By Tony Ogaga Erhariefe
Veteran actress, Joke Silva has shared her most heart breaking experience. It was the day she met a 10 year-old prostitute while volunteering for her church, This Present House.
In an exclusive chat with The Entertainer, the mother of three recounted her ordeal thus: “Our church, This Present House, runs several shelters for drug addicts and people who have been trafficked within and outside Nigeria; you will be surprised what happens within Nigeria.
“We have 10 year old girls being sold into prostitution. One was actually younger than 10. She had been trafficked and was being molested. It was so heart rendering. We had to buy her from the whorehouse because the madam who ran the whorehouse insisted the girl was a client’s favourite. Can you imagine?”
However, the actress adds that there is hope because some of the girls have been rescued from the streets courtesy of This Present House and are thriving in rehabilitation. “Today, we have been able to rehabilitate them in the shelter. They have developed their skills. Some are in boarding schools and one is in the university. The bottom line is that with just a little effort, things could be better,” she said.
Last year, against the growing global challenge of trafficked persons and illegal immigration, Joke and rapper, MI were appointed UN Peace Ambassadors. Consequently, she is bringing her wealth of experience to bear. Now, she is collaborating with Osita Oseneme of Patriotic Citizens Initiatives who was a victim of human trafficking. Osita has published a book entitled, The Mirage, which chronicles his harrowing 91 days in the largest desert in the world, the Sahara desert.
“The trafficking in persons and smuggling of migrants has become a challenge worldwide. And the United Nations, aware of the implications, decided to get goodwill ambassadors all over the world in order to bring focus to the challenge,” Joke said, shedding more light on her UN appointment.
Lamenting the scourge of human trafficking and smuggling of migrants across borders Joke stated: “From Africa, MI and I were appointed. MI is handling smuggling of migrants while I am handling trafficking in persons and we work with organizations like NAPTIP. What happens is that because people are looking for better opportunities and coupled with the belief that outside their countries life will be better because of what they have seen on TV, internet and magazines, they try to get out of their countries illegally like in the case of Comrade Osememe who tried to leave the country but did not make a headway because he was duped by touts who promised him greener pastures in Europe. He barely escaped arrest at the airport when security operatives narrowly missed arresting him. Then someone told him, ‘don’t worry, we can help you get to Europe and thus began 91-days of horror which he was lucky to survive. “
Joke says the root of the problem is ignorance because information about how one can get things done easily is not available so a lot of people fall prey to touts. “I get very alarmed when I hear people say they paid as much as N400, 000 for a US visa. I am like ‘how?’ Did you get 50 years? Osita narrowly escaped the police but somebody else came and said, ‘look, it’s quite easy to get to Europe. You don’t necessarily need to go by air to get to your dreams. There’s a path through the desert and it doesn’t take that long,” she narrated.
Continuing, the actress said Oseneme fell again because he was desperate to make it to Europe but ended up spending 91 days in the desert during which time he was attacked over and over again by bandits, preyed upon by fellow Nigerians who were stranded in the desert. He watched helplessly as men and women were forced into prostitution or were harvested for their organs. “All these happened but nobody was aware because there was no information and this is sad. If we are to change the situation, information is important, education is key,” she added.
According to Joke, a major problem is that Africans tend to see Europe as a place where the streets are paved with gold and so Nigerian youths, plagued by poverty and deprivation will do anything under the sun to make it to Europe.
“In Africa, we tend to think that Europe is the place where the streets are paved with gold but that’s not the case. I was at a programme recently and I said ‘look, I was in the United States, on Rodeo Drive where you have all the rich people. Right there I saw people, white people sleeping on the streets.
“So, you see, there are so many poor people all over the world. What we are trying to say is that rather than leave your country, why don’t you just find an alternative? Whatever you think the other country has, come and develop it in your country. All over the world, people are facing challenges whether we like it or not. If we want things to be better for our country, let’s stay here and fight it collectively. We need to fight for what we need for our country. We don’t have to be violent about it. There are many options that will work for civil society. Going outside of this country illegally is not an option.
“The reason people are trafficked is either for their organs or to work as sex slaves and most times people fall victims because of the lies that they are told. Most times, these people are deceived by madams who pose as business women. They come back from probably Italy, build a couple of houses and say ‘I can take so many people with me and they will make a lot of money. They will come back and do the same thing I am doing with money’, and young people are misled.”
Note of warning
Are you planning to travel out of the country illegally? Are you seeking greener pastures in the Europe at all cost? Joke has a warning for you. Hear her: “When these people go, they never make enough money to come back. They are turned into sex slaves as soon as they arrive. Back in Nigeria, they are made to go to shrines to swear to fake gods. They are vulnerable and manipulated. If they are lucky they get to the other side but many die before that.”
But why is Joke so passionate about this project? “Because I don’t think anybody should live that kind of life. I really do believe that we need to demystify the Western world. I studied there. I remember one of the reasons why I didn’t stay over there as an actress was that I did not want to work there. I made up my mind that if I was ever going to work overseas, it would be because I was invited.”
Nollywood to the rescue
The delectable actress believes that film is a tool, which could be used to create awareness about issues of human trafficking and illegal immigration, and she says its thumbs up to Nollywood for telling our stories the right way.
“We need to tell stories that give hope to people in Nigeria. That’s what Nollywood has done for not only Nigeria, not only Africa but also for the blacks in the Diaspora. Nollwood tells our stories as just human beings with no baggage. There’s always a kind of stereotyping in more established film traditions when it comes to the black story. In Nollywood, we just tell stories, there is no stereotyping. What we need to do now is to tell people stories that give them a feeling of hope about this country,” she stressed.
Home sweet home
The thespian reveals that plans are underway to do a screen adaptation for Oseneme’s book, The Mirage which chronicles his 91 days of horror in the desert and how he almost lost his life a couple of times.
“There are plans to make a movie out of the book because his story just tells it as it is. One of the amazing things about Oseneme’s story is that he survived the experience and had the resolve to come back home. The bottom line of that story is that at the end of the day, he realized that his country was the best place. He realized that there is no place like his own country,” Joke concluded