Bini Girl, Italy for Better Life: Revisiting Human Smuggling

Benin girl with leopard

It doesn’t matter what you say, it doesn’t matter how you say it. When I look at your face, I know. I know the years have not been kind to you.

I remember the rejoicing that followed your impending departure all those years ago. Poverty is cruel. Greed is crueller. It makes a man sell his daughter into prostitution and celebrate. The merriment that heralds your return surpasses the one that followed your father’s trek to Western Union in the beginning.

Siwo, siwo.        Siwo!

Wokhin?           Ọyemwen nor.

Urhuẹse, Baba o!

Urhuẹse Ijesu mwen!

Urhuẹse, urhuẹse,

Urhuẹse, Baba o!

Their celebration is valid for at one time, they did not expect your return. When the news of your neighbour’s daughter’s death reached iye a few years after you left, she clutched iye Osaretin’s blouse as though by so doing, the fear in her eyes would be transferred to iye Osaretin’s heart and not lodge itself in her own.

Osa sinmwin ovbimwen, ghẹ giẹ wu,” your mother cried.

It was your roommate who told us you had travelled on business. What business could keep you silent for two years they questioned, as if they did not know? As if the money they expected you to send to build your father a house in Upper Sakponba, would be earned in one place. As if they had not heard that competition was fierce. As if baba had not visited the shrine and iye gone for mass, three times a day, when news about Benin girls disappearing in Italy first broke out.

When they finally heard your voice, although iye’s relief was tangible, it did not override her scolding.

“Enough! Come home. Come back. I want to see you again before I die.”

But you could not. You were mortgaged up to the hair on your pubic regions and she knew it.

People said your mum became crazy after that. She carried on like a full-clothed mad woman, lips moving, sounds trapped. But when I stood close to her, I heard her praying for all of us, “Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.” I chorused, amen, in my mind so I would not startle her out of her self-imposed dementia.

Seven years later, having fulfilled your obligations to all, you are free. I do not imagine the bed sheets were pretty pink or the mattresses soft. I cannot believe you are the same—your mind had to have taken a blow many times over.

I do not want your money. I am not proud. But I cannot receive money that you earned while losing your dignity. It would be a bigger crime than the one I committed when they sold you.

I was nineteen then, an object of shame, an ungrateful daughter, because I preferred to study, finish school, get a job, and then support my family. Your mother helped with my school fees. I know you didn’t know. Now you know why I stayed away from my home and why I was always in yours. To my family, I was a corpse, not much to look at, and I stank to Heaven.

That was why I was surprised iye acquiesced to your leaving to do work. That day, I opened my mouth, but her eyes said, “No, hold your peace.” Blackmail is not always explicit and my desire to escape from Benin through education was so strong. My silence was my crime.

And now you say, “It was my choice!” stamping your foot as if truth can enter the cement floor where we are standing.

What does a sixteen year old know about choice? How can you make a choice if there are no options —at least options that you know about? How could you make a choice when I who knew, who could show you how to say no or run away, kept quiet. And when you mingled the blood that flowed from the tiny incision on your hand with theirs, and drank from the calabash, your lack of choice was sealed.

I am glad that you are back. I never stopped chorusing amen to iye’s inaudible prayer, even after I moved to Lagos. I passed by your house in GRA on my way into town. Your younger brother, Lucky, insisted on showing it to me, pride filled his voice, filled the car, he did not hear me when I said, I had seen enough. So, I shook him as he inched the car nearer the gate. Bewilderment covered his face until he remembered I am a corpse, I stink to Heaven, and corpses don’t applaud.

Please don’t leave the money on the table, don’t insult me that way. If your money can erase your past, I would take it. Smile for everyone else. Let the gap in your front teeth show how strong you are. But now we are alone, forgive me and cry with me because in the thick of the night, I hear your tender cries, as I always did, even when distance separated us.


1.             Any resemblance of the characters to persons living or dead is coincidental. This is a work of fiction.

2.             According to the Photographer’s Statement on,

“The term trafficking of persons is restricted to instances where people are deceived, threatened, or coerced into situations of exploitation, including prostitution. This contrasts with human smuggling, in which a migrant purchases services to circumvent immigration restrictions, but is not a victim of deception or exploitation.”

View Pablo Patrizi’s documentary photography on the issue here.

3.            For more information, watch AlJazeera’s twenty-five-minute documentary, People & Power-The Nigerian Connection II . While I do not endorse the video in its entirety, it touches on some of the relevant issues.

4.            Read, The Girls from Benin City, The New Slave Trade from Nigeria to the Streets of Italy, a book from an insider about human trafficking/smuggling.

© Timi Yeseibo 2013

Photo credit: Girl with Leopard, plaque from Nigeria, Court of Benin, Edo people, c. 1600, bronze or brass, De Young Museum by Wmpearl (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons.’Girl_with_Leopard’%2C_plaque_from_Nigeria%2C_Court_of_Benin%2C_c._1600.JPG


Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Timi Yeseibo and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

20 thoughts on “Bini Girl, Italy for Better Life: Revisiting Human Smuggling

    1. Frank, it is okay to disagree with content. It is okay to offer another viewpoint. What is not okay is to degenerate to insults. Not only is it immature, but it also reveals a dearth of social skills. Thank you for reading.


    1. @ How do we win this battle? Education is a step in the right direction. Education about the dangers and horrors. Education that empowers one to rise above poverty – but there are many unemployed and desperate graduates.

      However, education cannot fight greed. Greed is lodged somewhere in the heart that no matter of schooling can reach. This story isn’t so much about human trafficking, but human smuggling. The difference is subtle.

      Lizzieebunoluwa, as always, thank you so much for being here.


  1. Really sad 😟
    I went to university of Benin and sadly it was almost a thing of pride for some families to say a daughter of theirs was in Italy.
    In Benin there was a saying that if you had a male child then it was “full current” ( as in power supply) and a female child was half current but during this period of girls going to Italy when people had baby girls they rejoiced because they had an assurance of money in the future when the girl was “ripe enough” to go to Italy.
    Baby girls were now “full current”
    Really heartbreaking 😟
    Also the queues at western union were unbelievably long, parents and siblings proudly waiting in line to collect their money with absolutely no shame at all.
    I remember in university we heard that western union sponsors the annual Igue festival in Benin because its best business was in Benin.
    Young “innocent” girls sending money daily to their “loved ones” back home.
    Money that they sell themselves for numerous times a day, everyday!
    Thanks for revisiting this.


    1. Thank you Afi for your comment, I remember. And you would think that this is now a thing of the past, an ugly scourge of the nineties, but it continues till this day!


  2. Timi its not just a fiction is real, its real and it makes me cry, a friend of mine, a girl left us at year 3, just one more year to finish university and when she came back after 2 years of our graduation she was scared seeing any one of us, thanks to OBJs wife that brought her back. its heart breaking


    1. Yes it is. Some are deceived into going, while others go with eyes wide open. The stories are not pretty and the images are disturbing.
      Kudos to all who are on a rescue mission.


    1. Hi Frank, thanks for stopping by. Some recent events made me revisit this issue and I wanted to write about it. I felt that writing about the issue in the form of a short story would be more engaging and make greater impact. Hmm… fiction borrows from non-fiction.


  3. A sad truth, really. It hurts even more when a parent or both parents of a girl, handed to guardian, trainer, or stranger (yes, I say stranger because I witness cases like that!), is/are simply after the money.

    One question I still ask myself: is it fair to bring a child into this world if I am not willing to take ‘good care’ of it?


    1. Hmmm… it is not fair!

      Poverty can invoke a kind of hopelessness that leads good people to desperation… On the other hand, our aspirations and greed can cause us to cross the boundaries of decency. Sometimes, it is the girls themselves who up and leave!

      Thanks Uzoma for your comments.


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