Nigeria occupies a central position in West Africa as a country of origin, transit and destination for victims of human trafficking for labour exploitation and forced labour. Men, women and children from Nigeria are trafficked to Western Europe, the Middle East, and West and Central African countries. Victims from neighbouring countries of Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Mali and Niger are also exploited in Nigeria in a wide range of industries, including domestic work, mining, stone quarrying, manufacturing, and work in farms and plantations.
Internal trafficking from rural areas to urban centres is also pervasive, particularly among women and children trafficked for domestic labour, agricultural work, farming, manufacturing, begging and sexual purposes. Between 2012 and 2014, 58% of detected victims of human trafficking were children, while 42% were adults. Children are often moved within Nigeria and abroad, ostensibly for the purposes of education but frequently with the result that children are placed in exploitative labour, such as domestic servitude. Children from other West African countries are also moved through Nigeria to work in forced labour Cameroon and Gabon, or are subjected to forced labor in Nigeria, including in granite and gold mines.
In 2015, the Nigerian government identified 943 victims of trafficking, including 429 victims of sex trafficking and 514 of labor trafficking. Drivers of exploitation in Nigeria include high unemployment, economic issues such as devaluation of the local currency, and political unrest, each of which contribute to high rates of both internal and external migration.
The Federal Government of Nigeria adopted the Trafficking in Persons (Prohibition) Law Enforcement and Administration Act in 2003. The law prohibits all forms of trafficking and it introduced, for the first time, severe penalties for the crime of human trafficking. In 2015 the government passed amendments to the Act, increasing the penalties for trafficking offenders, which range from a minimum of five years’ imprisonment and 1 million naira fine, to life imprisonment.
The new 2015 Act has attempted to correct a number of problematic areas identified in the 2003 legislation, including improving the consistency of penalties and removing the option for offenders to pay a fine instead of serving a prison sentence. The stated purposes of the Act are to: a) provide an effective and comprehensive legal and institutional framework for the prohibition, prevention, detection, prosecution and punishment of human trafficking and related offences in Nigeria; (b) protect victims of human trafficking; and (c) promote and facilitate national and international cooperation.
Human trafficking is criminalized in Section 13 of the Act, and is broadly consistent with the international definition of human trafficking contained in the UN Human Trafficking Protocol. This section also criminalises conduct that assists or facilitates human trafficking, or “omits to do anything reasonably necessary to prevent an act of trafficking in persons”. The penalty for these offences is imprisonment for not less than 2 years and a fine.
Part IV of the Act criminalises various conduct concerning the exploitation of persons, including importing or exporting a person, conveying a person, or detaining a person, knowing that they will be forced into prostitution or other forms of exploitation. Trafficking for forced labour is also covered in this Part – Section 22 makes it an offence of to require, recruit, transport, harbor, receive or hire out a person for the purpose of forced labour within or outside Nigeria. It is also an offence to permit any place or premises to be used for the purpose of forced labour. Debt bondage, slavery and servitude are also criminalized in Section 25.
The Act is also notable for criminalizing commercial carriers who knowingly transport potential trafficked victims, and imposing obligations upon travel agents, tour operators and airlines to raise awareness of the potential risks of trafficking among their customers. The Act also provides that where a trafficking or forced labour offence has been committed by a corporate body, it shall be liable to pay a 2 million naira fine, and to the forfeiture of assets and properties to the Victims of Trafficking Trust Fund. In addition to this, where the offence is attributable to a Director, Manager, Secretary or other representative of the body corporate, he or she shall be liable on conviction to 3 years’ imprisonment and a fine of 200,000 naira.
There continues to exist a high level of impunity for human trafficking and forced labour in Nigeria, which is attributed to weak legal systems and problems of corruption. Low prosecution rates and light penalties are also blamed, with a lack of knowledge or concern about human trafficking among many criminal justice officials and police. For example, despite the 2015 amendments that removed judges’ ability to sentence convicted traffickers to fines in lieu of imprisonment, Nigerian courts continue to penalize traffickers with fines alone or offering the option to pay a fine instead of serving time.
The National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons was established by the Trafficking in Persons (Prohibition) Enforcement and Administration Act 2003, and is now governed by the 2015 replacement Act. NAPTIP has a multi-stakeholder Governing Board made up of civil society, experts, representatives from a range of public bodies including the Federal Ministry of Justice; Ministry of Women Affairs; Ministry of Labour and Productivity; the Police; the National Intelligence Agency; the Immigration Service; and the National Planning Commission. The Agency is tasked with coordinating the Nigerian Government’s response to human trafficking, including administering the Act and adopting measures for the prevention of human trafficking and protection of victims. The Agency also has powers to investigate human trafficking offences, including searching and seizing premises and arresting suspects, and operates NAPTIP nine shelters specifically for trafficking victims, with a total capacity of 313 victims
There are varying views on the effectiveness of NAPTIP, with lack of funds and issues with corruption cited as barriers to success. In particular, the ability of NAPTIP to fully support and prioritize the protection victims of human trafficking has been questioned. However the US State Department TIP Report 2016 did note a five-fold increase in spending on victim protection compared to the previous reporting period.
The Labour Act applies to all workers, and provides for both the regulation and enforcement of labour law. Section 73 of the Labour Act prohibits forced labour, and Section 46 penalises the ill-treatment or neglect of workers. Recruitment practices are also regulated under this Act, and deceptive or fraudulent recruitment is prohibited by Section 45.
The Ministry of Employment, Labour and Productivity is responsible for enforcing the Labour Act and related national policy and action plan on labour migration. The Act sets out the powers of labour officers to investigate prosecute violations, and empowers labour officers to enter and inspect business premises, but not private homes. However there are few labour inspectors, and existing inspectors lack the training, resources and remit to effectively identify and prevent labour exploitation.