Eletiofe Blue Bus Frontliners: How NAPTIP's investigation unit works against...

Blue Bus Frontliners: How NAPTIP’s investigation unit works against human trafficking

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An insight into how intelligence and counter intelligence safeguards Nigeria’s vulnerable From Human Trafficking

Intelligence and counter intelligence plays a huge part in curbing the activities of human trafficking gangs

‘Blue Bus Frontliners’ is a 5-part editorial series leading up to the World Day Against Trafficking In Persons on July 30th, 2021. It will highlight the efforts of agencies, organizations, and personnel actively involved in Nigeria’s unwavering fight against human trafficking. It is brought to you by NAPTIP, IOM, and sponsored by the Swiss Federation.

NAPTIP, the spearhead of Nigeria’s perennial campaign against human trafficking, relies on several moving parts to fulfil its mandate. One of such parts is its investigative arm. In this second interview of five, Mr. Peter Essien, Director of Investigations at NAPTIP brings us into the world where intelligence and counter-intelligence drive the protection and rescue of Nigerians from the plague of trafficking.

All crimes, especially ones as abhorrent as trafficking in persons [TIP], thrive on secrecy and clandestine operations. To therefore grab the trafficking situation in Nigeria by the scruff of the neck, the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP) recognises that it always has to be a step ahead, one move better than the perpetrators of the crime.

One way to make this happen is to set up a solid network of information and intelligence – one which, as the interview below shows, has now become an important cog in the wheel driving the fight against human trafficking.

Mr. Peter Essien, Director of Investigations at NAPTIP headquarters, Abuja, answers our questions below:

What is the scope of your work at NAPTIP?

“Basically, we are responsible for the prevention and detection of offenses under the NAPTIP act. We collaborate with other law enforcement agencies and other relevant stakeholders in charge of entry and exit border posts in the country for the purpose of detecting the offenses under the act.

“We investigate all cases of trafficking in persons including forced labour, child labour, forced prostitution, exploitative labour, and other forms of exploitations, slavery and slavery-like activities, removal of organs, illegal smuggling of migrants, sale and purchase of persons among many other functions.

For how long have you worked in this role?

“NAPTIP started in 2003, and I joined in November 2004. So I’d say I have been in the investigation department from the inception of the agency until I rose to the rank of director of investigations. So since 2004 till date, I have been in the investigations department. There was a time I was appointed the zonal commander.

“I’ve also been a regional director, and I have also worked in the training and manpower department until I was then appointed the Director of Investigations.”

How would you gauge the ease or difficulty of carrying out your anti-trafficking work?

“The difficult aspect is the paucity of funds to conduct investigations, especially proactive investigations. While the economic hardship caused by Covid-19 also affected resources needed to conduct investigations, we have ensured that TIP cases are investigated to a logical conclusion.

“We also have insufficient people for forensic crime investigation but regardless, NAPTIP has always lived up to its responsibility and we make sure that our operatives are trained to do the work as it should be done irrespective of shortages and shortfalls on the resources of the agency and that is why we have moved on.

“That is why we have been investigating our cases as at when due. Suspects arrested, victims of human trafficking rescued, cases forwarded to legal for prosecution, etc.”

What do you think the alternative situation would be if those issues you raised were inexistent?

“I think it would have been a lot better than what we have now. Better in the sense that we would have had more responses. For instance, NAPTIP currently operates on zonal command. Our director generals have started establishing state commands and liaison offices so that when we have enough funds, there will be state commands and local government offices in all the local governments and in all the states of the federation to handle cases of TIP as quickly and as efficiently as possible.

“But with what we have currently, the zonal commands are divided into zones. So anywhere you have a case, it is the zonal command that goes for the rescue operation, or for the arrest of suspects.

“But thankfully, because of our collaborative efforts with other security agencies like Nigerian Police Force, DSS, Civil defense, Immigration, among others, when there are cases in areas where there are no NAPTIP formations, our contacts at other law enforcement agencies can make the intervention before our operatives arrive at the scene, and then the cases can now be handed over to us.”

Partnerships are a recurring theme here and it’s really important, obviously. So could you please speak in detail about your team’s partnership efforts with others?

“So far, partnerships with all other NGOs and even government agencies have been very solid. The relationship is very cordial because we have never had any situation where we informed the Police to intervene in any cases of human trafficking and they refused. Instead, they’d willingly revert back to NAPTIP with a letter, handing over the suspects and victims.

“And like I mentioned earlier, where we call them ahead of our operatives’ arrival on a scene, they’re always helpful. At other times all we have to do is write a letter on investigation activities and they’d work hand-in-hand with our detectives as the goal is the same. So the partnership is no issue over here.”

What international investigative bodies do you work with if any?

“We have an international cooperation unit that coordinates and handles our international liaisons. So there are various international collaborations, bilateral agreements with various countries.

“We are in partnership with Interpol. We were recently in Niger republic to get back a Nigerian. We were also in Oman, Burkina Faso… different countries, really. We work and collaborate to get back victims, we also have suspects sent nack here for trials and we do the same too. There is a lot of reciprocity for sure.”

Can we speak about the process that unfolds when you apprehend a suspect?

“When a case is reported to NAPTIP, depending on the nature of the case; if it has to do with the rescue of the victims we move in immediately and the suspect is arrested. The phone number, the contact, or how they got in contact with the suspect, all of those details are given to us.

“As a crime detection agency, we use crime-fighting tools to get suspects. We even track their calls, we track their numbers and get them wherever they are. We have rescued quite a number of victims turning to thousands. We have also arrested suspects running up to thousands.

Now would be a great time to ask about some of the successes the agency has experienced

“Since NAPTIP was established in 2003, we have recorded a total of 480 convictions as July 2021, we have investigated over 4, 151 cases in the agency. On victims’ rescues, we have 15,532 rescued victims as of June 15, 2020.

“Suspects arrested are about 6, 969; all involved in cases of human trafficking, child labour, child abuse, and other crimes. Then there are victims in NAPTIP who have been empowered in different vocations since the establishment of the agency. The agency has also trained some victims through secondary school to university level.

“We have also carried out several public enlightenment activities on the societal ills of human trafficking. So, those are some of the success stories recorded by the agency since its inception. And I think that, given the time frame of the existence of the agency, this is a good record.”

Concerning your investigation network, what would you love to see improvement in?

“The investigation network in NAPTIP is very good. We have seasoned detectives, investigators, and operatives that have been employed. We also have people who have worked in other law enforcement agencies who have taken up appointments at NAPTIP, we have those who were employed directly and trained, and we are doing our very best.

“The only thing we want, just as in any other agency including Interpol, Police, and even DSS, is training, and even retraining on the new tricks and modes of operation of these criminals and human traffickers. These criminals are dynamic and always coming up with new ways to carry out their operations.”

Are there other challenges?

The headquarter office of NAPTIP can be more befitting, I think. So that we can carry out the enormous workload. We need more detention facilities, we need more shelters like three more shelters so that we can have better accommodation space for victims of TIP. You know, just better offices to operate from, and our director-general is working hard to accomplish that.

The Blue Bus project is funded by the Government of Switzerland.

This is a sponsored post.

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