Victory Imasuen, the slavery victim whose story on CNN sparked a global outcry about human trafficking in Libya, has finally returned to Nigeria.
The Edo State indigene, whose emotion-laden interview with CNN’s Nima Elbagir in a Libyan deportation camp was viewed by millions worldwide, shared his life-experiences in the Synagogue Church of All Nations, pastored by Pastor T. B. Joshua, on Sunday.
The young barber explained that his father died when he was just 11, adding that he struggled to sponsor himself through school along with his five siblings.
Imasuen said: “When I was cutting the hair of one of my customer’s, he advised me to go to Europe where he promised I could earn a lot of money.”
“I asked the man how much it would cost me. He said N350,000 but I said I only had N140,000 with me.”
Imasuen had been determinedly saving N10,000 monthly for over one year.
The man promised to “help”, not knowing that Imasuen was naively about to use his own hard-earned cash to sell himself into slavery.
Travelling by road on a tortuous journey through Niger, the young Nigerian explained how one of the vehicles in his convoy had a “terrible accident” in the Sahara Desert, killing 30 people instantly.
He said: “Upon arriving in Libya, the driver said he had not been paid his money and we were sold into the slave trade in Sabha.”
Imasuen said himself and 10 other Nigerians were “sold” and then “locked up in one small room”.
More than 200 slaves were kept inside that inhumane cell.
He said: “They started beating me to call my mother to send money. That was when my mother learned I was not in Nigeria – because I did not tell her before I left.”
The ransom they demanded – N200,000 – was simply too much for Imasuen’s poverty-stricken mother to raise.
He said: “For months, I did not hear from her. They kept on beating me everyday and I fell sick. If I went to the toilet, I was shitting blood.”
Imasuen was beaten three times daily for eight gruelling months. That was his fate as a male.
For the ladies sold into slavery, “they would send them out to do prostitution before selling them to another person; I know of a girl there who was sold three times”.
According to him, most of the enslaved females fell pregnant “without even knowing the father of the child”.
When a picture of Imasuen’s emaciated condition was circulated in his local community, they managed to come together to raise the money to secure his freedom in March 2017.
After gaining his freedom, Imasuen attempted to travel to Tripoli, hoping to join the thousands of illegal migrants who would brave the sea to try and reach Italy by boat.
He said: “I didn’t even get to Tripoli before I was caught and taken to prison. I met more than 10,000 Nigerians there. We only eat once a day there – one piece of bread. I would drink salt water.”
While suffering the horrific prison conditions, Imasuen hatched a plan to reach the deportation camp.
He slipped a note into the female section of the prison, pleading that any of the ladies who was being taken for deportation should claim he is her husband.
The ruse worked and Imasuen was taken to Tripoli’s main deportation camp – one step closer to being repatriated to Nigeria.
It was there Imasuen granted an interview to CNN. “I decided to speak to them, hoping to get help but at the end, nothing came out of it,” he bemoaned.
Through the intervention of the International Organisation for Migration, Imasuen was finally deported to Nigeria – with nothing but the clothes on his back to show for his “journey through hell”, adding: “Upon getting to Nigeria, I decided to come to T.B. Joshua because even before I left, I heard of the help he renders to others. I need prayer.”
Osazee Aghimie, another deportee, equally shared his own sorrowful tale, explaining how over 100 migrants died in the boat he was in after it capsized en route to Italy.
He narrowly survived only to be thrown into prison and eventually deported.
Pastor Joshua, who had just turned from the Dominican Republic, gave the two men each N200,000.
Imasuen could not hold back tears as he received the gift.
Joshua’s support to the duo is not an isolated instance.
This week alone, the cleric gave over N4.4 million to Nigerians returning from Libya and well over N100 million ($277,000) has been provided to them by The SCOAN since 2016.
. Ihechukwu Njoku is a freelance Nigerian writer.