Florence Abu, is battered and broken after her four-year sojourn in Moscow, the Russian capital, where she was trafficked to for prostitution, allegedly by a junior pastor in her church. PATRICK OCHOGA captures her heart-rending tale of exploitation, deprivation and abandonment and that of other victims.
lorence Abu, is a 23-year-old hair stylist and a singer. She had always hoped for an opportunity to put into use her talent and training in a more productive ways with the expectation of achieving some financial relief for herself and to contribute to the up keep of her family.
Because of her parent’s financial inadequacy after she left secondary school with flying colours in the West Africa Examination Council results she opted to learn a trade. She attached herself to a hair salon where she perfected to art of hair making.
At the age of 18, she was a chorister in Heavenly Ambassadors Ministries, located along Kilometre 11, Benin-Lagos Express Road, Idunmwowina, Benin City.
In most Sunday services she was among the early choir members to arrive for morning praise and worship that usually herald the Sunday sermon. She was a happy devotee and committed to her work in the Lord’s vineyard.
However, what appeared like an ugly twist of fate in October 2012, surfaced when Florence was invited by one of the pastors and also the youth president of the church, Endurance Ehiozee, for a discussion.
Florence didn’t think twice and rushed to answer the call from Pastor Endurance, little did she know that the phone call will mark the beginning of her journey into the world of prostitution in faraway Russia.
She was allegedly offered an opportunity to travel with a promise of a better life in Russia. She was alleged to be lured and trafficked with the alleged collaboration of the said pastor and his Russian-based sister, Vivian Ehiozee.
Florence spent four harrowing years in the red light district of Moscow, hawking sex to customers day and night in order to pay an alleged $45,000, fee to Vivian, her ‘madam.’
Her family in Nigeria lost communication with her, as her phone was allegedly taken from her with a stern warning from the alleged Vivian not to established contact with anyone outside Moscow.
After four years she saw her life totally crashing down after the said Vivian abandoned her in the cold. As if that was not enough Vivian’s mother in Nigeria also allegedly demanded the sum of N200, 000, from her to undo the oath administered on her.
Our correspondent was informed that her inability to pay the said amount may have been responsible to the strange skin infection that afflicted her body that has defied medical treatment.
As her condition worsened with no hope of improvement she claimed she had to approach Nigeria authorities in Russia to whom she narrated her ordeal. She claimed she was subsequently deported along with other stranded girls in Moscow back to Nigeria. On arrival they were sheltered at the facility of the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons, (NAPTIP), Lagos, before she was reunited with her family in Benin.
She was said to have reported her ordeal to the police in Benin and later met with the president of a non-governmental organization, “Initiative for Youths Awareness, Migration, Immigration, Development and Re-integration,” (IYAMIDR), Solomon Okoduwa, who swung into action leading to the arrest of the pastor and her sister.
Pastor Endurance and his sister were last week arrested by the police, arraigned at an Ekiadolor Magistrate Court, in Benin Tuesday, July 4, 2017, for alleged human trafficking, prostitution and sexual exploitation and later remanded in Benin Prison.
The count charge reads that “the siblings exported one Florence 17, to Russia and having reason to know that she will be subjected, forced or induced into prostitution and other form of sexual exploitation. An offence contrary to and punishable under Section 14(b) of the trafficking in persons, (prohibition) enforcement and administration Act 2016.”
Florence who is recuperating in Benin accused that her ‘madam’ of being behind her ordeal said she used diabolical means to inflict the strange illness on her, is appealing to public-spirited and kind-hearted Nigerians to come to her aid.
According to her, “It all started in 2012 when a pastor in my church, Endurance Ehiozee of Heavenly Ambassadors Ministries at Isibor to be precise called me to say he wanted to see me. He asked me if I will like to travel out of the country and I said yes, I told him that I was constrained financially so he said money was not the problem that he has a sister abroad that will finance my trip. He further told me that I can pay off the sister in less than two months and that I shouldn’t be afraid since I am a good singer and hair stylist.
“He also assured me that I might be lucky to come across a white man that will support me. After that day, he gave me her sister’s telephone number, Vivian Ehiozee who is in Russia. When I flashed her she called me and introduced herself to me. She asked me if I was interested in leaving the country, and she said as long as I was interested I should get my passport which I did by borrowing N30, 000 from Lift Above Poverty Organization, LAPO and I called her to tell her that my passport was ready.
“She asked me to give the passport to Endurance (her brother) that he will handle everything. The sister often call me to give me words of encouragement that everything will be fine. Fews days later, she called again that I should pack my belongings to her mother’s place enroute Lagos. So when I got there the mother said it was late to travel to Lagos that same day.
“The next morning she woke me up and said we must take oath because many girls when they get to Russia don’t often pay her daughter back the money spent to take them abroad, so she said she must take something from me and that whenever I finished paying her daughter, I will have to pay her some amount of money as well. I was surprise that Endurance who is a pastor encourage me to undertake such an oath. I had thought that as a Christian we will do it the Christian way. Finally, the mother took strands of hair from my head, armpit, private part and she also collected my pant for oath taking.”
Continuing she added “By the time I arrived Lagos, the next day, the elder brother to my madam Festus Ehiozee, came to pick me from God Is Good Motors Park and took me to a hotel. He brought out a slip of paper from his pocket and said it was my visa and that everything was genuine. He asked me to relax and said that I should use what I have to get what I want. He said his sister was abroad and been molested by people so he want to avenge for her, I was shocked. I even pleaded with him but he refused.
“He took my phone according to order from Vivian so that nobody might discourage me. And I asked him how do I communicate with my mother and he assured me that Endurance (Pastor) will be the link man if I want to speak to my mother. Immediately, he brought out a gold circle condom that I should pull off my cloth. I resisted him but he forcefully had his way. He said it should be a secret between the two of us and threatened that if I disclosed it to any one something terrible will happen to me. He took me to his house and asked me to pretend about it. For the two weeks period, I waited for my visa it was hell for me in the house. He sexually molested me regularly but thankfully my visa came in February 2013.
“When I arrived in Russia, Vivian came to pick me up at the airport and she took me to her place in Moscow. The first thing she did was to take my passport away from me. She said the passport now belongs to her. The third day at about 9pm she asked me to dress up for a walk. She took me on a road walk where I met a lot of Nigerian girls prostituting on the street and that was how I was lured into prostitution. I started paying the money $45,000 up till the point I finished payment and I was deported back to Nigeria. After I finishing the payment, I was inflicted by strange illness, life was so unbearable for me and I was placed under medication for almost one year.
“The doctors treating me couldn’t handle my case; the doctors said other people with worse health situation are been treated and wondered why my own was different. When I couldn’t bear it I had to tell my mother about it. It was my mother that used to send me black soap and cream from Nigeria through courier. At a point it was my mother that sent money to me to pay my house rent. Life there became difficult so I had to go to Nigeria authority in Russia before I was deported.
“My madam lied to me that life was far better over there and that if I don’t want to stay in Russia I can travel to another country. I made all my credits at O’level but there was no money to further my education so when the opportunity came I jumped at it besides my mom owed a lot of debt so I wanted to help her because of the embarrassment.
“What she told me was completely different. I was being molested to a point that I fell sick. I was using gas water because of the chest pain arising from the torture I received from my madam, sometimes I will just collapse on the way to church. I was always on drugs. She abandoned me in Russian and came to Nigeria to look for other girls. I couldn’t cope with life so I was deported back with other girls who were going through the same situation with me. If it is possible some of our girls in Russia will trek back home because the suffering there is much. Some of them are beggars there.”
Mother of the trafficked victim, Mrs Josephine Abu who wept as the daughter recounted graphic details of her experience in Russia, however, said she was happy to see her daughter alive but blamed her church pastor for luring her daughter into prostitution abroad.
In her words “My daughter was assisted to travel through Endurance our church pastor who is second in command to the senior pastor. The suffering was too much for me to bear. He said since I am indebted that he will help my daughter to travel abroad. Since my daughter travelled I was paying N1, 300 monthly to LAPO to offset the amount I borrowed to do international passport for her.
“He (Endurance) assured me that since my daughter is a hair stylist she will make money in Russia. For a long time, I didn’t hear from my daughter until recently when information came that my daughter has been deported.”
Another victim who was also deported from Russia Naomi Otoijuamu, 23, from Owan local government area of Edo state, said the elder brother introduced her to someone who trafficked her to Russia.
“I was living with my elder brother when someone introduced me to a lady called Pat who arranged my travelling. The humiliation was much in Russia. My mom used to call me often to find out how I was coping in Russia. I told my mom I wanted to come but she insisted I must pay back the money used to trafficked me to Russian before coming back. I paid about $23, 000 to the trafficker and I fell sick immediately. In a day, I could sleep with about 17men on an average. We usually pay the money to who we call ‘administrator.’ I have been very sick since I came back. I stayed in Russia for for years.
Meanwhile, as the news of the arrest and subsequent detention of Pastor Endurance of Heavenly Ministries and Vivian Ehiozee his sister was made public, the legal counsel to the church G.N. Ebizugbe in an apparent move to absolved the church of complicity issued a statement disowning the embattled pastor.
The church said Endurance cannot be said to be a pastor in the ministry but, however, admitted that both the victim and the accused pastor are members of the church.
Part of the statement reads “While it may be true that both (victim and suspect) were members of the church as at 2012, it is untrue that the said suspect was her pastor. The ministry since inception till now has only one pastor who is the founder of the ministry.
“It is also important to mention here that though it is possible both knew themselves in the church, the church is totally unaware of the transaction that took place between them. It must have been a private arrangement between them and they must have met in their houses to enter into which agreement they executed. It is therefore a deliberate act to bring the name of the church to public disrepute.”