EVERY now and then, a story comes to our attention that speaks to the depravity of the times and the specific ways in which the average Nigerian is caught up in it. Such, evidently, is the curious case of 30-year-old Peace Ufuoma, who was sensationally advertised for sale on Facebook by Beirut-based Wael Jerro, for a princely sum of $1, 000. As proof of non-recognition of the basic humanity (hence unsaleability) of Ms. Ufuoma, Mr. Jerro’s Facebook advertisement of her sale could not be starker: “Domestic worker from Nigeria for sale. She’s 30 years old. She’s very active and very clean. Price: $1,000.”
Following social media outrage, the authorities, by all accounts, took prompt action. The move to liberate Ms. Ufuoma from her apparent captor was led by the Chairman of Nigerians in the Diaspora (NIDCOM), Mrs. Abike Dabiri-Erewa. Her interventions, including close coordination with the Nigerian Mission in Lebanon to put pressure on the Lebanese authorities, eventually yielded fruit, and by last week ,Ms. Ufuoma was already in the custody of the Nigerian Mission in Lebanon, while Mr. Jerro, having been arrested, was helping the Lebanese authorities in their investigation.
There are three heroes in this bizarre story. One is the Facebook user who, being literate in Arabic and who, upon reading the posting, quickly raised the alarm, which helped to bring the matter to the attention of the Nigerian authorities. Second, and not for the first time, is the redoubtable Mrs. Abike Dabiri-Erewa, who quickly took up the matter with the Nigerian Mission in Lebanon, while keeping it alive on her Twitter page. In a landscape otherwise characterised by sophomoric (not to mention soporific) levels of governance, Mrs. Dabiri-Erewa’s dedication to excellence is a blast of fresh air. Third is the Nigerian Mission in Lebanon, under the leadership of Ambassador Goni Modu Zanna Bura. We salute the ambassador and his staff for moving quickly to secure the release of Ms. Ufuoma. We also commend the Oyo State government for its prompt response to the case and willingness to collaborate with the Federal Government and ensure that Ms. Ufuoma returns to the state as soon as possible.
That said, questions persist. How did Ms. Ufuoma end up in captivity, and on the cusp of being sold as mere property, in faraway Lebanon? How big is the problem we are dealing with here? Put differently, how common is the practice of selling young women in Lebanon? We ask this because we surmise that, for Mr. Jerro to have so blatantly displayed his “merchandise,” there must be an existing market. In his posting, Mr. Jerro assured potential buyers that Ms. Ufuoma was “very active” and “very clean”? In what way? Could Mr. Jerro be a pimp merely arranging to sell on a client for money?
We hope that the Nigerian authorities, both at home and in Lebanon,conduct a thorough investigation to unravel these and other salient questions. In doing so, the authorities must also pause to reflect on why many young Nigerian men and women would rather take their chances, dehumanization and all, in foreign lands, rather than stay at home. In other words, what broader moral about youth deracination in contemporary Nigeria can be extracted from the case of Peace Ufuoma, and why is it that, today, the life of the average Nigerian is not worth a pittance?
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