As more Edo Libyan returnees flock the state, PATRICK OCHOGA (Benin) writes on the plight of thousands of returnees and efforts by the Edo State government to rehabilitate them
hen the story of a young Nigerian, Victory Imasuen, 24 years old from Edo state was broadcast by the Cable News Network (CNN) late 2017, it drew global attention to the reality of modern day slavery and human trafficking.
The Nigerian government swung into action like any responsible government would do and began the repatriation of Nigerian citizens trapped in Libya.
Edo State is said to account for over 80 percent of the returnees repatriated from Libya, in fact, of the estimated 8, 000 who were assisted home through the effort of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), about 3,710 of them are from the state. The state is also rated as having the highest number of Nigeria’s illegal migrants in foreign countries.
That explains why the Edo state government is deeply involved in the rehabilitation efforts. The state’s intervention was swift with signs sincerity and lots of promises including empowerment programmes for the returnees.
On arrival, the returnees were lodged at the popular Benin Motel Plaza in Benin where they were profiled and accommodated for days and later allowed to return to their various homes.
The returnees came with unending tales of woos of human suffering, slavery, rape and murder while many who were not so lucky got drowned on the sea.
The state government had in November, 2017 sent 150 victims of human trafficking for various training in agriculture and approved 150 hectares of land in addition to N100 million seed grants.
Aside the largesse for all returnees, nursing mothers have the benefit of special packages by the state government in the provision of rented apartments kitted with good amenities that will make life more comfortable for them in addition to offering them separate skills acquisition programmes that will enhance their welfare.
These promises raised the hopes of the returnees with some of them wondering why they had to leave the country in the first place when they have a government that cares for them.
One of such returnees with high hopes was Osarodion Ighodaro, 23 year old who was actually trained in fashion designing for two weeks and was certified ready to set up his own outfit.
But Osarodion is not happy. At the end of his training, he said all he got as his starter pack was an envelope containing N2,800 only.
“I was shocked,” he lamented wondering what he was expected to do with the money. “Can you imagine someone trained in advance bead making by the government and those trained in soap making were empowered with a paltry sum of N2, 800 each?
“I also ask, how can you train someone for just two weeks and say he is ready to begin handling people’s clothes? As I speak to you many of us that came back have found their way back. Our monthly allowance has not been paid in the last 5 months.”
It would be recalled that aggrieved returnees of Edo State origin had in April this year protested for the third time against what they tagged alleged fraudulent activities and delay in the payment of their monthly stipend approved for them by the state government.
They raised the alarm over alleged shortchange and diversion of the money meant for them by members of the State Taskforce against Human Trafficking and Illegal Migration, their cronies and in collaboration with one of the commercial banks in the state.
The protesters on behalf of about 3,165 returnees in a letter to Governor Obaseki which was signed by Vincent David, Okosun Festus and Amawu Osariemen respectively vowed to resist further attempts by the task force officials to resort to selective approach in the payment of the stipend approved for them by the state government.
Spokesman/Secretary of the group, Amawu Osariemen, said the returnees have lost confidence in the entire process, especially, the management and staff of the commercial bank (name withheld) through which the state government makes money available for payment to the returnees.
They accused the bank of alleged compromise and tactical stealing of their money, adding that the bank has collected the sum of N3, 471, 600 from them even in the midst of pains and hunger.
They alleged that while some returnees were given as much as N1,040, 000, others got a paltry sum of N2,800 after the two weeks government sponsored their training programme.
According to them, “We thank Governor Obaseki for the courage and determination to deal with issues of human trafficking and Illegal migration in Edo State.
“The monthly stipend that you approved for us, the returnees and training, is highly commendable. However, we want to use this medium to draw your attention to some of the fraudulent activities by members of the task force in connivance with staff and management of the bank to shortchange some of our members who are beneficiaries and divert same for their personal gain.”
The government however denied owing any batch of the over 3, 793 returnees from Libya the N20, 000 monthly allowance approved by Governor Godwin Obaseki for each returnee adding that the allowance was only for three months.
The Senior Special Assistant to Governor on Human Trafficking and Illegal Migration, Mr. Solomon Okoduwa, denied all the allegations of any selective empowerment and fraudulent activities by the task force.
According to him, “There is no special or preferential treatment for any of the returnees. Once somebody’s name appears on a batch, the fellow is captured without delay.”
He said the alleged deduction was bank charges for ATM cards.
He said that the plan of the government is to resettle the returnees through empowerment and skills training programmes to rehabilitate and discourage young citizens of the state from engaging in illegal migration and human trafficking as well as other crimes.
He said part of the state government’s plans for the victims on return is to first, profile them to get information as to how they left the country, who took them away there, what they were doing before they left the shores of the nation for foreign lands and now they are back what they intend doing, their local government of origin, educational background and others.
Okoduwa explained further that the government organized various trainings packages for the returnees in the areas of agricultural practices, advanced bead making, fashion designing, management, catering, and auto mechanic among others to improve their skills and help them to be self-reliant.
“One of the things the state government had also done was to debrief them to understand the kind of businesses they were into and to improve on that,” Okoduwa said, adding that a lot of the returnees have graduated from various skills acquisition training programmes.”
He pointed out that the government has been partnering with international organizations to set up community development programme (Community Migrant Project organized by International Organization for Migration (IOM), funded by the European Union (EU) and supported by Edo State government) to be cited in 10 local government areas with the highest number of returnees and those with the largest number of returnees will have two or more factories beneficial to the communities or councils.
The governor’s aide said the empowerment and welfare of the returnees through the collaborative efforts of the state government, the EU, IOM and other bodies have become the major priority of the state.
He called on all stakeholders, churches, institutions and non-governmental organizations to support the project of resettling the returnees and to rid the society and the state of sponsors of human trafficking, illegal migration and to discourage their wards from indulging in the menace.
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