The Root Causes of Human Trafficking in Nigeria

Over the years, different nations and international organizations have expressed their disappointment in humanity because Human Trafficking still exists. For some countries (especially West African) it is pursued as a source of income where individuals are forcibly taken to developed countries to work. Though it is impossible to get the actual data, the International Labor Organization (ILO) estimates that the activity generates about 32 billion USD where 50 percent is generated in industrialized nations including France, Germany Russia, etc. (Dave-Odigie, 2008). However, different countries have come together in unison to try to fight off the problems as they are associated with human trafficking around the world. To understand the dynamics of these issues this discussion will identify the root causes of human trafficking in Nigeria owing into considering that it is rampant in the area. More so, the discussion will also try to identify some of the solutions to the problem that could see human trafficking diminish.

Background to Human Trafficking in Nigeria

Before delving into the root causes of human trafficking in Nigeria, an understanding of the terms is essential. First of all, human trafficking is defined as a grave crime since it violates the basic rights of a person. Despite that, every year, a countless number of people of different age are taken to foreign countries to work unwillingly doing odd jobs including sex. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) cites article 3 of the Protocol to Prevent Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons to define trafficking and punishments. For that matter, they note that human trafficking entails, recruitment, transfer, transportation, harboring and receipt of persons through fraud, coercion, threat abduction and abuse of power having to control other people without having received consent from the other person (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime). The definition of trafficking under article 3 tries to provide consensus in the understanding of the problem; therefore, it binds the actions of other countries as well.

In Nigeria, trafficking is a contentious issue that is being fought off by various stakeholders in the country including the government. The main people subject to trafficking are young women and girls who are shipped to various developed countries and forced to become sex workers (Feingold, 2005). Though the state has not been very effective in fighting off the problem, they have set the standard in the ECOWAS region in the fight against trafficking with the help of the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP). So far, the NAPTIP has been involved in rescue missions that have saved over 4,000 individuals since its inception (Feingold, 2005). The level of conviction is also very high proving that they have been very useful in the role. Despite that, it is still clear that the country is miles behind achieving total control of the issue. Some of the main causes that will be described include weak legislation and governance in the country, widespread poverty, as well as gender inequality.

Root causes of Human Trafficking in Nigeria


Nigeria is richly endowed with natural resources including oil and natural gas (eleventh largest in the world). Despite that, it is one of the poorest nations in the world with a meager per capita income. In fact, the living conditions in the country are deplorable, which usually leaves the citizens of the country in a weak welfare state (Agbu, 2003). Generally, the level of unemployment is very high for Nigerian nationals and there lacks economic opportunities for most of the people. Other than that, the standards of living are also meager, their value of the currency is low, and most of the households are incapable of meeting their health, habitat, food and security needs for most of the people.

The living standards that people are forced to live by in Nigeria makes its population desperate for opportunities with economic benefits. Whenever people get the opportunity to work elsewhere, they easily accept to migrate as long as they benefit economically. In a policy paper published by Olabegi et al. (2006) the vast majority of the Nigerians reside in rural areas where there are fewer opportunities and learning institutions in the region. Therefore, even if the children may get education up to the secondary level, they are unable to proceed with their education since the institutions are unavailable, and jobs are also hardly available. To make matters, the parents may struggle to bring up their children in the best way possible. Considering that there are minimal opportunities available, the children soon afterward venture out into the world in pursuit of their opportunities.

Most of the people, especially young women, are open to any opportunities that they are promised and would not mind migrating to other countries. As a result, they are easily dissuaded by the traffickers to move into foreign nations as long as they are promised to get employed. The false promises to earn a good amount of money that is impossible to earn Nigeria, which usually makes them move. According to Ezeh (2017), the only way to address the issue of trafficking in America is by responding to poverty in the country.

Weak legal framework

Trafficking in Nigeria has thrived under the mediocre law enforcement and weak legal framework that has not been able to curb the menace in any significant way. Most of the reports published regarding human trafficking have noted that the Nigerian agencies are neither equipped nor prepared to deal with upcoming issues (Agbu, 2003). This puts them in an impossible position to handle the forthcoming issues. In most of the cases, the victims express their dismay in the involvement of Nigerian officials in assisting the assailants to get away from the law. In some special cases, the law enforcement agencies have not only colluded but also expressed the unwillingness and reluctance to investigate crimes involving women and children especially since they are not in a position to cater for the cost of making investigations or even bribe the officers to make these investigations a priority (Shelley, 2013). Therefore, the loopholes in this system make it possible for the assailants to get away with such crimes.

In the context of the weak legal framework, corruption must be discussed explicitly since it affects the extent to which human traffickers circumvent the system. The Nigerian officials were plagued by a very high level of corruption, which has actively facilitated trafficking. A report that was published in 2009 by United States Department of State cited that Nigerian corruption was widespread and pervasive in all the security levels. For instance, the judges that adjudicate over the cases of human trafficking may be easily bribed, which in some cases is solicited from the traffickers for more lenient outcomes. This expands on the issues highlighted earlier considering that the law enforcers may not even be willing to pursue leads unless they are bribed. Corrupt security officers, embassy officials, and immigration agents promote this high level of pervasion in the country and make it impossible for the state to fight off the pervasion holistically.

Gender inequality

Under the Nigerian constitutional law, equality is prescribed under Chapter IV, Art. 34(1) (a)-(c). In this section of the constitution, the Nigerian law prohibits inhuman and cruel treatment in addition to forced labor and slavery (Attoh, 2009). Though these provisions are prescribed within the nation’s constitution it has not done much to ensure that women are also treated equally to the men in the society. The gender-based discrimination in the country clearly fuels human trafficking in the country (Feingold, 2005). For instance, as compared to the men, the women are given limited access to educational opportunities in the country, which only increases their desperation for employment opportunities. For example, considering that the women always have limited skills, lack any fulfilling employments in their home areas (Attoh, 2009). Since the women are inadequately trained to handle these roles, then they are not in position to pursue the legal channels of migration as opposed to the men in the society. Therefore, the women will be left to find alternative channels of traveling abroad in pursuit of employment opportunities. This indicates that the women using these alternatives will fall into the hands of the traffickers without even their knowledge (Fayomi, 2009). To some extent, the government expresses outright disregard to the rights of women, for example, in the Penal Code prescribed under section 55, which allows men to physically abuse the women as long as he does not cause any grievous to the woman.

Prevention Strategies Implemented in Nigeria

The NAPTIP Act, which has been approved by the Palermo Protocol, is actively used to curb trafficking in the country. Since its inception, it has been actively used to promote public awareness by conducting large-scale awareness in the country. So far, its activities have been helpful in the country considering that it has helped a large number of victims as well as prosecute individuals that have acted contrary to the requirements of the law (Bowers, 2012). To make it easier to conduct most of its activities effectively, the NAPTIP works in collaboration with NGOs that help facilitate education about trafficking in the country, its dangers and legal prosecutions that could be attracted by such an action. Other than that, the fact that the law enforcers are ill-trained to handle most of the issues, it has also made a more concise response to the issue by training more officers and at immigration who can be able to identify any signs of human trafficking and respond effectively in the situation without any hesitation (Dave-Odigie, 2008). In the most recent attempt, the agency has also embarked on a media campaign that takes the battle to a different level. Since its inception, the agency has realized mixed results for these activities considering that they have managed to minimize the crime levels in the country. In fact, traffickers have been forced to move to neighbor nations including Benin, Cameroon, and Ghana where the same standards have not been reached so far.


Human trafficking has become a major challenge in Nigeria due to weak legislation and governance in the country, widespread poverty, as well as gender inequality. The government is less concerned with the ordinary citizen going to the extent of finding it an expense to safeguard the security of the citizens. Poverty is another major concern in Nigeria where people prefer going out of the country to find better jobs to sustain their living. Gender inequality is another major concern where women are not treated equally as men in the society. For instance, lack of proper education to women leads them to engage in such cases of human trafficking. However, with the help of NAPTIP human trafficking has really being curbed.


Agbu, O. (2003). Corruption and human trafficking: The Nigerian case. West Africa Review4(1), 1-13.

Attoh, F. (2009). Trafficking in Women in Nigeria: Poverty of Values or Inequality?. Journal of Social Sciences19(3), 167-171.

Bowers, M. M. (2012). Room for Improvement Nigeria’s Approach to Trafficking. International Models Projects on Women’s Rights.

Ezeh, M. D. (2017). Human Trafficking and Prostitution Among Women and Girls of Edo State, Nigeria Possibility of Rehabilitation Through Education and Prevention. Xlibris Corporation.

Fayomi, O. O. (2009). Women, poverty and trafficking: A contextual exposition of the Nigerian situation. Journal of’Management and Social Sciences5(1), 65-79.

Feingold, D. A. (2005). Human trafficking. Foreign Policy, 26-32.

Human Trafficking. United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. Retrieved from

Olagbegi, B. O., Aminu, L. S., Akiode, B. A., Zacharia, Y., Ezekwem, U., & Menkiti, M. C. (2006). Human trafficking in Nigeria: Root causes and recommendations. Policy Paper14.

Shelley, L. (2013). 6 Human trafficking as a form of transnational crime. In Human trafficking (pp. 128-149). Willan.

Dave-Odigie, C. P. (2008). Human Trafficking Trends in Nigeria and Strategies for combating the crime. Peace Studies Journal1(1), 63-70.

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