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Tackling human trafficking: Lessons from the Stamping out Slavery in Nigeria project

Modern-day slavery is still a prevalent practice in Nigeria, with Edo State at the centre of human trafficking. The UK FCDO-funded Stamping out Slavery in Nigeria programme aimed to develop and test new and innovative approaches to human trafficking mainly in Nigeria’s Edo State. After the programme was brought to an early close, we believe there are still lessons to be learnt for future programming.

human trafficking and unsafe migration, hand holding picture of birds in front of barbed wire
Image: istock/estherpoon


As of 2016, there are an estimated 7.7 people out of every 1000 living in modern slavery in Nigeria1 – absolute figures are an estimated 1.386 million people the highest absolute number in Africa. Improving the evidence base on modern-day slavery is an important step towards tackling this problem.

As part of our work on the baseline assessment of the Stamping out Slavery in Nigeria (SoSiN) programme, we assessed the approaches to combating human trafficking used by government institutions and organisations, and NGOs, as well as their capacity and coordination mechanisms, including the knowledge, attitudes, and practices of citizens at the community level in relation to human trafficking and unsafe migration.

SoSiN represents FCDO’s major response to human trafficking and fits into the broader UK government agenda. The programme is structured around four components that will together ensure a state-coordinated and evidence-based response to tackling the root causes of human trafficking and unsafe migration in the Edo State of Nigeria.

  1. Strengthening Edo State’s response to modern slavery.
  2. Supporting law enforcement and victims as part of the UK government’s investment in the Home Office’s Modern Slavery Fund in Nigeria, Albania and Vietnam.
  3. Providing support for testing and developing pilot interventions focused on changing norms and behaviours in Edo State that are conducive to human trafficking and unsafe migration.
  4. Setting up The Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning (MEL) Unit, which will be contributing to data quality improvements, providing independent evaluation services, and sharing evidence-based findings generated by the programme.

As the programme was brought to an early close in the second half of 2020 due to FCDO budget cuts, we thought it would be helpful if we shared some critical lessons from the baseline assessments for future programming.

  • Refining terminology

How we talk about and understand the drivers of modern slavery, particularly with a given context, is important, if not critical, in strengthening anti-slavery efforts, and to ensure clarity. It is, therefore, necessary to relate modern slavery work to the national and local context without losing focus on modern slavery or distorting the stated intent of interventions. Initial interactions with stakeholders at the start of the programme showed the need to be aware of sensitivities on the use of the term ‘slavery’, so, programme components adopted the use of ‘trafficking’ and ‘unsafe migration’. This was to fit into the contextual issues in Edo State and to ensure better alignment with the government’s response, and this way achieve better traction in relationships.
When we pre-tested the baseline assessment instruments, it became evident that we needed to be careful about how we used terminology. At the community level, there were sensitivities even around the use of ‘trafficking’ and ‘unsafe migration’, as communities and trafficked persons rarely regarded themselves as trafficked. They preferred to see themselves as migrating out of the country for better opportunities. We then adopted the use of ‘irregular migration’ in community-level discussions but followed up with questions which brought out pertinent issues related to human trafficking and unsafe migration.

  • Refocusing livelihood support to vulnerable people

Poverty and employment outside the country were identified as the most significant ‘pulling’ factor for people to engage in unsafe migration or to be trafficked. While the Edo State government and donors were active in providing alternative livelihood opportunities for vulnerable people including returnee migrants, there was a general perception that the financial returns from current skills acquisition programmes designed to tackle modern-day slavery were low. This explains why people are still keen to migrate. The findings suggest that there is a need for government sectors to refocus the empowerment programmes for returnees away from ‘petty skills’ or quick money activities (hairdressing, tailoring), to the growing economic sectors such as commerce, information technology (IT), mechanical services, furniture and metal fabrication.

Livelihood support should also consider providing employment opportunities, income-generating activities, seed grants, training and scholarship. With a high proportion of younger people being at risk, the government will do well to focus support on these age groups. Currently, most of the jobs posted on ’Edojobs’2 (a government initiative) require a university degree or a higher diploma, which most youths in the state do not have. There is a need to reconsider entry levels or mentor young people into these positions. The government can consider adopting the model of initiatives run in Lagos state to curb unemployment during the Babatunde Raji Fashola regime. These opportunities were not only open to graduates but also those with secondary education.

  • Improving transparency and accountability

More than two-thirds of the baseline study respondents (71%) expressed not being satisfied with their household financial situation. Most of these were younger people who did not earn enough to fulfil their household financial responsibilities. More than 80% of the respondents expressed willingness to build their future in Edo state if the opportunities enabling financial stability are created. There seem to be barriers to accessing livelihood opportunities including needing government and political connections, bad leadership and corruption. The government needs to make access to opportunities more transparent to overcome these barriers

  • Changing the narrative on irregular migration

There is a dominant narrative of ‘abroad is better’, in other words, that employment and livelihood opportunities, as well as general living conditions, are better outside the country. Family members tend to put pressure on young people (especially women) to migrate after they hear a few ‘success stories’ from irregular migrants. While people are aware of the risks, they are still willing to undertake the journey because of perceived success abroad. Behaviour change initiatives are needed to complement livelihood and other opportunities. Such initiatives should aim to change the narrative of ‘abroad is better’, drawing on good practices and evidence of good life from other states of the federation, without recourse to unsafe migration.

Tackling human trafficking: going forward

While the programme may have closed early, the baseline report will serve several purposes. It will provide verifiable information by highlighting the approaches used by governmental and non-governmental organisations, in tackling human trafficking and unsafe migration. It will also provide information on the incidence, frequency and the understanding of citizens on the subject matter. Finally, it will serve as a reference document for FCDO in determining any continuing or potential future support in the sector; and can be used by any future donor in the area. We hope these lessons can be incorporated in existing programmes where there is scope for mainstreaming, or into future programming on modern slavery

The SoSiN baseline study was undertaken by the SoSiN MEL Unit, working alongside the other components and FCDO. This is made up of three organisations, led by Itad, who provided the Team Leader and other core team members including gender, human trafficking and political economy advisers. The Society for Family Health anchored the quantitative data collection activities in concert with the Team Leader, while the Centre for Communication and Social Impact anchored the detailed enquiry with the government and non-government organisations, in concert with the Team Leader.


  1. 1. The Global Slavery Index (2018) Walk Free Foundation.
  2. 2. Edojobs is an initiative of the Edo State government under the administration of Governor Godwin Obaseki. The initiative is aimed at tackling the high rate of unemployment in Edo State through skills acquisition and empowerment programs, in collaboration with various private and public organizations in Edo State.