The National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons Tuesday paraded five women allegedly operating a trafficking racket that ships girls to Dubai for prostitution.
Blessing Gabriel, 25; Precious Owoh, 29; Rose Gabriel, 25; Priscilla Bassey, 33; and Terry Smooth, 38 were shown to journalists at NAPTIP’s office in Lagos.
The agency said their accomplices in Dubai, namely Gina, Fegor Ebony, and Esther Otubu are yet to be tracked down.
“We have not brought them to engage them in media trial,” Josiah Emerole, NAPTIP’s Head of Press and Public Relations, told journalists.
“What we have done is to say gentlemen, this is what we have seen. That what we are talking about human trafficking, taking people abroad is a reality.
“So that those who have never seen us show faces of traffickers can at least for the first time see them. What women are also doing to themselves and it’s unfortunate.”
The Dubai connection
According to NAPTIP, weeks of painstaking investigation and intelligence gathering culminated in the arrests.
Investigations began in August after nude videos of two Dubai-based Nigerian ladies, named Ann and Chisom, surfaced on video-sharing website, You Tube, showing them being forced to swear, separately, to an oath of allegiance. In the video they were made to admit that they came to Dubai, United Arab Emirates, of their own volition to engage in prostitution and are ready to obey their madams without reporting to anybody.
Blessing Gabriel, who was arrested when she returned to Nigeria for her traditional wedding, allegedly filmed one of the videos.
In the You Tube clip, the women who filmed the videos threatened to upload the nude visuals if the girls failed to pay up their debts.
“The blackmail videos are part of the Dubai syndicate’s control mechanism which also includes oath-taking, and consfication of travel documents to ensure obedience and submission,” said Mr. Emerole.
The entire episode started last April when Ms. Owoh recruited Ann for Blessing Gabriel who was responsible for her travel expenses.
The process of preparing Ann for Dubai was coordinated by Rose Gabriel who attempted to force her to a shrine for an oath of secrecy, according to NAPTIP. However, unable to conduct the oath-taking in Nigeria, the syndicate administered it to Ann on arrival in Dubai.
”This recording was later released on You Tube after she (Ann) escaped from her exploiters in Dubai after she was forced into prostitution contrary to the initial promise of being given a job at a hair dressing salon,” Mr. Emerole said.
For Chisom, also known as Gold, the journey to Dubai began in May when she linked up with Ms. Bassey at Ms. Smooth’s house in Lekki Phase 1.
Ms. Smooth had rented a five-bedroom duplex with a two room Boys’ Quarters where girls, numbering more than 20, pay N10,500 every week for accommodation.
”It was in this house that Chisom met (Ms. Bassey) who claims to be a businesswoman and hails from Calabar South LGA, Cross River State. It was from (Ms. Smooth’s) house that Ms. Bassey recruited Chisom for Ebony Fegor who had been her ally since 2011,” said Mr. Emerole.
“Ms. Bassey has confessed that she knew that Chisom was going to Dubai for prostitution. She claimed that since Chisom left Nigeria in July 2015, she did not hear from her or Fegor until she saw Chisom’s nude video on the internet.
“She also claimed that when she called Fegor to enquire of the reason for such an action, Fegor denied any knowledge but admitted that she had recorded it to instill fear in Chisom so that she would pay back the money she expended on her.”
The suspects, looking tired and disheveled before the clicks of journalists’ cameras, were adamant they had done nothing wrong.
Ms. Smooth, admitted she knew both Ms. Bassey and Chisom because they lived in her house, but denied she knew they were into prostitution.
She also said she is still in possession of Chisom’s mobile phone and clothes because she owed her money before traveling to Dubai.
According to NAPTIP, Ms. Smooth’s rented home in Lekki gulps N3.2 million every year.
But when she was ask to confirm that claim, she declined.
“Sir please I don’t have any other thing to say and I have nothing to do with this Dubai business so I don’t have any other thing… The people that are doing this business you should go and look for them,” she responded tersely to a question on how much she pays as rent.
“Don’t use me to get your promotion. It’s my personal house. I live there, you understand, I didn’t build it, I rent it to stay there.”
“How much are you paying for the rent?” The NAPTIP official pushed.
“I can’t tell you,” she retorted.
Ms. Bassey was more gentle with her questioners, calmly explaining her role in the alleged syndicate.
“Gold (Chisom) met me in Terry’s house. During our stay in Terry’s house, she heard story that I stay in Dubai so she was the one…most of the time she will ask me ‘What are you still doing in Nigeria? This Nigeria is too hard, things are not working ok.’ That we should travel to Dubai, I should take her to Dubai, she doesn’t mind to pay any amount of money.”
“I told her I don’t take girls to Dubai, that I’m even looking for money myself to go to Dubai during August-September. After that day, several times she’ll disturb me ‘Please connect me I’m tired of this Nigeria I want to travel. I want to leave nigeria.’
“I told her it’s better for her to go to Dubai on her own. To go to Dubai is N450,000 if you can go on your own. But if someone sponsors you, they will charge you money. Some people pay $10,000, some $15,000, $18,000, $20,000.
“She said that she doesn’t care, that any amount that I should just connect her to travel out, that she desperately wants to travel out. I gave her the number to call my friend in Dubai.”
Ms. Bassey said that Ms. Fegor, whom she connected Chisom with, sells African foodstuff in Dubai and that she was unaware the lady was going to do prostitution.
“Gold was doing prostitution here. I don’t know what she’s going there to do. She said she’d do anything just for her to get out of Nigeria.”
When asked what she does for a living, Ms. Bassey simply said: “We go out. We have friends.”
She, however, said that the owner of the house does not know what the girls do for a living.
But when Ms. Smooth was asked if she knows what her tenants do for a living and why she charges them N10,500 weekly, she became more agitated.
“How will I know? I don’t follow them. I don’t collect money for prostitution, that’s what I told you oga. I’m not changing my mouth. For my life I have never introduced anybody for anything.
“The money I collect, it’s a big house, seven bedroom duplex. It’s not only me. First of all, I’m supposed to turn that place to a boutique but my money was not enough.
“So later people started coming to the house, friend of friend and friend of friend, and at the end of the day they don’t bring any money for toiletries or cleaner or gate men or DSTV. So I started saying that ok from now on… some people will buy something, put for inside freezer, before you wake up, people that didn’t bring any money has already finished eating everything.
“So I said everybody should bring 10,500 in a week so that we use it to buy foodstuff. I have two security, their salary is 25,000 every month. I have DSTV I pay almost 17,000, PVR decoder. I also have two cleaners that is working there. So you calculate the money for me. Plus gas, at least twice in a week I bought four tanks of gas. So tell me if that money should come from my pocket. Am I working?
“I’m not running hotel because guys are not allowed to come into my house. No man come inside my house.”
Journalist: “So how much is your rent?”
Ms. Smooth: “My rent is personal to me.”
Journalist: “Madam, are you married?”
Ms. Smooth: “I’m not married.”
Journalist: “So you are just paying the money from your pocket, without support from your husband.”
Ms. Smooth: “The money I use to rent that house has nothing to do with any money I collect. All my life I have always doing business.”
Journalist: “Where is your shop?
Ms. Smooth: “I used to have a shop in Port Harcourt, I just moved to Lagos, like two years ago.
I don’t have a shop in Lagos, I go from house to house, so that they can come and pay things as wholesale. The girls came to buy things.”
Joseph Famakin said NAPTIP had been collaborating with the Nigerian Intelligence Agency in their ongoing investigation about the ladies’ activities.
“All they are telling you now is a way of trying to exonerate themselves from facts already known. So we are trying our best, we know that there are other members that are still there and we’ll make every effort to see that they tracked,” said Mr. Famakin, Zonal Commander, NAPTIP, Lagos
“The end user over there (in Dubai), we are making every effort to get her. And we know that she will fall into a trap because we have an IICU unit, International Intelligence Cooperation Unit (a unit in NAPTIP).
“We’ve been using that unit to the fullest to get information. So if you sneak into Nigeria, we’ll be aware. Just like she (Blessing Gabriel) sneaked in for wedding. Before the day of her wedding we were able to get her.”
NAPTIP said the suspects would be charged to court soon, while efforts are being intensified at the diplomatic level to track other members of the group still in Dubai.