Journalist Philip Obaji Jr. has documented Boko Haram activity over the last few years and interviewed Boko Haram victims about life at an Internationally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp in Madinatu last month.
Obaji tells the story of Abba, a 17-year-old boy whom Boko Haram abducted in 2015 and one of the childhood victims Obaji gave psychological counseling to in Maiduguri, where Boko Haram originated. Abba told Obaji how he witnessed Boko Haram teaching child soldiers how to rape women and how they shot his brother after he defended Abba from becoming kidnapped.
The group eventually took Abba to the Sambisa Forest, where they separated boys from girls, flogged them with electric wires, tortured them, and forced them to carry out errands.
Obaji continues explaining how Abba noticed a guard fell asleep, whom he then knocked unconscious with a large stick. Abba ran to the IDP camp, where Obaji helped rehabilitate him.
Obaji also recently thwarted a trafficking scheme. 17-year-old Sarah, a Boko Haram victim, hoped to begin a new life in Europe, but a trafficking ring in Benin City planned to smuggle her through Italy to the Mediterranean. Obaji immediately became suspicious and investigated the situation.
“They told her they were going to get a job for her once she arrived in Italy,” Obaji said. “I knew it wasn’t true, and, so, I decided to find out who these people really are.”
In a recent article for Ventures Africa, Obaji discussed how Boko Haram kidnapped, raped, and abused Sarah in the very same Sambisa Forest as Abba. She escaped after 21 days in captivity and found refuge at the IDP camp. However, the camp does not provide adequate basic needs, so she was forced to survive through prostitution.
“It was the easiest thing to do,” Sarah said. “I had no money on me, and so I couldn’t start a business.”
A woman named Agnes later told her she could find a job in Italy, and Sarah understood the implications of this offer. “It’s possible that I may end up being a sex worker [in Italy],” she said. “Whatever job it is, I’m going to do it.”
According to Italian authorities, a record 171,000 migrants – 36,000 from Nigeria – crossed the Mediterranean between January and November 2016. The International Organisation of Migration (IOM) also stated that over 11,000 women crossed to Italy in 2016.
“About 80 percent of these girls are possible victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation,” IOM spokesperson Flavio Di Giacomo told Obaji.
Obaji later traveled to Benin City, the place Sarah ventured to, and found her at a temple. As a result of Obaji’s article, the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP) upped its surveillance in IDP camps.
“We have given [the security actors and international NGOs] our numbers, and asked them to inform us if they suspect any act of human trafficking in IDP camps,” an official from the NAPTIP said. “We’ve also met with road transport workers in Borno state, and have asked them to report to us any person they see suspiciously conveying or carrying any children or women in their vehicle.”
Obaji and organizations like the NAPTIP have increased awareness about the devastation Boko Haram has caused and about the prevalence of human trafficking. Although the problems aren’t completely solved, improvements have occurred within the last couple of years and survivors’ stories continue surfacing.
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