This is why modern-day slavery in Nigeria has to be addressed

A Nigerian couple, Emmanuel and Antan Edet, has been sentenced to a six-year jail term after being found guilty of child cruelty, slavery and supporting illegal immigration. Ofonime Sunday Inuk, the victim of slavery and abuse in the Edet’s household, had accompanied the couple from Nigeria, first to Israel then to the United Kingdom in 1989, when he was just 14 years old.

Prior to taking him away, the couple told the teenager that he would be paid and educated, however, on their arrival, Inuk was charged with cleaning their home and looking after the children without pay. He was also instructed to speak only in their native language, eat alone and sleep in a narrow hall way. His passport was seized by the Edets and he was granted very little contact with the outside world.

Now, 40 years old, Inuk’s release came after the couple traveled to Nigeria for Christmas and he reportedly called a charity to complain about his plight, as a result of this, the Edets were arrested upon their arrival. According news sources, the couple remained ‘impassive’ and portrayed a lack of any emotion as they were sentenced to jail for the crime.

In the United Kingdom, over 20,000 people are allegedly victims of slavery or trafficking for exploitation. However, in Nigeria where there are no definite statistics, one can only rely on the observations of independent researchers, writers and critics.

In Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani’s piece, she mentions that in Nigeria, you’re either ‘somebody or nobody’, showcasing the huge disparity between the owners of the homes (who may also be referred to as rich) and the house helps, who are regularly seen as helpless and poor. In the New York Times op-ed piece, she projects the relationship between the homeowners and these helps as a mutually exclusive relationship, writing, “throughout my childhood, house helps — usually teenagers from poor families — came to live with my family, sometimes up to three or four of them at a time. In exchange for scrubbing, laundering, cooking, baby-sitting and everything else that brawn could accomplish, either they were sent to school or their parents were sent regular cash.” However, the reality is that, sadly, like in Inuk’s case, this is not always true.

Modern-day slavery creates a class of citizens who are forced into subservience due to their socioeconomic status. These citizens are thought of as “figures depressed by the hand of nature below the level of the human species, as if they had been created only as a useful backdrop against which we were to shine.”

The slavery era may have passed but what seems to be replacing it is a more twisted version of oppression where the rich prey on the poor. According to the General Secretary of Federation of Informal Workers’ Organisation, these helps are “isolated in private homes, domestic workers suffer psychological, physical and, sometimes, sexual abuse. Various women and girls have told us that their employers beat them with belts, sticks and electrical cords, knock their heads against walls and some have skin burns from irons, chemicals and boiling water.”

With this in mind, Nigeria needs to create a law, much like the Modern Slavery Act 2015, which is operative in the UK. Otherwise workers like Inuk have no hope.

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