Qualified UK nurse Josephine Iyamu – aka Madame Sandra and Madame Joy, a woman who condemned vulnerable women to a tortured red light existence – campaigned to gain a place as an elected representative in Nigeria’s Edo State political HQ, The House of Assembly.
She flew the flag for ruling political party All Progressives Congress (APC). A senior APC official has described the revelation as “unfortunate”.
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It is beyond that. The 54-year-old was sentenced to 18 years in 2018 for trafficking women from remote Nigerian villages into seedy European vice dens. Her downfall was orchestrated by a team of detectives based in Birmingham.
At Birmingham Crown Court earlier this month, Iyamu was ordered to hand back a staggering £183,806 of her grubby profits. She has paid a heavy price for being at the helm of a criminal cartel which traded in human misery.
Iyamu, always dressed to the nines, a woman who refused to wear shoes costing less than £700, selected her victims when they were at their most vulnerable. They were fleeing a country scarred by civil unrest – and Edo state was the cesspool centre of suffering.
CNN journalist Nima Elbagir described it as “the main departure point for so much of these smuggling routes and yet, these traders are able to ply their trade so openly.” Iyamu’s victims parted with up to £31,000 for a perilous journey of hope that took them across the Sahara Desert to Libya. They made it across the Med to Europe in rubber boats.
During their five day journey to the Libyan coast, the petrified passengers faced the constant threat of being shot at, ambushed and gang raped. To exert total power over her human cargo, Iyamu recruited a witch doctor whose juju ceremonies included forcing the girls to gulp down contaminated blood, devour chicken hearts and rub powder into cuts.
And even when placed behind bars, Iyamu continued to menace her victims. She attempted to trace and intimidate the women and their families. The callous crimes fly in the face of Iyamu’s 2015 election campaign which had its foundation in girl power. She was also a generous benefactor to the ruling APC party.
Our sister title The Sunday Mercury has seen an election poster bearing the name Mrs Sandra Josephine Imaghodor. She is the same evil sex trafficker, the APC has confirmed.
That poster detailed her mission: “To inspire support for the empowerment of women and family.”
Nigeria Revolution Times newspaper – motto: “Voice of the Oppressed” – must rue the day it gave Iyamu a platform. In a full page first person article, designed to win votes, she told readers: “I am driven by passion to serve my people, to add value to their lives especially coming from the health background where care and dedication to service is the driving force.
“I have also closely observed my community and realised that the prevailing situation demands someone competent enough to represent the people in terms of pushing problems and challenges that affect them, to the attention of government. I believe God has chosen me, to be the voice that would represent our people of Egor at the Edo State House of Assembly to make our needs known at the appropriate quarters. This is because if your needs are not known, nobody can do anything about it.”
She added: “It is God that actually decides, hence my prayer is ‘let the will of God be done’ and whoever would really have the passion to serve the people should emerge. We are all brothers and sisters, co-aspirants under the APC umbrella so, whoever gets the ticket, we would all work together for the success of this community.
“We are in this together so, we should be together and without the people, I cannot carry on.”
For those torn from their family, for those treated as throwaway commodities, the words leave a very bitter taste. Mr Anselm Ojezua, APC state chairman, said: “Though the name is not the same as we have it, the person appears to be the same, particularly when she was introduced as a nurse.
“We see her conviction as an unfortunate situation, in terms of the party and the government’s stance on human trafficking, sex slavery and others.
“We know her to be a registered nurse in the UK. But one did not know that she was engaged in any other business other than her profession. She did express interest in contesting but she did not contest eventually.”
One 2018 Nigerian political blog described Iyamu as a “flag-bearer” for the APC. It stated: “In the last elections of Edo State, this slave trader ran for election into the Edo State House of Assembly under the umbrella of Nigeria’s ruling party, APC. What makes this venture more repulsive is that Josephine Iyamu campaigned on the philosophy of advancing the rights of women – the same people she mindlessly exploited.”
The news has been greeted with anger and disbelief in Nigeria, where she was seen as a rich and powerful influencer. To an extent, the public perception was correct. Iyamu – the first British national to be convicted under the Modern Slavery Act for offences committed overseas – made a fortune from her criminal activities.
She owned a string of properties, including a palatial pad in Benin, Nigeria, tended to by a string of servants. Over here, the dazzling designer outfits were replaced by a more dowdy persona. Iyamu lived in a former South London council house and her husband worked as a cloakroom attendant.
In the UK, she founded Jossy Care Enterprises Limited, described as providing “social work activities without accommodation” which was dissolved in June, 2018.
But her empire came crashing down when police interviewed one victim working in a sex den in Trier, on the Luxembourg-German border. Crack UK border force the National Crime Agency were alerted and when Iyamu was arrested at Heathrow Airport she had seven mobile phones and more than 30 SIM cards.
Chillingly, the shamed nurse also had a handwritten recipe of juju spells. Another sheaf had the contact number of criminal associates. From there, NCA investigators worked with the Nigerian Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP) to look into her activities in Nigeria.
The link culminated in five women giving evidence in court via video link. They detailed the horrendous conditions they endured while travelling over-land across Africa, then by boat to Italy before flying to Germany using false ID documents provided to them by Iyamu’s associates.
When jailed at Birmingham Crown Court in 2018, Iyamu – an expensive turquoise shawl draped round her shoulders – covered her face with her hands. She had been found guilty of five counts of facilitating the travel of another person with a view to exploitation and one of attempting to prevent the course of justice.
She stared blankly at the floor as Judge Richard Bond told her: “Trafficking human beings is an ugly offence – it must always be dealt with severely by the courts to deter others from taking part in this vile trade. You showed a complete disregard for the welfare of these women. You saw them not as living, breathing human beings but as commodities to earn you large sums of money.
“All five of your victims had to be rescued from the boat they were on before being put into a camp in Italy. You understood the potential dangers, you simply did not care.”
Following this month’s confiscation ruling, NCA Senior Investigating Officer Kay Mellor said: “Josephine Iyamu specifically targeted vulnerable women and put them through the most horrific experience, only to profit considerably form their misery.
“Iyamu’s expenditure on travel and properties far outweighed her legitimate earnings as a nurse and our investigation into her finances proved she made hundreds of thousands of pounds from her criminality. Confiscation orders are a key tool which provide us with the capability to really hit criminals where it hurts – in the pocket.
“Iyamu was calculated, manipulative and motivated by money. Not only is she serving a hefty prison sentence, but she won’t be living a luxury lifestyle when she comes out.”
When Iyamu was originally sentenced, Ms Mellor told the press: “She was a registered nurse, she was an agency nurse and that totally goes against, for me, what a nurse is – somebody who looks after people, who makes them better and certainly what she was doing was totally opposed to what in my mind a nurse should be.”