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How a Nigerian girl endured serial sexual abuse in Libyan prison in exchange for drugs, food for sick children

How a Nigerian girl endured serial sexual abuse in Libyan prison in exchange for drugs, food for sick children

Oyiza arrived Libya on May 4, 2015 and started work as a house cleaner the next day. Her first realisation upon arrival was that every promising thing she was told about Libya was a lie.

By Edidiong Udobia

Hope Oyiza returned to Nigeria in December 2017 ’empty-handed’ having failed to achieve her dream of making money in Libya where she spent over 30 months. But four years after settling back into Nigeria, she still needs therapy in order to heal from some of the experiences in Libya.

Oyiza was falsely accused by her employer and was handed over to the Libyan police who tortured her for hours before sending her to prison the same day without a court appearance.

In an interview with our reporter, she initially said that she would not share her prison experience because it was one part of her life she was yet to heal from.

Oyiza, who later shared the experience in her series on Facebook, narrated how the chief warder serially abused her sexually in exchange for drugs and food for sick children in the prison. She said the sexual abuse involved severe pains that made her beg for mercy.

Shortly after she arrived the prison, she bonded with many children who were mostly of Nigerian and Ghanaian origin. The children regularly fell sick and were not given attention.

Oyiza approached the chief warder to beg for drugs for the children. In exchange for the drugs, she was asked to donate her blood to the prison clinic and also have regular sex with the chief warder.

“It didn’t come as a surprise to me when I volunteered my blood and body for the children. I told myself, the body won’t go anywhere and the body will produce more blood. All this while I never thought of the emotional damage. I wasn’t even feeling much physical pain so it didn’t matter.

“We nursed the kids for three days and there was slight improvement. I was taken to the underground cell for my sample to be taken. I thought my tattoo would discourage them but it didn’t.

“My results came out hours later and I was good to go. A pint of blood was taken from me and I was just too dizzy. I was taken back up to recover but the boss sent for me. it was time for his sexual fantasies.

“I don’t want to narrate his fantasies but it involved a whole lot of pain, pain that left scars and made a stubborn woman like me beg for mercy. The thought of it alone makes me shiver,” she narrated.

The teenage volunteer with dreams

Oyiza was only a teenager and had just completed her secondary education when she started volunteering with the Salvation Army Nigeria. Between 2010 and 2012, she had travelled to Ondo, Lagos, Kogi, Ebonyi, Anambra and Akwa Ibom States as a volunteer to run awareness campaigns on HIV/AIDS and other related issues.

Oyiza, who hails from Kogi State, left home to pursue her dream of becoming a medical personnel and running a non-governmental organization.

She later volunteered for Daughters of Charity Hospital, Abuja, where she was also employed as an Adherence Counselor. Her job was to counsel patients who tested positive on adherece to healthy living. She later resigned and moved to Akwa Ibom State in 2012.

“After a while I resigned and moved to Akwa Ibom state to explore more opportunities. Medical school requires a whole lot of money and I was so brilliant that everyone believed in me. The only thing holding me was money and I knew more opportunities await me in the new state.

“Akwa Ibom State is filled with love. I adapted easily and from selling in the market to working in a pharmacy, I wasn’t still able to meet my target. So after working for about two years without much savings, I knew I had to redraft my plans. I was ranting one fateful day when a friend told me I could travel out to make money and come back home for studies,” she narrated in one of her posts on Facebook.

When Oyiza told her friend that she does not have a passport or money to process a VISA, the friend said she (Oyiza) would only need a passport to travel because the country was Libya.

Libya and neighbouring countries in the North African region are major exit points for West African migrants journeying to Europe.

Oyiza was thereafter linked to a Nigerian woman who was already based in Libya and all arrangements for her to travel were made.

34 days on the road to Libya

Oyiza turned 23 on March 26, 2015 and two days after, she left Uyo, Akwa Ibom State capital, for Lagos where she later proceeded to Libya.

“I left Akwa Ibom in March, two days after my birthday. That is when I left for Lagos. On getting to Lagos, I met the contact person. It was from there that we embarked on the journey to Libya.

“We spent 34 days on the road. From Lagos to Kano. From Kano to Zinder, from Zinder to Agadez, Agadez to Duruku, Duruku to Qatroun, Qatroun to Sabha, Sabha to Tripoli. It took us 34 days,” she said in an interview with our reporter.

Oyiza has ulcer so besides other inconveniences like extortion, sexual harassments, not bathing for days and sleeping in filth, she battled severe hunger throughout the journey.

Part of the journey was sitting in pairs on motorcycles to travel from Kano to Zinder, Niger Republic. According to goggle map, the distance is about 246.1km of over four hours driving time.

“We boarded the car and moved to the next destination where bikes were waiting for us. We were paired into twos, two people mounted a bike and the bikers carried us across the border.

“The bike riders were on high speed because they were trying to evade immigration officers. It was one crazy ride till we got to Zinder.

“On getting to Zinder, most people were already discouraged but it was already too late to go back home. I was still in high spirit and decided to sort out food for myself,” she said.

The story further highlights the porous nature of Nigeria’s borders.

Another part of the journey which she described as horrible, was sitting on the edge of a Hilux Tundra to travel from Agadez across the Sahara. Over 30 young boys and girls were squeezed into the back of the Hilux.

The desert was littered with human bones and skulls of travellers who could not survive the journey. She learnt that some of the travellers fell off their vehicles and were abandoned while others lost their way in the desert and wandered till they died.

“The journey from Sabha to Tripoli was quite eventful as well. From hiding from rebels in the bush, sleeping on the tree in Braque, to going hungry. It was another long journey but no life was lost.

“I met with some other people who were either going to Tripoli or crossing to Europe through the Mediterranean sea.

“I finally got to Tripoli, the state capital after spending 34 days on the road from Nigeria. The 34 days that changed my life. 34 days of adventure, 34 days of fear, 34 days of physical and mental stress, 34 days of hope and fears,” she added.

From a house cleaner to a prisoner

Oyiza arrived Libya on May 4, 2015 and started work as a house cleaner the next day. Her first realisation upon arrival was that every promising thing she was told about Libya was a lie.

“The houses and luxury I saw on Facebook were no where to be found. The designers, the hair, the bags, the blings, they were no where.

“Where I was accommodated was more like a ghetto with multiple people staying in a room. Most people were sleeping on the rug. That was the day I lost interest in believing anything I see on social media.

“Everything was packaged for us and now in my reality, I knew my whole journey was a waste. There was no backing down and I was determined to work and go back home for my growth,” she said.

As a Christian in an Arab country, Oyiza had to change her name to Rukayat to avoid the hostility meted against Christians.

Her first house cleaning job was at a four-storey building belonging to an Arab family in Sahara Abdallah, Tripoli.

“I was in charge of cleaning for the two families that resided in the 4-storey building. It was very stressful working for at least 15 hours a day. I lost considerable weight and even all the chemicals damaged my fingers,” she said.

After more than seven months, she was later reassigned to another house following her complaints of work overload. Oyiza could now speak Arab and blended well with her new employer and the family.

She was more comfortable working in the second house until the eldest son of her employer started harassing her sexually. When she reported the situation to her employer, she was labelled a liar.

After several failed attempts to frame her up, Oyiza told her employer that she would not be working again.

On two occasions, she found pieces of jewelleries and money in her bag that were to be used as evidence against her but returned them to her employer.

“I became very scared and at alert. Luckily for me, the month ended, and he asked again if I would be coming back, I told him I won’t be coming back that I would love to rest a little, and he said okay.

“We dressed up and I entered his car so he could drop me off at my burga’s house. Enroute to my burga’s house, this man dropped me at a police station. He told them I took his cash and wife’s jewelleries.

“My bag was searched and they saw my salary. He told them that the money was part of what I stole and the remaining one was definitely with the jewelries and I should be tortured until I tell them where it was,” she revealed.

The police later moved her to prison where she spent 97 days and was forced to endure serial sexual abuse.

A day after she first arrived the prison, she was forced to strip herself naked along with other women for the guards to watch.

The guards wanted to sexually abuse her but she told them that she was HIV positive.

She later admitted to the chief warder that the HIV story was a lie so she would be allowed to donate her blood to the prison clinic in exchange for drugs and food for the children in the prison.

Inside the prison, she witnessed firsthand how prisoners were killed indiscriminately while their bodies were dismembered and sold to organ traffickers.

“I told him that can’t sell any of my organs but I can sell my blood to him as I was O+. He said No because his boys already told him I was HIV positive. I told him it was a lie, that told them that to escape their torture.

“He took me to the underground prison and requested for HIV, Hepatitis B and C test to be carried out on me. The results came out negative and he said he would take two pints of blood and his sexual fantasies from me in exchange for treating the children. I didn’t even think for a second before I agreed.

“In less than two hours, the drugs and fruits arrived. I was happy and of course sad,” she narrated.

After spending 97 days in the prison, the chief warder agreed to free her on the condition that she would work for his family without pay because she could not afford the ransom for her freedom. She worked for the family for three months without pay before she was freed.

Kidnapped and nearly sold to human traffickers

Barely six months after she regained her freedom from prison, Oyiza was kidnapped and was nearly sold to human traffickers.

On one sunny afternoon in March 2017, she got a call from strangers who claimed to be kidnappers asking her to raise 1,000 dinars (N100,000) ransom fee for two of her friends. With the help of other Nigerians in the community, she raised the money and later went to pay.

Unknown to her, it was a trick by the kidnappers to lure her to their hideout.

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Oyiza, who was kidnapped upon arriving the meeting point, later discovered that her friends were sold to human traffickers.

The kidnappers asked her to call someone else to come and pay a ransom of N500,000 for her but she told them that only people she could have called were the girls they had already kidnapped.

Oyiza was taken to the hideout where she was held, severely beaten and later sexually assaulted in the night by the three men. The next day, the kidnappers continued beating her and even stabbed her with a knife.

She was laying on the floor amidst the excruciating pains when she overheard her abductors bargaining with a buyer over the phone.

Oyiza, who had declined an opportunity to travel with some friends to Europe through the Mediterranean sea, became aware that she would also be sold to human traffickers.

“There was an issue with the negotiation but when they saw that I was bleeding, they agreed to sell me off at 1,600 dinars. That’s like N160,000. I knew that if I stayed there and the buyer came, that I would be sold off.

“So, I managed to walk to the bathroom, I saw a broken mirror and used it to slit my wrist. I felt that if they see bleeding severely, they might take me to the hospital. But when they came and saw me, they only brought panadol extra for me. I was bleeding so I didn’t take the drug because it contains caffeine which could trigger more bleeding,” she narrated.

While Oyiza was left in a room to battle for her life, it began to rain which rarely occurs in the desert country. The kidnappers went into wild jubilation over the rainfall and it gave Oyiza a window of opportunity to escape.

“Libya is like a desert so it rains once in while. When it started raining, the men were so excited. They went outside and started shooting in jubilation and shouting. That was how I stood up, opened the window and jumped out. I ran till I got the fence and jumped into the forest. I ran till got to the main road,” she continued.

Our reporter saw the scar on her wrist.

Oyiza eventually made it back to her house with severe injuries sustained while she was with the kidnappers.

The Nigerien passport

Oyiza finally left Libya on November 27, 2017 with a Nigerien passport because she could not get a Nigerian passport due the rigorous process at the Nigerian embassy.

Flights scarcely operate in Libya except in the yuletide. In 2019, the US issued an emergency order prohibiting U.S. flight operators from flying in Libyan space following months of civil war in the country.

“Libya is not a place you can just stand up and say you want to go home because flights are only available towards festive periods. So whatever is going on in your life, you have to bear it till that festive period,” Oyiza told our reporter.

Oyiza almost missed the opportunity to leave Libya in 2017 because she could not get a Nigerian passport.

“When I decided to come back home, IOM were working with the Nigerian Embassy to repatriate Nigerians back home but it was based on connection or knowing people in authority. I kept going there but they did not call me.

“So, I had to go to Niger Embassy to register as a Nigerien and got a Nigerien passport. They called me about a week after and I boarded a flight from Tripoli to Niamey in Niger, before coming to Nigeria by road,” she added.

Oyiza arrived Uyo on December 1, 2017 but more than four years after, she is still struggling with trauma. She is presently seeing a trauma therapist.

“I am currently working with a therapist. I first met with a clinical therapist but it wasn’t working out. She said it wasn’t it something she could handle so she referred me to a trauma therapist. It’s going quite well. She recommended me for EMDR,” Oyiza continued.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Deprocessing (EMDR) is a form of psychotherapy in which the a patient is asked to recall distressing images while the therapist directs the patient in one type of bilateral stimulation, such as side-to-side eye movement or tapping either side of the body.

Oyiza, who is presently working as a sales assistant at a popular pharmacy in Uyo, is still upbeat about furthering her education.

Through her story series on social media tagged “Luna”, she is leading an awareness campaign against human trafficking and irregular migration.

“To reach a wider audience, the ongoing series will be translated in Italian language. I am grateful to the team that’s working tirelessly on this. Thank you.

“Congratulations to Luna as well. This is the second step to ensure the world knows about the inhumane acts going on in Libya,” she announced.

Her story, which had since gone viral and awareness campaign have become a source of inspiration and enlightenment to many other young Nigerians on the dangers of irregular migration.

She has also been helping relatives in Nigeria in the search for their love ones who traveled to Lybia.

“Unfortunately, most people that have been missing for long are either dead or still dead.

“We have been searching for missing persons for the last 2 weeks and it’s been so unfruitful and draining.

“Out of over 30 persons, only 2 have been found alive, 14 confirmed dead and no information about others. It’s so scary,” she said in a recent Facebook post.

In the post, she also announced that she has completed her therapy session.

“In other news, I rounded up my therapy session with my trauma specialist last week. After her evaluation, she is convinced I am in a better place,” she add.

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