Mr. Godwin Morka was the immediate past Director, Research and Programme Development, with the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP) . In this chat with JULIANA FRANCIS, he shares intimate information on human trafficking in Nigeria and governments policies
What’s the most challenging issue with working with NAPTIP?
In the first few months and years, it was quite challenging to convince Nigerians that human trafficking was a crime or immoral. This was because most of the acts constituting trafficking were things people took for granted, such as the house help syndrome, child labour, child prostitution and trafficking of girls abroad for sexual exploitation. The next challenge was telling people about NAPTIP and its mandate. The full name of NAPTIP then – National Agency for Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons and Other Related Matters – was quite a mouthful. Moreover, other law enforcement agencies found it difficult to understand the role of NAPTIP and its relationship with other law enforcement agencies. As the pioneer Head of the Lagos Zonal Command, covering the six South-West states, my priorities were to sell NAPTIP to its various publics and to engender a good working relationship with other law enforcement agencies and the mass media. My background in journalism, marketing and management helped a great deal in this effort.
What’s the most unforgettable case you’ve handled?
I had so many memorable cases, but two stand out for me: the Edati, Niger State girls, who were rescued from a container truck and the 14 teenage girls rescued from a brothel in Ipodo, Ikeja, Lagos State. The case of the Edati girls early in 2005, just three months after opening the Lagos Office, helped to establish the credibility of NAPTIP. There were strong pressures from other law enforcement agencies and highlevel government officials, but kudos to the first Chief Executive of NAPTIP, Mrs. Carol Ndaguba, who stood her ground and instituted a comprehensive rehabilitation programme for the girls, which involved the community, local government and the Niger State Government. This drew the attention of the whole nation and the international community that NAPTIP was a serious agency determined to fulfill its mandate. The case of the Ipodo 14 tasked the professionalism and commitment of NAPTIP’s counsellors and other officers, and grew all of us. The girls were aged between 11 and 18 years and had been brought from Akwa-Ibom State under false premises, but were all forced into prostitution by their madams who also lived in the brothel. Many of the girls complained of various illnesses and after the nurse had administered basic medications their conditions persisted. We referred them to the Military Hospital, Ikoyi where we had a retainership. After medical examinations and treatment, the doctors advised that we should screen them for HIV/AIDS. We duly informed them and they all consented. In a few days the results began to come. The first five were positive, and I literally panicked! I prayed like never before that the rest would not turn out the same way. Mercifully, only one of the remaining seven was positive. We managed the situation until we were able to return the girls home with enough information to enable their state government continue their treatment. Out of the six that were negative to HIV, three elected to stay back in Lagos, to be assisted by NAPTIP and its partners, because they had lost their parents and were actually trafficked by their family members. These three girls had not had any meaningful formal education and could neither read, write nor speak proper English in their teens. With the assistance of The Real Woman Foundation, owned by Pastor Nike Adeyemi, the girls were enrolled in primary three. After they obtained their first school leaving certificate, one of them opted to learn fashion designing, and was so assisted. The other two completed secondary school, and one also decided to stop formal education and learn fashion designing and she was also assisted by The Real Woman Foundation. The last one went on to university and finished with a second class upper degree in Accounting, and today works for NAPTIP. That is one success story I am very proud of.
Which case was the most horrific?
The case of the Ipodo 14 was certainly the most horrific and it’s because of the ages of the victims and the type of sexual exploitation they were exposed to. There was also the fact that half of them were infected with HIV/AIDS.
Have you ever been threatened in the course of your job?
I’ve certainly received lots of warning calls, and was followed several times while I was in Lagos. But God has been gracious to have kept me till date.
Was there any time you got frustrated with the system and wanted to quit?
I never allowed anything to frustrate me. There were so many trying times and deliberate acts of sabotage and threats, but I had strong faith in God and a sense of mission. The most trying moments were from some colleagues who did all they could, to frustrate me and cause disaffection towards me. But through it all, God vindicated, strengthened and upheld me.
What did you learn working with NAPTIP?
I have learnt a lot in my close to 17 years in public service. The ethos in the private sector is getting results and effectiveness. In the public service, many people have the notion that the salary is their proverbial national cake and do not understand why they should work for their pay. For those who try to work, many simply put in the minimum, without caring about the results. During my time in NAPTIP, I tried to instill in my officers, the need to seek excellence and effectiveness, over mere efficiency. I also learnt that the public service can do a whole lot of good if properly retooled. The dissonance in the system does not encourage selfless service. For one, the salary disparity among agencies of government is scandalous. Many public servants are on subsistence wages whereas others earn more than 10 times their counterparts just because they are lucky to be employed by juicy government agencies. In any case, the selection process is hardly based on merit, but through connections. This is certainly not healthy. Secondly, some critical agencies like NAPTIP are so poorly funded that officers literally subsidies the operations of the agency from their meagre salaries. But for the support of our partners, NAPTIP would not be able to make the modest impact it has made. On the other hand, some government agencies get so much budgetary allocation that they have so much wastage and inefficiency. The whole system needs to be reformed.
Why did NAPTIP stopped hitting number one in the global index rating?
That is a question that does not have a simple answer. I was there when NAPTIP moved from Tier 2 Watch list to Tier 2 in 2005 and from there to Tier 1 in 2009. Then slide down from 2013 to Tier 2, down again Tier 2 Watch list in 2017, back to Tier 2 in 2019 and down again to the Watch list in 2020. NAPTIP was elevated each time because of certain imaginative actions and policies it implemented, especially the sealing and confiscation of some brothels in Lagos in 2008, which took the Agency to Tier 1. The downgrading of NAPTIP in recent years had to do with allegations of child soldiery in the North- East, specifically allegations that the Nigerian military allows children to run errands for soldiers near the theatres of war. Also, it would seem that NAPTIP has not managed to grow into its increasing challenges and expanded mandate, mainly because of inadequate budgetary provisions and lack of political support. Despite all these, NAPTIP remains a global model that has set the pace in policy developments, and creative responses to the challenges of fighting human trafficking.
What can government do to boost the war against human trafficking?
Government should give NAPTIP financial and political support to realise its mandate. The agency has placed Nigeria on the global stage as a professional crime fighting agency. But the greatest challenge is in the area of victim support and victim protection because of sparse resources. NAPTIP needs to spread into states and be represented at border points, including the international airports. This requires political will on the part of government.
What’s your take on accusation that NAPTIP can no longer bite?
My overall impression; it has been a privilege to make my modest contribution to the growth and development of my fatherland. The testimonials and changed lives of young Nigerians whose lives have been transformed are my greatest reward. I also cherish the opportunities I had to contribute to repositioning the policy framework of the agency and for the various areas of work I have been involved in, especially migration dialogues with the European Union and many countries. I have also managed complex projects involving international and local partners, especially Civil Society Organizations involved in fighting human trafficking. I have occupied important positions as pioneer head of the Lagos Zone and Director Research and Programme Development. I am highly indebted to the past and present chief executives of NAPTIP, who reposed confidence in me and helped me to learn, grow and contribute, especially Mrs. Carol Ndaguba and Dame Julie Okah-Donli. The current Director General, Mrs. Imaan Sulaiman-Ibrahim, has a daunting task, but she has articulated a sound philosophy and has demonstrated the will to forge ahead and succeed. She deserves the support of everyone.
How would you assess government’s efforts in fighting human trafficking?
Government has provided the legal and institutional framework for fighting trafficking. It also makes budgetary provisions although grossly inadequate.
It seems conviction rates in trafficking are not impressive. What are the challenges?
The low conviction rate is a result of many factors, mainly the lack of financial capacity for NAPTIP to thoroughly investigate cases and to diligently prosecute cases. Investigations are highly capital intensive and require adequate financial muscle. The process of prosecution also requires lots of money because you may need to transport victims and other witnesses from their locations to where the court is located. Most times, cases are not held as scheduled or adjourned at the drop of a hat. Moving witnesses back and forth exert a huge toll on the agency’s finances, the prosecutors and the victims and their families. Secondly, the judicial system in Nigeria is quite tedious and cases can take upward of three years and sometimes up to 10 years in court. NAPTIP needs serious support in this area from the government, as well as the Bar and the Bench.
What can you tell Nigerians about organ harvesting?
Organ harvesting is an insidious and little-understood crime. Most organ harvesting is branded as ritual murder by the police, and little or no further action is taken. Human organs such as kidneys, lungs, eyes and hearts are harvested and sold in the medical black market. The trafficking in human organs is estimated to be a $50 billion business in Europe alone, yearly. This phenomenon has not been fully understood or deliberately tackled in Nigeria, but there is no doubt that organs are being illegally harvested and transported through our broad water fronts and by private jet through our airports.
Is it true that trafficking increases because our laws are not stringent?
We have the laws and the policy framework. The government only needs to give more support to NAPTIP while all federal and state government agencies should also play their roles in the fight. The private sector also has a huge role to play. I would not say that trafficking is on the increase, but that more awareness is rising, and that traffickers are getting more daring because they want to protect their criminal enterprises which are worth more than $300 billion globally.