New revelations have been made about how lively Nigerian girls are sold off into s*x slavery in far away Libya.Delta State-born Gift Peters was filled with high hopes for a better future as she embarked on what she believed would be a life-changing journey to Libya about 11 months ago. With grit and determination, she made a tortuous and life-threatening trip through the desert to get to Libya.
Unfortunately, contrary to her expectations of a life of luxury that she was promised by the facilitator of the trip, Gift was sold into slavery soon after she arrived in Libya, marking the beginning of an almost one year of excruciating pains and regrets.
Gift was one of the 171 Nigerians that were deported from Libya last week. One after another, as they disembarked from the bus that brought them from the tarmac to the Hajj Camp reception point in Lagos, most had difficulties coming down and had to be helped.
For Gift and indeed most of the deportees, their return to the country signaled the death of dreams. They returned with harrowing tales of woe and deprivation. Many of them returned with both mental and physical scars to show for their sojourn in the land, presently embroiled in a civil war.
“They sold me for 3,500 Dirhams and I was supposed to pay twice the amount to free myself. There was what was called ‘news news’ there. What that means is that if you were bought, let us say for N700, 000, you pay twice that amount to get your freedom…If you were sold for N1million, you will pay twice the amount. No matter how many years it would take you to pay, you will pay it with your body”
Gift left the shores of Nigeria under the illusion that she was going to Europe. However, things changed when she got to Libya. Once in the country, Gift was taken to a Nigerian lady who owns a brothel, code named, ‘Connection House’. She stood and watched while her link person and the brothel owner haggled over the amount to pay for her. And after both parties had reached an agreement over how much she was worth, Gift was transferred to her new owner, who was determined to make profit on her investment.
Her experience for the next 11 months was indescribable until she was saved by fate.
“I am from Kokori in Delta State. I am a single mother and I have two kids who are in Benin. My aim was to take care of them. In the schools, including government-owned, you still have to pay school fees. That was why I decided to make the move in order to give them a better life. I didn’t go to school, but I wanted them to go to school. That was why I decided to travel. When I left, it was not what they told me that I met.”
With tears streaming down her cheeks, she continued: “They told me I was going to Europe, and that when I get to Europe, there will be different kinds of things I could do to make money, apart from prostitution. And I agreed to go.”
After she was sold, Gift and other slaves were kept inside in a confinement which was always under locks and keys. Explaining how the human trafficking trade works in Libya, she said: “They sold me for 3,500 Dirhams and I was supposed to pay twice the amount to free myself. There was what was called ‘news news’ there. What that means is that if you were bought, let us say for N700, 000, you pay twice that amount to get your freedom.
“If you were sold for N1million, you will pay twice the amount. No matter how many years it would take you to pay, you will pay it with your body. They don’t care, and you do this through Deruru, that is forced prostitution. I found myself in a situation that I could not continue with. Then, I begged my relations and friends.
“My mother managed and sent N150,000. My friend sent another N100,000, making it N250,000. After that, the person still refused to free me. She said I was still going to pay more. That is how they do it over there. Unfortunately, it is our fellow Nigerians that were doing all this. If it were Ghanaians, Cameroonians or Senegalese, they won’t treat a person so badly.
“Funny enough, if you come into the ‘Connection House’, that is the place where girls that are bought are kept, you won’t be allowed to go out again. Men come there to sleep with the girls. The owners of the girls believe if a girl is allowed to leave the ‘Connection House’, that girl would run away. And, except if you are lucky to have a customer that really likes you and decides to allow you to use his phone, you may just be there for life because your owner will not leave you until you finish paying the money.”
According to her, there is a thriving market for young women that could be bought and forced into prostitution in Libya. “This is how they operate: your link person in Nigeria would look for a girl for you. They will deceive the girl, tell her stories that would make you eager to want to go, especially when you see your family finding it difficult to eat three times a day. To convince you, they would tell you that you have an opportunity of a better life for yourself and your family.
“The contact person in Nigeria here would control you until you get to Libya. Some would follow you, while some would send what they call Buga. There is what we call Buga and ‘connection man’. The connection man would follow you inside the Hilux through the desert. The Buga is the person you are sold to. Any money you make, you would give it to the Buga. In my own case, my Buga was a woman, while my ‘connection man’ was the man that took me to Libya. So, this person in Nigeria was the one that conscripted me for his brother, the ‘connection man’. It was the brother that enquired whether I wanted to travel.”
On arrival of a new girl in Libya, words would quickly go round about her presence and she would be traded. “If you want to sell a girl you brought from Nigeria, you will first go to a ‘Connection House’. Before then, rumours would go round of the arrival of a new girl from Nigeria. The new girl would be taken to the woman who would examine her and negotiate the price she was ready to pay. It is just like when someone wants to sell something and then takes the ware to the market, anybody could come and buy. The person that sold me, I was told when my friend reported him at the police station, he said if I wanted to die there, that I should die. That is why I want the government to fight for me. The man’s name is Hakeem, he is a Benin man.”
Asked how she coped in the 11 months she was in Libya, Gift looked up and said: “It was hell. For 11 months I stayed in Libya, I did not see the sun.” But for fate, Gift Peters would have suffered in silence until whatever number of years it would take her to pay twice the amount her boss paid for her.
“Our Connection House was raided by armed militia. Some people lost their lives through bomb blast. Anytime the militia came to the place and tried to break in and they were unable, they would throw bomb inside. Some of us were rescued, some were taken to prison, while others were brought back to Nigeria. In my connection room, we were about 21 persons. When my Connection House was raided, no one died, but in the one beside our own, they killed all the men.”
For 20-year-old Deborah, a native of Ore town in Ondo State, it was also a tale of sorrow and tears. She survived the desert to get to Libya, only to be sold as slave to a Libyan family as a house help. She came back with nothing, except a small bag, bitter tales and a broken hand. She said the husband of the woman that she worked for beat her up and twisted her hands until it got dislocated. She came back with her right hand in a POP and hung on a sling. Asked if she would wish to go back there, her answer was a vehement no.
Oluwadamilare Akpatha is probably one of the luckiest among the latest returnees from Libya. He came back on crutches and in addition, he had five bullet marks on his body as ‘souvenir’ for the hell he went through.
“I decided on my own to come back because there is no government in Libya right now. The whole citizens move about with guns. There are gunshots everywhere all the time. I became a victim of gun violence in Libya. That was why I decided to come back to my country. I have been in Libya for the last five to six years. Like I said before, every Libyan citizen now goes about with a gun. And, whether you are right or wrong, they don’t really care. I was coming back from where I was working on a particular day…I am a painter and also into interior décor. I was coming back from my place of work on a particular Friday when it happened. You know Fridays are normally work free days, so blacks have the opportunity to return from their places of work and rest.
“We were two in number, my partner and I, but the next thing we heard was, ‘stop’! We turned and saw some militia men; the next thing was gun shots. I felt cold. I did not know I was shot until I was hit by another bullet. I was hit by five bullets, you can see the marks. I will not say Libya is not good, because it is good if you are a craftsman and you can hustle. But for now, I cannot encourage anybody to go by land to Libya, because there is no government and it is lawless.”