My next novel, LAST SEEN IN LAPAZ, scheduled for release in June 2022, tackles the very difficult and, quite frankly, heartbreaking phenomenon of human and sex trafficking from the countries of West Africa (e.g. Nigeria, Senegal, Gambia, Ghana, etc.) to Europe via Agadez and Libya or, less commonly, Morocco.
It involves a hazardous trip across the vast Sahara Desert in a pickup truck, as shown above. Young men and women, suffering from crushing poverty and unemployment in their home countries, are lured by the prospect of a successful life in Europe only to discover on arrival that they face prostitution and modern slavery instead. I'll talk more about that in part two of the blog.
As all my readers know, I do my best to immerse myself in the real-life scenes that form the backdrop of my novels. For example, in CHILDREN OF THE STREET, I went out at night with a police detective friend to the areas where homeless or out-of-school children loitered, sleeping on bare pavement. For MURDER AT CAPE THREE POINTS, I was helicoptered to a deep-sea oil rig where real conflicts raged between fishermen and the oil companies off Cape Three Points.
Likewise, my goal in traveling to Nigeria was to hear the stories of the migration trail of blood and tears that occurs as a result of human and sex trafficking.
Ucomeafrik, founded by brothers Confidence and Evans Aguiyi, provides guided and highly personalized tours of Ghana, Nigeria and other West African countries. I found them online, and through our communications and my own background checks, I determined they were exactly the right fit. I emphasized that if nothing else, I wanted to hear personally about the experiences of migrants who have made it back to Nigeria--anyone can google, right?
Confidence had a great idea to get in touch with the Benin City branch of NAPTIP, the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons, Nigeria’s governmental response to the scourge of trafficking in persons and a fulfillment of the country’s international obligation under the Trafficking in Persons Protocol to prevent, suppress and punish trafficking in persons, especially women and children. Benin City, (not to be confused with Benin, the country), is the most active human and sex trafficking hub in Nigeria.
As is often the case in sub-Saharan Africa, permission for a visit to such an institution must be sought the old-fashioned way by writing a hard-copy letter (email won't cut it) to the appropriate authority. Confidence did that, addressing it to the Benin Zonal Commander, Chidiebere Oruruo-Ufudu. Mrs. Ufudu responded favorably, stating she was, " . . .looking forward to having you."
At the appointed time, Confidence, Evans, our Benin local guide, and I arrived at the NAPTIP office and were met by Ufudu's assistant, an amicable gentleman who, after we had waited a while, ushered us into Ufudu's large, highly air-conditioned office.
I had a number of important aspects of human and sex trafficking I was eager to discuss with Ufudu, but after not much more than five or six minutes of our conversation, she abruptly turned away from me and said to Confidence, “This is not an interview, and therefore I will not entertain any further questions."
She further stated she couldn't, or wouldn't, help us get in touch with any trafficking survivors, as there were "no active cases," which was a confusing statement considering she had just informed us that a female migrant returnee now works at the Benin NAPTIP site.
As a result of this bizarre encounter, I have nothing positive to report about NAPTIP, nor am I able to recommend it in any way.
Thankfully, later in the day, independent of NAPTIP's nonexistent assistance, I was able to meet with four women who had survived trafficking to Libya, and I'll talk about that in the next blog. Until then, remember this: