Reintegration Through Social Enterprises in Nigeria

By Josef Otavio Santos Horwath, Research Assistant HT Chapter


As a nation that has struggled with successful economic development, Nigerian citizens have continuously found it difficult to obtain economic opportunities that may aid in its country’s development. Unfortunately for some, such a lack of economic opportunities may mean exploitation in the human trafficking industry.  Those who manage to disentangle them from trafficking, their “freedom” is often met with the task of finding and sustaining a means of subsistence, mostly without the necessary education and experience that most labor markets require, while impacted on a psychological and physical level by their abuse and exploitation experiences. 

In order to aid people in their attempt to join the labor market after having escaped the trafficking industry, many countries develop programs that provide educational means to better suit victims in their attempt to join the labor market, often in the victim’s country of origin. Unfortunately, many of these programs, coined as re-integration programs, are not always effective. This creates a cycle where a victim’s eventual “freedom” only results in a return to the trafficking industry later on, as such programs often fall short of their goals. While these are issues that countless organizations and academics are trying to resolve, the following analytical entry is aimed at providing an intellectual stimulus for a form of policy solution to a historical lack of effective reintegration programs. The ideas provided in this entry focus on local pioneering, with the intention, that its good practice may have positive spillover nationally.

Nigeria has had a long history of political corruption, which favors the interests of the elites above the interests of the people. Due to this dichotomy and ignorance towards issues that affect a subset of people in Nigeria, a significant obstacle to reintegration programs and development aid in Nigeria is constant corruption. From a historical perspective and in the context of modern governance, developing a solution and attempting to improve the nature of the system is often met with push-back. Steps forward might seem like steps back primarily due to the influence of few elites and their political and economic control over the system. For this reason, targeting these issues at the state level is complex, because it is much harder to dismantle the corrupt behavior of the elites at the top of the line rather than target local communities that may be more prone to immediate change given an economic incentive. There may not be a blank check fix the issues that remain at large: poverty, inequality, corruption and violence. However, it is possible to improve the way in which these issues are approached, in the context of how they impact long-term reintegration among human trafficking victims focused on alternative livelihoods. By investing in local communities and allowing individuals within those communities to have the power to change and develop what is around them, it may be possible to usurp the dynamics that prevent necessary development from occurring. In the field of human trafficking specifically, individuals struggle with social inclusion back into society in the form of reintegration because apart from their traumatic experiences and unfinished healing, there is little economic opportunity linked to status. By granting victims the ability to invest directly in their communities, in the form of social enterprises, one offers them a vision of a more developed community rather than the perpetual hardships inflicted in many Nigerian towns and cities.

In the status quo, reintegration programs are largely ineffective because they offer primarily short-term support (typically 3-6 months). Programs typically provide victims with housing as well as training in certain employment sectors for the first few months after their return to their community. Many of these programs rarely have synergy between training, educational and vocational activities while victims are abroad and upon their return home. Most programs in fact only go so far as providing cash assistance to victims without any other additional aid, psychological support or mentorship. However, when the ties are cut between the victims’ and the specific reintegration program where they received their support (both in Europe and at home), victims’ are left mostly on their own to garner the economic stimulus needed to survive in their local communities. Victims might also not be emotionally or physically ready to immediately enter the workforce after having been through traumatic events that require a recovery period. Moreover, they may not be born entrepreneurs so an adjustment into such a program may require continued support beyond short-term assistance. For this reason, there is an inconsistency with data collection regarding how effective these forms of reintegration programs are. This is because “very few studies have examined life after trafficking in Nigeria.”[1] With no long term support, victims’ that are met with economic struggles in some form are pushed into a corner where they are unable to receive support and often times forced to turn back to the trafficking industry. The basis of reintegration programs should not be contingent on a short-term transition but one that provides long-term support including healing, mentorship and guidance.

Additionally, the economic incentives provided by the majority of reintegration programs are economically unproductive because they do not provide any guarantee of economic opportunity. Improving their socio-economic status is the main principle with which individuals enroll into these reintegration programs. They have no support to earn and little to no economic activity around them to develop. Despite the abundance of natural resources in Nigeria, citizens generally are unable to derive “any meaningful developmental benefits from resource revenues because of the widespread incidence of corruption and revenue mismanagement by the political elites.”[2] As continued economic volatility affects victims upon their return to their local communities, the situation only exacerbates their vulnerability and undermines their fight against the system that may have facilitated them to be trafficked in the first place. Economic self-sufficiency is the status with which these individuals need to survive. In a survey among Nigerian trafficking victims, many have described the nature of their work as a form of survivalist labor. They are assisted in finding jobs that offer them just enough money to survive on a day-to-day basis without actually instilling any form of significant change. The authors write that in Nigeria, “the use of vocational training as means for survivors to secure their economic self-sufficiency… [diverts] attention away from the real structural economic and political reforms needed to enable survivors [secure]… their long-term economic wellbeing.”[3] Any form of solution must act with the intention to improve the structural system that diminishes the inability to achieve true economic self-sufficiency.

While the economic system is important in understanding the reason why victims struggle to find economic opportunity when they begin the reintegration process, it is also vital to understand how the industry itself affects victims on a psychological level and why they might turn to trafficking, if not by force. The sex industry is built on the social obligation that is passed onto sex workers, who feel as though they are sacrificing themselves in order to support their families back at home as well as pay off a debt to someone in a position of power over them. The system thrives not on those who are “actually trafficked” or taken against their will, but instead on the majority of women who are socially obligated to take part in a very exploitative business.[4] The psychological component of obligation might not be fully erased from an individual after their debt has been paid to their madamme. If a reintegration program can address this stigma, the sense of obligation in order to fulfill their familial duties, it may be more effective at establishing a norm away from sexual exploitation. Even if that stigma cannot be fully erased but shifted to another avenue that fulfills that obligation, victims are less likely to turn back to the trafficking business.

Social enterprises, as a form of developmental aid in Nigeria, have the potential to provide economic stimulus in the form of community improvements. As a general precedent, it is important to understand that development processes require a range of resources that are unique to the particular place and community in question, so as to divert the resources necessary to mobilize efficiently.[5] A social enterprise itself is defined broadly as organizations that exist to produce a public or community benefit and trade.[6] These organizations usually come in hybrid forms, with characteristics of for-profit businesses as well as community sector organizations.[7] The most important distinctive factor is their connection with the community with which they are involved. That is, the relationships that are formed with the enterprise and the social context of the local community. This relationship is the basis for change, as it allows individuals involved to be invested in an enterprise that provides economic opportunity and constructs a relationship between individuals and their community. 

The local focus of social enterprises allows for a more efficient way to allocate resources. Most local communities in Nigeria have suffered as a result of globalization as development is hindered by the disorganization of communities unable to take advantage of the resources that they may have. However, local actors in the form of social enterprises are capable of developing a strategy that is specific to their needs and “not transcend global forces.”[8] A key aspect of this strategy is to gain control of local natural resources in order for them to be utilized in local economies.[9] While the challenge here is corruption, because the political elites are best suited to seize control of these resources, community leaders offer additional ways to undermine the power that political elites might have in the local communities in focus. 

Historically speaking, in the context of Nigeria, the structure of the criminal justice system is one that does not adequately punish those who might have interest in developing new business structures. Ellis explains that “if an offender ‘has cheated the Government, or swindled some business concern, he will probably be accorded the approbation and welcome due to a David who has dealt faithfully with Goliath.’”[10] In comparison, a Nigerian who has stolen food or cattle is most likely sentenced to prison, as theft in this manner is considered a serious crime.[11] As such, due to a lack of a punishment system, that supports the propagation of businesses in Nigeria generally, it becomes difficult to establish norms that are consistent with the goals of developmental projects. In other words, the battle is certainly uphill as corrupt individuals will always have a vested interest in joining any form of social enterprise that may be succeeding in the community. However, social enterprises are already starting to garner positive effects in other developing countries and thus its use in Nigeria is definitely an idea that should be more widely discussed.

Re-integration programs in the form of social enterprises have been empirically successful in countries such as Bangladesh or Slovakia.[12] Similar to the way in which they would be implemented in Nigeria, they offer victims the ability to become involved in their local communities immediately upon their return. In Bangladesh, they have “developed a mechanism that gives returnees the option to invest in a social enterprise as part of a group of returnees and with the backing of a local NGO, effectively becoming shareholders in a community-based social enterprise.”[13] This idea can be extrapolated to Nigeria and offers a way for not only victims to help better their local communities, by incentivizing them to improve it economically, but also offering themselves economic opportunity. Moreover, the idea that victims are working on these projects together, offers a safety net of support, mentorship and peer-to-peer community among them, since they share similar experiences. In Bangladesh specifically, the social enterprises operate like normal businesses “and are administered by a board of directors as the governing body, which includes two members of each group – returnees, local community members, and the local NGO.”[14] The profits are distributed among the families of the victims as well as other investment partners. Depending on the local resources of their community it further generates positive images through an increased sense of employment as well as the ability to supply and sell goods and services in rural areas. All in all, it is a way to reinforce social cohesion as it forces a relationship between victims who were turned away from home and their local community.

Bangladesh is not alone in its success story as more and more countries are beginning to adopt similar theories of development to their own form of reintegration programs. While Europe and the United States have adopted such measures with success, it is much more difficult to compare the economic situations of those developed countries to a country such as Nigeria. For this reason, a recent analysis done in the Philippines offers a more relevant empirical case study demonstrating the economic effects of social enterprises. The study offers a specific definition of social enterprises as organizations that serve the marginalized “as primary stakeholders and have distributive enterprise philosophy.”[15] In this specific case study, they found improvements in personal empowerment (in the economic sense), individual confidence, health outcomes and personal finances relative to more standard reintegration programs.[16] A potential reason for the success of these enterprises is their flexibility in responding to the needs of their “service users and their role as ‘boundary spanners’ in creating strong ties and connectedness between different stakeholders.”[17] In other words, the connectedness between stakeholders and individual victims is a result of such enterprises. This is applicable to strengthening Nigerian local communities as it may provide a nexus between returnees and local community leaders, which is incredibly important in order to achieve a similar effect. Due to the developing nature of the Philippines, albeit in a different region of the world, the success of such enterprises over the last 5 years empirically imply that such a conversation should be held in countries that suffer from similar trafficking related issues. As follows, the previously mentioned case studies offer a stepping stone for progress and idea culmination that should be more openly discussed. 

Social enterprises offer an economic avenue that undermines the psychological pressures of reintegration for victims of human trafficking. They are often trapped in a system that pressures them to give back to their communities and families in an economic manner when many of the opportunities to do so are nonexistent. However, by allowing them to invest directly in their communities, one may provide an additional avenue that undermines the power of traffickers. While these enterprises might only be the beginning of change and development in Nigeria, it is certainly a step away from the status quo, which has been empirically tragic. Unfortunately, while these forms of change may not offer a feasible solution to all Nigerians that are undergoing these issues, it may offer a step in the direction of change, starting at the local level, which may ideally contribute to broader change. The goal should be to improve opportunities at the local level so as to provide positive spillover at the national level. Above it all, it is certainly a necessity to link development and reintegration in order to better improve the economic opportunities of Nigerian citizens. While there is still more work to be done, the hope is to provide additional impetus to research and develop a system that needs it. What is needed now is a group of individuals willing to share new ideas on how to better tackle these issues, including those of trafficking victims themselves. Given communities open to this form of policy discussion, there is hope of dismantling the complex crime syndicates that exist today, even if it occurs one community at a time.


Davidson-Hunt, Iain  J. “Communities and Social Communities Enterprises in the Age of Globalization.” Accessed November 28, 2021.

Ellis, Stephen. This Present Darkness: A History of Nigerian Organised Crime. London: Hurst and Company, 2018. 

Idemudia, Uwafiokun, Nnenna Okoli, Mary Goitom, and Sylvia Bawa. “Life after Trafficking: Reintegration Experiences of Human Trafficking Survivors in Nigeria,” 2021.

Lyman, Rick. “Slovak Village Prospers in Partnership with Roma Residents It Once Shunned.” The New York Times. The New York Times, September 9, 2017.

Poveda, Sammia, Melinda Gill, Don Rodney Junio, Hannah Thinyane, and Vanessa Catan. “Should Social Enterprises Complement or Supplement Public Health Provision?” Social Enterprise Journal 15, no. 4 (2019): 495–518.


“Social Enterprise.” Community, February 19, 2014.

[1] Uwafiokun Idemudia et al., “Life after Trafficking: Reintegration Experiences of Human Trafficking Survivors in Nigeria,” 2021,, 451.

[2] IUwafiokun Idemudia et al., “Life after Trafficking: Reintegration Experiences of Human Trafficking Survivors in Nigeria,” 2021,, 452.

[3] Uwafiokun Idemudia et al., “Life after Trafficking: Reintegration Experiences of Human Trafficking Survivors in Nigeria,” 2021,, 456.

[4] Stephen Ellis, This Present Darkness: A History of Nigerian Organised Crime (London: Hurst and Company, 2018), 183-184.

[5] “Social Enterprise,” Community, February 19, 2014,

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Iain J Davidson-Hunt, “Communities and Social Communities Enterprises in the Age of Globalization,” accessed November 28, 2021,, 210.

[9] Iain J Davidson-Hunt, “Communities and Social Communities Enterprises in the Age of Globalization,” accessed November 28, 2021,, 210.

[10] Stephen Ellis, This Present Darkness: A History of Nigerian Organised Crime (London: Hurst and Company, 2018), 52.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Rick Lyman, “Slovak Village Prospers in Partnership with Roma Residents It Once Shunned,” The New York Times (The New York Times, September 9, 2017),


[14] Ibid.

[15] Sammia Poveda et al., “Should Social Enterprises Complement or Supplement Public Health Provision?,” Social Enterprise Journal 15, no. 4 (2019): pp. 495-518,, 3.

[16] Sammia Poveda et al., “Should Social Enterprises Complement or Supplement Public Health Provision?,” Social Enterprise Journal 15, no. 4 (2019): pp. 495-518,, 4.

[17] Ibid.

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