“Between Agadez & Qatroun, (Niger Republic) & Sabha in the middle of Libya, we were kidnapped many times by militia groups that raped some of the ladies.”
Miss Peju Akins (pseudonym) was offered a poisoned chalice in a Lagos church in January, 2015; she embraced it hook, line and sinker!
A lady she met during Sunday service painted the rosy picture of Libya, with the streets of Tripoli “flowing with milk and honey’’, and the promise that after making money in the North African country, she would easily migrate to Europe.
“I’m lucky to be back in Nigeria alive; many died during the one-month trip through the desert, especially between Agadez in Niger Republic and the Libyan capital, Tripoli.
“My ‘burger’ (trafficker) succeeded in convincing another lady to make the trip with us from Lagos. We were seeking better life, but it was a regrettable trip and a waste of almost two years of my life.’’
Peju, 26, holds a National Diploma (ND) in business administration from a polytechnic in Nigeria’s South-West.
She says the first leg of the ill-fated trip, from Lagos to Kano, was fun. Then the next call between Kano and Agadez in Niger Republic, a distance of 715 kilometres, was stressful as they had no travelling documents.
“Border officials exploited us; checkpoints mounted by Nigerien gendarmes did the same. But, the horror started in Agadez.
“Any semblance of a road network ended at Agadez; all I could see was endless sand dunes like I have seen water at the ocean shore in Lagos. The heat and the dust were horrible.
“In addition, we were considered as mere merchandise over which people haggled for prices that could favour them.
“We spent five days in Agadez because the trip through the desert starts from there only on Mondays.
“In Agadez, our group met hundreds of black people from across the ECOWAS sub-region, assembled for the suicidal desert trip to Libya.’’
According to Peju, only four-wheel-drive, double-cabin pick-up vans are being used for the desert trip, with each taking between 20 and 30 migrants.
She says they were loaded in the cargo cabin of each pick-up van, with most of their bodies hanging out of the van, each hapless traveller holding a stick tied to a rope in the cabin, to stop them from falling off during the bumpy ride.
“Between Agadez and Qatroun, (in Niger Republic) and Sabha in the middle of Libya, we were kidnapped many times by militia groups that raped some of the ladies.
“There was so much shooting, though nobody in my vehicle was hit.
“We were told of rotting corpses littering some areas of the desert, but our driver must have avoided such spots so as not to further scare us.
“Each kidnapping meant being locked up in ‘prison’ until ransom was paid. My human trafficker saw to the negotiations.’’
Peju finally got to Tripoli, after covering about 3,500 kilometres of road, mostly uncharted desert.
“I thought my nightmare was over when we got to Tripoli; little did I know it had just begun.
“I and my fellow church member were allowed to scrub off the smell and dirt of the desert in a bathroom, and a change of dress, before being driven to a large compound they call ‘connection house’.
“The ‘connection house’ is the alias for a brothel.
“Without much hesitation, two elderly ladies, a Yoruba and an Ibo from Nigeria, casually asked if we would like to start with ‘one-round’, ‘short time’ or ‘all-night’ patrons’’.
She says she later understood that ‘one-round’ means having sex with a man once for the equivalent of N1,000 in Libya dinar, ‘short-time’ means three hours of sex for N3,000 equivalent, while ‘all-night’ means copulation from dusk to dawn for N6,000.
“We both protested that we would not do ‘ashawo’ (commercial sex work) and that our ‘burger’ (trafficker) only promised to get us housemaid jobs.
“The next five days was hell as the two of us were locked up in a room, without food and water, and constantly beaten up.
“Close to death on the fifth day, they called in a nurse to clean us up, feed us and allow us to change clothes.
“Then they told us we had to contact our families in Nigeria to wire N500,000 each to them or we would be drugged and forced into prostitution.’’
Peju says they were then allowed to have a mobile phone and alerted families back home in Nigeria of their predicament.
“The Yoruba woman spoke with my father in Lagos and in tears, he promised to send the money within a week. My father begged them not to harm or force me into prostitution.
“My co-traveller was the first to control (wire) money from Nigeria. My daddy finally sent my ransom — which he borrowed here and there.
“The matron then converted me to her salesgirl. I was in charge of selling brandy and whisky, condoms, diapers, creams and other materials the ‘ashawos’ needed for their carnal jobs.
“Yes, there are no babies in need of diapers, but the absorbent in them were being removed, creamed and forced down the private parts of the commercial sex workers to protect their womb (cervix) from being ruptured by their clients.’’