Nigeria has consistently been a major country of origin (often either ranking first or second) of potential victims of modern slavery that have been identified in the UK. The Commissioner has long been pushing for action addressing this and now considers this issue to be at crisis level.
The trafficking of young women and girls from Nigeria to Europe is widely recognised as one of the most persistent global trafficking flows. Despite the scale and volume of human trafficking originating from Nigeria, a significant proportion of it is a highly localised phenomenon. In particular, research has identified that victims who are trafficked to Europe (including the UK) disproportionately originate from the state of Edo in the south-central part of the country.
The last official census in 2006 reports that the population of Edo State was 3.2 million, representing just 1.8% of Nigeria’s total population of 174 million. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and the Nigerian National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons report that well over 90% of victims rescued from human trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation who are discovered outside of Nigeria are from Edo State.
Having completed two visits to Edo State and meeting with community groups, traditional and religious leaders, law enforcement officials, civil society organisations and survivors of slavery, the Commissioner has developed a holistic strategic plan that aims to tackle this issue. Key areas of focus include: enhanced community engagement and the development of a programme to build public awareness of the dangers of human trafficking, especially in rural areas; economic projects, focusing on agribusiness, to generate employment for young people who are currently leaving their villages due to lack of opportunity and often falling prey to traffickers; and building law enforcement and judicial capacity.
The Commissioner has regularly highlighted this Nigerian trafficking crisis in international and UK forums and through the media. The Commissioner spoke about the issue at a modern slavery conference at the United Nations in April 2016 and also briefed the G6 group of interior ministers from Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Poland, the UK and the USA in London in December 2015. The Commissioner visited Edo State in October 2015 with ITN News, wrote a piece in the Guardian and spoke about the issue with the BBC and other key media outlets, including Nigerian community-media.
The Commissioner has had positive discussions with UK Ministers and officials about how the UK Government’s recently announced International Modern Slavery Fund can be most effectively utilised to tackle trafficking from Nigeria. Following a meeting chaired by the Prime Minister during the United Nations General Assembly in September 2016, which was attended by the Commissioner and the President of Nigeria, the Prime Minister announced that at least £5 million will now be spent in Nigeria to tackle human trafficking, particularly in areas such as Edo State. The Commissioner will continue to engage with the UK Government on this issue.