When Dr Paul Ezike’s video on the alleged plight of some Nigerians in Ethiopia’s Kaliti Prisons, Addis Ababa, recently hit the social media space, it was a quick reminder of what Nigerians have been going through in several prisons outside Nigeria, particularly in Asian countries and Libya, over the past couple of years.
In the past, there have been disturbing stories about the inhuman treatment meted out to Nigerians in Guangdong Prisons in China. At one point, it was even alleged that some of them were being killed secretly and their essential organs harvested for business purposes.
The condition is, however, almost similar to Nigerians in other prisons across China, including the ones in Beijing. Meanwhile, the story is also not looking good for Nigerian prison inmates in other Asian countries like Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, and Malaysia.
Also, there have been sordid reports of what Nigerian migrants trying to escape to Europe through Libya go through in Libyan prisons, where many of them have often ended up. So, when Dr. Ezike’s video hit the internet, many people were particularly concerned because this time it was a fellow African country that was involved.
Ezike had expressed fear in the video that over 250 Nigerians were on the verge of losing their lives if urgent action was not taken by the Nigerian government or other intervention agencies.
He alleged that most of the inmates were innocent travelers, whose only offense was stopping over at Ethiopia Airport, which is a transit hub.
The report out there is that most of those Nigerians did not commit any offenses.
Their offense, according to the report, was just being Nigerian. This was corroborated by Ezike in his video when he said: “Once you have a green passport, you are like a suspect. They will keep you aside, delay you, and make you miss your flight. They try to get you angry, and once you start agitating and arguing, they will tell you, well, you need to pay $5,000 to get another flight back to your country.
“When you talk too much, they will take you straight to the hospital and when they check and find nothing, they will take you straight to prison. And they serve you a paper that you will serve 18 to 20 years in prison without charging you to court.”
Recall that earlier this year, two Nigerians, Ms Favour Chizoba and Mr. Joachim Uchenna Nwanneneme were reported to have died in questionable circumstances in the same Kaliti Prison. Many attributed their death to deliberate torture just because they were Nigerians.
Although the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has dismissed the report as being over-exaggerated, both chambers of the National Assembly are not taking it on its surface. They want to get to the root of the matter.
While the Senate has mandated its Committee on Diaspora and Foreign Affairs to look into the report and unravel the circumstances that led to the incarceration of over 250 Nigerians not only in Kaliti Prisons, but also in other prisons in Ethiopia, the House of Representatives has equally invited the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Yusuf Tuggar, and Chairman of Nigeria in Diaspora Commission (NIDCOM), Abike Dabiri-Erewa, to throw more light on the ugly development.
A statement from the Foreign Affairs Ministry in reaction to the report said: “The Ministry of Foreign Affairs considers Dr. Ezike’s narration as exaggerated and blown out of proportion, while his assertion of inaction by the Nigerian Mission in Addis Ababa to the alleged plight of Nigerian inmates is unfair and misleading.”
On Wednesday, October 4, the Senate directed its Committees on Diaspora and Foreign Affairs to investigate and report back its findings within two weeks, the circumstances surrounding the incarceration of 250 Nigerians in Ethiopia.
This followed a motion moved by the Senate Minority Leader, Simon Mwadkwon, at the plenary on Wednesday.
Mwadkwon, like many other Nigerians, did not want to believe hook, line, and sinker, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs denied the report circulating on the internet that over 250 Nigerians were facing maltreatment in Ethiopia without committing any offence.
Even though the Ministry had dismissed the report as exaggerated and blown out of proportion, some Nigerians still took to social media, calling on the federal government to intervene and urgently do something about the alleged illegal incarceration of Nigerians by the Ethiopian government.
Presenting his motion during the plenary, Mwadkwon described the report as disturbing because according to him, it has no legal basis in the provision of international courts, which Nigeria and Ethiopia are signatories to.
“The video clip being circulated in social media indicates that Nigerians are held captives in the maximum prison of Ethiopia and are in serious peril, which calls for urgent intervention and a thorough probe.
“Based on the sovereignty of this country and the sanctity of lives and property of all Nigerians all over the world as captured in the Nigerian constitution, especially Sections 33, 34 and 35 of the 1999 constitution as amended, which have similar provisions in order international courts, instruments and convention that the Nigerian and the Ethiopian are signatories to, there is no justification whatsoever for taking away the dignity of any person, let alone taking away the life of a citizen.
“It is pathetic that citizens of a nation as populous as Nigeria, the giant of Africa, are being held in captivity in the 21st century, where the call is for unity among nation-states, but Ethiopia has chosen the shallow path to maltreat and mistreat the citizens of Nigeria without any justification as shown in a video,” he said.
Mohammed Mongunu (Borno North) who seconded the motion equally called on the government to rise up to the occasion because protecting the lives and property of citizens is the major function of any government.
“Our diplomatic cornerstone is supposed to be citizen-driven diplomacy. Nigerians, wherever they are, should be the centerpiece of our diplomatic relations. They should be citizen-centered because even our constitution gives primacy to the protection of lives and property, and that is the essence of government.
“Any government that fails, or neglects to perform that primary duty of protecting the lives and interest of its citizens, should not last a minute longer than the action which is necessary,” Mongunu said.
In his contribution, Titus Zam representing Benue Northwest, also called on the government to liaise with the Ethiopian embassy and find a way to secure the freedom of those Nigerians serving jail terms in the Ethiopian maximum prison.
“It touches on the fundamental rights of Nigerians both at home and in the Diaspora. Though we are not properly educated about the nature of the offenses or crimes committed by Nigerians who are on the death list in Ethiopia, I think humanity requires us to seek to protect Nigerians wherever they are.
“I support that urgent steps be taken in liaison with the Ethiopian embassy in Nigeria to find ways of resolving this matter without sacrificing any single Nigerian in spite of whatever the situation might be over there.”
The Senate President, Godswill Akpabio, in his remarks after directing the Senate committees to investigate the issue, also condemned discrimination of Nigerians in other countries. He urged the relevant authorities to take the issue of Nigerians in the Diaspora seriously.
“The life of every Nigerian matters a lot and I also use this opportunity to urge the relevant authorities of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to take the lives of Nigerians very seriously both in Nigeria and in the Diaspora.
“I am aware that many Nigerians are suffering discrimination in places like South Africa and some countries have even stopped receiving green passports, saying that they cannot use the green passports to enter their countries, and some of those countries are not even up to the size of Enugu State.
“I think it is important that while looking at this issue, we should also take steps to re-establish the authorities of Nigeria; the largest black country in the world,” Akpabio said.
In the same vein, the House of Representatives, in a similar move, summoned the foreign affairs minister, Tuggar, and NIDCOM boss, Dabiri- Erewa over the development.
The move followed a motion by the Minority Leader, Kingsley Chinda, and others on Thursday, October 5.
Chinda, who reiterated that 250 Nigerians are currently incarcerated in Ethiopia, noted that some of the detainees were arrested while using Ethiopia as a transit point, even as he confirmed that there was general victimization and maltreatment of Nigerians in the East African country.
“Some Nigerians are currently serving at the Chaota Maximum Security, and other prisons in Ethiopia. Most of them are travelers who use the Ethiopian airport as a transit point. About 250 Nigerians are currently serving various prison terms in Ethiopia, and as a result of frequent attacks, may die in prison if urgent steps are not taken to save them,” he protested.
The House, therefore, resolved that Tuggar and Dabiri should appear before the committees on Foreign Affairs, Diaspora, and Human Rights. Thereafter, the committees are expected to present their reports within two weeks.
However, while the legislative arm of the government in Nigeria has stepped into the matter, Nigerians are also calling on the government to deploy every diplomatic arsenal to ensure that those Nigerians in Ethiopian prisons are either set free unconditionally where they are found to be innocent or returned to serve their jail terms in Nigeria for those that actually committed one crime or the other.
Those who are pushing this argument are saying that except for those Nigerians who committed other offenses outside immigration offenses, they should not be allowed to remain in prison over there. They further argued that migration is not an offense, whether regular or irregular, as it is part of human existence.
Contributing to the discussion, a Migration Consultant, and founder of the Patriotic Citizens Initiative, Osita Osemene believes that there was nothing new about the development because according to him, Nigerians are scattered in various prisons in different countries for different offenses.
He noted that in some instances, Nigerians are actually found to have committed one offense or the other, but in some other cases, they are just being targeted because they are Nigerians and the belief out there is that most Nigerians are crooked and must be thoroughly dealt with even when nothing incriminating is found on them.
He noted that some Nigerians serving prison terms in foreign countries were known to have committed offenses ranging from cult-related offenses to drugs, financial fraud and even getting into foreign countries without appropriate documents.
“I was in Italy recently, and we even brought up a similar discussion and our Italian partners gave reasons a lot of Nigerians are in prison over there.
“Some Nigerians are in prison in Italy because of cult-related activities ranging from Black Axe to Vikings, Aiye, among others. So, in a situation where you have a large number of Nigerians in prison over there in Italy because of the above reason, what can you say? That is not to say that those in Ethiopia are guilty too. Many of them could be innocent.
“That we all are encouraging migration does not mean that you will go to somebody’s country and begin to commit atrocities and crimes.
“Even though you cannot rule out the fact that there are some people whose offense may not be that severe and needs to be looked into, a lot of Nigerians are committing atrocities in other countries.
“And a lot of countries too, do not joke with issues of undocumented migrants; it is a crime against the state. When you come into a country without proper documentation or when you are smuggled into a country without any document, most countries do not joke with that at all.
“So, what is happening is that Ethiopia and most of the Arab countries do not have laws that favor migrants. So, once you commit any little offense as a migrant, you can face the consequences in a very severe way and that is what is happening in Ethiopia now.
“Most Nigerians commit one or two offenses there and they face it severely. And some of them do not equally have documents,” he told DAILY POST.
Osemene, who is also the National Secretary and Head of Programmes, at the Network Against Child Trafficking, Abuse and Labour in Nigeria, lamented that another problem is that most Nigerians assume the identity of other countries’ national just to get into a particular country, and only reveal their true identity when they run into problems.
He said: “There is also the issue of most Nigerians not entering Ethiopia as Nigerians. They claim to be citizens of other countries. Some claim that they are from Ghana; others say they are from Mauritania and other countries like that.
“But, when there is a problem, they will start saying that they are Nigerians. So, we will continue to create awareness among Nigerians because there is a lot of deception, and they always fall into problems.”
On what the government should do, Osemene said: “Well, I know that the Nigerian government has some level of relationship with all these countries.
“In the areas where they have bilateral agreements with Ethiopia and treaties they have signed, they should activate it, look into it and see how they can help. The government can use a treaty or bilateral agreement so that those whose crimes are severe can come back to Nigeria to serve their prison terms.
“And for those with minor offenses, Nigeria should wade into their cases so that they should be pardoned, and they can come back to the country because what they are facing there is too much.
“In other words, I am suggesting prison swaps if Ethiopia has that kind of arrangement with Nigeria. And if they have their persons also in Nigeria prison, yes, there can be a prison swap.
“For those whose offenses are ordinary migration or migration-related offenses, they should be set free because migration is not a crime. Migration, whether regular or irregular, is the right of everybody; the law protects every migrant as long as the person did not commit any other offense.”
Also contributing, a former lawmaker in the Katsina State House of Assembly, Shehu Yusuf told DAILY POST that “any Nigerian who commits crime outside Nigeria should know that there are various laws guiding our country and other countries.”
“We are not supporting Nigerians who commit crimes outside the shores of Nigeria but at the same time, there are rules and regulations guiding a convict.
“There are fundamental human rights that are supposed to be adhered to in whatever country that a Nigerian is convicted.
“It is good that this is happening. The Nigerian embassy in Ethiopia should look into the matter and find out the real problem.
“It is not that Nigeria is supporting those who commit crimes in other countries, but where those people are innocent of any crime, the government should intervene and see how they can be saved, using all available diplomatic channels. I advise that caution should be the watchword,” he said.
Credit: Daily Post