Nigerian politician convicted of human trafficking in UK

Josephine Iyamu (Photo Credit: BBC)
Josephine Iyamu (Photo Credit: BBC)

A British court has found a Nigerian woman based in the United Kingdom guilty of human trafficking, reports out of the UK said.

The British media said Josephine Iyamu, a career nurse, was the first to be convicted under a new law that targets modern slavery. She reportedly trafficked five women from Edo State to Germany, using them as prostitutes and cashing in on their ordeal.

Ms Iyamu, 51, used traditional charms to compel her victims to swear oaths that they will deposit all incomes to her once they start working in Europe, according to court proceedings reported by the UK Guardian.

Eating chicken hearts, drinking blood containing worms, and powdering incisions were amongst the rituals said to have been performed on the victims, the Guardian reported.

At least one of the women said she was in debt to the tune of £32,700 (N15.5 million). Ms Iyamu is scheduled to be sentenced on July 4.

The development comes as Nigeria continues evacuation of its citizens who are stuck in Libya amidst failed and perilous attempt to cross into Europe.

Many of the victims are believed to have been trafficked, and a substantial number of them are from Benin, an ancient kingdom south of Nigeria with historically high rate of trafficking activities.

In his budget speech to Edo State House of Assembly last October, Governor Godwin Obaseki estimated 10,000 persons who were trafficked from the state within the year before. Of those, 3,000 lost their lives in the dangerous journey.

The National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP) said it collaborated with UK authorities to hunt down Ms Iyamu, following several trafficking incidents linked to her.

Julie Okah-Donlie, NAPTIP director-general, hailed the conviction as, “the beginning of the renewed determination by NAPTIP to bring all foreign-based human traffickers to justice irrespective of their location around the world.”

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Ms Okah-Donlie said Ms Iyamu, reportedly born in Liberia, was arrested in a joint operation between her agency and UK’s National Crimes Agency (NCA).The joint watchdog exercise was christined “Operation REDROOT”, itself a part of joint counter trafficking project named Joint Border Task Force (JBTF).

To perpetrate her trade, Ms Iyamu used “a network of people who assisted her with trafficking the women from Nigeria overland to Libya–across the Mediterranean Sea to Italy and from Italy up and into Germany,” the Guardian reported, citing Simon Davis, a prosecutor in the case.

“She was there on the mobile phone along the way but her real role was at the end of their journey, when it came to getting money from the women and making a profit out of their exploitation. The debts incurred by the women were enforced through fear,” Ms Davis added.

Advocate of Women, Family

Prior to her arrest, Ms Iyamu was an active player in Edo politics, and once ran to represent her constituency at the State House of Assembly, said Anselm Ojezua, chairman of the APC in Edo State.

“I know the lady in question to the extent that she was going to contest,” Mr Ojezua told PREMIUM TIMES by telephone Saturday afternoon. “But she did not scale through the primary.”

In one of her campaign posters, Ms Iyamu described herself as a strong voice for women and families.

“We know her to be a nurse and I was shocked that this happened,” Mr Ojezua said. “I was really very shocked.”

“What would somebody in such a prominent career be doing in such a business?” Mr Ojezua added.

The politician told PREMIUM TIMES the party would be reluctant in punishing Ms Iyamu, saying doing so would be disproportionate for the offence that she had been convicted and for which she would be serving a jail term.

“There is something called double jeopardy,” Mr Ojezua said. “It is like hitting somebody, who is already down.”

He warned would-be traffickers to desist from such ignoble and heinous acts, saying the state government would not tolerate them.

“Edo State Government has a zero-tolerance towards trafficking,” Mr Ojezua said.

Mr Obaseki, elected APC governor in 2016, has repeatedly pushed for a declaration of state of emergency to curb trafficking. He said he sent a bill to the state legislature that would significantly address the crime in his state.

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