Nigeria's porous border with its northern neighbor Niger is being exploited by traffickers smuggling teenage girls to Europe where they will work as prostitutes, immigration officials told IRIN.
"Our 910 kilometer boundary with Niger is too much for us to police which provides human traffickers an advantage to conduct their trade of smuggling young girls to Europe for prostitution," Oemi Bio Ockiya, head of the Nigerian immigration department in Kano told IRIN.
Ockiya said girls are transported from the southern part of Nigeria to Kano from where they are driven to Libya through Niger and then shipped to Europe, their final destination, for prostitution.
The traffickers convince the girls and their parents that lucrative jobs await their victims, but force them into prostitution once in Europe by holding on to their passports.
The trafficking of young women to Europe through Kano has been a common occurrence. Hitherto the traffickers would smuggle their victims through Kano airport using fake and stolen passports.
However the introduction of state-of-the-art passport reading machines and a run of high-profile arrests meant the traffickers resorted to driving the victims overland to Niger then Libya from where they are shipped to Europe, Ockiya said.
On May 12 immigration officials in Kano apprehended Samuel Osagie, a Nigerian national residing in Libya with 21 victims, 16 of them teenage girls, at a motor park in the city. He was apparently bound for Libya.
The girls, who are from four southern Nigerian states Edo, Akwa Ibom, Anambra and Delta, told the officials that Osagie arranged with their parents to take them to Libya to work as maids for US$1,272 fees each, which they would pay in installments from their wages.
"The work promise is a ruse. The truth of the matter is that they were going to pay the fees from the money they would make from prostitution in Europe," Ockiya said.
Ahmed Bello, head of the federally-funded National Agency for the Prohibition of Traffic in Persons [NAPTIP] in charge of 18 northern states said trafficking is also spreading HIV/AIDS.
"Our investigation shows that 40 percent of trafficked girls repatriated to Nigeria test positive to HIV and this has serious social and economic implications," he said.
A Niger official who asked to remain anonymous as he was speaking on a sensitive subject without authorization said tackling trafficking is testing both countries.
"This is an issue that has to be tackled collectively. Nigeria and Niger conduct joint trans-border patrols to check criminal activities along the boundary but the length of the border is too much for us."
"Nigeria has more resources and personnel than Niger and if it is finding it difficult to police its side of the border you can imagine how much more difficult it is for Niger to effectively shut its side of the border against human traffickers," the official added.
Ockiya agreed limited manpower and inadequate logistics make effective policing of the long border impossible. He said the border patrol agencies would need helicopters and cars to help match the wealthy, sophisticated smugglers.
Mairo Bello, head of Kano-based Adolescent Health Information Project [AHIP], said that the authorities on both sides of the border are fighting an enemy far more sophisticated than them.
"The more the authorities devise new strategies, the more sophisticated the traffickers become in running their trade," he said.