How drivers took turns to rape us in their vehicles – Nigerian migrants in Libya recount ordeals

  • Those who resisted were battered, threatened with death – Victims
  • ‘Some die of thirst, others fall off moving vehicles’

BY TIMOTHY AGBOR, OSOGBO

It is almost impossible for Nigerian female migrants journeying through the Sahara desert to Libya and European countries to escape being raped and subjected to other inhuman treatments, investigation by The Point has revealed.

Some female Nigerians who have left the country in search of greener pastures overseas narrated touching stories of how smugglers who drive vehicles that ferry migrants through the Sahara desert take advantage of female migrants’ helplessness by forcing sex on them and subjecting them to other forms of sexual assault inside their vehicles.

Our correspondent gathered that journeying through the road from Agadez in Niger to Libya was a rough and deadly one. Many migrants, mostly from West Africa, do not only suffer sexual assault, others die of thirst while some unlucky ones fall off moving pick-up vehicles and are left to rot away.

Some Nigerians who have migrated to Libya spoke with The Point exclusively and narrated their ordeals in the Sahara desert and how they ended up in Libya after being promised trips and jobs in Spain and Dubai by some suspected human traffickers whom they identified as “job agents.”

A Nigerian lady, Adeola Gbokede (not real name) who is currently working in Libya as a househelp, disclosed that a fellow Nigerian woman took her to Libya in February, 2022 after assuring her of a lucrative job in Spain. Adeola said she was introduced to the oversea trip after she finished her National Diploma in Mass Communication at a Nigerian Polytechnic by a friend who connected her with the job agent.

She said the drivers of all the vehicles she and some other migrants took from Niger to Libya took turns to rape female passengers inside the vehicles, as those who made efforts to resist the brutal sexual act, were battered and threatened with death.

Narrating her ordeals, the single mother of one said, “After I finished my National Diploma in Osun State in 2020, I tried to see if I would get a job in order to save for my Higher National Diploma but it wasn’t fruitful because I had to take care of my baby girl. I mistakenly got pregnant for my classmate during my ND days and my life has never been the same ever since I got pregnant and gave birth because the man denied the pregnancy and abandoned me. My parents are poor and also struggling to feed themselves with menial jobs. They live in Osogbo and after my ND programme, I started living with them.

“I have engaged in some menial jobs in Osogbo before I met a friend who introduced me to a job agent who promised to take me to Spain and get me a good job. The agreement was that once I got to Spain, I would work for two years and my salaries would be collected by the job agent, then, after the third year, I would start earning directly. I had to struggle and get the money for my transport fare to Kano State to meet the travel agent.”

The 23-year-old lady said she experienced her most devastating moments in life on her way to Libya.

“I was told that I would get to Libya first before going to Spain. I had never traveled out of Nigeria before and so I relied on whatever they told me. I had the worst experience of my life in the Sahara desert while journeying to Libya. There is a place called Agadez, where I boarded a white bus alongside other Nigerians. When I got inside the vehicle, I discovered that the only chairs there were the one for the driver and the one beside the driver. We had to sit on the floor of the bus. We were only girls and the boys were taken to a pick-up vehicle behind us.

“After we started the trip, I discovered that there were two drivers attached to a vehicle and both of them would sit conveniently in the front seats. As we proceeded, one of them would get to the back and pick us at random to sleep with. When some of us resisted, he would bring out a dagger and threaten to kill anyone who refused. It was a dehumanising journey. Miraculously, I escaped being raped but I almost died of thirst because the water we took got exhausted and there was nowhere to get another. I had to join others in drinking ‘petrol water’.

“There was a water in a keg mixed with petrol, that was what saved my life. At a point, one of the drivers ordered one of us to suck his private part while on the wheels. I spent close to two months in the desert before getting to Libya. I had to wear all the clothes I took along at a time because the cold was so much. I decided to share my story in order to let other Nigerians know the dangers in traveling through illegal means. One of us who was sitting on a pick-up vehicle fell off while the vehicle was moving and the driver didn’t stop. It was when we got to a terminal that other passengers were sharing the story.

“When I got to Libya, I met the Nigerian woman that facilitated my trip and she told me that I would be living and working in Libya. I was shocked because we never agreed on that. She told me it was either I stayed in Libya or she asked the Libyan police to arrest me for illegal migration. I had no choice than to succumb. She later got a househelp job for me with an agreement that my two years salaries would be paid to her. And she has been collecting it every since. After some months, I hope to save some money and return to Nigeria,” she told The Point.

Also sharing similar tales, another female Nigerian migrant in Libya, Dorcas Adio (not real name), said she thought she was being taken to Dubai, the United Arab Emirates, but ended up in Libya. She said she was promised a better life in Dubai after she met a woman suspected to be a human trafficker in Lagos.

The 20-year-old lady said, “Things weren’t going well for my parents and after I finished secondary school in 2018, I started doing menial jobs to help my parents. It was at a supermarket where I was working as a sales girl that I met a woman who offered to take me to Dubai. I was filled with joy, but now, I am regretting because I was taken to Libya. My horror started on my way to Libya. A lot of horrible things happened on my way as drivers and their partners forced sex on me and other female migrants. We had no choice than to do it because there was no one to help.

“After 10 days in the desert, I arrived Libya. I was told I was in Libya because I thought it was Spain. When I asked when I would be moving to Spain, the woman told me that I would be working in Libya. For the first one month when I came in last year, I had to sleep with men for money before I eventually got a maid job with a sick aged woman. That is where I am working, currently. Once I finish paying my madam (suspected trafficker), I will start receiving my salaries myself.”

It was gathered that only a few of those who set out on these dangerous journeys live to tell their stories. While many have died in the desert as a result of starvation, accidents and wilful killing, others, especially men, end up as slaves working as labourers on farms. The ladies are often sold to brothels where they become victims of sexual slavery.

According to Amnesty International, the mostly sub-Saharan African migrants and asylum-seekers held in detention centres in Libya face torture, rape, beatings, and deaths. Year in, year out, Nigerian government had to rescue stranded migrants in Libya and repatriate them to the country amid dehumanising stories. Yet, Nigerians keep trooping out of the shores of the country through dangerous and illegal means for better lives.

Meanwhile, stakeholders have called on the Nigerian government to address the economic and employment challenges confronting the nation in order to reduce the rising mass exodus of Nigerians overseas in search of greener pastures.

They also called on the Federal Government to fashion out a stronger foreign policy that would galvanise better international relationships that would frustrate illegal migration.
A public affairs analyst, Comrade Lekan Adebisi, urged the Federal Government to provide jobs and better life for the citizenry so that they wouldn’t be exposed to danger and xenophobic attacks in foreign lands.

He said, “The present administration has no specific international relations policies; go and check it, you can’t define any foreign policy that will protect Nigerians abroad or attach any to this present government. What are those jobs in Libya, Saudi Arabia that our people are going for? Are they professional jobs, no. They are just menial jobs and prostitution. Most of the foreign environments that our people go to are religious based where prostitution is not allowed but Nigerians are desperate for jobs outside Nigeria.

“Do they get a better life there? No, they can’t get it because our foreign policy is not there to protect them, so, they are just going on their own. People go through the desert, through ship and all that, and when they get there, they give them the worst treatments of their lives, so, we have to look at the foreign policies first and also look at our own empowerment policies. It is only after this that the government can start looking at xenophobic attacks.”

A lawyer, Oyedokun Ali, said, “The matter goes beyond foreign policy programmes. This Japa syndrome is not that easy because most Nigerians also suffer in the cold trying to make ends meet.

While the government makes efforts to stabilise our economy, I think there should be a kind of orientation for Nigerians to have some more patriotic spirit and stop endangering their lives in the guise of searching for greener pastures. Our country could be greener if the government does the needful.”

A politician, Goke Omigbodun, said elites and professionals had been moving out of the country in droves and making Nigeria lose the best of its brain in all professions.

“Government has its own part and we as a people have our own part to play. The Universities in those countries have a lot of Nigerian lecturers. Our doctors and bankers are very many in Saudi Arabia. I am concerned about the increasing rate of this mass exodus. Most bankers and doctors are moving out and we are losing brains daily. The leadership has not done so much concerning this matter and the earlier they started addressing this issue, the better for our c ountry,” he said.