A gritty undercover exposé of a human trafficking in Nigeria is making waves in the African country – but not for all the reasons you may think.
Tobore Ovuorie (@DaughterofMit), a reporter for Nigerian online newspaper Premium Times, wrote about her experience going undercover to shed light on a ruthless human trafficking syndicate. The motives for the story, according to Ovuorie, were:
It had all started in Abuja, with me deciding to expose the human traffic syndicates that caused the death, through Aids, of my friend Ifuoke and countless others. As a health journalist, I had interviewed several returnees from sex traffic who had not only been encouraged to have unprotected sex, but who had also been denied health care or even to return home when they fell ill. They were now suffering from Aids, anal gonorrhoea, bowel ruptures and incontinence.
The human traffickers were not only involved in recruiting and exporting young Nigerian ladies to Europe as prostitutes, but were also training them to pickpocket. Ovurie also recounted an incident of cold-blooded murder:
What happens next is like a horror movie… As we ‘unlucky’ four, are standing aside, Mama C talks with five well-dressed, classy, influential-looking visitors.The issue is a ‘package’ that Mama C has promised them and that she hasn’t been able to deliver. The woman points at me, but Mama C refuses and for unexplained reasons Adesuwa and Omai are selected. We all witness, screaming and trying to hide in corners, as they are grabbed and beheaded with machetes in front of us. The ‘package’ that the visitors have come for turns out to be a collection of body parts. The mafia that holds us is into organ traffic, too.
Ovurie however was able to escape from the mafia and publish her story, which stunned the Nigerian blogosphere. It also prompted an investigation by the National Agency for the Prohibition of Traffic in Persons and Other Related Matters.
However, the shock had barely worn off when doubts over the veracity of Ovurie's report began to surface.
Literary critique Ikhide R. Ikheloa picked holes in Ovuorie's investigation in post entitled “Tobore Ovuorie's Story: Fact or Fiction”:
Tobore Ovuorie (whose twitter handle is @DaughterOfMit) is enthusiastic, if anything else, as evinced by her vociferous testimonies on her timeline. If her narrative turns out to be true, Ovuorie and her sponsors (Premium Times and The Zam Chronicle deserve the Pulitzer. And her sponsors deserve to be censored for reckless endangerment of a reporter. As far as I can tell, Ovuorie is walking the streets of Nigeria unprotected after making serious claims against powerful interests. It is a mystery to me why she so brazenly attached her name to the story. If indeed there is a mafia, she is being quixotic and reckless to boot. She could be badly hurt or killed. As for the external sponsor of the adventure, The Zam Chronicle based in Amsterdam, it seems highly unusual for a Western outfit to sign on to such a risky venture without putting many things in place to minimize actuarial risk, the financial consequences may be too much to bear. What if she had been murdered? Her family could have sued the sponsors.
Ikhide asked seven questions:
1. Why is the Nigerian Police silent on this story? Ovuorie seems to know many geographic details of the places where she was taken to and where she witnessed horrific crimes. She knows names of important personalities, there is even a name of a policeman provided. Has Premium Times contacted the Nigerian authorities? …
2. When she witnessed the beheading of two abducted girls, she had her phone (or seemed to). Who did she text? Who did she call? Forensic experts can learn a lot from these transcripts.
3. At what point did she and her sponsors realize that this was possibly an unwise venture and she needed to be rescued? Where there any discussions about this?
4. I am having trouble believing that she did not text any of the pictures that were in her cellphone to someone else. That just seems unlikely. Does anyone have pictures or anything?
5. How sophisticated can this syndicate be if they allow the girls keep their cellphones and presumably let them continue to chat with the outside world?…
6. Ovuorie seemed close to the two girls who were beheaded, does she have their phone numbers? Can they be traced back to their families? Why are people silent about all this?
7. The report talks of a “multibillion dollar syndicate” but the “syndicate” doesn’t appear very sophisticated, a reporter walks the streets asking for the leader and is promptly hooked up with one, gains the trust of the syndicate and along with the other “abducted girls” has access to her cellphone and even a charger. Interesting, but then we are talking about Nigeria. Nothing seems to stretch credulity:
Ikhide received a response from Editor of Premium Times Dapo Olorunyomi:
In amusement, I notice the ambivalence in your review as you tried to challenge the veracity of the story. This is how you put it: “How sophisticated can this syndicate be if they allow the girls keep their cell phones and presumably let them continue to chat with the outside world? There are so many tracking devices on a cell phone, you wonder if and why the game plan of the reporter did not include these free tools.”
Let’s cut to the chase. The logic in your question is erected on the assumption of the implausibility of infiltrating a syndicate and still use a cell phone. Thus, on account of your logic, if one gets to operate a cell phone in the environment of the syndicate, then the story automatically becomes false. Seriously? Sorry, this is either empty or dubious.
This twist has split the Nigerian blogosphere into those standing by Ovuorie's story and others swayed by Ikhide's scepticism. “Onas” wrote on Facebook:
If she went undercover in November, when and where did she receive treatment for the trauma she allegedly underwent? When was she discharged? For how long was she there? Which hospital did she go to? Can we have the medical records? (Even though we know that her medical records are private and personal but the controversy surrounding the story has made the issue a matter of public interest). The Tobore that was at the conference in December was the life of the conference. She was bubbly, talkative and the soul of everything that transpired there. Someone that almost got beheaded, did stunts at the border and checked into a hospital won’t be the most talkative person with the brightest makeup in a human trafficking class. She did not betray any sign of distress even when the heart-rending stores of those who have been victims were told in the class.
Another blogger, Semiu A. Akanmu, asked for more clarification from the Premium Times. This time, Managing Editor Musiklu Mojeed responded:
I can tell you categorically that the story is not fiction. It was well reported by the reporter. It is cruel that Ikhide and others are casting aspersion on a reporter who risked her life to tell us an important story. I agree the story could have been better done, but it was such a dangerous assignment. We warned her against pushing too hard. Her safety was more important to us…
…We knew what our organization and the reporter went through to tell that story. So, for anyone to declare, without any shred of evidence, that the story was a fabrication is simply cruel and annoying. It's an injustice to us and the woman who risked her life and dignity to tell us this story. But this is not the first time Ikhide has mounted a campaign to discredit our work…
Nigerian blogger Akin came up with a series of questions and scenarios to question the authenticity of the story. He concluded his post by saying:
Too convenient and sadly expedient
Finally, it is all too convenient that critical evidence that could give the real truth to this story was lost, like why she had not immediately transmitted pictures, conversations and much else for most of the time she had her mobile phone. At worst, there should have been an electronic dead drop to collect all this data for the use of the expose.
In the end, we only have Tobore’s word and the threatened reputations of Premium Times and ZAM Chronicle through obfuscation, bluster, bullying and ad hominem attacks to go by, the rest in text messages and Facebook posts is hardly independently verifiable. It is a crying shame.
You cannot trust this
If Tobore was exposed to such evil and unconscionable human traffickers with connections to people in high places in Nigeria and abroad, she and her handlers must be recklessly bold, careless, and utterly irresponsible to reveal her identity where she must daily be at risk of being apprehended and assassinated.
I am sorry, it is time for Premium Times to cut loose of this travesty or both it and its reputation would sink with it, considering the reporter they are supporting has hardly been with the outfit for 6 months, the level of naïveté demonstrated by the seasoned journalists at Premium Times is befuddling to the point of bafflement.
The end of this story is no where in sight, yet one thing is certain: human trafficking is a vicious business in Nigeria, and it's about time attention is given to it.
ZAM Chronicle stands by the response of Premium Times Managing Editor Musikilu Mojeed. All of us in the team that conducted this undercover project (we are in Abuja, Amsterdam and Cotonou), know from personal experience that Tobore Ovuorie went through all that she went through, for the simple reason that all of us were in touch with her throughout, either by phone or Facebook. We are baffled by the fact that testimonies from five veteran investigative journalists and two reputable media houses are simply labelled lies. Why? We haven’t engaged with Ikhide because there is no substance to any of his allegations. None. The one point above that is worthy of further discussion is why we exposed Tobore to such danger. We may be faulted on this -and in fact, we do feel terrible. We had prepared -even in meetings at the African Investigative Journalism Conference in Johannesburg on 30 October 2013- for what we though were all eventualities. There were escape plans, there was emergency money, the colleague in Cotonou was ready to extract Tobore from the Lagos-Cotonou trip. We believed that Tobore was only to go on a minibus trip of the 100 kilometers of that distance. We did not foresee the stopover at the ‘training camp’ where the murders took place. Had we foreseen this, we would not have sent her there. Tobore is still traumatised and her recovery is a grave concern for both Premium Times and ZAM. It is not helped by Ikhide’s malicious campaign.
At what point did it become imperative for ZAM Chronicle to start calling Ikhide names, just like its fellow criminal outfit, the PREMIUM LIES? If Nigerians say they doubt the veracity of Tobore’s story, how is that a concern to a foreign racist outfit that is ready to believe the worst about Blacks, nay Nigerians? ZAM Chronicle’s acerbic reactions reek of preconceived notions that nothing good could ever come from Nigeria. But then, this is a horrendous lie in public sphere, and no amount of deception, explanation or abuses could make discerning public embrace it. Sorry.
You guys are just lying like the truth. If the sham PREMIUM LIES published was what investigative journalism was all about, then it’s time to compose an elegy in memory of the bastardized profession everywhere.
Zam Chronicles, stop lying!!! Tobore is still traumatized and she went
for a human trafficking conference three days after she supposedly
returned from the fake undercover reporting! She is traumatized and she
has been attending public functions even until January this year! No,
your lies won’t fly! You cannot and will not deceive Nigerians. You did
not envisage that she would be in the training camp? Yet she was sending
messages to her boss from the camp. What do you take us for? Please
read reviews of the story and you will realise that the story was a scam
and remains a sham! The first paragraph to the last paragraph don’t add
up. We are watching you!!!
Tobore Ovuorie returned from Cotonou on 13 November. The workshop took place 5/6 December. That is not three days. Of course you can send messages from a place even if you didn’t expect going to that place. Please do keep watching us. http://www.zammagazine.com/chronicle.
Your dates keep changing but let’s even assume she came back a month after or two months after, was her life not in danger when she went for the conference? Was her life not in danger when she went for an award ceremony in December? Was her life not in danger when she was walking free on the streets of Abuja and Lagos after she wrote the story? Why did you publish her photo and name on the story? Lol! Why was the photo removed when Nigerians raised questions? How come her life that was not in danger after writing the story is now in danger when Nigerians are expressing their doubts. A reporter goes ‘undercover’ and you publish her photo for the world to see. Please I am waiting for your response. And yes, WE ARE WATCHING YOU! Lies cannot be sustained forever.
It’s rather befuddling that while Tobore should have been debriefed through psychiatric treatment, she was sent to a workshop where the horrors of what she allegedly witnessed in the traffickers’ den was likely to be re-enunciated, possibly giving her nightmares afterwards. How advisable is that? Or, is it a case of treating a hangover with the same substance that caused it?
Worse still, participants at the workshop said despite all the gory tales told by NAPTIP officials at the workshop, which drew tears from participants, Tobore did not deem it fit to share her personal experience, if only to prove a point. I guess it’s because she knew she might likely buckle under pointed and unrelenting questionings by curious journalists.
And, no one should say it’s probably because the story had yet to be published, for she wouldn’t have given anything away if she had talked.
Again, Premium Lies (oh sorry, Times) claims her life is being threatened hence her disappearance from visibility. Hmm. Serious lies. Here was a young woman who didn’t just use her name on a story that could make the mafia search her out if it were real, she also used her photograph as illustration; and it was only removed when Nigerians drew attention to the fact that there was no evidence to suggest that she was whipped overnight. So, who is fooling whom?
The long and the short of everything is that the story is a fiction of Tobore’s faulty imagination. It DID NOT HAPPEN.
As for ZAM Chronicle, it’s as much a lying outfit as its Nigerian minion, The Premium Lies (oh, Times!) I guess ZAM is still living the deception that Africans would believe anything once it comes from the whites. That era is gone forever!
Nigeria has her problems and nobody can excuse the crime of human trafficking; but truth must be told in all circumstances. That is what PREMIUM LIES failed to do. On behalf of the deceived readers, I say we stand by our refusal to believe this UNTRUTH.
Please there are spy equipments(pens, watches etc) as cheap as $20, why weren’t they employed during your so-called “investigative journalism”? You really think Nigerians are gullible? PREMIUM LIES are know for their sham news reportage, hence itwas expected of you to carry out a comprehensive risk assessment but you failed. No name, no address, just a vague and fictional story. It’s a pity. Nigerians deserve an apology for this gross defamation.
There is no empirical evidence in your so-called story, please quit the emotional blackmail and stick to the principles of standard journalism. No single evidence in a four-month story. When the ladies were murdered, why was the police not called? We are talking about murder! I will do do a content analysis of the story from the first paragraph to the last and post it here shortly. We know human trafficking is real but please don’t tell lies and paint our country black because of your selfish reasons. The preparations you made for the story are very secondary. We are asking for evidence! How come the writer is a lone voice in a story that spanned months? Who saw her escape at the border? Where is the owner of the store that she ran into? And please, don’t mention Reece. According to your story, she took a taxi to go meet Reece, so Reece did not rescue her. Every paragraph in your story cannot be substantiated. Nigerians are not fools.
Dear @zamchronicle:disqus you talk about, your colleague in Cotonou…” Where is Reece Adanwenon? She has disappeared, we have questions for her…
“ZAM Chronicle appeals to its audience and supporters to donate to the ZAM Chronicle Investigative Fund with which we enable investigative reporters in and from Africa to do the stories they want to bring to the attention of the world. The Fund pays professional fees for the newsworthy, often time-consuming and hard, investigative work done by African colleagues like Tobore Ovuorie. If you want to support the ZAM Chronicle Investigative Fund, send a mail to
and we will contact you.”
Zam Chronicle pimps Africa for “donations.” Please tell @zamchronicle:disqus how you feel about her racist ways. And oh by the way, why is Africa upside down in your logo? Where is the outrage? SMH.
Some people have asked why we don’t engage with Ikhide, Here are the reasons.
1. He knows why Africa is upside down in our logo. Here is the principle of upside down maps:.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/South-up_map_orientation This has been explained. But he repeats the racism accusation regardless. How is this not malice?
2. It has also been explained to him who Reece Adanwenon is. The question was already strange -where in the world do people respond to a newspaper report by alleging that the journalist does not exist?-, but we obliged on his Facebook page. Adanwenon is a veteran health journalist in Benin and a former Board member of the Forum for African Investigative Reporters (www.fairreporters.net). Though Reece is not as active on social media as some others, she can be googled. Ikhide keeps implying that she doesn’t exist. How is this not malice?
3. It has also been explained to him that Reece Adanwenon took Tobore to hospital in Porto Novo and to the hairdresser in Cotonou, after she was beaten and her hair cut off with a machete. The doctor in Porto Novo assessed that ‘this girl has seen the devil’ and recommended trauma therapy. Adanwenon therefore did not just ‘pick her up from a taxi’: she is a witness to very real and recent scars and trauma. Ikhide prefers to ignore this and simply repeats his old accusations. How is this not malice?
4. It has also been explained that the workshop from where Ikhide alleges Ovuorie ‘plagiarised’ stories took place three weeks after she returned from Cotonou and more than a week after she filed her articles. He has not withdrawn his accusation of plagiarism. How is this not malice?
ZAM Chronicle is very willing to engage with members of our audience who ask sincere questions and/or offer constructive criticism. Please inbox us at email@example.com and also: subscribe to ZAM Chronicle. The sequel: ‘The Making of the Human Trafficking Story’ is scheduled for end of this month.
How insincere are Ikhide’s questions? He is a Nigerian and has the right to comment about issues affecting his country — in this case a fiction being peddled as the truth. What legal standing does ZAM Chronicle have about Nigeria, except to use our misfortunes to raise illicit funds!?
Your story says the reporter took a taxi to meet Reece. Only if you have removed that part again! Reece did not witness anything, Reece only received the reporter and everything Reece said was what the reporter told her. Please can we can we have an independent witness? It’s almost three weeks after the story was published and not one person, a single human being cannot bear witness to the story that took four months to do? Can we have someone, anyone five us some hope? Can we have the mobile network give us a map of the reporter’s movement on ALL the lines she used to communicate with her bosses? Is this not a SHAME! We are still waiting for your explanation on why you quickly yanked off her photo when Nigerians complained. We have that photo, thanks to wise Nigerians that saved it. I think the problem is that you underestimated our thinking capabilities. Meanwhile, your Nigerian counterparts should stop calling people and begging them to defend the reporter.
Yes, real pimping, just like the REAL human traffickers — their next-of-kin!
Some people have asked why we don’t respond to blogger Ikhide. The reason is that ZAM Chronicle does not respond to malicious and insincere engagement. We have concluded that Ikhide’s engagement is malicious and insincere because of the following.
1. Ikhide is aware of the reason why our ZAM logo is the way it is. It is informed by the upside-down map principle.(See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/South-up_map_orientation.) This has been tweeted by us. Yet he continues his insinuation that the logo is informed by racism.
2. It has been explained to Ikhide who Reece Adanwenon is (a veteran journalist in Benin and a former Board member of the Forum for African Investigative Reporters). Yet he continues to imply that she may not exist.
3. Reece Adanwenon wrote an article for ZAM in which she reported taking Tobore Ovuorie to the doctor to treat her beatings and trauma. Ikhide continuously ignores this.
4. It has been explained to Ikhide that the Nigerian workshop, where someone alleges Ovuorie ‘plagiarised’ her stories from, took place a month after she escaped from the human trafficking ‘training camp’ and more than a week after she filed her articles for Premium Times and ZAM. Yet he continues to repeat false accusations of ‘plagiarism’.
We consequently see no use in talking to Ikhide. We will however be happy to receive constructive criticism and real questions in our inbox: firstname.lastname@example.org.
‘Dare Akinwale, I am open to a process that releases access to phone records to an independent investigating party, one that can access phone records for forensic evidence, we can tell for instance from cell towers, etc, the geographic locations of each individual, we can tell the full range of dialogue from audit trails to all interested parties. Merely showing me texts back and forth tells me nothing other than someone was texting. The cellphone carriers are sitting on a lot of forensic evidence and Premium Times knows it, that is why they are reluctant to go that route. They know this lady was busy typing from “a safe house.” We are told also that she went back and forth to several crime scenes, meaning she knows addresses that the okada took her to. They need to take the Police there. ‘Dare, don’t you think the Police should have been involved the very day she witnessed murder? What did she do? Did she keep prancing around hoping to win the Pulitzer of Africa? This is unacceptable conduct on the part of a newspaper. Why is NAPTIP investigating? What are they investigating? The spokespersons of NAPTIP were at Markurdi (or wherever) with Tobore Ovuorie hamming it up and enjoying each other’s company, right after she had been whipped senseless. Why did she not tell them at the time? You know what is really absurd? That we are having this conversation!
Dear @zamchronicle, I ask you again, how much did you raise for this “expedition” and how much was paid to your Nigerian partners in crime?
You will answer me because I am complaining to the relevant ethics authorities in the Netherlands.
Go ahead, let Netherlands govt know that their racist outfit has been waging unrelenting war against Nigeria for no just cause. ZAM Chronicle (what does it mean, by the way?) should be made to regurgitate all the illicit funds they had received in this regard!!
Dear @zamchronicle, is it true that you paid just $500 to Premium Times do that a young lady could possible be murdered? Would you do that to a Dutch lady? How much did you pay?
Here is one witness that was bullied and harassed for telling the truth. Dear @zamchronicle, I am sure you have an answer for this, enjoy!
Here’s another witness that was Tobore’s roommate Markurdi! Damning stuff! @zamchronicle is part and parcel of a lying syndicate using Africa to line their mean pockets!
Dollars have probably exchanged hands; otherwise, which local govt did the investigative liar mention in the miserable report that NAPTIP is now trailing? These are desperate people through and through, the PREMIUM LIARS, that is. The desperation with which PREMIUM LIES have been appealing to Tobore’s erstwhile bosses to speak up about her character shows the story was done for everything but what PREMIUM LIES says they did. Someone somewhere paid handsomely to have Nigeria smeared afresh, but things went awry when Nigerians picked through the labyrinths of the professional misconduct called investigative journalism. Shameless liars who would mortgage their country of birth for any miserable amount of foreign currency.
Shameless racist liars!
Watch my blog space, coming up soon: Heart of their darkness: @evelyngroenink, @zamchronicle, Africa, and the racism of Western benevolence.
Musikulu Mojeed of Premium Times claims they only got $500 from Zam Chronicle to help with “medical expenses” for “trauma” that “crack” reporter Tobore Ovuorie experienced from her imaginary ordeal (from the safety of her NGO funded bedroom!). $500! I don’t believe Musikilu Mojeed and Premium Times. I am sure they got more.
We have endured a culture of low expectations for too long. I have asked Zam Chronicles the question, how much they actually paid Premium Times, they are ignoring me, just like they’ve had all along. They will respond because we all live in the West and the accountability structures will force them to answer me, or my team will agitate to shut them down for good as the scammers and racists that they are.
How much did Zam Chronicle give Premium Times to concoct a shoddy Tawana Brawley “investigation”? It is an important question that we should interrogate, the blatant racism that says anything from Black Africa must be suspect and dark, the worst must be true, no matter how outlandish. If you believe that that outrageous Premium Times story could have been accepted by a (white) community in the West as happening to their own, then there’s something wrong with you. Evelyn Groenink and all those behind Zam Chronicle are thoroughgoing racists, apologies to the great Chinua Achebe. It is racism that informs a white benefactor giving you $500 to possibly go kill yourself because of a story that does not need re-telling, certainly not in this juvenile manner. All that is needed is purposeful action. Instead we have conmen and their friends in government colluding with white folks to further rubbish our nation. We are being paid to tell the single story. Where is the outrage?
I have been treated with nothing but contempt and patronizing condescension by Evelyn Groenink, throughout my campaign to rescue what is left of Africa’s dignity from her racist teeth. This is the threatening condescending note I got from her when I first started asking questions.
Go to Zam Chronicle’s Twitter feed at @zamchronicle. Go to Evelyn Groenink’s at @evelyngroenink. There is not a single positive thing about Africa in those timelines, not one. You would think you are living in the age of Conrad, and reading the claptrap that fueled Achebe’s rage. Even the map of Africa is turned upside down in Zam Chronicle’s logo. Where is the outrage?