Flesh trader and the Idia spirit By Louis Odion, FNGE
With the nation half immersed in soccer opium and half yoked with another mass slaughter by the genocidal herders on the Plateau this past fortnight, two otherwise profound morality tales would appear to have completely evaded the national orbit, denied the public attention deserved.
Indeed, they contrast in circumstances, time and space. The protagonist in one is wide-lipped, the other chubby-faced.
Again, one is the quitenssence of victimhood, the other the goddess of greed. But in-between the disparate narratives lays the masterkey to partly unlocking the psychology of the Edo woman often negatively profiled in national conversation over the years as willing victim in human trafficking.
Josephine Iyamu used to camouflage as a nurse in the United Kingdom. But last week, it was proved that beyond the pungent smell of ether over white gloves and syringes, she lived more as pimp - part of a sex trafficking network that recruits vulnerable women from her native Edo State and smuggles them to Europe.
Specifically, she was linked to the trafficking of five women to Germany and is due to be sentenced this week under a new law that targets modern slavery in Britain.
But just as the gavel struck ominously at the British Court against Josephine last week in London, a solemn event befitting only a heroine was unfolding in faraway United States starring her townswoman, Blessing Okoedion.
For her integrity to renounce prostitution in Italy and the uncommon courage to rise against those who lured her from Nigeria, the United States government found her worthy of the “2018 Trafficking in Persons Hero Award”.
As exclusively reported by The Nation newspaper on Saturday, well-educated Blessing was a promising entrepreneur in Benin until she fell for the bait of the trafficking cartel who promised to smooth her way in Spain for a computer training programme. With that certification in mind, she had cause to dream of a more prosperous future.
But the scheduled journey to Spain would end abruptly in an Italian brothel. She recalled that during their “orientation” rite in the dingy parlour, fellow victims - probably already browbeaten or bewitched into submission with voodoo - told her to accept her fate as resisting would fetch her more misery and reporting to the local police could land her in jail.
After three days of forced sex slavery, a certain consciousness which Edo natives are wont to describe culturally as the Idia spirit stirred in Blessing in the dead of the night.
For those unfamiliar with medieval history, Queen Idia is no ordinary character in Bini folklore. On account of her warrior instinct as the mother behind the monumental Oba Esigie and her virtuous standing as a tireless mobilizer who roused the kingdom behind a progressive purpose, generations afterwards would venerate her as the epitome of Edo womanhood.
So, while others were snoring, Blessing chose to dare by tip-toeing out of the bondage into the chilling cold and managed to find a police station to squeal.
Pronto, the Italian law enforcement agents swung into action by raiding the brothel. That signposted Blessing’s road to freedom. Thereafter, she decided to dedicate her life to combating sex trafficking. In an uncommon reversal of role, the former casualty now serves as a cultural mediator for trafficking victims in a rehab home run by Ursuline sisters in Italy.
As a caution to those who might still be tempted, Blessing offered a jarring glimpse of the false life some of her fellow compatriots live abroad: “There are so many people who are victims but are afraid to speak out. I meet so many Nigerian nurses who are being trafficked in Italy. Many Nigerian graduates are here on the streets forced into a tortuous life of suffering. They post good pictures on social media, but they are afraid to speak because of stigmatization and the fear that people in Nigeria won’t believe their story.”
Unfortunately, wisdom dawns on many when it is no longer useful.
Now, the easy conjecture is to blame the worsening economic adversity at home wholly as the trigger of the migration of our women to the redlight districts in Europe. But from the two foregoing contrasting narratives, we can see that such conclusion and stereotypes are not always valid as they fail to take into account the other socio-cultural nuances, unable as it were to detail or fully explain the extraordinary circumstances that make the women vulnerable to such bare-knuckle exploitation, against which a good many would stand if ever given a fighting chance.
Of course, there is stark difference between want and greed. And for those trafficked, the moral compunction is inelastic. The real defeat is the moment they choose to resign to fate.
So, put simply, Josephine represents the worst and Blessing, hope, even redemption.
Why the case of 51-year-old Josephine is particularly striking is because her stated professional address would ordinarily preclude her from being categorized as needy. In fact, frighteningly, she could have been sitting today in the Edo House of Assembly as lawmaker representing Egor council on APC platform. She had run a flamboyant campaign for the party ticket in 2015 and adopted the slogan “to inspire support for the empowerment of women and famlies”.
Until her shameful story broke last week, there were signs she would vie for the ticket again for 2019! If elected, maybe she would be erecting brothels at home as constituency project instead.
In the final analysis, the embedded lesson is for the parties and voters to be more thorough in the leadership recruitment and selection process. People like her often flock the town to flaunt ill-gotten wealth. They are mothers of kids whose spouses are unknown or unknowable.
The Jezebel wants to be defined not by personal integrity but by the quantity of designer accessories on her body. She is a mobile signage for Gucci, Praza, Feragamno etc. With her over-bleached skin, contrived foreign accents, artificial Peruvian hair and nails, complete falsity is thus glomorised. But they only end up setting toxic examples for the young ones who then view migration abroad as the golden key to the good life.
To rid the community of the Josephine virus, the challenge goes beyond the standard argument that government should create more opportunities for the teeming population at home. No less urgent is the need to reclaim the values that had nourished the society in the past. Perhaps, the first step in this direction should be a greater commitment to the sense of shame in the family and then the community, without which a nation slides in an ethical vacuum. Largely responsible for the nation’s moral crisis today is the pervasive knack for instant gratification, the get-rich syndrome.
Unorthodox as it may seem, the recent cultural parade initiated by the Benin monarch, Oba Ewuare II, involving the invocation of ancestral curses could, therefore, be termed the cultural equivalent of fatwa against all those involved in the vice chain - from the greedy Madam, rogue native doctors to the conniving parents.
Of course, such extreme step speaks directly to the the duality of the African spirituality. Custodians of orthodox faiths may preach or pretend otherwise; but this is indeed the African reality. On account of deferred consequence, many- if not most - are less likely to be compelled by oaths administered on orthodox faiths.
But with the Oba’s mobilization of the much dreaded ancestral formula and its assurance of instant dire consequences, it is doubtful if the dark merchants of the flesh are still bold enough today to continue business the old way.
With Blessing’s example, hope is kindled that the battle can be fully won some day.
FIFA: Takeaways from Eagles’ ouster
Long after the ongoing FIFA soccer World Cup would have been won and lost in Russia, certain memories will definitely haunt us in Nigeria. One is the ghost of superstition and the other is the limitation of human judgement.
To say gambling is part of the global football fiesta is to restate the obvious. Of course, this has led to the rise of voodoo and myth-making as stakers bay for the dough. Animal species have been dragged into the racket. In the last World Cup, for instance, we were treated to the fairy of Octopus.
This time, the ancient Octopus morphed into the mystic pig credited with predicting outcomes with uncanny accuracy, match after match.
On the eve of the crucial Nigeria Vs Argentina match penultimate Tuesday, the anointing of prophecy apparently transposed to a smaller animal - cat. A short video began to circulate in the social media showing the feline creature tipping Nigeria’s green/white/green flag for victory over Argentina’s.
Such depiction was enough to sway those easily given to superstition. So, not a few supporters of Super Eagles I know in Lagos made a huge bet and had begun to salivate in anticipation of bumper harvest even before the match kick-off in faraway Russia that fateful Tuesday.
But one and a half hours later, the tally only meant one thing: the oracle had failed spectacularly. So, it is safe to state that some of those who later wailed bitterly and gnashed their teeth across the country the night Eagles lost did so not only for national pride hurt but also the purse lost.
In summary, there can only be two possibilities: the cat’s prophecy was made up by fraudsters to con the gullible. Or, the outcome is yet another validation of the extant existentialist argument that nothing is predetermined; that man’s reward is a function of his exertion.
On the other hand, FIFA’s vaulting claim that its VAR (video assistant referee) recorded 99.3 percent success rate in the prelimary stage will hardly make any meaning to still distraught supporters of Eagles. The promise of VAR was to minimize - if not erase - the possibility of human bias. But we didn’t see that in the moment of doubt over the Argentine player whose left hand clearly touched the ball in their penalty box.
We all held our breath as the Turkish referee halted the game in the dying minutes to consult the VAR tube on the sideline.
Alas, our suspicion of bias was confirmed when he returned and ruled out a foul. Had the penalty been awarded, it potentially could have closed the game early for Nigeria.
The implication: whereas machine may bear dispassionate witness, there is no guarantee man will not be subjective in his judgement.
By Louis Odion, FNGE