INVESTIGATION: How Nigerian young footballers are trafficked, abused, abroad

Here is Joel during a mini training session since he broke his leg
Here is Joel during a mini training session since he broke his leg

Yemisi Akinbobola, Paul Bradshaw and Ogechi Ekeanyawu

It was January 2014.

Among a group of about 30 young boys, some as young as 12, are Ebuka Ogbuehi and Joel Izeh from Lagos. They are about to board a boat at Calabar seaport in southeast Nigeria, going to neighbouring Cameroon. With them are two football coaches — one known to the boys as their coach, Emma (pronounced Ima) — along with a nurse, a dry cleaner and Mr Eric Fred Toumi: a football agent.

Some weeks before, all of the boys’ families paid Mr. Toumi N300,000 (US$1,500): the cost, he said, of enrolling them into his football academy in Cameroon where they will take part in trials for European clubs, while getting secondary school education.

Joel, 25, explains:

“The agent was brought to our team by our coach [Emma]. When the man came the first time he picked those he would pick (sic) and he travelled [away].

“The second time when he came, that was when he picked me. So he asked us to pay some money.”

Eric Toumi boasted of links with clubs in Croatia, Italy, Russia and Germany, promising them trials with Croatian club Dinamo Zagreb and German club Borussia Dortmund.

We contacted both the Italian and Croatian football federations. Neither organisation had Eric Toumi on their records.

“We were promised a lot of stuff,” says Ebuka, 20.

The families of 30 young boys paid up believing their sons were about to become the next football sensations. They didn’t anticipate the suffering they would endure over the following twelve months.

The 1,149km journey from Lagos, Nigeria, to their football camp in Mbanga, a small town in western region of Cameroon, five hours from the capital Yaounde, took them almost three months.

Why? Because for the first two months, they were still in Lagos.

“We stopped at Badagry. We stayed at a friend’s place for about a couple of months before heading to Cameroon,” said Ebuka, who described how they slept on cardboard boxes during their stay.

At Calabar seaport, Joel recalls a woman warning the under 14s to “go back”.

“But we players are always eager,” he said.  They did not listen.

When the boys finally made it to Cameroon they were confronted by Cameroonian immigration. Some of the boys had no passports. But the agent, Joel says, came to “sort all those things out”.

Arriving at the camp, it was obvious to Ebuka that things were not quite what they were promised. For one thing, it was nothing like the luxury training facility they had expected.

Instead, it was “in the bush, it was nowhere. It was not encouraging”.

They shared toilets with the school next door.

At the camp were other boys, some from Benue, Cameroon and Congo. There were also other boys from their club in Lagos, who had arrived at Mbanga six months earlier.

They were shocked at the arrival of their teammates despite “calling our coach to tell us not to come,” Ebuka explained.

“They warned us that we shouldn’t come, that there is not good, but you know now people that are trying to make it in life will do anything; we are having faith (sic), hope that we would make it; stuff like that, so I had to go.”

Two days after their arrival, things looked promising. They travelled to a tournament in the coastal city, Limbe, in the southwest region of Cameroon.

But the boys did not fare well. They lost their matches because, Ebuka says, they had barely eaten that day. They were declared unfit by the agent, and returned to Mbanga for training.

Then, after two months, things changed.

“They don’t allow us to come out of the camp [and] we hardly feed (sic),” said Joel.

Eric Toumi was nowhere to be found.

“The cook there started complaining that he is not going to cook; that he hasn’t been paid up to six months salary. Even the previous cook came … he took all the pot (sic), everything,” adds Ebuka.

Coach Emma disappeared too.

The young boys were left to fend for themselves, and resorted to begging at night, stealing corn, potatoes, yam and cassava from nearby farms in order to survive.

Meanwhile, unknown to Ebuka and Joel, Eric Toumi was still collecting money from their families back in Lagos. The overall payout from Ebuka’s family was well over N400,000 (US$2,000).

“People blame us,” adds Ebuka’s mum, Lovinia Ogbuehi. “You just give your children go Cameroon, who is this man? We don’t know him. That is why we didn’t go to the police, because people blame us.”


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  • Harder Facts!

    Investigation relating to how parents from Northern Nigeria willingly give out their under age

    and teenage girls in support of the Jihadist and Islamic terrorism is more pertinent at this

    time and not young footballers who are better off trafficked than remaining in Buhari’s

    Nigeria and risk been shot dead by police officers because they demand a separate
    countries that guarantees a just and livable society. Recall that 99% of these

    youths as evidenced by the names and locations mentioned in the report,
    are of Biafran and Niger Deltan nations who naturally constitute the

    national soccer teams of Nigeria at all levels. So its riskier to leave
    and get trafficked for any contract than a hopeless Nigeria where
    even N18,000 minimum wage has become precarious even as

    the legion of thieving Senators take home a criminal $1.7m
    every year. (i.e.,Over 3om/Month)

    Concentrate on investigations of Northern elites and politicians who sponsor terrorism for political power and relevance. These are more pertinent and exigent.

    • Chuks

      Your post would have made sense if you had consulted your brain for advise. This analysis shows this evil started under the saTAN regime of Jonathan as some boys have been in Mbanga for more than 6 months. The ‘Transformer’ government burnt away the future of kids through mindless looting and corruption. Even the money budgeted to fight Boko Haram was looted by the “they don’t want me to rule” president and his NSA. This story has nothing to do with Buhari whose leadership instead exposes the rot in our value system.

      • Femi

        Please Bro, where can I get Biafran Nation’s original T-Shirts to buy?

        • Chuks

          Please contact Sambisa Forest superstores for the T-shirts. Goodluck.

          • Datti

            Perfect answer for a cretin

          • GbemigaO

            Thank you for the appropriate answer to him !

    • sam

      Your suggestion is perfect. But the politics of hatred and tribalism you applied made your write up useless.

    • Hardest Facts

      The minimum wage in Croatia is N47,650 equivalent. Juxtaposed with an antagonistic N18,000 in Nigeria with a potential for drastic reduction if the musings from the state Govs are anything to go by. It then becomes clear that there still exists a comparative advantage in being trafficked elsewhere- Europe or Sambissa. I am convinced that if the overpaid and idle Senators in our over populated National assemblies had their salaries reduced by 60%, the difference would be sufficient to pay a minimum wage of N35,000 in all 37 states of Nigeria. This is a scientific fact. I have done the calculations and have my results. Multiply N33m approximate earnings per month by the close to 200 members of the national Assembly and then compare the figure with the salary total for all middle level and junior workers in the states who represent 87% of the workforce.

  • CommonMAN

    My people, what is happening? Any news? Has any politician died of cardiac arrest or sudden death? Has Buhari resigned and gone back to adult education school? Has Shekau been seen in Daura as rumoured? Have the Chibok Girls been officially forgotten by the hired APC rent a crowd of wailers? Have tears dried up in their tear glands? Pls update me bcos I just came back from the queue at a gas station where I have bee queuing to buy fuel since 4.30 am. I managed to fill my Okada for tomorrow’s hustling. This is how Buhari wants it. He is destroying Nigeria. Economy is BAD.