Escape from Libya: Bitter experiences of irregular migrants and Edo’s move to end stigma - OLAMORE
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Escape from Libya: Bitter experiences of irregular migrants and Edo’s move to end stigma

“It was an unforgettable journey, a jungle where only the strongest was able to survive and return home. Many died on that sea, including my friend, and that’s why I am advocating against irregular migration through the Libya route. In one’s lifetime, it is not a trip to conceive in mind or undertake irrespective of the nation’s challenges.”

The above was the sad tale of Festus Okosun, an Edo-born Nigerian and Libya returnee, whose plan to travel to Germany was unexpectedly aborted because of the physical and mental tortures he encountered while on the journey to the land of possibilities.

After more than six months of moving from pillar to post, seeking a favourable environment, he returned to Nigeria on January 15, 2018. Today, the middle-aged man is constabulary police in Edo State.

From the horse’s mouth, it was a tough travel experience, to say the least; roads were covered with thorns, paths marked with dangers and detention abuses.

“I got to Libya on June 27, 2017, with the intention to travel to Germany. I left Nigeria because of the bad situation of the country. The journey wasn’t easy starting from Benin City to Kano State.

“When we got to Kano, another vehicle came to convey us to a village. From there, a bike came to carry us across the border to Niger. When we got to Niger, I spent about four days before a vehicle came to transport us to a place called Agadez,” Okosun said.

Narrating his harrowing experience, he said: “On our way to Agadez, I thought we were going to Libya because of the long time we spent on the way. Upon getting to Agadez, we were told a Hilux van would come and pick us to Libya. At that moment, I felt somehow because I paid a huge sum of money thinking I would board from that location.

“I spent more than three weeks at Agadez, I even slept inside a cemetery. On our way to Libya, our vehicle carrying up to about 60 persons got spoilt. It was God that sent a rescue team to help us to another camp.

“We spent seven days before getting to Libya. On getting there, we spent many months in one of the villages but couldn’t cross. From there, we were taken to one prison and they asked us to pay about N500,000 to an account for us to be released.”

Okosun said after regaining freedom they embarked on the journey on January 15, 2018, but had some hitches with the boat and spent 18hours on the Mediterranean sea before help came.

“We left at 6 am and got rescued at 12 am the following day and they took us to another prison. It was in the prison we started to cry out that this wasn’t the initial agreement, and we were assured that the United Nations will come someday to rescue us,” he said.

The Libya returnee said when the UN eventually came, “we explained to them and they contacted the Nigerian embassy. The Nigerian embassy came to interview us and we told them that we are being enslaved.”


As luck would have it, he said the Nigerian embassy and UN intervened, and they were deported to Nigeria on February 1, 2018.

The quest for greener pastures has, over the years, pushed Nigerians, particularly Edo indigenes, to migrate irregularly through unfamiliar routes to European countries.

Despite the huge risk associated with such journeys, many have taken the routes, ignoring the inclement weather; the adverse and stormy Mediterranean Sea, and danger-strewn roads with the hope that if others can make it, they too can do it.

Countless people have lost their lives in the process of migrating irregularly while others have succeeded across the sea and the female ones engage mainly in prostitution to eke out a living and also to be able to refund the money spent in sponsoring them. For some, prisons in transit areas have taken significant years of their lives.

Although some have been able to genuinely make it when they get to their destination, many have decided to return to their home country to acquire vocational skills or start a trade after discovering that the assurances they were given by their sponsors were mere dreams.

Simple as it may seem with promising and enticing job opportunities to lighten up prospective migrants’ moods and convince them to sail up the sea but they end up neglected midway to the journey only to seek help for a possible return to their origin.

Many people have voyaged through the rough territories, trekked the torturous routes and survived sinking ships all in a bid to hold onto the opportunities offered in their prospective destination and send remittances back to their families and loved ones living at their respective home country.

Concerned about the ills of human trafficking and antics traffickers use to lure potential victims, Solomon Okoduwa, a Libya-returnee, who was bound to travel to Italy, established a Non-Government Organisation to reach out to those that are not well informed.

Okoduwa, executive director of Initiative for Youth Awareness on Migration, Immigration Development and Re-integration (IYAMIDR), said the NGO was born out of the desire to create awareness in schools, churches, mosques, and markets.

“At the time we travelled, there was no much awareness, so we established it for returned migrants so as to address the issue that led us to the country we returned from. We have been active in both state and federal advocacy against trafficking and to educate, reorient our youths on this issue,” Okoduwa said.

Okoduwa, who travelled to Libya in 2007 and returned in 2012 during Muammar el-Qaddafi saga, said language barrier and poor relations between Nigeria and Libya posed challenges to his sojourn.

“During Muammar el-Qaddafi issue, there was heavy turbulence everywhere and people were crying for the Federal Government to come and save Nigerians. I was among those that informed the National Assembly on the ordeals of Nigerians.

“The Federal Government came up to evacuate Nigerians from the country and that was how I came back to Nigeria with the fourth flight,” he said.

Human trafficking and irregular migration have long been in existence in Edo State and the environs. It is one of the issues confronting society and may have been propelled by the prevailing circumstances such as dwindling economy, hunger, rising unemployment level, among others.

Worried at the growing number of persons that struggle helplessly and submerge into the raging oceans, Oba Ewuare II, Oba of Benin took a bold step to burnish the image of Edo indigenes and, to a great extent, Nigeria.

The Benin Monarch’s timely intervention has significantly killed the irregular migration idea, saved many from venturing through the dangerous paths to foreign countries and corrected the wrong perception earlier regarded by the global communities about Edo State.

Aligning with the Oba’s stance to free the state from human trafficking, the Edo State government under the leadership of Governor Godwin Obaseki established the Edo State Taskforce Against Human Trafficking (ETAHT).

The task force is also charged with the responsibility of facilitating the rehabilitation and re-integration of voluntary and forcefully returned migrants into society.

“Clearly, we cannot as Edo people, afford to be stigmatised and taunted anymore on the issue of human trafficking. It is like trafficking is now synonymous with Edo State and it is unacceptable. As a government, we have decided to take the bull by the horns and take action ourselves. We cannot accept this disgrace anymore”, the governor stated on the formation of the task force.

Obaseki said, “The best opportunity is to make home a home; create the opportunity for people to stay at home and give them all the basic amenities. They need to be given good education that can give them jobs. What I have seen in government is that there is money to do all these if we don’t steal the money.”

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