If not for anything, Omolola Ajayi’s video of lamentation of how she was deceived into slavery in Lebanon last week, once again threw the illicit but booming business of modern-day slavery into limelight. Somehow, it also succeeded in reaching far more people than the conventional video had been able to reach. Gboyega Alaka presents the stories of two more Nigerian girls who have been in similar, if not worse situations.
WATCHING trapped Omolola Ajayi’s video, as she wept and lamented her fate in Lebanon last week, Oluwole Williams, a retired civil servant could only thank his God, even as he got emotional about what he termed ‘Nigerian’s wickedness to fellow Nigerians.’
For over a year, Williams had been passing words around, seeking contacts on how he could send his unemployed son to work in Dubai or any of the Middle-East countries. According to him, he had heard stories of how some agents help unemployed Nigerians get big salary jobs in these countries and would like to pay his first son’s way through.
He could no longer bear to see his graduate son jobless nearly a decade after graduation and eking a living doing security jobs and other menial stuff. But watching that video, which like the proverbial can of worms, opened his eyes to the possible horror his son could have walked into, he just realised that his ‘fruitless search’ all this while was by providence.
Omolola Ajayi, 23, mother of one, who said her parents lived in Offa Garage in Ilorin, Kwara State, is just one of thousands of Nigerians who have been trafficked into slavery and other forms of hardship, albeit unwittingly, all in a bid for greener pasture. In that short video in which she passionately appealed to fellow Nigerians and Pheminique Life Support, to come to her rescue, she spoke of how she was tricked into travelling on the pretext of going to teach English language and how she ended up a slave, sexually harassed and without access to medical care in Lebanon.
Thankfully, Ajayi has been rescued by the Nigerian Embassy in that country and as you’re reading this piece, should be back in Nigeria safely. Ajayi’s bold move has also inspired several other girls in her situation in that country, such that according to Abike Dabiri, Chairman/CEO, Nigerian Diaspora Commission, 15 others were taking refuge in the embassy as at the end of last week.
Like it did for Mr Williams, one can only hope that Ajayi’s case would have helped in throwing enough searchlight on the activities of these scammers in the name of travelling/recruitment agents.
I slept with fifteen men daily for two years
My name is Lawal Zainab and I am a native of Osogbo, Osun State. I recently returned to Nigeria from Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire, where I was tricked into prostitution. Before I travelled, I was living with my aunt in Abuja, where I was learning hairdressing, but the need to raise money to pay for my graduation and buy my equipments put me under pressure.
In the course of this, I met the agent who told me he would facilitate my trip to the Whiteman’s country, where I would make hair for big people and make big money.
But I ended up in Cote d’Iviore, where I saw hell. The first sign of scam I noticed was that the man, my agent, Mr. Ben, took me to a place where we boarded ‘The Young Shall Grow’ bus. I asked, ‘I thought we’re going to fly?’ But he allayed my fear, telling me the bus was to take us to where we’ll board the plane.
He even lodged me in a hotel for one night. On arriving Cote d’Ivoire, he took me straight to a village. There he handed me over to a woman, Madam Beauty, who told me my agent had sold me to her and that I would work for her for two years for her to recoup her money, 2.1million CFA francs.
Then she made me drink a certain water, which she said was an oath binding me to her. She warned me not to try to run away or betray her, else I would run mad or die.
She then told me it was prostitution job that I had been bought to do, she showed me a room in an area they called ghetto, from where she said I would be operating and that I would be delivering 20,000 CFA francs to her every day.
At this point I recoiled, saying I could not do that kind of job, but she said that would mean me refunding her 2million, which I couldn’t raise. She then reminded me of the oath water and the threat. We charged 2100 CFA (an equivalent of N1,200) per customer; and she gave me 500 CFA for feeding.
All other money, I submitted to her at the end of each day. Any day I did not deliver 20,000 CFA francs, she would harass me, sometimes, beat me. And I dared not tell her that I was tired or not feeling well.
Also, I had no access to medical care of any kind.
There was a day she had a case with the Nigerian Embassy officials and I tried to capitalise on that to escape, but it seemed like there was a conspiracy with them, as they simply told me to go and settle with my madam and pay her money. So I resigned myself to my fate and continued praying to God to come to my aid.
How do I even begin to narrate my ordeal at the hand of Madam Beauty or shall I say her customers?
Sometimes the men would go violent and beat me up. Some would slap me; one even broke a bottle and stabbed my hand. He said he paid money and I didn’t service him well. It was the security men standing guard who saved me. Some would even demand their money back.
One told me if I was tired, I should go back to my country. On the average, I slept with 15 men to gross the amount I needed to deliver to my madam; sometimes, more. On a particular Sallah day, because they are mostly Muslims, I slept with nearly double that number and raked in 200,000 CFA francs for my madam.
Sometimes, they would drug themselves and come and sleep with me. On such occasions, the condom would break and I would have to drink salt and water as the only antibiotic that I could afford, because my madam would not give me any money for medication or invite a doctor to examine us.
All she was interested in was the money. At other times, the customer would use as long as one hour or more on top of me.
That was how I carried on for two whole years until one day when she threw me out. That was in November 2019. I left Nigeria in October 2017.
She said she had recouped her money and that I was free and should go and fend for myself, or possibly go and scout for somebody that would work and make money for me. But I have sworn that I would not enslave a fellow human the way she did to me.
Besides, this was a job I would not recommend to my worst enemy. She gave me two days to work and raise money for myself towards my next move, but I just couldn’t.
It was while I was pondering over my next move that I met one of the women who came to sell Nigerian food to us, who took pity on me and agreed to squat me in her apartment.
It was at about that time that I stumbled on Sister Motilola of Project Ferry on Instagram, followed her and sent my video after an initial doubt. Long story short, she intervened and helped me come back home.
I went through a lot in that country, and every time I think of what I did with my body in that country, I just wonder if I would ever be able to marry or have my own children.
Booming sex trade
Let me tell you, the Nigerian population in that country is really huge and prostitution is the only job they are into; except for those who are married. Let nobody fool you that she is going there to do some high sounding job.
Some, when they gain their freedom, would become patrons like madam and continue enslaving others. My madam said she balanced 3million CFA francs in her time.
What did I not see in that country? Sometimes I even think my situation is better. There was a 17-year-old Nigerian girl they brought into the job; she is still there serving my madam. There was another, just 15.
Sometimes, the girls would come in pregnant and they would abort the pregnancy and put them into the sex trade. Some came as virgins and they used eggs to break their hymen. There were also Ghanaians and Ivorians in the trade.
I believe the divorce between my parents partly led to my situation. It was because my mother remarried that I had to drop out of school and go and live with my aunt in Abuja. Otherwise, I may not have met the agent who sold me into slavery.
I’ve been back since December now but I can’t even go visit or call my mum because she would ask for money, and if I told her I don’t have, she’d think I am being wicked. I currently squat with one ‘mummy’, she’s a member of Project Ferry, the organisation that helped me relocate to Nigeria.
She feeds me and is also helping me to look for where I would update myself in the hairdressing job.
Did she try to run away?
No, because of the oath water I drank. I don’t think it was phoney because I saw ladies who ran mad; I saw some dying in mysterious ways; some just for stealing or keeping some of the money due for their madam.
I excreted and urinated on my body to secure my freedom
My name is Ibitowa Oluwatobi, a graduate of Sociology from the University of Ibadan. After service, I got a job in Lagos, working in one of the Jumia warehouses, but I wasn’t cool with the hustle and bustle. So I thought of packing it all up and going into food because I have a passion for food.
One day, I saw the WhatsApp status of my friend advertising international catering, teaching jobs and all that. I chatted her up and she linked me up with her sister who was into the business.
I told her I preferred a teaching job in Dubai; she requested for my CV and a five minutes video of me teaching, which I did and sent to her. I also sent my full photo and N250 thousand as requested.
I called her three weeks later as agreed and she told me there was a hitch, that the only visa available was Oman visa. I was a bit disappointed because I had never heard of Oman.
Notwithstanding, I went online to research about the country and eventually gave in since the only thing I found a bit odd was the weather.
I thought if it’s going to be the same job and the same pay, I might just take it. But she told me the pay in Oman was even better. However, when she eventually brought the visa, I found out it was a housemaid visa, so I protested.
But she said that was only to get me into the country, that they could always change it. All this should have warned me but I chose to trudge on.
Something else happened at Murtala Mohammed International Airport, which should have served as another red flag. This was on May 7, 2018. We were made to pay additional N40 thousand to the immigration officers, which they called boarding pass.
Aside that, from the way the agents and the Immigration officers interacted and their exchanges, I got to realise that something was fishy and illicit and the officers were well aware of it.
They lined us up and were asking, who is your agent? The agent would step forward and say I have settled this person, I have settled that person. But again, I ignored.
Plane-load of slaves
Almost all of us in the economy class of that Emirates flight, well over 100, were being transported for the same purpose. Young girls and women of different ages. Even sickly looking people and those that were not of age – 15,16-year-olds, who inflated their ages.
There were numerous stark illiterate Hausa ladies. Frankly, that was when I should have followed my instinct and got off the plane and damn the money I invested.
I know of a particular girl, Blessing; she is still slaving away in Oman. Another was lucky – so to speak. They said she had Hepatitis B, so she was returned after three weeks.
It was when I got to the airport in Oman that everything really began to fall in place. They collected our passport immediately we got off the plane, and I thought that wasn’t right and protested.
But the driver of the agent, who came to pick us, tried to shut me up, saying, ‘You talk too much’. So I restrained myself.
Another major thing happened. Two girls from among us ran away at the airport. It is possible they were informed or they just had their plans.
And then when we got to the agent’s office, the Nigerians we met there and other nationals of Ghana, Uganda and Bangladesh were all looking unkempt and shabby. The place was looking like a slave market. Again, I spoke up and this time.
I asked why were the girls looking like that. Certainly, I didn’t want to turn out like that. And then the girls started cautioning me, moving their fingers across their necks, meaning, I could get killed. At this point, I really got scared and was like, ‘What have I got myself into?’
I requested for my phone to speak with Idris, my agent in that country. They had collected it at the airport, though I had a smaller one in my luggage, which I knew better than to let them know about.
But they gave me their own phone and the agent was like I should shut up, that when did I get into the country that I was already acting like I knew it all.
And that was the end of the conversation, because he cut the line. Funny enough, the agent I really knew was in Nigeria, Adeola, who happened to be the outsourcer for ladies for Idris.
And then the bigger shock came. We were going to be working as house helps and the salary was paltry – about N64,000 when converted.
Again, I started protesting, saying that was not our agreement; that we were told we’d be earning N200,000 and working as caterers and teachers. It turned out that we were conned right from the beginning.
Eventually, I was locked up in a room attached to their office. They had become fed-up with my troubles. Two other girls were also locked up, but in separate rooms. Others had capitulated and accepted their fate. I was there for three weeks and was only given water.
At a point, it dawned on me that I couldn’t remain there and solve the problem, so I mellowed down and agreed to work. The man that came to pick me was a policeman. He had a small family of himself, his wife and his kid, which looked good.
But they live in this big compound like what the Yoruba call agbole, with relatives and extended family, and I ended up serving all of them. Sometimes, they even took me to other homes and as far as Dubai to serve their relatives; so I became frustrated and almost depressed.
To make matters worse, the man of the house would come and start opening his wrapper, showing me his manhood. That was another danger, because I’d heard stories of how the women poison maids and throw away their corpses, once they suspect that their husbands were as much as showing interest in them.
I was like, ‘How could I advance in this kind of job, me, a university graduate?’ The first month, I was paid in full; the second month, I was paid half and the third, I wasn’t paid at all.
So I changed it for them. The wife noticed but I told him there was no problem and even faked happy calls home to my people. I was perfecting my plan.
Finally, I unleashed. I started urinating on my body, excessively. While cleaning their rooms, kitchen, even prayer room, I would urinate. I even pooed on my body. Soon, everywhere started stinking, and they hate smell.
I even refused to have my bath. I’d get in the bathroom and only wash my face, hands and legs, so the smell persisted. They took me to a hospital and the doctors said they would have to operate on me. I was glad because I knew that they don’t like spending on maids.
God blinded them that they didn’t even think of running a test on me. Even the hospital officials were running away from me.
They took me back home and their grandma was like, Halima (that’s the name I gave them since they couldn’t pronounce my name) can work – let’s just manage her and give her a room near the poultry. They took me to the office and those ones said they would get me drugs.
I told them to take me back to my country to get treatment, but they said no, that they’d treat me in Oman or take me to Kuwait.
At the agency office, I was kept in the room they detained me that first time. Some other girls were in the other rooms. So one day, I disconnected the pipe that supplied water to the apartments and they had no choice but to send us down the street to fetch water.
That day I was ready and immediately bolted. A police van saw me, picked me up and took me to their station, where they questioned me and eventually invited the agent. They told him to settle with me.
Didn’t he see that I was sick or did he want me to die in the country? They seized his ID Card, without which he couldn’t work or make transactions and told him to return my passport. I also got my phone back and started chatting people up.
I’d chatted with some celebrities, intimating them of my situation, but nothing came out of it. Then I chatted Sister Motilola of Project Ferry and one-time she replied me.
That was how we kick-started the publicity. She got in touch with my agent, Idris, and he was livid. He said I was publicising him and spoiling his business. And I was like, ‘Fine, get me back to my country.’
He insisted that I paid him N800 thousand, the balance of the N1.2million he paid on my head. I reached out to Sister Motilola and the money was raised. That was how I got back my freedom and returned to my country.
Message to Nigerians
They shouldn’t just stick their nose into anything right now. Modern slavery is real, there is no greener pasture anywhere. And it is not just happening in the Middle-East; it is happening even in the modernised English speaking countries.
One last thing. Please tell the world that I need a job. Nigerians should please help, I have suffered really badly.