Imagine you’re travelling abroad, touring a beautiful foreign city, thinking you’re having the time of your life. You feel secure as you soak in the attractions of the city in a cab booked through an internationally known taxi aggregator. And then, all of a sudden, you find yourself in a terrifying situation. What seemed like a perfect day turns into a living nightmare. Wouldn’t that shatter you?
Well, this isn’t some imaginary situation I’ve conjured up. This actually happened recently. To me. When I had stopped at an overseas location in transit to my final destination in Nigeria for a speaking assignment. The experience shook me to the core. So much so, it took me a while to be able to calmly write about it and share it with others. This was something I knew I just had to do for the sake of alerting other tourists about lurking dangers, and for my own sake too, for gaining a sense of closure to the traumatic episode.
From a relaxing break to a terrifying experience
In October 2017, my team and I had to deal with a boring 20-hour layover between flights while travelling to Nigeria. Like many tourists would, we, meaning my cameraman Matt, my female assistant, and I, decided to make use of the time at our disposal to tour the stopover city. And again, like many tourists would, we booked an Uber taxi to take us sightseeing.
The cab driver seemed friendly enough and familiar with showing tourists around, and we even took photos and videos together. He suggested several tourist hotspots, and we agreed to be driven to the markets, the desert, and some other popular locations. We thought we were safe. After all, Uber tracks the movements of its drivers through the smartphone given to them. What we didn’t know was that unscrupulous drivers can easily override the company’s tracking mechanism.
It was a bright and beautiful day, and after we took in some shopping, the taxi driver drove us out to the nearby desert famed for its stark and serene beauty. After we had driven quite some distance, Matt couldn’t resist the urge to capture some aerial pictures of the mesmerising terrain. He asked the driver if it was OK for tourists to fly a drone for taking pictures and videos from up in the sky. The driver said that would be fine. The guy had told us he had lived in the city all his life. So, we assumed he knew the laws of the land and believed what he told us.
I’m not sure why Matt didn’t stop to think twice before deciding to fly a drone in a foreign country whose rules about aerial devices he wasn’t fully acquainted with. But his action saved our lives on that fateful day.
It took the local military intelligence less than 15 minutes to pick up the drone’s activity via satellite, and before we knew it we were circled by official vehicles with a dozen policemen and military investigators.
Panic struck into me as the armed police approached our taxi. We seemed to have unwittingly broken the law, and so the three of us and the Uber driver were rounded up and taken into police custody. Our passports and mobile phones were taken away to be inspected thoroughly.
A narrow escape
After five hours in custody, the investigation took a startling turn, throwing up some horrific information. It turned out the Uber driver was not what he seemed to be. The police found evidence that he was actually a cold-blooded human trafficking agent. His mobile device had a secret compartment with over 150 images of young women, traumatised, tied up, and gagged, with gruesome bruises on their faces.
We were lucky not to have been “buried in the desert” without a trace, the police told us. However, they were extremely kind and compassionate towards us, and even offered us food during our ten hours in custody during which they went about completing their investigations. And though the illegal use of drone cameras is covered under their espionage laws, they released us without any further hassles.
We proceeded on our onward journey, unnerved by the thought that we had unknowingly put ourselves at risk for human trafficking and were lucky to have escaped unhurt. But we had commitments to fulfil. So, putting aside my anxieties, I stepped on stage for my event the next day in Nigeria at the scheduled time. And not letting my recent ordeal cast a shadow on my motivational addresses, I gave it my all so that my audiences got the full benefit of every session.
Ironically, many had warned me about staying safe in Nigeria, yet it was in another, totally unexpected destination that we had almost been snared by a man who had probably murdered and sold hundreds of women to be tortured as sex slaves.
God always shines his light on us
As a mother of five, travelling the globe to speak on empowerment is not easy. Professionals like me have to put ourselves at risk to empower others and save lives. But to me, it’s worth it. If you have faith in God, if your intentions are noble, I believe you will successfully carry on your good work.
My cameraman Matt turned out to be our angel in disguise that day, as if sent from Heaven to protect us. Besides, our escapade stopped one man from killing many others. I am now publicly sharing my experience because:
1) I am concerned about the safety of other travellers, of other women and children; and 2) I want to create awareness about the spine-chilling crimes of human traffickers.
A few words of advice
- Do travel, but make sure you travel safe. Danger lurks even in the most unexpected places.
- Be alert when you’re travelling in an Uber cab or any other vehicle offered by taxi aggregators. For all their claims about passenger safety, they accept no liability for the conduct of their drivers.
- Pay the extra fare and take a regulated or certified taxi while travelling in a foreign country, specially a place you’re not familiar with.
- No country is safe from abductors, rapists, and murderers. So be on your guard at all times and everywhere.
- Be vigilant on your travels. Don’t trust strangers who may contact you either personally or online. You can never be too sure of the intentions of others.
Human trafficking is a heinous crime and I pray that the authorities in countries across the world will double their anti-trafficking efforts and have stricter laws and punishments in place to curb the evil activities of human traffickers.