President Muhammadu Buhari, in Abidjan, Cote d’ Ivoire, has finally spoken on the vexed issue of allegations that hundreds of African refugees and migrants passing through Libya were being bought and sold to modern-day slave markets.
According to reports, the trade works by preying on the tens of thousands of vulnerable people, who risk everything to get to Libya’s coast and then across the Mediterranean into Europe – a route that’s been described as the deadliest route on earth.
President Buhari, who is in Abidjan, for the 5th European Union-African Union (EU-AU) Summit, assured Nigerians living in Cote d’ Ivoire, while interacting with the Nigerian community in that country, on Tuesday night, that those still there would be evacuated, adding that his administration would do everything humanly possible to make the country conducive to discourage youths from embarking on the journey and risking their lives.
The president, who said fixing security as well as providing other critical infrastructure in Nigeria would also reduce the chances of people taking the risk and ending up in the Mediterranean Sea, said efforts by his administration was already yielding positive results in agriculture.
His words, “I am telling you all these because I know that those of you who are making it here I’m sure send contributions home for feeding and for school fees and for healthcare. These are the basic things that the government should do and we are to make sure that the people who are challenging the Sahara desert and the Mediterranean they will be less of Nigerians going that way and getting perished.
“When it was announced that 26 Nigerians died but before they could proved that they were all Nigerians, they were buried. But the evidence I got from the Senior Special Assistant on Diaspora Affairs now is that only three were identified as Nigerians. But I won’t be surprised if the majority of them were really Nigerians. And for people to cross the Sahara desert to go into shanty boats across the Mediterranean Sea, I think we will try and keep them at home. But for anyone who dared the desert and the Mediterranean without document to prove that he/she is a Nigerian, there is nothing we can do, absolutely nothing.
“In the interview some of you saw, some of the Nigerians said they were being sold like goats for few dollars for years in Libya. Now after 43 years of Gaddafi where he recruited so many people from the Sahel including Nigeria and so on, all they learnt was how to shoot and kill. They didn’t learn to become electricians, plumbers or any other trade. So, when the Libyans stood against their leader those who are not their people, they chased them out. A lot of them came back home with their workers, some of them participated in Boko Haram and become part of Boko Haram.
“So, I’m telling you that our major problem as we have identified is still the security of the country. We have done much better everybody is saying it. And then we are talking very regularly with the Niger Delta and the leadership because they know they are holding the throat of the country economically.”
President Buhari also stressed the need for Nigerians in Côte d’Ivoire to be good ambassadors by obeying the law of their host country, while urging them to also report those portraying the image of the country in bad light to the embassy so that the bad eggs could be flushed out.
The President continued, “For you to be good ambassadors of our dear country it is to live by the law of the country and as much as possible, the bad eggs here among you, you should report quietly to the embassy so that we can get them and repatriate them home as the ambassador has said.
“We being the biggest country in Africa at least 180 million people, the requirement for infrastructure is especially education because if you educate people they can look after themselves and then of course healthcare. But I’m telling you they are a lot of work to be done back at home. We are doing our best and the leadership at all levels are doing their best and the problem we are having with those who are being indoctrinated and are hurting our people, blowing up people in mosques, churches, marketplaces, motor parks, this is absolute madness. No religion advocates violence, all religion advocate justice from your home, town, household to whatever you become, Justice is the basic thing all religion demand it as you can’t go wrong if you do it.
“Whenever Nigerians are identified especially in Libya and so on, we hope to evacuate them back home and then rehabilitate them because the indoctrination is what is happening with the Boko Haram where girls will strap themselves mostly from the ages of 15 downwards and go to the market blow themselves up and anybody around in motor parks, mosques, churches and so on.”
Nigerian Ambassador to Côte d’Ivoire, Ibrahim Isah, in his remarks, noted that the largest number of Nigerians in sub-Saharan Africa, second only to Sudan, are in Côte d’Ivoire.
He put the number at about 1.5 million.
The Ambassador, who is barely three months old in his post, said the greatest challenge faced by the embassy was the issue of child trafficking and prostitution, disclosing that 50 persons have been repatriated since he resumed.
Isah said, “We are facing the challenge of child trafficking and prostitution. Over 50 persons have been repatriated since I came three months ago. We put them across to Lagos through the Young Shall Grow Motors and give them stipends.
“We have succeeded in getting three traffickers jailed here in Côte d’Ivoire but we need National Agency for the Prohibition Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP) and the Nigerian Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) to continue doing what they are doing until we stop this illicit trade.”
The Senior Special Assistant on Diaspora and Foreign Affairs, Abike Dabiri-Erewa, in her remarks said a total of 5000 Nigerians stranded in Libya have been brought back to the country under the Buhari Administration.
She regretted however that some of them have sadly found their way back despite warnings. She expressed hope that with President Buhari’s directive on massive evacuation, all of them will be back to Nigeria.
A Nigerian police officer, ACP Sunny Okeobor, with the Interpol, in his remarks painted a bleak picture of many Nigerians are being trafficked, including three employees of NNPC who were deceived into slavery after promising them a job with an oil company for $250 per day but were lucky to have been rescued after one of them escaped.
He urged the ambassador not to relent but keep the fire burning.
Other Nigerians who spoke urged President Buhari to ensure stable power supply in the country which will in turn boost the economy as more companies will be able to remain in business and engage the unemployed youths, thereby discouraging them from risking their lives and end up being trafficked or forced into prostitution.