Forty one Nigerian girls, who were victims of human trafficking, were yesterday deported to the country from Mali by the Federal Government with six persons, alleged to be human traffickers, were also arrested and brought back to the country alongside their victims.
The deportees arrived the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA), Lagos, aboard a Hercules C-130 military transport aircraft with registration number Nigerian Air Force 913.
The aircraft landed at the Nigerian Air Force Hangar wing of the Lagos airport about 7:50p.m.
The deportation of the girls was a fall out of collaboration between the Ministry of Defence, Nigerian Air Force, Office of the Senior Assistant to the President on Diaspora, and the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP) which evacuated the girls from Bamako, the Malian capital.
They were received at the Hajj Camp area of the airport by officers of the NAPTIP and the Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS).
Addressing newsmen, the Senior Special Assistant (SSA) to the President on Diaspora, Abika Dabiri- Erewa, said their evacuation was made possible with the assistance of the Chief of Defence Staff, Nigerian Air Force, NAPTIP and relevant government agencies.
“The girls came back voluntarily. Some of these girls are between 15 and 17 years old who thought they were being taken to Europe for greener pastures but ended up with traumatic experiences in the hands of their traffickers and their madam.
“So they should not be ashamed of themselves because they are victims. We are going to rehabilitate them through skills acquisition programmes. I am therefore calling on non-governmental organisations to join us in this regard,” she said.
Dabiri-Erewa advised Nigerian parents to watch their children carefully and ensure that they don’t succumb to peer pressure and other activities that could exposed them to traffickers.
She confirmed that six of the alleged traffickers, who were arrested and brought back to the country, would be handed over to the appropriate authorities for prosecution.
Dabiri-Erewa said their return home was part of directive from President Muhammadu Buhari, who insisted that Nigerians stranded anywhere in the world should be assisted to return home.
According to her, the President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration remains committed to the welfare of Nigerians all over the world, hence this intervention.
She urged the returnees to make the best use of their lives as there was nothing tangible they were doing in Mali. Dabiri-Erewa said there were many Nigerians stranded in Mali, who should be brought home.
Some of the girls complained of not being allowed to take their belongings as they were literally brought home “empty handed”.
But Dabiri-Erewa said the 41 girls were victims of trafficking by some powerful individuals. The SSA praised the Chief of Defence Staff,Chief of Army Staff and Chief of Air Staff for granting the aircraft to evacuate the girls.
She said: “NAPTIP will rehabilitate them; we have commenced profiling of the girls. We call on Non- Governmental Organisations (NGOs) to join us in tacking this problem.
“They were deceived into embarking on the journey. We will ensure we train them to the state of proficiency in different vocations, after which we trace their parents and counsel them.
“We will monitor the girls for two years, so they do not sell the vocational equipment.” Dabiri-Erewa said the girls went for greener pastures and they should not be ashamed of themselves as people were taking advantage of them.
She added: “It goes beyond poverty for them to embark on such mission. Government had to rescue them because they sent a distress call.
“This made Buhari to direct the service chiefs to step into the matter to rescue the girls.” Dabiri-Erewa disclosed that the girls came back with stories of woes and lamentation. She said: “We have arrested six suspects and have handed them over to security agencies for prosecution.”
Also speaking, Mr Joseph Famakinwa, Zonal Commander, NAPTIP, South-West Zone, said 512 victims were returned to the zone in 2016.
He said poverty was not solely responsible for the increase in the human trafficking, stressing that other factors such as negligence, peer pressure and greed were also responsible.
“Once the girls have been rescued, we take them to our shelter houses where they are received by trained counselors who assist them in overcoming their trauma.
“After counseling, for those who don’t want to go back to school, we give them a vocational training of their choice and also assist them to set up their businesses.
“We also meet with their families to let them know that being victims of human trafficking is not the end of the world and advised them on how to render support to the girls,” Famakinwa said.
He said NAPTIP would reveal the identities of the suspected traffickers in due course and ensure that they are brought to justice.