Damilola Falodun, a 25-year-old Nigerian girl, has told her saddening story after she got trafficked to Oman.
In this interview with PREMIUM TIMES, Falodun who was trafficked to Oman in search of greener pastures, tells the story of how she was sexually harassed by her boss in the Middle Eastern country.
On her return to Nigeria after over a year working as a house-help in Oman, Damilola, who presently studies Entrepreneurship and Business Management at the Abeokuta (Ogun State) campus of the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN), tells PREMIUM TIMES how she has commenced an enlightenment campaign against girl-child trafficking in Lagos and Osun states and the moves to extend the campaign to Benin City, Edo State
PT: How did you become an orphan?
Damilola Falodun: My mum and dad were separated. My dad (Emmanuel Falodun) was in Abia State, while my mum (Adetoro Falodun) was based in Abeokuta, Ogun State. My father was in Abia State for over seven years and we only talked once in a while. He called on May 23, 2014, to inform me that he was coming to see me on June 5, I was glad to hear that. But not quite three days later (May 27), I received another call that he had died.
He was asthmatic, they said he had an attack. They said they tried to reach my mum but could not that was why they called to inform me. He saved my name on his phone as ‘my daughter’. He (my dad) was an indigene of Aiyede in Ekiti State. About three months after my dad passed on, my mum fell sick briefly and also died. It happened on September 8, 2014.
PT: So, how did you carry on with your life after they died?
Damilola Falodun: I was a student of Moshood Abiola Polytechnic, Abeokuta campus, department of business administration, when my father died. I was about writing my first semester examinations in ND2 when he died. I managed to write the examination because his death did not affect me that much. After all, we were not close, I only felt pained because of the conversations we had when he called to inform me that he was coming to see me.
But the big blow was when my mum died, I was also going for my second semester examination when the news filtered in that she was dead. I could not think straight anymore and that was where my education came to a halt. I stopped going to school and I missed my examinations. That was how I started another life entirely.
PT: What happened after she (your mum) died?
Damilola Falodun: I have three siblings. One from the same father and the other two from a step-father. There was no help from any relation when my parents died. To survive became difficult. I had to look for a job instantly as a teenager with a letter from my former school permitting me to do my industrial training before the results were out. I already had that letter before the examinations.
So, I got an offer to work as a waitress in a hotel in Lagos. In course of my job, I met two friends and we had the idea of travelling to Canada for greener pastures. As an orphan, I was naïve to a lot of things and open to any advice. They (my friends) took me to their pastor for prayers and that was how I was introduced to a travel agent, and from then on I started giving all my N20,000 salary to the agent monthly and survived with the tips I get. I was determined to leave the country, so, I was ready to starve to achieve that aspiration.
After some time, the hotel we were working in the island area of Lagos sacked my friends and I became the only one left behind. After some months, I received a call from the pastor that my visa was out, and without confirming, I resigned from the hotel immediately and came back to the mainland, only to discover that it was not out. I waited for another three months and the pastor opened up to inform me that he got the wrong information from the agent. Then hard times set in and I developed an ulcer because of lack of regular food. At that point, we realised that we were defrauded by the agent. It was a scam. The three of us jointly gave over N1 million to the agent to process our Canadian visas.
PT: When you people realised it was a fraud, did you attempt to report that matter to the police?
Damilola Falodun: Some members in the pastor’s church prevailed on us not to because the pastor would be involved as an accomplice. He (pastor), however, introduced us to another agent named Yomi, who promised to get us papers to travel to Oman to work as waitresses or house helps. He (Yomi) said if we get there, we could recover all we have lost in terms of money, within a few months. At that point, we did not have money on us, so I sold my phone to raise cash and within one week my visa was out.
PT: So, what happened after then?
Damilola Falodun: After the visa was out, we did medical checks and proceeded to Oman. We were many girls that left Nigeria on that day, and the way we got passes at the different checks indicated that the agent had connections at the airport. That again made us have confidence in him. The agent also had a link with another agent in Oman, and when we got to Oman, there was already a driver waiting to pick us up at the airport. The driver, an Oman citizen, requested our passports immediately because he was the one carrying us and would be able to explain better to the police who we are. So, we obliged him our passports. We later got to know that the passports had been seized by the foreign agent, because when we got to the office, we were made to sign a document written in Arabic.
We tried to make someone explain the meaning of what we were signing but could not get a direct explanation. It was after we signed the document that we knew there was something fishy about the whole thing. We were made to understand that we would be house cleaners for individual families. The first job agreement was that I was going to be remitting my salary to the foreign agent for the first seven months, I think the Nigerian agent (Yomi) has a link with this too. So, I started work.
PT: What kind of work were you doing?
Damilola Falodun: I was doing the job of a housemaid, but in Oman it is translated to mean ‘slave’, especially for those of us from Nigeria. I worked with a family for four months but had to leave when I was sexually harassed several times by the head of the family. They had 12 children and the mother was always too busy to notice anything. I had no privacy in my room because I was not allowed to lock the door. So, it was always open and he could come in at any time. So, he comes most times in the day time.
I tried to complain to the mother of the house but she didn’t understand what I was saying. I now decided to be going outside the house immediately the madam leaves the building and whenever she comes back, it is trouble and she beats me for not working while she was away. The sexual harassment continued. The salary they were paying me was being sent to the agent, who in turn shared it with the Nigerian agent.
PT: Did you complain to the agent that you were being sexually harassed?
Damilola Falodun: I did but the foreign agent, a woman, told me to be patient with them. She said I will have my freedom as soon as I finished paying the agreed seven months salary. The job was not easy because I scrubbed the walls of the building almost daily, no time for rest. The employers made you understand that they have bought your freedom, so you are not free till at least the next year.
PT: Do you think the Oman government is aware of all these inhuman treatments metted to Nigerians in their country?
Damilola Falodun: I think they are aware. I met a fellow Nigerian in the agent’s office, who said she went to the police authority to complain of the situation. She too was facing the kind of stress I was going through. But instead of taking action, the police called the agent to come and pick her. That gave me the feeling that they are aware and not ready to act on the complaints.
A lot of Nigerians have died in Oman without records being sent back home of their whereabouts. Somehow, after four months in my place of work, I got money to buy a phone which I used in making a video of my boss when he came to my room to sexually harass me, because I thought it would be the best way to return to Nigeria. I was already fed up with the whole arrangement. I managed to make a 35 seconds video of the man naked in my room while trying to sexually harass me. After that, I went to madam and showed her the video, she took me back immediately to the agent’s office, and the contract was terminated.
The agents in Oman subjected me to further torture. The name of the agency is Almaahed in Oman Nizwa. I was beaten for exposing the man. I was locked up in a cell within the agent’s office and that was where I met other Nigerian girls in a similar situation. I witnessed torture in the cell. A lady was beaten in that cell until she became mentally unstable. Some ladies in the cell urged me to beg them (the agents) because they were also being sexually harassed. They told me to go and continue with my work, advising that it was better out there than in the cell.
I started begging them every day, that I would be of good behaviour that they should allow me to work again. Somehow they listened to my pleas and I was released and I started working again, but this time I was made to return to the agent’s office every five days to ensure compliance. I worked for five different families after then.
PT: How did you come back to Nigeria?
Damilola Falodun: When I was in Nigeria, I did not appreciate what was called ‘freedom’ until I went to Oman. We are very free in Nigeria, because you can raise little money to buy food. I discovered that it was better to go back home instead of living a slave life in Oman. My dream about going to work abroad was to gather money and come back to invest in Nigeria, but I got to Oman I realised it was a different ball game entirely. When you have a family member abroad, you do not know what they are going through.
It was by God’s grace that I found my way back to Nigeria. I used the money I earned to fly myself back to Nigeria. I stayed in Oman for over one year and after fulfilling the agreement, with the money I earned, I got my passports back and came back to Nigeria. All along, I did not contact my family members because I did not want them to know what I was going through. I travelled in 2016 and returned in 2017.
PT: So, how did you start life when you came back to Nigeria?
Damilola Falodun: I did not return to Nigeria with any money. There was this lady, my mother’s friend, that helped me secure my international passport before she travelled to the United States. When I got back, I got a call from her and she was astonished to hear that I went to Oman. We lost contact at some point.
I explained to her that life became difficult at some point. Somehow, I was encouraged to go back to school and I made some moves and got admitted into the National Open University of Nigeria in Abeokuta, studying entrepreneurship and business management.
PT: Are you battling with any psychological effects as a result of your experiences in Oman?
Damilola Falodun: Yes, I have now had a chronic ulcer, which was also a result of the starvation I also encountered in Oman. I also have other women-related challenges that I am battling with. I now use medicated eyeglasses to correct my sight.
PT: What do you think the federal government can do to reduce the migration to such countries where Nigerians are used as ‘slaves’?
Damilola Falodun: There was an Ethiopian lady that passed through what we went through in Oman and when she went back to her country she began a sensitisation process that has drawn the government’s attention to ladies travelling to Oman. There is serious scrutiny against trafficking to the Middle East in that country. The federal government can do the same in Nigeria.
In Nigeria, some of the trafficking at the airport is aided by officials, it can be checked. The travel agents into this business work in collaboration with our immigration officials, that was why (we had) the seamless passage when we were leaving Nigeria. When I returned to Nigeria there was this beauty pageantry that was ongoing, I keyed into their programme.
Since I came back, I have been carrying out some form of enlightenment campaign against girls trafficking. I have carried out some campaigns in Lagos and Ile-Ife. I hope to extend the same to Benin City in Edo State. It is geared towards giving those that are trapped abroad the hope to return home because I discovered that most people who are trapped do not want to come back home because of shame.
Source: PREMIUM TIMES