Nigerian human trafficking victim approaches PAC
A NIGERIAN human trafficking victim, Martin Chukwuma, made an unannounced appearance at the Tuesday session of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) to seek its intervention over his six-year ordeal at the hands of his employer.
Mr Chukwuma said he was coerced into coming to Lesotho with the promise of a lucrative job by a fellow Nigerian identified as Eric Richard.
Mr Chukwuma who is a building constructor, told PAC that he was invited to the country in 2012 by Mr Richard who told him he wanted him to build a double story house. Mr Chukwuma said Mr Richard told him that he needed Mr Chukwuma’s services because “Basotho do not know how to build a double storey like Nigerians”.
An emotional Mr Chukwuma said he has not been able to go home or send money to his wife and children for the past six years because Mr Richard has not paid him as promised.
According to Mr Chukwuma, Mr Richard whose wife is an officer in the ministry of Home Affairs has refused to pay even after the intervention of the police and the small claims office.
“He came to me (in Nigeria) with a proposal. He said he was a very good friend of the Prime Minister and that if I can build a double storey many Basotho would give me work,” Mr Chukwuma said.
“He (Mr Richard) said he could even give me a connection to the Prime Minister and maybe I be employed by the Lesotho government. I saw it as a very good proposal.”
Impressed with the job offer, Mr Chukwuma said he took Mr Richard to see some of his work back in Nigeria. He said he applied for a passport and as soon as it was processed, all the travel documents, the visa and the invitation letter were also processed. He arrived in Lesotho in October 2012.
Mr Chukwuma said that Mr Richard was happy with the plan had drawn for the house but they suspended the negotiations for the price as he (Mr Chukwuma) was yet to familiarise with the local currency and wanted to avoid undercharging for the project.
“We agreed that he would pay me in stages as the building developed. I started the work and when the first stage was over I asked for the money but he said he did not have any. He said that his bank loan application has not yet been approved and asked for one month until he could pay so that the loan could mature.
“I continued with my work. My wife called me for my children’s school fees. I told him and he started shouting at me and refused to pay me. I stopped building the house. In two weeks, he took another contractor to continue building where I had left off. He refused to give back my money and passport which he had seized when I arrived from Nigeria.
“He, together with his wife, threatened to get me arrested. I had to hide in some of my fellow Nigerians houses. They advised me to go make peace with him. I went and we made a new deal and he promised to pay me for the job I had already done,” Mr Chukwuma said.
Mr Chukwuma said his troubles with his employer were far from over as he still defaulted on paying him. He said Mr Richard instead went behind his back to pay his (Mr Chukwuma) subcontractors.
“I told him to stop paying people I employed without my knowledge. He did it three times before I reported him to the Mabote Police Station. The police officers told him that what he was doing was human trafficking. He cried and begged for forgiveness. We made a new payment agreement and he still did not pay. I reported back to the police who advised me to go to the Small Claims court. He still did not honour the court’s judgement to pay me.”
Mr Chukwuma said he started receiving threatening calls from Nigerians that Nigerians do not report each other to the police.
“I went on to report him at the police headquarters. I was told again that I was a victim of human trafficking. I got witnesses and he was arrested but was later released on bail.”
Mr Chukwuma said out of desperation he tried to report his employers to the ministry of home affairs senior officials but they were not helpful.
“I demanded to meet the Principal Secretary. The secretary to the PS told me to wait on the staircase and if I saw anybody wearing a suit I should know it was the PS. Some officers harassed and insulted me and told me to leave this country and go home where I belong. I told them that I did not invite myself here and I was dying silently.”
Mr Chukwuma said he was dying to go back home to see his wife and children but could not because his passport has since expired. He said his efforts to acquire travel documents have failed.
Tuesday was however Mr Chukwuma’s lucky day as the ministry of home affairs principal secretary, ‘Machabana Lemphane Letsie, committed to process travel papers for him.
Ms Lemphane Letsie said that she would also process a visa for Mr Chukwuma to come back to Lesotho to testify as he already has a pending court case of human trafficking against Mr Richard.
The home affairs commissioner of refugees, Mohlolo Lerotholi, confirmed that Mr Chukwuma’s was a typical case of human trafficking.
Mr Lerotholi said that human trafficking was rife in Lesotho. He said that his office was handling many cases of human trafficking one of which involves three Basotho men who, on separate occasions, were trafficked to Japan earlier this year.
Mr Lerotholi said the three men were trafficked by a Pakistani car dealer who sells imported vehicles and had promised them well-paying jobs in Japan.
“The Pakistani man who runs a car dealership at Borokhoaneng told them that he was impressed with their work and offered them better jobs in Japan. They facilitated their visa where they even participated in evading the immigration regulations by providing wrong information that they were partners in the Pakistani’s business,” Mr Lerotholi said.
“Human trafficking is rife and the ministry of Home Affairs is working together with other ministries and NGOS to curb it. We have an action plan and strategic plan to curb human trafficking in Lesotho,” Mr Lerotholi said.
The PAC chairperson, Selibe Mochoboroane, said that there were allegations that some officers in the ministry of Home Affairs were part of the human trafficking syndicates.
“We are concerned because there is serious speculation that some officers, some whose names have been provided, are involved in cases of human trafficking. It is believed that some have been doing it long before they joined the ministry and are still continuing. This is an element of illicit financial flows where people make money through human trafficking,” Mr Mochoboroane said.
Mr Mochoboroane did, however, not give the names of those implicated in the crimes. He said that PAC was determined to carry out independent investigations to find the truth to the speculations.