SUPREME COURT AFFIRMS THE CONVICTION OF A PASTOR AND ANOTHER WHO SOLD TWO LADIES INTO PROSTITUTION: LESSONS

Given the level of unemployment and poverty in the country, many young people continue to fall victims of human trafficking, especially young ladies. The prevalence of this vice led the Government into passing the law known as Trafficking in Persons Prohibition Law Enforcement and Administration Act, 2003 (“Trafficking Act”). Notwithstanding, the illegal business is still thriving.

Sadly, it is mostly people, least expected, who pretend to assist with providing jobs that often take advantage of the victims to sell them into prostitution. Care must be taken by parents to ensure their children do not fall victims like the two Nigerian ladies in the case of Mariam Mohammed v. Attorney General of the Federation [2021] 3 NWLR (Pt. 1764) 397 SC.

The sad story

Two Nigerian ladies (18 and 20) in need of jobs were sold into prostitution (from Nigeria to Libya) in the guise being employed as sales girls. They were deflowered and sexually molested in the process. Those responsible were two women: Eunice Owoyele (a pastor, but surely a fake one) and Mariam Mohammed (AKA Mama Blessing), in collaboration with other syndicates. The ladies were made to swear an oath by the “Bible and anointing oil” that they will do whatever they were asked to do.

After a torrid experience in Libya, one of the ladies was able to reach her mother in Nigeria on phone to narrate their ordeals. Below was her heartbreaking testimony on how she was able to do this (at pages 424-425 of the report):

When I got there (a town in Libya), they told me that I was going to start prostitution that date. I begged but they refused… They forced me to have sex with an Arab man that day and it was hell. They do not allow you to see the money. They pay money to Gani’s wife… One night they gave me to a man for overnight. I begged the man to allow me use his phone. I was able to call my mother to report to her all I was going through…

The ladies eventually returned home after much pressure and by the help of one Oduduwa Association Chairman. The traffickers were eventually apprehended and charged to Court under the Trafficking Act, on three counts – procurement of the victims for prostitution (Section 15(a)); organizing foreign travel for the victims for the purpose of prostitution (Section 16); and deceitful inducement of the victims for prostitution (Section 19(1)).

At the conclusion of trial, Eunice (the 1st accused) was found guilty on counts 1 and 3 (bordering on procument and deceitful inducement of the victims for prostitution). Mariam was found guilty on all the counts and sentenced to 14 years imprisonment without an option of fine (on count 1); 10 years without option of fine (on count 2) and 3 years (on count 3).

One of the traffickers, Mariam Mohammed (as Appellant), appealed to the Court of Appeal which affirmed her conviction and sentence. Aggrieved, she further appealed to the Supreme Court, contending that there were inconsistencies in the evidence of the witnesses. She also challenged the sentences ordered.

In a Judgment delivered on 22 May 2020, the apex Court found that the evidence of the witnesses (one of the victims and her mum) were largely consistent. The Court confirmed the Appellant’s conviction and sentencing.

The Supreme Court, with all pleasure, increased her sentence on Count 3 from 3 years to 10 years. Kekere-Ekun, JSC explained (at page 432):

With regard to count 3, Section 19(b) of the Trafficking Act provides that a person found guilty of an offence under the subsection “Is liable upon conviction to imprisonment for ten years or to a fine not exceeding N200,000.00 or both.” To my mind, the only discretion conferred on the learned trial Judge in this regard is as follows:
(a) to impose a mandatory term of ten years imprisonment;
(b) to impose a fine not exceeding N200,000.00 in lieu of the custodial sentence; or
(c) to impose a mandatory term of ten years imprisonment in addition to a fine, which must not exceed N200,000.00.
The learned trial Judge sentenced the Appellant to a term of three years imprisonment on count 3. The term of years prescribed in Section 19(b) is mandatory, just as the term of years in Section 15(a) and 16 of the Act are mandatory. I am therefore of the considered view that the learned trial Judge erred in imposing a term of three years. He had no discretion to do so and the count below erred in affirming the sentence in count 3. The said sentence is hereby set aside. I affirm the Appellant’s conviction on count 3 and sentence her to a term of ten years imprisonment. All the sentences are to run concurrently.

Explainer

When a sentence is said to run concurrently, it means that the multiple sentences are subsumed into the highest sentence. For instance, in this case, the Appellant was sentenced to 14 years, 10 years and 10 years imprisonment on the three counts. By the sentence running concurrently, she is required to spend 14 years in all. The 10 years on count 2 and 10 years on count 3 would be subsumed into the 14 years on count 1. Thus, by serving the 14-year jail term, the Appellant is taken to have fully served her punishment on all the counts. 

Conversely, if the sentences were held to run consecutively, it means that the Appellant will serve the aggregate term of years – 14+10+10=34 years.

The courts often order that sentences should run concurrently out of compassion or other considerations like the age of the convicted person.

Conclusion

Parents must be extremely careful when assisting their children with job hunt. The woman in this case who moved to help her daughter and younger sister was not totally careless. It was a “Pastor” in her church she had approached. When the “Pastor” informed her that the ladies would serve as sales girls to her friend (the Appellant), the woman enquired to know more about the job. She was informed that the girls would help in the marketing and sales of red oil. She was never told the girls would be whisked away to Libya. They had gone before she knew. Apparently, from the moment the two ladies were taken, they didn’t have any means of communication.

The two ladies in this case were lucky. Others sometimes die in the process. The ladies were brave enough to disregard their oaths and fight for their return. Some others might be too scared to attempt pursuing their freedom. All hands must be on deck to put an end to this menace. 

 

 

Featured Image Credit: EHL



Stephen Azubuike
Author: Stephen Azubuike
Stephen is a lawyer with expertise in Commercial Dispute Resolution and Technology Law practice. He is a Partner at Infusion Lawyers. He has successfully argued cases from the High Courts of various jurisdictions to the Appellate Courts on behalf of financial institutions, other corporate bodies and multinationals. He has worked with a number of startup tech companies. He tweets @siazubuike.

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