Miffed by the booming illicit trade of human trafficking and other forms of criminal activities in Benin Kingdom, the monarch, Omo N’ Oba N’Edo Uku Akpolokpolo Oba Ewuare II, in a ceremony last week, assembled native doctors and traditional priests in the ancient city and placed curses on those aiding and abetting the notorious act, PATRICK OCHOGA writes
The atmosphere was charged yet the setting colourful. There was an array of red. A horde of traditional religion practitioners which included native doctors and priests were clad in flowing red robes designed in the unique style peculiar to the rich and ancient Benin tradition. It was the royal palace of the monarch himself, Omo N’ Oba N’Edo, Uku Akpolokpolo, Oba Ewuare II.
But the occasion was as solemn and pressing as the colour of red seems to portray to some. It was an occasion meant to rid the kingdom of the notorious garb of human trafficking which some of its residents and indigenes and forced on it through their act.
The act of the traditional council had become of utmost pertinence and importance as human trafficking continues to attract international attention, and Edo State, the worst hit state in wave of criticism against the nefarious trade in Nigeria nay the world. It had been reported that the largest number of returnees from Libya came from the state.
At the last count, the Edo State government had received over 3,000 of its citizens through the efforts of the Federal Government and the International Organisation on Migration, (IOM) making the state one of the epicentres in human trafficking and illegal migration.
The prevalence of trafficking in human beings had been an age long issue in the state and the fight against the illicit trade had in the past pitted the state government against some of its residents. Some of the persons had argued that the number of their citizens that had migrated to Italy and other European countries has been their source of livelihood and also contributed development to the state.
It would be recalled a former first lady of the state, Mrs Eki Igbinedion, in 1999 started the fight against human trafficking. She succeeded in returning many girls through her NGO, Idia Renaissance Project. However, the trade had continued to soar even as hundreds of young people continue to lose their life at the Mediterranean Sea in an attempt to get to Europe via Italy.
While most hard working migrants have earned themselves and the country good reputation by excelling in various legitimate means of livelihood, many especially females have continued to engage in prostitution which today is controlled by powerful cartels that specialize in trafficking in persons.
The desire to make it rich coupled with mass unemployment among youths, experts said, had been a major factor driving trafficking.
As the world watches daily the human suffering of migrants in trying to cross to Italy with the largest number coming from Edo State Nigeria, the world was shocked when CNN showed a recorded video of an Edo indigene who narrated how she was sold into slavery in Libya.
The said video which went viral did not only shock the world about the agony and pain migrants were subjected to by their traffickers, in Edo the trafficking in human thrives with efforts of the government and other stakeholders in curbing the menace yielding little or no significant results.
Curbing the illicit business in the state became a daunting challenge for authorities owing to secrecy and oath taking that traffickers subjected their victims to. Finger nails, pubic hair, pants, bras are said to be deposited with native doctors and juju priests.
However, in complementing the efforts of the Edo State government in tackling the menace, last Friday, the Oba Ewuare II, invited chief priests and some palace chiefs and they placed curses on sponsors and perpetrators of all forms of social vices that hinder development in the state and put the image of the kingdom in disrepute.
This came barely 48 hours after Governor Godwin Obaseki asked members of the state House of Assembly to expedite work on a bill aimed at prohibiting trafficking in persons and establishing the Edo State Task Force Against Trafficking in Persons.
The ceremony had in attendance, priests, priestesses, native doctors, traditional religious worshippers, Bini chiefs, dukes, village heads, market women, directors and officials of the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP) as well as members of the diplomatic corps and security agencies.
Assorted charms, amulets and others items that give potency to the sacrifices were brought out in public glare by some native doctors who wore red attires and drawn from across the seven local government areas of the south senatorial district of the state.
Goats, fowls and other animals were slaughtered and offered as sacrifices to the ancestors and gods at a corner of the palace where the powers of the ancestors were invoked with incantations to boost the positive effect of the curses.
The Oba Ewuare II through the Odiowere (clan leaders) placed the curses on all pastors, churches, individuals, groups, families and parents, who promote, indulge, contract or participate or encourage perpetrators in any of the vices.
Also cursed were the native doctors who subject the perpetrators of the heinous crimes to oath of secrecies, cultists, violators of the order banning Community Development Associations and others whose businesses are to initiate the sons and daughters of the ancient kingdom into various cult groups.
Oba Ewuare warned those aiding and abetting human trafficking through the use of black magic and subjecting the victims to the oaths of secrecy to desist or face the wrath of the gods and the ancestors of the land.
He said, “You native doctors whose business is to subject people to oaths of secrecy thereby encouraging this evil act in the land have to repent and stop doing it. This is not a joking matter and if you do not repent, you have to wait for the repercussion.”
He stated that the palace was not against native doctors but frowned at those who used native powers to perpetrate evil in the state by aiding and abetting human trafficking. The monarch declared that henceforth those who were under oaths of secrecy had been set free and were free to air their views and reveal their sponsors without fear.
“We want to use this medium to tell those who are under any oaths of secrecies that they are now free. We revoke the oath today,” he prayed. The monarch said the interest of the palace is to work for the development and progress of the state and that all hands must be on deck to work towards that direction by doing what is right.
He said: “What the palace stands for is peace and the development of the state. I want to use this medium to tell you that the act of using charms to aid trafficking, the palace seriously frowns at it. We want us to join hands together to fight against human trafficking in the land.”
The Oba also said Obaseki had pleaded with him to help reduce the spate of human trafficking in the state adding that before now, he had been in the vanguard against human trafficking in the state.
Few days after the Edo State government formally expressed its alignment with the royal orders and pronouncements of, Oba Ewuare II, market women in the state have hailed the courage of the Oba, pledging to abide by the orders.
Leader of Edo Market Women, Madam Blackie Ogiamien, described the orders of the Benin Monarch as progressive, noting that it gave the needed support to the Edo State Government’s campaign against human trafficking and illegal migration.
She added that with the blessing of the royal father, “the people and government of the day are now in synch and it will only take one who is foolish to continue in the despicable practices that had aided and abetted human trafficking for years.”
She argued that the charge by the royal father “will bring succour to market women and mothers in general in the state, most of whom have been yearning for an intervention in the inhuman trade that have claimed the lives of many Edo youths.”
Ogiamien said: “We are comforted by the orders of our father, Oba Ewuare II. Edo people know and appreciate the weight of the curses and orders of the king and we are happy about the orders. A lot of mothers sold houses and gave the proceeds to people who lied that they can take their children abroad through legal means and give them decent jobs on arrival. But the children were abandoned in jungles of death in Libya and in the Sahara Desert, while others died in the Mediterranean Sea while being ferried in rickety boats.”
In a similar vein, the state’s Task Force on Anti Human Trafficking and Illegal Migration in a statement signed by a member of the committee, Solomon Okoduwa, described the move by the Oba as key to the fight against the illegal trade.
Okoduwa said a situation where victims of human trafficking were subjected to oaths taking just as some of their clothes, body parts including pubic hair, nails were collected as collateral to make them pay back the money used to traffic them hampered the task force’s investigation process.
With the revocation of the curses, Okoduwa expressed optimism that “the trafficked persons are free from their traffickers and whatever oaths they were placed on. They can also reveal the traffickers to us”