Why is Nigeria a hub for human trafficking?

18th October 2018 | Sasha Jesperson

As we celebrate the Anti-Slavery Day 2018, read the second blog on the Delta 8.7 series, co-written by our Head of Transnational Challenges Practice, Sasha Jesperson. In this piece, Sasha reflects about what makes Nigeria a hub for human trafficking and the role of organised crime in the region.



Nigeria is a key source country for human trafficking for sexual exploitation -  success stories from people who have migrated to Europe as well as the economic opportunity it represents for organised crime, turned cities like Benin City, to the East of Lagos, into trafficking hubs.


Nigerian women are trafficked to Europe primarily for domestic servitude and sex work. The Edo State in southern Nigeria has been the primary source of sex trafficking victims, and the main destination is Italy, but new destinations arise as the trafficking increases, and now include France, Belgium, the Netherlands, the UK, Scandinavia and even Russia. Recruitment has also started to spread into neighbouring states because of the attention focused on Edo State.


The movement of women and girls from Nigeria emphasizes the blurred line between trafficking and smuggling, as many victims believe they are travelling for legitimate employment or further education.


Although receiving less attention, human trafficking in Nigeria also goes beyond sex trafficking as Boko Haram, the jihadi insurgent group affiliated with the Islamic State, traffics boys for use as soldiers and kidnaps young girls, forcing them to marry its members.


The regional context has influenced how criminal networks currently execute their trafficking activities – from enhanced border security at the Lagos airport to the Libyan crisis and the free movement provided by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), trafficking networks have become increasingly cell-based, rather than using a hierarchical mafia structure, and require less sophisticated methods to operate.


The barriers to becoming a trafficker or smuggler have also become much lower; a phone and a trusted network is enough to become a node along the trafficking route, and each node operates mostly autonomously.


While the trafficking of women and girls is abhorrent, not least because the product is not things, but human beings, for the community that the girls and women hail from, it represents business opportunities and the chance of social advancement, even with the foreknowledge of what hardships these women can expect to endure – they are therefore reluctant to share the details of their traffickers or exploiters with authorities, making human trafficking much harder to disrupt.


Read the full blog here and learn more about human trafficking originating from Nigeria.


Delta 8.7 is a global knowledge platform managed by UNUCPR and explores what works to end forced labour, slavery, human trafficking and child labour. Sasha Jesperson is a frequent contributor - stay tuned to read more from Sasha about the role of organised crime in modern slavery and how it functions as an industry.