The murder of a young Nigerian prostitute in Italy, allegedly by her former lover. attracted a huge amount of attention in European media due to the unusual circumstances behind her death.
Daniele Ughetto Piampaschet, a 34-year-old Italian man, has been arrested in the northern town of Turin in connection with the killing of Anthonia Egbuna, a 19-year-old prostitute, whose body was found floating in the River Po in February.
According to Italian media reports, when police later searched Egbuna’s apartment, they found a short story written by Piampaschet called "La rosa e il leone" (“The Rose and The Lion”) with a plot that seemed to match the details of her murder.
It was later revealed that Piampaschet had fallen in love with Egbuna, had a relationship with her, and demanded that she quit working the streets. After she refused, he allegedly stabbed her to death in a jealous rage.
Piampaschet’s lawyer, Stefano Tizzani, told Reuters that his client is innocent and that “he wrote the story and gave it to her as a gift -- to make himself look good.”
While the Piampaschet-Egbuna saga may sound like a thriller, the bitter fact is that Egbuna is only one of thousands of Nigerian girls and women who have been trafficked to Europe to toil as sex workers. Lured by false promises of high-paying jobs in such glamorous European capitals as Rome, Paris and Brussels, the girls soon find themselves trapped in a web of organized crime, violence and prostitution.
These women are exploited and abused by criminal gangs in both their native Nigeria and in Europe.
According to Nigeria’s National Agency for Prohibition of Traffic in Persons (NAPTIP), 60 percent of prostitutes in Italy and Belgium -- particularly in the cities of Turin and Antwerp -- are of Nigerian descent.
"The magnitude of this phenomenon and its consequences are considerable and call for concerted action by government and civil society," said NAPTIP’s executive-secretary, Beatrice Jedy-Agba.
Moreover, according to the United Nations Inter-regional Crime and Justice Research Institute (UNICRI), there are now at least 10,000 Nigerian prostitutes – perhaps as many as 20,000 – in Italy alone. Many of them owe so much money to smugglers and others who enabled them to cross into Europe that they have little hope of ever clearing their debt; rendering them virtually as 21st century “slaves.”
In many cases, the women are forced to submit to oath-swearing rituals that compel them to believe that they or their families with suffer “insanity” or even death if they fail to pay their debt in full.
Even worse, these women often have to pay a “rent” for the spots on highways and roads where they ply their sordid trade.
"Nigerian criminals are able to find agreements with all the mafias, from Colombians to Chinese. But it's an easy game for them in Italy also for another reason: the high number of Italian clients who look for prostitutes night and day," Giovanni Conzo, an anti-mafia prosecutor in Naples, told al Jazeera. "This [Nigerian criminal] organization is stronger than ever. We should stop them before they take full control of our region.”
According to reports, the vast majority of Nigerian sex workers in Italy originate in the southern Nigerian state of Edo – a route that might be traced to the 1980s, when thousands of Edo natives went to southern Italy to pick tomatoes.
A survey by the Women's Health and Action Research Center in Edo's capital of Benin City revealed that one in three young women in the region received offers to go to Europe.
In 2005, a Nigerian girl calling herself 'Valentina' told BBC how she reached Italy.
"[An old male friend from Nigeria] said finding work here [Italy] was no problem, there were lots of different jobs I could do like working in a supermarket. I'd even be able to continue my studies," she said.
"I'd just finished secondary school, but it's very difficult to go to university in Nigeria. It's very expensive."
'Valentina' soon found herself working as a prostitute.
Another Nigerian girl named 'Tomissi' who worked outside of Milan lamented to BBC: "I used to have to have sex with many different men. As many as wanted to have sex with me. Maybe five, maybe ten different people a day. Some would pay me 20 euros, some would only pay 10. If I was really lucky I'd get 30 euros."
Nigerian prostitutes not only suffer violence from their pimps, but also from their customers.
Tomissi added a sober warning: "My advice to any [Nigerian] girls who are thinking about coming to Europe is: Don't come. The madams say there's work here but they're lying because the only work here is prostitution. They're deceiving us Africans, and it's not fair."
UNODC, the UN office on drugs and crime, has said that prostitution by immigrants in Europe earn criminal gangs at least $228 million every year.
The town of Castel Volturno outside of Naples has become a hub of Nigerian criminal activity – at least 15,000 Nigerians (mostly illegals) live there, many involved in crime, drug dealing and prostitution.
While Nigerian gangsters now have an uneasy “alliance” of sorts with local Italian gangsters to share the spoils of their illicit businesses, it wasn't always like that.
As recently as 2008, six West Africans were killed by mafia gunmen under the leadership of Giuseppe Setola, a killer and member of the local Casalesi crime family.
Initially characterized as a racial massacre, Setola's actual intent was to frighten the local African gangs into splitting the profits from their drug and sex trade with the Camorrists.
Now, Nigerian organized criminals have extended their tentacles into other Italian regions, including Umbria and Emilia Romagna.
Of course, the Nigerian Diaspora in Europe and elsewhere numbers some hundreds of thousands of productive, law-abiding folks who are not remotely connected to prostitution or organized crime. Nonetheless, Nigerian drug gangs are exploiting the dreams of thousands of hopeless young women at home that are desperate to escape poverty – and succumb to lies and promises about riches in Europe.
Anthonia Egbuna was just one of them.
Palash has worked as a business journalist for 21 years in New York.