Wed 18 Jul 2007, 11:28 GMT
ABUJA (Reuters) - Nigerian police intercepted a freight truck carrying 62 people, including babies and children, in a suspected case of mass human trafficking, the agency in charge of fighting such crimes said on Wednesday.
The 62, who include men, women, boys and girls, are all from the same community in southeastern Cross River state and they say they were on their way to various locations in southwestern Ogun and Ondo states to join relatives or find work.
"We are investigating because we think it is possible that human traffickers recruited these people to give them out as farm hands, house helps or for brothels," said Funke Abiodun, head of the National Agency for the Prohibition of Traffic in Persons (NAPTIP) in Edo state, where the truck was stopped.
Human trafficking is a major problem in Nigeria, Africa's most populous nation where the majority live on less than $1 (49 pence) per day, and victims are often made to swear oaths at traditional shrines, discouraging them from denouncing the traffickers.
Abiodun said police intercepted the truck on Sunday and detained the 62 people for two days in cells where they complained of ill treatment and refused food or water in protest.
She said NAPTIP had taken over the case on Tuesday and the 62 had initially been hostile to the agency's staff, but the women and girls were now in a NAPTIP shelter while the men and boys were in a holding centre and all were eating and drinking.
Some Nigerian victims of human trafficking are transferred within the country, but many are taken abroad where they work as domestic staff or prostitutes. Victims are often saddled with huge "debts" towards their traffickers and are unable to retain any earnings for several years.