The Nigerian Mafia and Human Trafficking

Many of our clients are Nigerian – as are many people working the brothels of Europe. Nigerian criminal gangs are the reason for this. They smuggle people from Nigeria to Central Europe on a large scale to enslave them. These gangs are referred to as the Nigerian mafia. Experts estimate that the Nigerian mafia earns half a billion euros every year through human trafficking alone.


A few years ago, the German authorities received information about the Nigerian mafia for the first time. These networks are now being thoroughly analysed, but, unfortunately, that takes a lot of time. Italy is one step ahead of Germany. Due to their years of experience with the Italian mafia, the police take Nigerian gangs very seriously. These gangs have been active in Italy since the 1980s and cooperate with local clans. At that time, drug trafficking was the main business. Today it is human trafficking. Entire towns are under their control. Castel Volturno in southern Italy is considered the stronghold of the Nigerian mafia in Europe.

In 2019, a part of a large network of Nigerian human traffickers was uncovered in Bochum, Germany. Undercover measures and telephone surveillance put the police on the right track. Sadly, the lead investigator was also confronted with resistance within his own police agency. Some of his colleagues thought it not worth all the effort. The main problems being lack of evidence and the women’s fear of testifying in court. A network was uncovered which led from Benin City in Nigeria to Germany. As a result of that, six men were convicted of human trafficking. Most of the people of interest in the investigation could not be identified with certainty and were therefore not charged with anything.

The gangs are very well connected. This is what makes it so easy for them to act internationally. They have plenty of experts for forging documents, credit cards and airline tickets; in addition to knowing quite a few smugglers in Libya. The women are first lured in with false promises and then smuggled into Europe via Libya. Their journey is marked by hunger, thirst, fear and rape and goes on for about 4-6 months. After having finally arrived in Germany, the women then have to work off their debts in prostitution. When a woman escapes, pictures are sent to many, if not all, contacts to find her. Their families are then either threatened by violence and/or actually harmed. If you would like to read up on a survivor´s perspective, you can find a blog article on our website dedicated to one of the survivors and her experiences.


The Black Axe group is one of the largest and most dangerous gangs of the Nigerian mafia. It was founded in 1977 as a secret student brotherhood on university campuses. It started as a movement against the dictatorship but quickly evolved into an organised crime group, dealing mainly with drugs. As of today, the criminal organisation has tens of thousands of members. They can be found in all areas of crime. The Nigerian police believe that all members have committed crimes or are being prepared to do so. Every follower turns into a criminal eventually – some sooner and some later. Especially people smuggling and human trafficking are booming “business models” for such gangs. The on-site investigations are extremely difficult. Some gang members hold high positions in politics or business. It is not always easy to distinguish between criminals and politicians. Nigeria is marked by corruption.

Sadly, the gangs have an easy game with the victims. More than half a million Africans have tried going through irregular routes to reach Europe in the past three years. Their drive is poverty and the hope for a better life beyond the Mediterranean.


The EU states have set a goal to intervene as early as possible to prevent the gangs from establishing themselves in Europe. From a political point of view, there must be increased international cooperation, especially with Nigeria. But the Nigerian politics and their politicians have watched the gangs grow for decades. The structures have solidified and are simply being allowed to take place.

European suitors are responsible for quite a bit of the misery. None of the women freely chose to go into prostitution and are under enormous economic pressure. The demand for more and more women and girls facilitates the schemes and manipulations of criminal gangs.

Escaping forced prostitution is only the beginning of the process of psychological healing and the asylum process. We support women to develop at their own pace and to build a self-determined life.

If you would like to learn more about the Nigerian mafia, we highly recommend the documentary ‘The Black Axe – Nigeria´s Mafia in Germany’ by the ZDF (a major German public-service television broadcaster).

For additional further reading we recommend the following:

Translated by: Sophie Kitchen