Officials at the Nigerian Embassy in Cote d’Ivoire are accused of promoting human trafficking in the country
Child-trafficking and prostitution involving Nigerians has triggered a controversy in Abidjan following the arrest of 16 victims with consular cards issued by the Nigerian embassy in Cote d’Ivoire.
The victims, mostly teenagers, were arrested by the Ivorian police, working with Interpol and a non-governmental organisation, Family for Protection of Human Rights (FEPDH).
The Consular cards are security documents issued by the Nigerian Embassy in Cote d’Ivoire to protect citizens from harassment by security officials. More than two million Nigerians reside in Cote d’Ivoire, with many relying only on the consular cards as a form of identification.
The Nigerian Ambassador to Cote d’Ivoire, Kayode Obajuluwa, said that the consular cards are usually issued based on the recommendations of the Nigerian community leaders.
“Any Nigerian who is applying for consular I D card must obtain certification or confirmation from the Nigerian community leaders.
“They fill a form and come along with the application to the embassy before the cards are issued,” he said.
Mr. Obajuluwa said “hundreds’’ of cards get processed each day, so the embassy has to rely on community leaders for screening before issuance.
He said the presidents of the Nigerian community had been instructed to submit specimen signatures and their stamps in order to check fraudulent practice.
“If you look at the dates on the cards issued to the girls, I believe these cards were issued when the consular ID card was handled by a contractor who was a private person.
“It is one of the things I came to clear because a private person established an office here, he was given a room in the chancery and had his private workers who operated the ID cards scheme from 2004,” the ambassador said.
Mr. Obajuluwa said the cards were issued at a cost of 4,000 CFA (N1, 330) to Nigerians residing in Cote d’Ivoire by the embassy.
The Consular officer in the Embassy, Obinna Ogbonna, said the embassy is overwhelmed by applications.
“Because of the numerous applications we receive, we cannot just call them and start interviewing them one by one. They are numerous. In a day, we receive more than 100 applications,” he said.
The NGO, however, said cards were regularly issued in “bulk’’ by the embassy to “agents after the payment of 10, 000 CFA (N3, 330)”.
Anthony Assemota, President of FEPDH, said the consular cards provide covers for trafficking and prostitution by Nigerian teenage girls in Cote d’Ivoire, who usually work to pay off huge balances requested by their “madams”.
He said a percentage of the girls brought into Cote d’Ivoire die from the rigours of prostitution, diseases, ritual killings and, sometimes, depression.
Mr. Assemota said some workers of the embassy had asked him to stop cooperating with the Ivorian police and Interpol to arrest the Nigerian teenage girls, and minors working in prostitution ring.
The FEPDH president said the NGO had assisted in the repatriation of more than 550 girls since its inception in 2005, while prosecuting some traffickers who have been jailed in Abidjan.
One of the arrested victims, Esther Emagono, who had spent four months in a brothel in Abidjan, said “a man” usually visited her “madam” to collect passports of new girls on their arrival.
She said the ID cards get processed at 10, 000 CFA fee (N3, 330), without the recipients going to the embassy.
Another victim, Blessing Edovmonyi, said her “madam” processed her consular card, without going through the Nigerian community by sending an “agent” who received 13, 000 CFA (N4, 330).
Narrating her experience, another teenage victim said she was brought into Cote d’Ivoire in June, 2012 on the pretext of going to work in a boutique and was forced into prostitution by her “madam” after getting an ID card.
“I was sleeping with 10 to 15 men every day and they pay 1, 000 CFA (N330 or 2, 000 CFA (660) and I was given a target to balance of 850, 000 CFA (N290, 000) before I can be released.
“We don’t speak French so it is hard to escape and we are monitored. Some girls got killed when they tried to escape and we take oath on arrival at the herbalist’s place,” she said.
Lucky Amadiegu, who admitted he was a trafficker who had been jailed twice for trafficking in Cote d’Ivoire, said the cards are usually processed through a “man’’ when girls are brought in from Nigeria.
He said the consular cards are “authentic” and direct from the embassy.
Mr. Amadiegu spoke at the police headquarters in Plateau, Abidjan, where the arrested girls and traffickers were detained.
He said the madams’ pay 10, 000 CFA for the processing of a card for each girl through the “man’’, who obtains the cards from the embassy.
“We have lost two girls this year that I know in Abobo- Abidjan alone. One was mysteriously killed by her mum,” he said.
Uyi Isibor, a friend to Mr. Amadiegu, said the victims and traffickers all know the “man’’ who handles the processing of consular cards from the embassy.
Thousands of Nigerian trafficked teenagers and, some minors, ply their sexual trade in the Ivorian economic capital, Abidjan, its suburbs and interior villages on cocoa farms.
The sex trade, according to FEPDH and the Ivorian police has grown after the country’s political crisis, with a surge of trafficked under-aged girls between the ages 13 to 15 years.
Mr. Assemota said the Ivorian criminal justice system had jailed many Nigerians for human trafficking and prostitution, with a renowned trafficker, Nensah Irudumu, sentenced to ten years in June, 2012.