Trafficked to Oman, a country in the Middle East at the age of 16, Damilola Falomo shares her story of torture, harassment and near death experience in the hands of her slave master, reports OLUFEMI ADEDIRAN
Every year, thousands Nigerian youths in their quest for greener pastures travel abroad, but many of them are trafficked through illegal routes. Hundreds of them perish on the way, while many others are sold into slavery. Trafficked people, particularly women and children, are subjected to forced labour, domestic servitude and prostitution. According to a report by the U.S. Department of State in 2010, Nigerians accounted for 21 per cent of the 181,000 migrants that arrived in Italy through the Mediterranean in 2016. The report added that, about 21,000 Nigerian women and girls have been trafficked to Italy since 2015. Having lost both parents within a year just after finishing her secondary school education, Damilola Falomo was overwhelmed by the responsibility of fending for herself. The only way out of the raging poverty and the predicament she was in at that time was to travel abroad in search of a greener pasture.
In her desperation to leave the country, Falomo fell into the wrong hands and this marked the beginning of her journey into anguish, pain, torture and humiliation. She was introduced to a travel agent who unknown to her was a human trafficking kingpin. However, her aspiration of getting a better job that is relatively scarce in Nigeria was faced with a hard knock as she was practically sold into “slavery” in Oman. She worked as a house maid to an Omani family where she was constantly harassed, tortured, molested and humiliated by the man of the house who threatened to kill her if she did not have sex with him. When she complained to the travel agent, the response she got was that, she was his property and he could do anything with her whenever he wants as long as she remains a maid in the house.
“It was a pastor who dubbed us. I never planned to travel. It was a friend who advised me to travel out of the country. “I was very young and naive when I was trafficked abroad. If I had known better, I wouldn’t have travelled abroad, I would have stayed in Nigeria and worked hard to become a better version of myself. “As at the time I was trafficked to Oman, I had just lost my parents. There was nobody to help me. I had no help; there was no way I could fund my education.I had no money to take care of myself; so travelling at that time seemed like the only way out of the problem. “They (our employers) told us they have bought us for two years and therefore they can do anything with us for that period of two years. “I was faced with sexual harassment on a regular basis. I could not cope because the man was seriously harassing me. He was insisting on having sex with me. He told me that I won’t have peace in the house until I have sex with him. “I could not speak Arabic and there was no way I could complain to the office because they won’t hear me out. “Things became unbearable for me and all could do was to find an escape route back to Nigeria,” Fa-lomo said. This is the plight of many young African girls who are lured into trafficking with the belief that life is better outside the country. Those who are lucky to escape return to tell tales that hurt emotions, but despite this, many young Nigerians are still being trafficked abroad. Such travelling arrangements are orchestrated by dubious travel agents with the help corrupt government officials, especially at the immigration office.
“Human traffickers are not working alone, they are working with some bad government officials, especially at the immigration office because when we got to the airport here in Nigeria, they didn’t even check us. They just allowed us easy passage, suggesting that some of the officials know about the trafficking business,” Falomo said.
Return journey to Nigeria
Falomo said, she was able to buy her freedom from the Omani family with the help of a distant relative and the little money she could raise. According to her, many of her colleagues who were trafficked together could not make it back alive, while others decided to stay behind and endure because there was no help. “My coming back was just God giving me a second chance to live so that I can let people know what is happening out there. “I worked for almost a year over there and all the money I made was used to buy my freedom to come back home because I could not cope. “I was lucky that they even agreed that I use my earnings to buy back my freedom because a lot of people that we left Nigeria together died while some of them could not come back home again. “I’m happy that I’m among those who could come back and tell my story about what is going on out there to the youths. “It is better to stay back in Nigeria and be safe and sound than to be enslaved in a foreign land where you don’t have friends and family members,” she said. Getting back to Nigeria, Falomo faced another challenge of starting life all over again.
Starting all over
She was abandoned by the government who promised to rehabilitate her and help her financially. She got herself into the Moremi Ajasoro Beauty Pageant, a pet project of the Ooni of Ife, Oba Adeyeye Enitan Ogunwusi to empower young girls like her. “When I got back, I was not helped by the government. I started my life all over again with the help of Olori Aderonke Ogunwusi, she was the only one who was ready to listen to my story at that time and she was also ready to support me. “I came back with nothing and I was helpless. I came back at the time the Moremi Ajasoro beauty pageant was being organised, so I joined the pageant and I had the opportunity of meeting the queen and the Ooni of Ife and that was how they helped me,” Falomo said.
Leading human trafficking campaign
Falomo is not only sharing her stories, she is also leading the campaign against human trafficking and modern day slavery. The campaign tagged, #SayNo- ToSlavery is targeted at creating awareness and educating students of secondary schools on the dangers of human trafficking. She said human trafficking poses grave danger to the social and economic development of the country. She lamented that, thousands of Nigerian girls who were trafficked to overseas, especially Arab countries, are forced into the commercial sex trade or forced labour.
“Human trafficking agents lure people, especially young girls who are poor and vulnerable. They target the poor and sweet talk them and their parents, convincing them that when they get abroad they will be paid huge amount of money monthly and this is not true. This is why we are campaigning to let people, especially parents and guardians, know the module operandi of these traffickers.