DAME JULIE OKAH-DONLI, lawyer and astute administrator, is the Director General of the National Agency for the Prohibition and Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP). In this interview with PLEASURES MAGAZINE, she vows to wage a relentless war against human traffickers, even as she throws light on the modus operandi of the traffickers.
It’s a matter of combining brain with brawn; elegance with beauty; hard work, and patriotism with service to humanity. Obviously, these are qualities that had continued to shape her life, and had inexorably combined to secure for her the top-notch position that she presently occupies.
A chartered secretary and administrator of England and Wales; chartered arbitrator, and also a chartered auctioneer, Dame Julie Okah-Donli, current Director General, National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP) had proved that by dint of hard work and perseverance, women can attain the peak of their career, and even surpass men in all areas of human endeavour.
A trained lawyer by profession, Madam Okah-Donli, had before being appointed to her present position, worked as executive assistant to Chief Timipre Sylva, former governor of Bayelsa State. She had also worked with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), and also a one-time head of UBA Trustees.
Author of the book titled: ‘Parenting in the 21st Century,’ and founder of ‘Julie Donli Kidney Foundation,’ Barrister Okah-Donli, was working in her private law firm called ‘Julie Okah Legal Practitioners,’ when the news of her appointment as DG NAPTIP, broke out.
NAPTIP is the Federal Government focal agency that is vested with the powers to arrest and prosecute human traffickers. The Agency also has powers to investigate cases of human trafficking; to seize assets and funds of traffickers.
Furthermore, the agency has the mandate to care for victims of trafficking. And this explains the reason why NAPTIP has provided shelters in its offices in Abuja, Lagos, Enugu, Kano, Sokoto, Maiduguru, Uyo, Benin, Markurdi, and Oshogbo.
The NAPTIP boss told Pleasures magazine in an interview that rescued victims of trafficking are kept in these shelters until they are rehabilitated and reintegrated into the society.
She said: “We rehabilitate everyone that goes through our shelters. We rehabilitate them by counseling them; doing their medicals, engaging them in whatever skill acquisition they want to undertake.
“Some of them prefer to go to formal school. We have had about three of them that graduated from the university. We also have undergraduates, and we have some that are in the secondary and primary schools.”
According to her, NAPTIP has from 2003 till date, rescued over 13,000 victims, and the agency has also been able to secure about 338 convictions.
“There are so many cases in court being prosecuted as we speak, and we hope to get more suspected traffickers convicted,” she said.
Asked to explain the modus operandi of the human traffickers, she said: “These human traffickers go to the villages to recruit these boys and girls by deceitful means and falsehood. Thereafter, the transporters who are part of the syndicate transport them to where they would be kept for someone to receive and distribute them later for the purposes of sexual exploitation, forced labour, and organ harvesting.
“Those victims that are taken abroad are first of all, taken to the shrine where they swear to an oath before juju priests aimed at putting the fear of the devil in them. They are threatened that they will die if they tell the police about their ordeal, die if they run away, and that members of their family will die if they attempt to do this or that.”
JUJU PRIESTS AS AMBASSADORS
Interestingly, NAPTIP has taken a bold step aimed at preventing the juju priests from further administering oaths on trafficked victims.
“NAPTIP has engaged the juju priests who are known to administer oaths on these victims. They are now ambassadors for NAPTIP because they promised us that they are no longer going to administer any form of juju oath on any victim any more.
“When we told them what these girls were going through, they were shocked because they said they didn’t know. They said the ‘Madams’ usually tell them that they are going to give these girls jobs, and so they don’t want them to run away.
“And to prevent them from running away, the girls need to swear to an oath. The juju priests said they had no idea that human trafficking was going on in all of this.
“So, they are now ambassadors for NAPTIP in the sense that if they see anything like that, they will call NAPTIP to report it. And the juju priests have stopped administering oaths on potential victims of trafficking. And they have actually revoked the oaths that they had administered in the past.
“These girls can now feel free to give us information about who these traffickers are because that has been a major challenge to NAPTIP. When we rescue these girls they are afraid to talk because of the oath that has been administered on them.
“So, they don’t give us useful information to prosecute the traffickers, and so the traffickers are just going around recruiting more victims,” the NAPTIP boss explained.
RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN LACK OF JOBS AND PROSTITUTION
Today, not a few have traced the rising incidence of prostitution among our young girls in foreign land to the doorsteps of the prevailing economic hardships and the mounting unemployment in the country.
However, the NAPTIP DG thinks that the girls who sell their bodies for money do so because of greed; adding that there are jobs in the country for anybody willing to be engaged in legitimate business.
She said: “I don’t agree with you that there are no jobs in Nigeria. I will rather sell plantain in this country than give up myself to be sexually exploited in Ghana or in any other country.
“So, if you call what they are doing there a job, then that’s really unfortunate. If they claim that there is no job in Nigeria, and they allow themselves to be exploited or deceived, and they are now in Ghana, prostituting for somebody to collect the proceeds of their prostitution, then that’s very silly. I think a lot of ignorance is going on, and this is why NAPTIP has embarked on a serious massive awareness campaign because the ignorance level is too high.
“How poor can one be to justify paying traffickers to transport you to Ghana for example, to look for a non-existent job?
“The young girls of these days are just lazy and greedy. When people come to you and say, ah, you are working in a restaurant, how much are they paying you?
“And you mention N20.000 a month, and they say ah, don’t worry, I will take you to Ghana, I’ll pay you N50.000. You don’t even want to know what kind of job they are talking about. Even when they are lying to you, you find yourself in Ghana, and then you say there is no job in Nigeria.
“Who says there are no jobs in Nigeria? There are so many people looking for house helps, but you are not ready to work as house helps. There are so many people looking for people to wash plates in the restaurants.
“Even if you decide to fry ‘akara’ (bean cake) and you fry it well, you will sell. I know of so many Yoruba women who started making ‘amala’ from their homes, now they have big buildings. Who says there are no jobs in Nigeria,?” she queried.
According to her, “ignorance and greed are major factors, and these are factors that have combined to make this human trafficking to thrive. Everyone wants to make money over night. That’s a big problem to human trafficking.
“There is somebody who take the girls outside the country, and who is in control of every penny that they earn. So, they are not prostitutes, but they are sexually exploited Nigerian citizens, and we are going to rescue them and bring them back to the country,” she promised.
DID SHE ENCOUTER DISCRIMINAION DUE TO GENDER?
She said: “Fortunately for me, I was born into a much disciplined family. My father was a naval officer, so we didn’t grow with any form of complex. Whether you are a boy or a girl didn’t matter in my home, and in the schools that I attended. We were treated alike. Luckily for me, I am a very confident person. I can compete favourably with anybody, whether male or female. So, I never had to contend with issues, and things like that never crossed my mind. I just do what I have to do.”
ON WHY SHE ESTABLISHED A KIDNEY FOUNDATION?
“The Kidney Foundation came about because my mother was actually the first woman to undergo dialysis at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH) Idi-Araba, Lagos, back in 1983. She had a kidney transplant and unfortunately her body rejected it. She later went back to dialysis, and there were complications here and there. And she finally passed away in 1984. Transplant, of course, is very expensive; dialysis as well is extremely expensive. I realized that a lot of people die because they can’t afford dialysis, and they can’t even afford transplant. And I said, if the money wasn’t there, my mum would have died long before death came. And I just thought I could do the little I could to help as many indigent patients I can in terms of helping to pay for their dialysis and care. And whenever I have little resources, I go to two or three hospitals that I partner with, and pay for dialysis for some indigent patients,” she explained.
It is unarguable that Dame Julie Okah-Donli, has in the last 25 years or more, recorded resounding successes in all that she had set her hands and mind on, and not a few are inquisitive to know the driving force behind her successes.
She said: “For me, my driving force has always been that I am a much focused person. When I have a job, I give it my best. I am extremely hardworking, even if I say so myself. I don’t play with my job. I am much focused in whatever I do, and I am always determined to win.
“My passion for the job has been my major driving force. I am always passionate about anything I do, and with that passion and strength, coupled together, the sky is my limit.”
ON SUMMARY OF HER BOOK: ‘PARENTING IN THE 21ST CENTURY.’
“My book simply tells you the ways of preventing child abuse. You know a lot of parents are very careless. For instance, you have a small child, and you send your driver to take your child to school without an adult accompanying the child. You have a cook, and you leave the cook at home with your children. The cook would definitely abuse the children. You leave even your relations, your brothers, uncles alone with these children; the truth is that they would abuse your children. These are some of the things I brought out in my book.”
ON HER ADVICE TO WOMEN
Despite the shortcomings ascribed to the womenfolk, yet there are some who are hard-working, and who also are desirous of getting to the peak of their career. And what is her advice to this category of women?
According to the NAPTIP boss, such women “just have to work very hard because hard work brought me where I am today.
“They should believe in themselves, and believe in Nigeria as a country because if you don’t believe in Nigeria. You start thinking that greener pastures are outside where there are no greener pastures. And you start wasting your money thinking of how to go to other countries.
“There are so many young girls now that are doing very well. They are very rich; some of them are into catering, fashion design; some of them are even make-up artists. And they are doing well.”
DOES HER JOB AT NAPTIP AFFECT THE HOME FRONT?
“No, not at all,” she intoned. According to her, “You give priority to what is important at any point in time. I don’t have little children that I should be worried about for school runs. My two children are adults. They are working already, so I don’t have any problem whatsoever managing the home front.”
ON WHAT DRESSING WELL AND STYLE MEANS TO HER
She said: “For me, looking good is good business. My parents thought me right from when I was in primary school that I must look good at all times. If you are going to the market, you look good. If you are going to the church, you should look good. There is a dress for every occasion. In the primary school, I was the neatest girl in my class; in the secondary school, I was the neatest girl in my class. And in the university, I was very neatly dressed.”
WHAT DID THE NAPTIP DG DREAM OF BECOMING, AND IS SHE LIVING TO THAT DREAM?
She said: “I had always dreamed to be a lawyer. I also thought at a point in time to be a broadcaster because everywhere I go, especially when I read Bible passages in the Church, the Bishop told me I had a broadcasting voice. So, I had always thought of being a broadcaster, and a lawyer. I have been able to fulfill my dream of being a lawyer, and I am still going to fulfill my dream of being a broadcaster.”
There is a groundswell of opinion that the job of chasing human traffickers; rescuing and rehabilitating victims of human trafficking is such a herculean task and one that would naturally occupy much of one’s time. And if that is the case, how does the NAPTIP boss relax?
“What I do is that I don’t take any file home as a matter of principle. I have never taken files home to read. I make sure that I finish my work in the office, so that I can use the remaining time to rest my mind, listen to music, and watch television.
“I do not entertain guests in my home on weekends. Saturdays are meant to clean my house, and rest. On Sundays, I go to Church, and when I come back from the Church, I watch television, and may be once in a while, I go out with the girls and we have dinner somewhere,” she said.
ON HER ADVICE TO YOUTHS AND OTHERS
She said: “The youths of these days are in a hurry to be wealthy; they want to be rich over night. They don’t want to walk before they run. They need to walk before they run. They need to take it easy, be focused, work hard and everything will come at its time.
“We advise people, if you see something, say something. A lot of people know what is going on, they see these things happening in their compounds… but they keep quiet. They don’t say anything, We need intelligence, we need information, to rescue these people, So, please, if you see something, say something. Report to the nearest NAPTIP office.”