PREMIUM TIMES publishes some of Ms. Ovuorie’s communications with the office regarding aspects of her difficult investigation and her challenge in managing the environment of the human trafficking criminals.
As the Nigerian government opens its investigation into the workings of the ruthless human trafficking mafia exposed by PREMIUM TIMES, in partnership with ZAM CHRONICLE, a leading civic anti-corruption group in the country, Integrity, spoke in Abuja Tuesday, of the need to connect the investigations to the larger crime of corruption in the country of which human trafficking is a predicate offence.
“On whether the investigations would yield an outcome as “epic” as the exposé itself is another thing altogether, but one thing is sure- a young, relatively unknown, woman has made an impact, said Soji Apampa, Integrity’s chief executive, remarking that from “Tobore’s report, a vice that allows human trafficking thrive is corruption.”
Mr. Apampa argued, “Until somebody chooses to act against the status quo of apathy and fear, bribery and corruption will morbidly rape this country of her every honour before our very eyes. Nothing will change till someone believes that now is time to wake up and expose the corrupt in our society.”
Thursday in Lagos, however, PREMIUM TIMES met with officials from the statutory agency with a lead mandate on the crime, the National Agency for the Prohibition of Traffic in Persons and other Related Matters, NAPTIP, accepting to work in partnership on the investigation.
“We need to commence investigation to bring the syndicate to book,” Arinze Orakwue, NAPTIP’s head of media and communications, said, stressing that “further delay might hamper law enforcement efforts,” as he and other officials at the meeting painted a gruesome picture of the world of the traffickers and NAPTIP’s daily challenge with the crime.
The agency however pledged “responsibility to make sure that the reporter is safe.”
In its 2013 Department of State’s annual Trafficking in Persons, TIP, report, the United States Department of State urged the federal government to take proactive measures to investigate and prosecute government officials “suspected of trafficking-related corruption.”
The report stated that although Nigeria remained in Tier 2 status because the government does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; it is making “significant” efforts to do so.
The report of the four-month long investigation by Tobore Ovuorie, Senior Investigative Reporter, PREMIUM TIMES, shocked the world, with Nigerians prevailing on law enforcement agents to swing into action. It was so shocking that some terribly dazed Nigerians have in the past week been arguing on social media over whether the report is fact or fiction.
Integrity has amplified the call for a thorough investigation again as PREMIUM TIMES publishes some of Ms. Ovuorie’s communications with the office regarding aspects of her difficult investigation and her challenge in managing the environment of the human trafficking criminals.
“If Tobore can make a difference, you can. Don’t keep silent” Integrity said calling those who are willing to take up public integrity issues to visit its site, register, and seek support."
Some of reporter Tobore Ovuorie's SMS communication with her office (only about the investigations) paints the sorry state of a nation at the messy side of human values. The messages are in text speak, placed in quotes, and are being published unedited. The editor's responses follows on the right.
Note: Only delivered sms communications received by the office are published, with some apparently undelivered as can be seen in the communications.
PREMIUM TIMES is offering the information to law enforcement agencies in aid of investigation of the story.
“My oga at the top! Good morning & how's your night? There's a breakthrough in the trafficking investigation! Someone's linked me with an agent who says they go through Cotonou. I'm going to meet with the agent by 11.30am today at Banex plaza. The only hitch is that my link already told d agent my real name! The person doesn't know I'm a journalist, worse still, on a fact-finding mission. I'll find a way around it. Speak with you very soon Sir.”
“Good evening Sir. Please, I'll be late for the editorial meeting. I'm in Capital Bar waitin to speak with Oghogho one of the girls who has been trafficked to Italy, returned recently & owns houses & businesses from illicit sex. I ought to have gone to Delta state to see her but she's in Abuja for a party.”
“Sir, I've met Oghogho. She seems to like me and has invited me to d party she's attending tonight in order to meet other ladies & men in the trafficking business. She wants me to wear a very short revealing dress to the party. I don't want her to know where I live so we're shopping for that kind of dress.”
“Thanks a lot. Good job. Kindly try to be security conscious. Carefully withdraw if you become suspicious of any danger.”
“Good morning Sir. How's your night? The party Oghogho took me to yesterday was very devilish! I was given alcohol & cigarette to smoke; I struggled to keep up with the pretense. I've never smoked nor drank alcohol before. I couldn't wait through the night at the party as I started having nausea so had to leave. I've been vomiting since I got home & have difficulty breathing. I'll stop at Garki Hospital where I'm registered before coming to the office Sir.”
EDITOR'S NOTE: After she sent this particular message, Ms. Ovuorie's condition deteriorated. She was rushed to a nearby hospital in Abuja, where she was treated.
“Sir, please I'm still in the midst of people that are why I'm unable to speak. I'm in Zabin-Zaria with my research supervisor. She has been able to help me convince the family of the young lady whom I wanted to interview for the trafficking story. She was trafficked to Egypt to prostitute but returned to the country recently after contracting anal-gonorhea and HIV. We are waiting at ABUTH to speak to her. She's presently sleeping but have been told by the doctor to wait until she's awake. I suspect she has full blown AIDS. Will keep you updated how everything goes. But I was told I can't have her picture.”
Ms. Ovuorie sent the messages below using a different phone number which she took along for her camping with the trafficking syndicate in Lagos
“Sir, please you can reach me thru dis no but via text. I misplaced d sim & phone I bought yesterday. Tobore.”
“Ok Good job so far. Please, be security conscious.
Where are you now?”
“Thanks sir. I sure will”
“IKORODU. Pickpocket classes continues in the night”
“Haaaa! Na wa o!”
“Gd morn sir. how's ur nite? d oath taking went sour yesternite. d native dr said i came 2d world with a good head but not 4sex trade. he said a bigger juju priest is protectin me & xcept he is overpowered, she must not take me to italy lest i bring her misfortune dat wil ruin her completely. d native dr cldnt overpower 'my juju priest' so set i & 3 oda girls aside while odas performed all d rites. didnt sleep all nite as d madam was harassing me 4my juju priest's name & contact. i've neva bn 2a native dr but she didnt believe me. At a point, she got angry & attacked me. d oda girls are now being taken away.”
“So, where are you? Are you safe?”
“Is she dropping you from the trip?”
“D 3 ODAS & I ARE LEFT IN D ROOM. ANODA SET OF GIRLS & BOYS ARRIVED
DIS MORN BUT KEPT IN D OPPOSITE ROOM. MR. JAMES SAID I SHLD GET SET. I DONT KNOW WHERE WE'RE GOING TO. MY BODY ACHES & I'M VERY HUNGRY. THEY'RE STARVIN ME 4NOT TELLING DEM WHO ABOUT MY JUJU PRIEST. I'LL KEEP U UPDATED BUT I'M ALREADY PLOTTIN MY ESCAPE AS DIS PEOPLE ARE MORE DANGEROUS DAN I ENVISAGED.”
“Kindly escape as soon as you can
What part of Lags are you?”
“WE'RE AT A BABALOWO'S PLACE. I RECOGNISE PASSIN PENCINEMA. AM PREPARED 2RUN IF SITUATION GETS CRITICAL.”
“Please do slip off as soon as possible.”
“Yes Sir. Pls, if u try 2reach me but can't get me it's bcos my fon battry is dead. I borrowed a girl called Isoken's fon 2send dis txt. Discovrd she also has 1.”
“Gd evenin Sir! Finally, we're leaving for Cotonou 2mrw morn. Reece- d journalist in Cotonou would be on standby to help me run away. We went to THREE native doctors. D final one in Ogun state shaved my hair, bathed me with some concoction & said he has overpowered d juju-priest so can embark on d journey.”
“Please be careful and keep in touch.
It was on November 9 that the cross border trip through the Seme border was made, during which Tobore escaped in Cotonou. She and Reece, a Benin investigative journalist continued the reporting from there and plotted her return.
“Are you in Lagos already? How did the border crossing go?”
“Good evening Sir. I sent two sms earlier on. Two people from the Nigerian embassy unofficially helped me cross. Got to my brother's place not quite long due to traffic. I'll leave for Abuja first thing tomorrow morning.”
“Ok, I didn't get the earlier texts”
“Must have been network then. I sent the second sms before I sent to Uncle Dapsy. Thanks so much sir. I'm still on sleeping medication. Have a blessed night rest.”
“Hope you arrived Abuja safely?”
Editor's note: After speaking with her editors in Nigeria on phone, Tobore, using Reece's facebook account, had a chat with Evelyn Groenink of our Dutch partner, Zam Magazine. The chat and the call were done on November 9, the day Tobore met Reece after escaping from the trafficking cartel. The facebook chat is published below, while all records remain available for relevant law enforcement agencies.