My Research Along the Zou-Abeokuta Corridor
I first sought to find out how accurate or representative these stories were during a summer of preliminary fieldwork in 2007. This was followed by a further nine months spread across three years in 2010, 2012 and 2014.7
During this period, I spoke to dozens of people currently or formerly engaged in some way in the Abeokutan quarry economy. To begin, in concert with my research assistant (who was a Beninese NGO worker from the Zou departement with many years of anti-trafficking experience), I selected four case study villages in the Zou, two from Za-Kpota comune and two from neighbouring Zogbodomey. In these villages, I purposively sampled current and former migrants to Abeokuta’s artisanal gravel quarries, individuals who were involved in the flow of migrant labour (or ‘trafficking’) linking the region to the quarries, parents of current and former migrants, and village authorities.
My principal research tools were semi-structured open-ended interviews and focus group discussions. Focus groups were especially useful for gathering group-level data pertaining to community perceptions of migration, labour, exploitation and other socio-economic issues. The interviews were designed to develop a deeper understanding of how youngsters understand and experience their life-worlds and to develop personal labour migration histories with a number of them, a few of which are reproduced throughout this chapter. In addition to answering my specific questions, I encouraged interviewees to volunteer topics they thought would be relevant to my understanding of their lives, their mobility and their work. This provided much information that I might otherwise have missed.
In February 2012, I visited Abeokuta itself for the first time, spending a month in and around the quarries. My research assistant followed this with a further two months in 2014. These were immensely valuable experiences, as they allowed us not only to triangulate what we had heard on the Beninese side of the border, but also to engage young labour migrants at their place of work and thus in the midst of their apparent trafficking and exploitation. (In this regard, it is worth recalling that, according to the Palermo Protocol, the mobility of all minors for work of this kind is defined as trafficking, since that work has been deemed by the authorities to be exploitative. Every youngster we spoke to was therefore formally a ‘victim of trafficking.’) The research in Abeokuta involved (1) observing the living and working conditions of those in the quarries and (2) interviewing young migrant labourers and other key actors engaged in the quarry economy, including labour leaders, gravel purchasers, traders and transporters. Together, we interviewed around 60 youths who were currently working in Abeokuta, in addition to members of their communities and key individuals who were involved in organising their labour. The latter included those who had facilitated their migration and were thus formally identified as traffickers.8