Enslaved by kinsmen: How human traffickers lure relations from Benue communities to work in Oyo farms for peanuts

Enslaved by kinsmen: How human traffickers lure relations from Benue communities to work in Oyo farms for peanuts

Enslaved by kinsmen: How human traffickers lure relations from Benue communities to work in Oyo farms for peanuts

  • Massive exploitation as traffickers charge N300,000, pay trafficked victims N100,000 annually
  • Victims pumped with hard drugs to work like beasts •Returnee suffers mental health challenge
  • Our efforts at checking menace – Igede South west monarch ·We’re aware of it, says NAPTIP

The lives of many young boys from Oju-Obi Local Government Area of Benue State have been ruined by unscrupulous relations and syndicates who traffic them to various parts of Oyo and adjoining Southwest states to engage in hard labour on farms. The exploitation is massive, and to make them accomplish the arduous daily assignments as agreed, they are placed on hard drugs so they could work like beasts. The damage to the lives of the young ones has been enormous, INNOCENT DURU reports.

FELIX, a young man from Igede area of Benue State, was full of joy when he was asked by a relation to come to Ibadan, the Oyo State capital for a ‘lucrative’ farming job.

As a young man who could hardly boast of N10,000 savings at the end of every year, Felix was filled with excitement when he was told that he would be getting a whopping N100,000 besides other benefits at the end of the farming year.

“Me, get 100k at the end of the year?” he thought aloud as ruminated over the discussion with excitement.  Wondering if the offer was real or a mere dream, he said: “It sounded unbelievable but that my brother (referring to his kinsman) allayed my doubts, assuring me that what he said was real and that I stood the chance of managing a big farm if I could work hard.”

“On getting to Ibadan,” Felix said, “my brother  gave me and some other boys a place to live in. We were later shown a massive expanse of land we would work on.

“At that point, my colleagues and I felt cheated because the money wasn’t worth it. We actually got the N100, 000 but we later found that he collected N300,000 for each of us. It was like slavery and that is what it actually is.

“That is what many of our people do here in Oyo State. They feed on our sweat.”

Each of the victims earned a paltry N8,350 approximately monthly when the N100, 000 they got is divided by 12 months. Going by the present economic situation in the country, the sum would hardly take an individual through a week.

For John, it was also a cheering news when he was talked into going to Ibadan to earn a ‘decent living’ working as a farm labourer.

His words: “I was very happy when my brother asked me to come to Ibadan for farm work.

“Before I left, he told me that my life would not be the same again if I should accept to come as I would be handsomely paid at the end of the farming year.

“He promised to pay me N100,000 and also promised that I would be given accommodation and provided with food from time to time.

“The day I was to leave, I found that I was not alone. He linked me up with four others and asked someone to bring us down.

“Getting here, he took us to the place we would live and gave us good food.” The following day, John said, the relation came with a man who introduced himself as the owner of the farm.

“The man told us that we would have to make 400 ridges every day and that failure to meet up would result in us not getting our money at the end of the year.

“We objected, insisting that we should be doing between 200 and 250 ridges but they insisted it could not be less than 350 ridges each per day.”

When the brother saw that they were frowning, John said,

“He assured us that it would not be a difficult task as he would provide us with what would make us work without feeling it.

“I didn’t know what he meant until he brought some drugs which were identified as codeine for us to use. As time went on, we started using other hard drugs like tramadol and Indian hemp.

The drugs actually worked as it enabled us to work tirelessly. We relied on them to work like animals in order to meet our target. Some of our colleagues at times abused it and sometimes slept off all day.

“Many of us are already addicted to these drugs. They have become like the air we breathe if we have to do our work.”

Another victim, who gave his name simply as Samson, said: “Apart from cheating us in the area of paying us below what they collect from the farm owners, some agents also shortchange us by using our names to collect money from the investor.

“Whenever he is financially low, an agent could tell the investor that some of us need money to meet pressing needs. When the investor gives out any money, he deducts from what he would pay at the end of the year.

“The agent will out of greed deduct the money from what we are supposed to get at the end of the year instead of taking it away from the money he has made on each of us.

“Instead of N100,000, a labourer may be going back home with N80,000 at the end of the year. If he had collected money before by himself, he would go with far less than that.

“You can see how we are ceaselessly exploited. The agents are crooks. They feed fat on the sweat of poor and unsuspecting people back at home.”

Findings showed that the traffickers were previously taking citizens of Benin Republic to Oyo State and adjoining states for the inhuman venture. But the trend changed when the Beninois started making weird demands.

Explaining how it all changed, Tony, a victim of the ungodly agents said: “The agents were previously using people from Benin Republic. After a long period of  reaping them off, the Beninois started demanding for brand new motorcycles at the end of the farming year.

“That didn’t go down well with the agents because there was no way they  would divide the motorcycle into two and ask the labourer to take one part while they would take the other.

“This made the agents to start going to bring our people who are naturally good at farming. That is why every part of Oyo State is full of Igede people.

“Some of the agents have also started trafficking our people to Benin Republic for farming because many of us will settle for whatever they offer. If you don’t accept it, some others will, because some parents are looking for people that will take off the burden of providing for their children back at home.”

It was gathered that some of the victims who have seen the lucrative nature of the shady business have also ventured into it.

Abel, who survived the ugly trade, said: “Some of our colleagues who have the mind of exploiting others have also become agents. They go home from time to time to bring young people to work as labourers in different farms across the state and other parts of the Southwest region. It is big business for some of our people.”

He noted that  there are some of their people who have vehicles dedicated to doing this.

“They know how to bypass all the security barriers in our village and the road to Oyo and other states.

Encounter with human traffickers

Posing as an investor looking for workers and  land to carry out a large scale agriculture business, our correspondent encountered some traffickers who were excited by the request and instantly expressed their readiness  to provide the needed assistance.

One of the traffickers, who identified himself as Monday, said it would be suicidal to work with Igede people already residing there in Ibadan.

His words: “They are very expensive and difficult to deal with. If you give them a job now, they can go and collect jobs from one or two other places and leave your work undone.  This is why I prefer going to bring people from home. Those ones are dedicated and easy to manage.”

Asked what it will cost to hire one person, Monday said: “It will cost between N250,000 and N300,000.  You will provide accommodation and also be responsible for their feeding. If they are sick, it is your duty to take care of them.”

Prodded further, he said: “You will also have to give them money for them to enjoy themselves once in a while and also provide things that will help them work very hard.”

Feigning naivety, the reporter asked, “What do you mean what will make them work hard?”

Swiftly responding, Monday said: “Things like Indian hemp, tramadol and so on. Some of them would need it to do the work for you very well. Once you provide all that, they will have no reason not to do your work well.”

On how the payment will be made, he said: “When the time comes, I will call the labourers and you will give me their money in their presence. After doing that, the rest will be left to me.”

Explaining why payment will have to be made to him and not the workers, he said: “I am the agent. If anything goes wrong while they are doing your work, I will be held liable. So when payment is to be made, I have to also be the one to accept it. That is how it works.”

Another trafficker, who gave his name as Mato, said he has a large expanse of land on the way to Eruwa, assuring that there would never be any issue over any land he provides, because he works with a traditional ruler in the area.

Giving a breakdown of what would be needed for the venture,  he said: “An acre of land for farming will cost N12,000. If you need about 500 acres, that will be about N6,000,000. Then, you will pay N50,000 for the survey. After that, you will pay N20,000 for a tractor to clear an acre.

“It was about N15,000 last year but because of the cost of diesel, the price went up this year. For each worker, you will pay N300,000 and you will first tell them that they will do 400 ridges each daily. They may beat it down to 300 or 250 per day, but stand on 350. For them to come from Benue, you will pay N17,000 for each of them to transport down here. This includes their feeding on the way. You will have to also pay the fare of the person who would bring them, because if you send the money home, they will spend it and fail to send anyone down.”

Asked the reward for his efforts, Mato said: ”It is 10 percent of what you will pay each person. If I am bringing 10 people, you will pay me #300,000 as the agent and at the end of the farming season, you will hand over their money to me so that I can sort them out. By paying them myself, none of them would claim that he was not paid. If they ask for any money in the course of the year, it would be written down and deducted from their pay at the end of the year.”

Victim hooked on hard drug suffers mental health challenge

The culture of relying on drugs to work, it was learnt, has ruined the lives of many victims.

Barrister Michael Awo Ejeh, a native of Igede and founder of Ogedegede Community Development Foundation (OCDF), told of how one of the victims suffered mental health challenge.

He said: “There was one that was very painful to me because the boy involved lived close to my house in the village. He was taken to Osun State. He said they used to give them hard drugs, including indian hemp, so that they could complete the portion of work given to them, because if you don’t finish yours, you are not entitled to your pay. The boy later ran mad and was brought back home. After that incident, the younger sister also left to go and hustle because there was nothing attractive at home. She said she was going in spite of the fact that the brother was mentally ill.”