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‘I used to be determined’: Younger job seekers scammed, abused in Nigeria | Unemployment

Warning: This story incorporates particulars of sexual assault.

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Uyo, Nigeria – When Blessing* boarded a bus early on a January morning in 2017 for the 60km (37 miles) journey from her house in Calabar, in Nigeria’s Cross River State, to a village in neighbouring Akwa Ibom State, she thought she was going to satisfy a company government a few potential job supply.

The ten-hour ordeal that adopted nonetheless haunts her, years later.

It began with a job posting on Jiji, an internet commerce platform, in December 2016.

On the time, Blessing was 24 years previous. She had simply completed a diploma course and was planning to start college the next yr. However first, she wanted to save cash for her charges and residing bills. And that meant discovering a job.

Like many different younger Nigerians searching for employment within the digital age, Blessing made a social media put up looking for job provides, leaving her contact info in order that potential employers might attain her.

A number of weeks later, she bought a name from a person who instructed her there was a gap for an entry-level position at ExxonMobil, an American oil and gasoline firm with a drilling licence in Nigeria. He requested that she deliver a tough copy of her ID to an handle within the neighbouring state to proceed the appliance course of.

She had doubts however hoped her weeks of job looking have been lastly about to repay.

“I instructed [the man] that I wasn’t snug [travelling so far to meet him], being that I don’t know him. However he insisted that I didn’t have a alternative. And I used to be desperately in want of a job at the moment,” Blessing, who’s now 30, recollects.

When she instructed her mom concerning the name, she too tried to influence the person that Blessing might merely scan her ID and e-mail him a replica of it, as a substitute of travelling throughout states. However the man insisted, so Blessing’s mom borrowed the cash for her bus fare.

‘Watch out for canines’

After 4 hours on the bus, Blessing arrived within the city of Uyo in Akwa Ibom State at 10am.

“After I bought there, I referred to as him. He despatched me the situation [an address in the village] through SMS. He instructed me to take a taxi to Oron highway, then I ought to take a [motorcycle taxi] and search for a home with [a] ‘watch out for canines’ [sign],” she says.

The highway to the village of Nung Ikono Obio is untarred and lined by thick vegetation on each side. When she noticed the situation of the highway, Blessing contemplated turning again however reasoned that she had already spent an excessive amount of on journey.

“I didn’t wish to go house with out suggestions [for my mother],” she recollects.

[Jawahir Al-Naimi/Al Jazeera]

However when Blessing arrived on the home with the “watch out for canines” signal, she was shocked by what she noticed. It was the positioning of ongoing development; exterior, labourers have been shifting sand from a heap to combine concrete which they used for the muse.

The person she had been talking to on the telephone additionally shocked her – he regarded too younger to be a company government. It later turned out that he was simply 16.

Blessing says he requested her to sit down on a bench and look forward to his father, who would focus on the job supply along with her. In the meantime, the labourers continued working round her.

“There have been folks working so I didn’t suspect something,” she recollects. “At about 2 o’clock, I grew to become uncomfortable as a result of time was working quick and I used to be presupposed to be heading again to Calabar.”

The boy instructed her to not fear, that they would depart as quickly as he had paid the labourers.

However at 5pm, when the labourers left, the boy locked the gate, and Blessing was left alone with him contained in the compound. When she protested, he threatened to kill her and demanded that she enter a close-by room.

She describes what occurred subsequent. “He instructed me to obey him and never hesitate, in any other case he would harm me and nobody would come to my rescue. The room was so darkish however there was a small mattress. He instructed me to sit down on it. He instructed me to undress. That was once I began pleading.”

Blessing began crying. She instructed him that she didn’t need the job any extra.

“He introduced out a knife tied with pink cloths and [said] that if I didn’t undress, he would stab me.”

Then he raped her.

Rape and homicide

In August this yr, Uduak “Ezekiel” Akpan, now 22, was discovered responsible of raping and murdering Iniubong Umoren, a 26-year-old job seeker, in April 2021. After Umoren’s case began trending on social media, Blessing noticed posts and realised the attacker was the identical man who had raped her in 2017.

Like Blessing, Umoren had made an open name on social media for a job. “#AkwaIbomTwitter please. I’m actually in want of a job, one thing to do to maintain my thoughts and soul collectively whereas contributing dutifully to the group. My location is Uyo. I’m inventive, actually good at considering critically, and most significantly a quick learner. CV obtainable on request,” she tweeted on April 27, 2021.

As with Blessing, Akpan had then lured her to his house – the identical one, nonetheless underneath development all these years later – underneath the pretext of a job interview.

Whereas there, Umoren despatched a one-second WhatsApp audio message to her buddy Uduak Obong. When Obong referred to as her again, she heard her buddy’s screams. So she despatched a frantic tweet suggesting Umoren could be in peril. On-line, Nigerians started investigating. Inside just a few hours, they discovered Akpan’s Fb pages and dug up his digital footprint. A Twitter person bought a leak of Akpan’s name log. With the decision logs, he geolocated the place Akpan was when he had final referred to as Umoren’s telephone.

The next day, Umoren’s physique was present in a shallow grave in the identical compound in Nung Ikono Obio the place Blessing had been raped years earlier.

After Akpan attacked Blessing, she was too traumatised to report it. She didn’t even inform her mom what had occurred. However she did go to the hospital to get examined for sexually transmitted illnesses.

Blessing got here ahead after Umoren’s demise, and prosecutors referred to as her to offer proof towards Akpan at his trial. Though she didn’t find yourself testifying – she was instructed her testimony was not wanted – she sees her determination as a primary try at searching for justice for what occurred to her.

Within the assertion Akpan gave to the police earlier than his trial commenced – a confession he later tried to recant, saying it was obtained underneath duress, though the decide dominated towards him – he admitted to having attacked six different girls, together with Blessing. Umoren was the one one he killed.

An illustration of a prisoner behind bars
[Jawahir Al-Naimi/Al Jazeera]

A number of victims

Twenty-five-year-old Miriam Akpan (no relation to the perpetrator) was one in every of Akpan’s different victims. In December 2020, determined for a job, she posted on a Fb group referred to as Job Emptiness in Uyo, promoting her pursuits and {qualifications}.

“Please, something, I can do,” she wrote, mentioning that she had the equal of a highschool certificates and would take any job. Nobody supplied her one till Akpan mentioned he would pay her 35,000 Nigerian naira ($80) a month as a secretary in an “built-in farm”. Miriam was excited. For somebody and not using a college diploma, a job that paid greater than the minimal month-to-month wage of 30,000 naira ($69) felt like an awesome alternative.

She agreed to satisfy him to debate the main points of the job supply. However as a substitute of an interview, she was drugged and raped.

For greater than a yr Miriam had suppressed the reminiscence of what occurred to her. She stored it from her sister, the one quick household she has. However as folks tried to find Umoren, she noticed Akpan’s image being shared on Twitter and all of the emotion she had tried to bury got here dashing again. “I didn’t even give it some thought, I simply commented [on Twitter] that this particular person robbed me final December,” she says.

However her final title raised suspicions, and a few accused her of being associated to Uduak Akpan. Umoren’s family didn’t instantly belief her when she suggested them to go to Akpan’s home that evening to seek for the lacking girl.

The next day, Miriam’s instructions led the police and Umoren’s family to the compound the place they discovered her physique.

Miriam’s courtroom testimony additionally helped convict Akpan.

He was subsequently sentenced to demise by hanging for the homicide of Umoren, and life imprisonment for her rape.

Hovering unemployment

However Akpan shouldn’t be the one particular person to have taken benefit of Nigeria’s employment disaster.

It’s common for Nigerians to announce on social media that they’re searching for jobs. With a hovering unemployment charge, many discover unconventional methods of discovering work. Graduates are generally seen holding placards at main bus stops and expressways pleading for jobs; others make on-line banners; and members of the National Youth Corps who end their service additionally put up their certificates on social media, saying that they’re prepared for employment.

Nigeria’s unemployment charge stands at 33.3 %, based on information from the Nationwide Bureau of Statistics, which implies that greater than 23 million folks both haven’t any job or work for lower than 20 hours per week. Amongst these aged between 15 and 35, the unemployment charge stood at 42.5 % in 2020.

An illustration of people with placards on the side of a road
[Jawahir Al-Naimi/Al Jazeera]

The excessive variety of unemployed folks searching for jobs additionally makes Nigeria’s labour market a “breeding floor” for criminals who lure candidates in with job interviews, mentioned Taibat Hussain, a youth and gender equality advocate. “Criminals … lure candidates in with pretend job interviews, after which rob, rape and, in excessive instances, kill them. This class of youth, after spending years with out employment alternatives, falls prey to the ways and is left with no different alternative than to offer in,” she instructed Al Jazeera.

As a part of reporting this story, Al Jazeera met a 26-year-old man arrested in Cross River State for the alleged rape of an 18-year-old girl to whom he had promised a job. We’re not naming him as he’s awaiting trial.

When Al Jazeera met him at Calabar Correctional Centre, he was carrying a blue shirt with its collar raised and a pair of too-small slippers. He had already been behind bars for greater than a yr. He instructed Al Jazeera he had slept with the girl however denied raping her. “I used to be going to assist her get the job however she is offended as a result of the job didn’t come as quick as she needed,” he mentioned.

However in an announcement the girl gave to the police detailing her expertise, she instructed a special story. She met the person whereas on the lookout for work vacancies, she mentioned. He instructed her there was a cleansing place open in his office – a producing firm in Calabar.

“He requested me to deliver my software to his home in order that he can assist me appropriate it and submit [it]. He checked out my software and mentioned it’s not appropriate. He wrote one other one and instructed me to recopy it with my handwriting. After I completed copying it, I needed to go however he didn’t let me go. He began kissing me and touching my breast. He used his proper hand to carry my fingers collectively and his left hand to cowl my mouth,” her assertion within the police report reads.

Consultants say that almost all victims of doubtful employment scams are youthful girls searching for low-skilled jobs, who make up a major variety of the unemployed inhabitants, based on the Nationwide Bureau of Statistics.

Extorted by ‘jobs on the market’

Whereas predators like Akpan reap the benefits of determined job seekers, there are registered firms that additionally extort these determined folks in different methods.

Oladeinde Olawoyin, a Nigerian journalist who has investigated pretend employment businesses, discovered 50 instances of candidates being extorted. These businesses get candidates to pay for a registration package deal – often charging 5,000-10,000 naira ($11-23) – with the promise of discovering them a job, but most by no means do. A few of these firms are registered as consultancies to avoid the regulation that makes it unlawful for an individual to pay to achieve employment, Olawoyin explains.

“Most of the businesses shouldn’t have jobs to offer,” he says. “They cost candidates for registration kinds and don’t actually get them any job. There are just a few who might need [a] few jobs however they recruit extra folks than the [number of] job[s] they’ve. In a pool of about 1,000, they could throw in perhaps 20 jobs or much less.

“These businesses know that Nigeria is [a] free for all. So that they … gamble with folks’s life and extort them. Most frequently they alter their location when their notoriety spreads. They alter their title and placement. So it’s attainable {that a} job seeker would possibly get scammed two, three, or 4 instances by the identical set of individuals with completely different names and addresses.”

John Nyamani, the director of employment and wages at Nigeria’s Ministry of Labour, instructed Al Jazeera that “desperation”, social media and job seekers wanting a fast repair have been responsible for folks being preyed upon.

“We don’t wish to observe the principles as a result of we’re in a rush to get employment,” he mentioned.

Nyamani suggested job seekers to be circumspect of alternatives marketed on social media that can’t be traced to a longtime organisation. “They’re deceived with jobs and it’s due to the scenario of issues. The federal government can solely attempt its finest by way of the safety businesses to teach folks on easy methods to watch out. Not each advert you see on social media [is one] that you just reply to. If it’s important to reply to it, make clarifications, and ask the Ministry of Labour. The Ministry of Labour has a very good, purposeful web site,” he added, referring to the Nationwide Employment Digital Labour Alternate (NELEX).

The web site has a pool of vacancies and a listing of authorized organisations the place Nigerians searching for employment can perform background checks on their potential employers, Nyamani mentioned.

Nevertheless, advocate Hussain, who has regarded into the federal government’s youth unemployment discount scheme, says such initiatives solely present “short-term reduction”, and that there’s a want for everlasting and sustainable connections between the labour market and authorities initiatives that hope to assist younger folks.

For a lot of, Umoren’s demise highlighted how dire the unemployment scenario is in Nigeria, and the dangers younger persons are keen to take to discover a job.

Miriam has gone again to highschool the place she is studying to change into a knowledge scientist. She mentioned going through Akpan once more was one of many hardest issues she has ever executed however, after the incident, she determined to relocate to Lagos to start out afresh.

“I’ve left Uyo and every thing else behind me,” she says. “I can now construct a future that I would like. I purchased a laptop computer. I’m going to start out studying easy methods to code.”

For Blessing, it has been tougher. She is going to solely really feel that there was justice when Akpan hangs, she says, including: “I don’t assume he’ll ever be killed.”

*Title modified to guard the sufferer’s privateness

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