Tambuwal, by security operatives, who allegedly insisted on searching his car for bombs, top security officials have told PREMIUM TIMES.

The incident occurred at the 17th Hotel Kaduna, the venue of an international conference on security and development challenges of pastoralists in West and Central Africa.

The Speaker, who was one of the keynote speakers at the conference, arrived the Hotel at about 9:16 a.m.; but soldiers at the gate were alleged to have insisted his cars would only be allowed entry after it is certified free of bombs.

An angry Mr. Tambuwal then stormed out of the car and walked the remaining distance to the event venue.

Mr. Dasuki, whose office organised the event, has now ordered a probe of the incident, to determine what happened and why the security officials acted the way they did.

“The issue has been blown out of proportion, creating the impression that the Speaker was targeted for raw treatment because of his perceived cold relationship with the President,” a top security official familiar with the matter said. “So the NSA has ordered an investigation. He wants an internal review of what happened. Our suspicion is that it was overzealous officers who misbehaved to the Speaker. But the NSA wants to get to the bottom of it all.”

The officials did not disclose the membership of the investigative team and whether the outcome of the probe would be made public.

When further pressed for comments, he said, “It’s an internal investigation and members were drawn mainly from the office of the NSA.”

When contacted, the NSA, Mr. Dasuki, confirmed he has commissioned a probe.

“I just want to know what really happened,” he said. Mr. Sambo declined further comments.

PREMIUM TIMES learnt of the investigative panel just as two officials of the Department of State Security, alias SSS, were telling one of our reporters that there was never an attempt to search Mr. Tambuwal’s car for bombs.

“Detectives from the Department of State Services were trying to verify whether or not it was the actual vehicle of the Speaker and he hurriedly disembarked and walked to the hall,” the official said. He requested not to be named because he was not authorized to speak on the matter.

“The service chiefs parked their vehicles 300 metres away from the venue and walked to the venue. And the Speaker is aware of security protocols because anytime he came to Mambilla Barracks in Abuja for Friday prayers, his vehicles are usually verified. It is customary,” he added.

Another officer with the SSS said, “The speaker came with just two cars and no siren blaring. The car in which he rode had tinted glasses and the soldiers wanted to be certain who was in the car.

“There was no attempt at frisking the car for bombs. On his own, he came down from the car and walked into the venue and nobody, how much more the speaker, was harassed or embarrassed in any way.

“There was no attempt by soldiers and other security agents to search the Speaker’s vehicle and all dignitaries and participants were accorded due respect.”

He said the presence of security agents at the venue was for safety of participants, adding that top dignitaries, including Governors Mukhtar Ramalan Yero (Kaduna) and Mu’azu Babangida Aliyu (Niger) and the Deputy Governor of Plateau state as well as the NSA, service chiefs and traditional leaders had their vehicles searched.

Mr. Tambuwal’s spokesperson, Imam Imam, however told PREMIUM TIMES his boss was disrespected by the security officials.

He advised the military to have respect for the office of the Speaker.

“As the number four citizen, the Honourable Speaker deserves the respect of all Nigerians. What happened was unfortunate,” he said. “We should have respect for the office and his official car is part of the symbol of that office.”

Mr. Imam also said incidents like what happened to the Speaker could undermine the legislature as an institution.

 

 

 

INVESTIGATION: Inside Nigeria’s Ruthless Human Trafficking Mafia

A-Nigerian-prostitute-wor-007

Six out of 10 people who are trafficked to the West are Nigerians. PREMIUM TIMES investigative reporter, Tobore Ovuorie, was motivated by years of research into the plight of trafficked women in the 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. This is her story.

We are 10 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, a suburb of Lagos. 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 role play, in advance: my paper PREMIUM TIMES, and our partners on the project, a colleague–Reece Adanwenon– in the Republic of Benin, and ZAM Chronicle in Amsterdam. We had put in place contacts, emergency phone numbers, safe houses, emergency money accounts. We had made transport and extraction arrangements. Ms. 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.

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.

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 fell ill. They were now suffering from Aids, anal gonorrhea, 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 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.

Oghogho

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.

Forza Speciale

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 Aguiyi 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.

The ‘dividend’ is not from prostitution and trafficking alone, but Oghogho won’t tell me what the other source is.

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.”

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.

Pickpocketing training

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.

The general operation is supervised by Mama Caro, popularly called Mama C, a 50-something, light-complexioned, busty woman. Her deputy is a Madam Eno. Mama C has told us that pickpocketing is a crucial skill for the Forza Speciale: we will need to be able to pick valuables from clients. She adds that the pickings are added to the girls earnings, so we will be able to pay off our debts– commonly called ‘meeting our targets’ – in a short time.

When I perform dismally, Eno rains abuses on me.  We are all to stay at the bus stop until I pick an item from somebody. It is already 11 PM.Tired, hungry and angry with me, Adesuwa, Isoken and the policeman guarding my group pick some extra pockets and hand me the items, so that I can show them to Eno.

We practice pickpocketing under the guard of two army officers and a policeman

The next day, the bumpy journey to the ‘training camp’ appears endless. My fellow ‘products’ are snoozing and I battle to stay awake, wondering if we are tired or drugged. I note the bus moving off the main road somewhere around Odogunyan, into thick bushes, almost a forest.We stop at a compound guarded by armed military men. As my fellow ‘products’ wake up, it is clear that they think we are still in Lagos.

New names and indenture

The next day starts with strip tease and lap dance training after breakfast, and thereafter poise and etiquette. Five other girls have arrived in the meantime. They are all graduates, leaving for Italy fully aware of what they are to do there. “If I get caught by local police, I will just tell them I was trafficked against my will,” one of them, Gbemi, says light-heartedly. “I don’t think oyinbo (white man) will believe Mama C if she says that I am there voluntarily.”

I receive a crash course in pedicure and manicure because I am so bad at pickpocketing. “You’ll be utilizing these skills at my wellness centre in Italy,” Mama C says, after scolding me for being lazy and testing her patience. “You will be working on only men whilst wearing sexy dresses. That will enable you to attract customers.”

Mama C makes us sign a statement that we have willingly embarked on the journey

Later, Mama C makes everyone sign a statement that they have willingly embarked on the journey and that they are to return certain sums as professional fees to her. No girl is given a copy of what she has signed and the amount varies inexplicably: while Isoken signs up for a debt of US $100,000, I will have only US $70,000 to pay. We are told that we will receive new passports with false names and even false nationalities in Cotonou. I am to become a Kenyan, Mairo South African, and so on. “I have boys in the Benin immigration office,” boasts Mama C.

Horror

A just-arrived traditional ‘doctor’ then puts us through rites that involve checking the horoscope of each girl as well as collecting some of her blood, fingernails, hair and pubic hair. He then picks out four of us as ‘problematic’ and says we will bring ‘bad luck’. Either he is really clairvoyant or he is a professional security operative who has run background checks on us, because he is right about at least three of the four. Two of us have had unfortunate earlier experiences involving deportation back to Nigeria and are possibly known to the authorities in Europe. I am number three.

What happens next is like a horror movie.

As we ‘unlucky’ four, are standing aside, Mama C talks with five well-dressed, classy, influential-looking visitors.The issue is a ‘package’ that Mama C has promised them and that she hasn’t been able to deliver. The woman points at me, but Mama C refuses and for unexplained reasons Adesuwa and Omai are selected. We all witness, screaming and trying to hide in corners, as they are grabbed and beheaded with machetes in front of us. The ‘package’ that the visitors have come for turns out to be a collection of body parts. The mafia that holds us is into organ traffic, too.

We all witness Adesuwa and Omai being beheaded in front of us. The ‘package’ that the visitors have come for turns out to be a collection of body parts.

With all of us trembling and crying, I and the other three ‘unsuitable’ ones are herded into a separate room. Mama C comes later to take me to yet another room for questioning. Angry beyond measure, she whips me all night, telling me to yield information on the ‘forces’ protecting me. “You are going nowhere,” she keeps shouting. “I have invested too much in you!”

Clearing the ‘spirit’

The next morning Mama C eats her breakfast while I starve: I have last eaten the previous morning. When she finished, and whilst the ‘approved products’ leave for Cotonou, Benin, to commence their journey to Italy, Mama C takes us four ‘unsuitables’ to visit three new, different ‘doctors’: one in the Agege neighbourhood of Lagos, the second in rural Sango Ota village and the third in remote Abeokuta in Ogun State. She clearly believes in traditional ‘medicine’ and is desperate to find a treatment for the ‘demons’ we are said to carry.

The first two ‘doctors’ agree with the first one that I am bad news, but the third, after roughly cutting off most of my hair, declares me free from the ‘spirit’. The ‘evil spirits’ in the other three girls, meanwhile, have been ‘beaten out of them’ with dry whips. Back at the camp the first ‘doctor’ rages at Mama C for approving me, insisting that the ‘doctor’ who ‘freed me from the spirit’ is a fraud. “This girl will bring about your downfall! You will end up in jail!” I am all the more convinced that he possesses not supernatural powers, but certain information.The syndicates are well-connected and someone may have told him that I am not who I say I am. The ‘doctor’ keeps repeating that ‘forces’ are protecting me. But Mama C insists that she is not to lose her investment.

The ‘doctor’ keeps repeating that ‘forces’ are protecting me. But Mama C insists that she is not to lose her investment.

Meanwhile, new ‘products’ have arrived to pass through the rites that night. The whole camp is again in the grip of fear as chilling screams indicate that some of the new arrivals – two girls and a young man, I learned later – are also murdered.

“Oghogho, I wonder what actually brought you here. I never expected a girl like you to venture into this,” says one of Mama C’s errand boys, as he enters the room I had again been locked in later that night with a plate of food.He seems well disposed to me. “You found and returned my Blackberry that I lost during one of the pickpocketing training sessions,” he explains. I had not realised the escort whose phone I found had been this boy; then, he had worn a cap pressed deep into his eyes. “Other girls would just have kept my phone,” he says. “You don’t belong here.I keep wondering what level of poverty has made you endanger yourself. You don’t deserve this.”

The plate of food is all I need to get my strength back. We are to travel the following morning.

Escape

As we are about to leave, I lose my phone to the army officer. Searching all of us, he has taken Isoken’s phone already and she has pointed at me to divert attention from herself, saying I had a phone too. He takes mine at gunpoint.I can only thank the heavens that it is dead. I had been upset because it didn’t charge the previous night, but the fact that it won’t switch on is my second lucky break: it has a lot of pictures and conversations I have recorded in the camp. The disadvantage of losing my phone is that I can’t contact our colleague Reece, who is to help me once I get to Cotonou. I also can’t communicate with my editors back in Nigeria.

All along the road leading up to the border, police and customs officers wave and greet Madam Eno and our head of operations, Mr James. Nigerian Immigrations and Customs officers also greet us warmly at the border post itself, whilst enquiring if there is anything in it for them today.

“Welcome, Madam! How have sales been?”

Eno: “Not much.”

“But your batch was allowed entry yesterday, so why claim you haven’t been making sales? “

Eno: “We are not the owner of yesterday’s batch of girls. We own these ones in this bus.”

“Haaa!You want to play a smart one? Not to worry, your boss will sort all this out with us.”

The officers then wave the minibus through without any form of documentation.

The original plan was for me to go with the transport as far as Cotonou, the capital of our neighbouring country Benin. But I don’t want to stretch it any longer. The border is usually very crowded and I plan to escape as soon as we are there. It works. Just after the Seme border post, in front of a crowded, muddy market, I run. Merging with the crowd, I take my top off – I have another top under it – and cover my head with a scarf. The army officer is following me, looking for me. I dive into a store and lose him.

Just after the Seme border post, in front of a crowded, muddy market, I ran.

I travel the twenty kilometres from the border motor park to Cotonou by minibus taxi.Colleague Reece – alerted by a phone call the driver helps make to her to ensure that she will be there to pay him – will wait for me there. Upon arrival, I see a woman I recognise from her Facebook photo. “Reece?”“Tobore!” She cries and holds out her arms to catch me. “I am safe.”

NEXT CHAPTER

2. Operation Rescue in Benin

This investigative was done in partnership with  ZAM Magazine of Netherlands

Group wants more private sector investment to achieve MDGs

mdgs_logo

Real Visionaries, a health based NGO says private investment is needed for the realisation of the MDG.

Real Visionaries, a health-based nongovernmental organization that offers free medical services has called on NGOs, corporate bodies and individuals to invest in the health sector so Nigeria can meet the Millennium Development Goals, MDGs, targets by 2015.

The deadline for the Millennium Development Goals, is barely 485 days away, and Nigeria still lags behind on the eight components that make up the goals.

The President/National Coordinator of Real Visionaries Initiative, Peter Ogunnubi, during a free medical outreach in Oworonshoki, a suburb of Lagos on Saturday, said Nigerians should not overly depend on the government.

Many beneficiaries of the free screening were ignorant of their health status prior to the medical outreach.

A beneficiary who identified herself as Mrs Adesina -a trader, found out that she had high blood pressure.

The trader said she had never undergone any medical screening adding that she was grateful for the knowledge.

The president of Ideal Habitat Initiatives, Gbenga Nubi, a co-sponsor of the outreach said the gesture is geared towards ensuring sustainable and affordable shelter and health to all Nigerians.

He appealed to wealthy Nigerians to use their financial resources to assist the poor.

According to Mr. Ogunnubi, there will be more of such outreaches every month and it will be taken to every parts of Lagos state.

Mr. Ogunnubi pleaded with Nigerians to take their health more seriously and seek early intervention and urged the Federal Government to increase budgetary allocation to health.

Nigerian doctors in emergency meeting over proposed strike

AfricaDoctors

The doctors planned to embark on a nationwide strike from January 6.

The executives of the Nigeria Medical Association (NMA) are holding an emergency meeting in Abuja.

The meeting, which commenced at about 5:00 p.m. will take a stance on the proposed strike scheduled to commence on Monday, January 6.

The doctors, who held a nationwide five-day strike before christmas, proposed to continue the withdrawal of their services from January 6 if the federal government fails to meet their demands.

Their demands include better working conditions and upgrade of health facilities.

The heads of various state chapters of the NMA are represented at the meeting.

More details later…

2014: What Nigerian government must do to improve health sector

Otuoke General Hospital. What should be the responsibility of the Bayelsa state government was built by the federal government

Premium Times takes a look at the challenges ahead.

Despite all odds, reports so far in the course of 2013 indicate that Nigeria fared slightly better in the health sector when compared with its abysmal and gloomy ratings in past years.

However, the sector was besieged by several industrial actions culminating in a warning strike by the Nigerian Medical Association just before Christmas. The doctors, on December 23, while suspending their five-day old strike, promised a graver showdown in 2014 if the government continued with what was described as ‘its insincerity’.

The year in polio and cholera

With health practitioners, who should help salvage the health sector, more out of hospitals over disagreements with the government, among other developmental drawbacks in the sector, 2014 seems already filled with various challenges.

The nation’s polio eradication programme, for instance, did not fare well as expected this year; it should be the government’s top priorities for next year. This year’s eradication efforts were further hampered by the insecurity caused by the Boko Haram insurgents. The National Primary Health Care Development Agency, NPHCDA, acknowledged that the gains earlier made by the country in the eradication programme, especially in some Northern states where the virus is endemic – Borno, Yobe, Bauchi, Plateau, Kano, Jigawa and Kaduna, were gradually being lost on account of the insecurity. Health officials rejected postings to the states troubled by Boko Haram following the killing of some of their colleagues in June.

Nigeria remains one of the most entrenched reservoirs of wild polio virus in the world. It is the only country with ongoing transmission of all three serotypes: wild poliovirus type 1, wild poliovirus type 3, and circulating vaccine-derived poliovirus type 2. As a result of the nation’s continued failure to eradicate the disease, India and Saudi-Arabia have now introduced a new policy targeting Nigeria. It would now be mandatory for all Nigerians, irrespective of age, coming into their country for whatever purpose to show evidence of having received the polio vaccine. And when in doubt, Nigerians would receive the vaccines at the customs/immigration screening point of these two countries before being granted entrance into their domains.

Attention would also have to be given to cholera as several parts of the country, towards the end of the year, were besieged by the disease primarily caused by poor hygiene. States such as Lagos were not spared. Meanwhile, Oyo which in 2008, 2009 and 2010 was well known for cholera outbreaks, did not report any incident in 2013.

The lows and highs

For sure, the Federal Government must work towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals, MDGs, in the health sector. 2015 is meant to be the deadline, hence, would want to ensure it is met.

The nation’s health indices, according to statistics from the Federal Ministry of Health seem to have indicated that maternal mortality ratio has also continued to reduce over the years; from 800 per 100,000 live births in 2003 to 545 per 100,000 live births in 2008. However, Nigeria still remains one of the countries with the highest maternal mortality in the world, contributing at least 10 per cent of the world’s maternal deaths.

Efforts still need to be deployed at reducing the mother/child mortality rates though the nation’s infant mortality rate has remained on the downward trend at 99 per 1000 live births, under-five mortality rate at 157 per 1000.

The abysmal cancer incidence in Nigeria took a sudden u-turn this year. Before now, there had been several challenges within the Nigerian health sector in the fight against cancer; insufficient medical personnel being one of them. As at September 8, 2011, there were only 15 Oncologists in the country but after the embarrassing discovery, contentious efforts were made to make the specialty attractive in the country. Subsequently, the next head count of Oncologists in the country this year showed that the number had increased to about 40.

Although still far from what it ought to be when compared with the rate at which the dreaded disease is spreading, it is still a source of hope that healthier days in the fight against cancer are ahead.

Notwithstanding the setbacks, the nation’s immunisation programme was however strengthened with the use of the MenAfric meningitis vaccine which replaced the now rested scarce polysaccharide vaccine. The MenAfric meningitis vaccine according to a pharmacist with the NPHCDA, Muhammad Adamu, is a more efficacious vaccine used for prevention of huge meningitis epidemics unlike the polysaccharide.

In 2013, no fewer than 79.5 million Nigerians between the ages of one and 29 years were innoculated with the MenaAfricVacine across 26 states which include the Federal Capital Territory.

Fleeing doctors

With Nigerian doctors fleeing the country for greener pastures abroad, even to neighbouring African countries, the government has much work to do to wedge this tide.

Presently, the country has only 27,000 doctors (both general practitioners and specialists) to care for over 160 million Nigerians. Out of these, there are only 600 paediatricians to care for the nation’s 40 million children under age six; 120 urologists to manage reproductive health issues in over 50 million Nigerian men and not a single podiatrist to care for the feet of the nation’s growing diabetics.

No doubt, 2014 will be a very busy phase in the history of the nation’s health care delivery system. Nigerians do have every cause to anticipate healthier days next year if the ship is properly captained and in the right direction.