By Babatunde Alao
According to the UN’s International Organization for Migration, 3116 people died in the Mediterranean Sea while trying to cross from North Africa to Europe by sea in 2017 alone. A report by Aljazeera revealed that citizens of Nigeria have been the largest group of migrants travelling to Libya in an attempt to cross the Mediterranean sea to “greener pastures” in Europe.
In the process of this transit, many die in the desert while others drown in the sea; the few who escape dying or drowning sometimes end up as slaves in Libya.
In 2017 alone, the International Organisation on Migration repatriated over 5,000 Nigerians from Libya. A few weeks ago, 23 of these returnees who are indigenes of Ondo State were received by the state government.
SUNSHINE HERALD met with one of them, who shared the story of how he was trapped into slavery in Libya.
Ayodele Adenbu studied microbiology at the Federal University of Technology Akure and graduated in 2004. Ayodele, who is an indigene of Ese Odo Local Government Area of Ondo State was working in a hotel in Port Harcourt before he met a friend who ‘facilitated’ his sojourn to Libya. Little did he know that he was being smuggled into slavery. Out of the frying pan into the fire!
ROAD TO LIBYA
In Port Harcourt he was told, “if you get to Libya within two months you will have millions in your account because they pay good salary.”
Ayodele travelled 1,049km from Port Harcourt to Kano after paying N200,000 in 2015. In Kano, he was to link up with someone that would put him on a plane going to Libya.
“I met a man who put me in another car again. An eighteen-passenger bus but we were up to thirty in it. We were inside the bush. It was in the night and I was getting sacred. I even called my wife to tell her that I did not know maybe these people had kidnapped me,” He told SUNSHINE HERALD.
From our interaction with Ayodele, we discovered that human traffickers have built a network across borderlines of countries where they have agents (connection man) who trade humans for as low as N20,000.
While on transit, phones are seized from victims to prevent contact with security agents and customs officers as they cross to Niger.
“We got to Niger border the following morning around 5 a.m.
When we got to Niger, they now packed us in a place. They call the place Ghetto. I met almost one thousand Nigerians both male female, and children here.
I asked the man we met there, the connection man in Niger—A Nigerian man based in Niger— “when are we going? where is the airport?”
“He told us to enter another car, a Sienna space wagon. They really packed us in it. Three people could even sit on your leg.
Some were taken on bike. Some people even fell off the bike and died because of the way they drove. They drive very fast”, he explained.
CHANGE IN IDENTITY
They did a passport for us different from the one we did in Nigeria that bears our real name. They said the one we brought from Nigeria will not work. They gave me a new name, Yusuf.
I don’t know the other name but they told me to keep Yusuf in mind. When we got to the checkpoint, the police came, they knew we were going to Libya and so the guys carrying us get them tips.
In Niger, we entered another car. We spent three days on the road, packed in the vehicle. It was a quiet journey, in fact, if you made noise in the car, the driver would bring out cutlass to threaten you.
He kept saying, “this is an illegal journey”. Then I kept asking myself, “where are we going?”
After the three-day journey, we got to Agadez—this is the place where everyone going to Libya would take off. We had no food to eat, I was only taking garri.
Agadez is the final stop for commercial buses. The journey from here is usually facilitated by a network of smugglers who drive pick-up trucks.
“I didn’t know the journey would be like that. I thought we would just get to Niger and board a plane going to Libya.
“When we got there, they showed me different ghettos where they packed people going to Libya. They were locked up so that nobody would see them. If you try to talk, they beat you up.
“I was trying to talk to one of the gate guys but he said I should talk to the person that linked me up.
“When it was night one of them that was with me said I should go. Then I saw a Hilux van. I saw people rushing towards the van and he said, ‘you better go and look for where to sit’.
“He told me to hold a stick, water and garri that I bought at Agadez; according to him, we would get to Libya the following day.”
Agadez road is a notorious smuggling route along the Sahara region. For every corpse discovered, there may be another 50 that will never be found.
A passenger who once travelled this route explained that the Sahara is more dangerous than the Mediterranean.
From Agadez to Tripoli is a 2,793km distance journey through the Sahara Desert.
According to a report by The Guardian, “you can’t see the road from Agadez in Niger to Libya. You simply drive to the edge of the local airstrip, turn left, fork right, head past the one building on the horizon—a local police checkpoint—and that’s it.
“Only a selected few local drivers know which dunes lead across the Sahara and which ones lead to oblivion. And in three days of driving, there are plenty of wrong turnings to make.”
Ayodele continued, “I felt like going back. I had no money on me again even if I have the money there is no way to go back. They will monitor you until you enter that van going to Libya. They have collected money from the person you are going to meet in Libya. They call them boga (smuggler).
“They also told us to buy blanket that we would sleep on the road and I thought, ‘you said we would get to Libya tomorrow. Why are we sleeping again?’
“We met police checkpoints on the road. If you do not have money, they will beat you to hell. They will collect everything you have on you.
“Thank God for my life. I didn’t have money but I had the grace of God. If the police assembled people to collect money from, they will ask me to go and then beat the others who did not have money.
“They used pipe to beat some people. That was never a concern for the driver. He just stood by and watched. If you died in the process, the security operatives would ask the driver to go with your body and your belongings.”
Ayodele and other Libya-bound passengers spent two weeks travelling the Sahara Desert.
“I was eating garri. no water. Cold and dust killed some people. The driving was very bad and fast.
“People fell out of the van and the driver will not even wait for you. He would only say, “that one has gone.
“I held a stick in the van. About sixty (60) of us were packed in the van. If you are not careful some people will push you away.
“We even had children and pregnant women. We did all of these for two weeks, it was a very bad experience.
“At some points, we passed the normal routes where you could get little water. Some people had to drink their urine and lick their sweats.
There was even a lady that told me that there was a guy who was about to die and she had to press her breast to get water just for the guy to have a drop to sustain him…
TO BE CONTINUED IN THE SECOND PART