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YOUNG LAWYERS’ FORUM: ‘I read law to fight human trafficking’

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YOUNG LAWYERS’ FORUM:  ‘I read law to fight human trafficking’

Joy Eghonghon attended Ambrose Alli University, Epkoma, for her LL.B. Eghonghon who hails from Edo State was called to Bar in 2018. She speaks on her career in this encounter with JOHN CHIKEZIE

 

Background

My name is Joy Eghonghon. I hailed from Ugboha, Esan South East Local Government in Edo State. I attended Stars International School, Benin City. I thereafter proceeded to Patricia Private Schools, Benin city and I obtained my LL. B from Ambrose Alli University in 2017.

I attended the Nigerian Law School, Bwari, Abuja Campus, where I obtained my B. L and was called to the Nigeria Bar on 28th November, 2018.

My father, Simon Okoyo, is a retired Magistrate (at Customary court Fugar, Edo-North) before his retirement. While my mother, Valentina Okoyo, is a seasoned Teacher and Business woman.

 

Why law?

I studied law in order to tackle human trafficking, especially in my state of origin.

Growing up has taught me that not all that glitters is gold. At a time, in the big city of Benin, while growing up as a child, human trafficking was the order of the day. I was born and raised in a society which believes that the only way to survive as a family, was to send a child, preferably a female, overseas under the guise of advancing her education and subsequently getting a good job.

More often, the reverse is the case and these young girls are exposed to all sorts of health hazards in the name of oath swearing to ensure absolute obedience and conformity.

In lieu of a decent job, prostitution becomes the ideal labour for the ‘get rich quick syndrome’ upon their arrival at the foreign lands. They become voiceless and turned to sacrificial lambs for their respective families.

I had a lot of friends who travelled during my primary and secondary school. I also had a neighbour who shipped her 3 girls in same manner.

I watched these events unfold on daily basis as I grew up and then decided that the legal profession was the most adequate channel for these abused teens to be heard, liberated and their stories told, so that others could learn from their experiences.

I believed someone has to sue these perpetrators because most of the Non- Governmental Organisations, at that time, were only focused on helping the victims and not really ensuring the punishment of the perpetrators.

My father’s role as a magistrate then, also motivated me to take the bold step.

 

Experience about human trafficking

Yes, I was outrightly overwhelmed by a horrible experience that happened to a childhood friend (name withheld) I once knew. My friend (now deceased) died as a result of health complications after returning home from the so-called “abroad or Yankee” in a futile search for greener pastures.

 

My late friend was a 16-year-old girl, who I met during my senior year in secondary school at the local market (Oregbeni market), where she sells fish. We became friends as a result of the discounts she gave me for my continued patronage on her business.

She was a kind-hearted girl, who was just 2 years older, with a big dream of becoming a Nollywood actress while starring alongside the likes of Genevieve Nnaji. But unfortunately, she couldn’t go to college because her parents were unable to afford the fee.

One day, optimistically, she told me about an aunt who lived abroad (Italy) and was willing to assist with the funds for her education.

Being conversant with the rampant stories of human trafficking then, I asked her if she was certain about attending school abroad and she answered in the affirmative.

So, I gave her my contact to call or text me whenever she could and thereafter bade her farewell. After she travelled, she neither called nor sent text for about a year.

However, sometime in 2015, she finally called and apologized for not keeping in touch after she arrived Italy. But during the call, I noticed she had drastically turned to smoking and drinking as a new found habit.

She finally returned back to Nigeria in October 2015, after spending four years abroad and a big celebration was thrown in her honor. She, however, invited me and that was the first day I visited her family. When I got to her house, I noticed it has been renovated. And also that she had opened a very big shop for her mother at the market instead of an umbrella stand she had operated with; all thanks to her of course.

By this time, she had spent about 4 years in Italy before returning home. But while at her house, she gave me a graphic and gory details of her trip to Italy. She narrated how she trekked across the Libyan desert, drank her urine, and watched other girls get tossed out of the boat into the sea for being stowaways.

She lost all her hair because of the harsh weather and malnutrition.

She finally made it to Italy with five other girls. They were forced to swear a blood oath of allegiance and warned not to say a word to anyone or risk losing their lives and family members as well.

Meanwhile, her major aim of coming back to Nigeria was on the instructions of her aunt in Italy, to recruit new girls.

She never told any of her family members about her ordeal neither could she mention that prostitution was the ideal job her aunt had in mind from the start.

Although, as at the time she told me, she was already dying. I didn’t know she was sick because she never mentioned it. I only heard about her death the following year. She died of liver complications.

More ever, her recruitment didn’t quite work out as the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP), got wind of the activities and arrested her agents alongside the girls. Her aunt was later arrested but the family worked hard for her release so she could take the younger sister abroad as well. It was really messed up because NAPTIP actually let her go as the families involved didn’t want to press charges, especially when money talks I guess.

 

What part of law interests you?

Criminal litigation and intellectual property law, particularly on Financial Technology and Regulations.

Criminal litigation was more of a first love and interest. But Fintech is something new and quite fascinating, so I picked an interest in it.

 

Plans against human trafficking

Well, I must say it has not been easy. I tried getting a job with NAPTIP but it didn’t quite work out for some obvious reasons. Currently, I am still in discussions with a human rights activist here in Delta State who sometimes handles briefs on human trafficking. Hopefully, he would look past the fact that I’m still a greenhorn in legal practice and give me a chance to learn.

 

Evaluation of judiciary in terms of justice dispensation

The conventional method of justice delivery in Nigerian courts is cumbersome and time consuming. It increases the use of papers, time spent and cost of service of processes. This is  because all the court processes are filed and served on papers. A litigant or lawyer may be precluded from filing his case where court personnel in charge are not available.

The cause lists and other register books of the court are also placed in the clerk’s offices and just one office worker at a time can work with it. This leads to unnecessary delays in commencement of matters in court. Upon commencement, it still takes forever for judgement to be obtained because most judges prefer the manual methods of writing judgements after numerous adjournment must have been taken either at the instance of the litigants or the fact that the court didn’t sit.

Therefore, the manual conventional method creates room for so many loopholes especially in the criminal justice system. The Justice system needs a lot of reforms for our judiciary to be able to survive with global trends .The world is fast becoming a global village and I believe that with the infusion of ICT in our court processes, it would circumvent most of these unnecessary paperwork.

 

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