By John Okeke
The Directorate of Humanitarian and Social Affairs held a meeting between high level officials of the Governments of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the Republic of Mali on the situation of Trafficking in Persons between the two countries. Other Member States in attendance were The Gambia, Ghana and Niger.
At the opening Ceremony, the Director of Humanitarian and Social Affairs, Dr Sintiki Tarfa Ugbe, represented by Ms. Raheemat Momodu, Head of the Human Security and Civil Society (HSCS) Division welcomed the participants and expressed the appreciation of the ECOWAS Commission of the efforts made by stakeholders to prevent human trafficking and protect victims during the period of the COVID-19 Pandemic. She reiterated that combating Trafficking in Persons (TIP) is a priority for the ECOWAS Commission and its Member States. She also emphasized that though TIP was already a major threat before the onset of the current COVID-19 Pandemic, the situation has worsened because of the pandemic and in some cases by necessary actions taken by governments to curtail the spread of the virus.
She recalled the directive of Member States TIP Focal Points at the last ECOWAS TIP Annual Review Meeting in 2019, to the ECOWAS Commission to constitute a Task Force and intervene in fostering stronger bilateral relations between Nigeria and Mali in combatting the grave human trafficking situation between both countries.
The meeting featured the presentation of the trafficking profile between Mali and Nigeria by both countries and findings of an ECOWAS Commission rapid assessment based on a questionnaire administered to both countries. The Ministry of Health and Social Development of Mali shared its experience on internal coordination and the Member States in the Task Force, Ghana, The Gambia and Niger shared their experiences with a focus on gaps, challenges, best practices, opportunities for collaboration and lessons learned. Partner Organizations in attendance contributed important insights into the problem and ways of tackling the scourge.
The meeting agreed on critical measures in furthering collaboration between Nigeria and Mali and with third countries implicated as transportation routes: including the conduct of baseline research focused on the routes and trends, ECOWAS facilitation of the signing of a bilateral agreement on combatting trafficking in persons between Nigeria and Mali and development of a Joint Response Plan focused on enhancing law enforcement cooperation and mutual legal assistance as well as prevention, protection and repatriation of victims.
In closing, the ECOWAS Commission reiterated its commitment to facilitating the engagement between Nigeria and Mali towards effectively addressing cross border human trafficking and extending the effort to other Member States. The Partner organizations in attendance include UNICEF, IOM, ICMPD, UNODC, Plan International, and Civil Society Networks; Network Against Child Trafficking, Abuse and Labour (NACTAL) Nigeria, and ENDA -Mali.