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Kidnap victim

11.06.2024 Featured A Survivor’s Account: In Benin Republic, Trafficked Nigerians Are Forced to ‘Bring 2 More Victims to Make Money’

Published 11th Jun, 2024

By Daniel Ojukwu

In the final quarter of 2023, Folashade Adewunmi (not real name) received an offer to leave Nigeria for what looked like greener pastures in Benin Republic. The offer came with salary payment in dollars and a strong referral from a family member. On paper, it was great.

She had been job-hunting for a while, and when her elder sister told her about the opportunity, Folashade did not think too much about it. This sister of hers had a son in the French-speaking country, who was earning this money and was available to help bring her in. All she needed to do was pay N700,000 for a work permit.

Trusting the words of her sister and nephew, she paid. And in November 2023, she was in Benin Republic.

Soon, she would discover the opportunity she thought she found was indeed a human trafficking operation and the demand was for her to lure two more unsuspecting victims in return for the promised payments.

In a chat with FIJ, Folashade explained how she smelled foul play when Emmanuel, her nephew, took her and 14 others into small rooms in an apartment in Benin Republic instead of the company he mentioned.

She waived her fears because of the trust she had in her sister. This sister, she explained, lent her N800,000 for the work permit and upkeep, so Folashade was in her debt. It had to work. Unknown to her, it was an elaborate scheme.

ARRIVING BENIN REPUBLIC

On the morning of November 12, 2023, Folashade left Lagos, Nigeria, to meet Emmanuel.

“I arrived in Cotonou, Benin Republic, and Emmanuel came to pick me up at Sekanji junction,” she told FIJ. “We went to the house they were staying, and I was shocked because the surroundings were just like a ghetto, and the rooms had no beds and no fan.

“I was staying with a lady whom I later learned was a police officer before coming to Benin. We were the only ladies among the men. In total, we were 15, but we ladies were in a separate room.

“I asked Emmanuel why there was no fan and bed, and he said they had just moved into the apartment as the company was under renovation because of Christmas. He said we would soon move back to the company’s quarters.”

READ ALSO: Chronicles of Kidnap Survivors (I): In Captivity, Terrorists Ordered Pastor to Hit Fellow Captive to Death

But Emmanuel was lying to her. He had sold his mother a tale of job security in a foreign land with a good salary, and this same story was sold to Folashade. What he did not tell either of them was how he was really making his money.

To FIJ, Folashade explained that what Emmanuel was doing to make money was luring people to the country and having them pay N700,000 to the head of a human trafficking ring. Each person he lured fetched him a commission, and these lured job seekers were encouraged to lure at least two people so they could earn like Emmanuel.

“It was like network marketing,” Folashade added.

NO ESCAPE

A day after arriving in Benin, Emmanuel took his aunt and the others to a restaurant, where they met two Nigerian men.

There, her SIM cards and passport were taken from her “because they wanted to be sure we did not have criminal records”. This was another lie. The men held those items so no one could call for help. They had become hostages.

“They said they would be lecturing us and that we were not going anywhere,” Folashade narrated. “It was then I got to know that it was networking business.

“I would have to bring two more people, and those people would pay N700,000 each, and those two people would bring two people again. If we completed this chain, they said, then they would start paying us. I was shocked and sad. After the lectures, I went back to my room and started crying because there was no way I could communicate with my people.”

With no SIM card or passport, she could neither call for help nor leave the country on her own.

The only way she could reach people was through WhatsApp. Emmanuel would turn on his hotspot; she would connect and call or text family. She could not afford to tell her sister what she discovered because he would stay by her at all times, monitoring conversations.

“That was how I started staying indoors every day with no good food, frequent mosquito bites and the heat. I saw hell,” she said.

Help came when people began falling sick. The men in charge of the apartment had to return their passports and SIM cards. It was then that Folashade was able to call her younger sister and explain everything to her.

Weeks later, with the help of her younger sister’s friend in Benin Republic, she returned to Nigeria.

Folashade now lives in Lagos, but she never forgot how the incident affected her in 2023. When FIJ asked if she went to the police, she said she and others wanted to but the men there warned against it, saying they would all be arrested if they did.

She told her sister about Emmanuel’s role, but the boy was a victim like her, trapped in his quest for a job and unable to come forward with the truth when a family member was involved.

Name changed to protect source’s identity

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Published 11th Jun, 2024

By Daniel Ojukwu

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