Italian authorities have arrested four Nigerian citizens accused of human trafficking and forcing underage migrant girls into prostitution, including through the use of esoteric rituals.
Four Nigerian citizens, of whom three are women, have been arrested in the province of Caserta as part of an investigation by the Catania anti-mafia police into the trafficking of Nigerians who were brought to Italy and forced into prostitution. Those arrested were a 42-year-old woman and her 36-year-old brother, his 31-year-old wife and a 26-year-old woman.
They are accused of working with other unidentified suspects in Nigeria and Libya in human trafficking, an aggravated crime due to its cross-border nature; as well as causing harm to minors and exposing the injured parties to serious danger to their lives and their physical integrity.
Probe following one minor's testimony
The investigation began following statements made by a Nigerian minor named "Onda" (name changed to protect privacy, ed.), who disembarked in Catania in July 2016 from the Italian Coast Guard ship "Luigi Dattilo" together with 359 other migrants. From her story, investigators learned that she had been recruited in Nigeria with the false promise of work in Italy, after having undergone an esoteric "juju" ritual, with which she agreed to repay the sum of about 20,000 euros. Once she arrived in Sicily, the young woman was taken from the reception centre where she was being hosted and was forced into prostitution.
Police were able to reconstruct the stories of other young Nigerian girls who, like "Onda", were forced to prostitute themselves for a monthly payment of about 100 euros. They worked at outposts called "ugbo", which means "the land". These indicated the few meters of road assigned to each girl, and the police operation took this word for the name of the operation.
Girls had to pay for 'work positions'
Once the girls arrived on Italian soil, they were contacted by the "madam", Helen Ihama, who had recruited others from Nigeria already working in prostitution and had control over the numerous "work positions" in the Caserta area. The girls had to repay their enlistment debt, room and board expenses to the madams that housed them, and pay Ihama for the work position. Those investigated spoke about the effects of the edict of Oba Ewuare II, head of the Edo people in Edo State, in which he revoked all rites that bind girls with curses.
Some of those under investigation, who were worried about possible repercussions the edict could have on their business, said that the edict couldn't have a retroactive effect on victims who had already been subjected to exploitation in Europe and therefore previously subjected to the juju rite. They said that furthermore, the edict could only apply to Edo State citizens and not all Nigerian citizens.