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Humiliated abroad, rejected at home: Pathetic, painful world of Nigeria’s deportees

deporteesSeated on a fragile-looking plastic chair, metres away from where a handful young men treated themselves to cold bottles of beer and spicy, peppered meat enticingly heaped on a ceramic plate, LA, as he is fondly known around his Shitta, Surulere,  neighbourhood, a sprawling suburb in the heart of Lagos, was completely cut off from the realities around him that sunny Tuesday afternoon. Decked in a long-sleeved khaki shirt, a pair of black chino trousers dotted with cream coloured butterfly design and a brown suede boot to complement – about the best in his wardrobe at the moment – the compelling aroma of the delicacy and the tempting sight of chilled liquor yards away was not enough to arrest his attention – he was deeply lost in thought. At 53, life has dealt the Kwara State-born several deadly blows, inflicting on him, sharp, excruciating wounds in the process.

The fifth of 14 children born under the roof of a polygamist, Sadiq Ibrahim, as he is originally known, had huge dreams while growing up as a little boy on the streets of Shitta, one of Surulere’s most popular neighbourhoods notorious for illicit drugs and a combination of small and monumental crimes. It is an environment where dreams are nurtured and or extinguished in equal manner. But Ibrahim, by virtue of his humble background and the hardship he had faced growing up, was desperate to stand tall. He wanted to be a civil engineer – after an uncle he had seen pluck fortunes from the vocation. For several years after secondary school, he horned his skills taking up different positions at construction sites in preparation for a big future in the industry.

However, in the early 1980s, the search for greener pastures took him to Germany where he stayed for a while before crossing over to London, United Kingdom around 1989. Two unfruitful years in the Queen’s land meant the Kwara native had to return to Nigeria in 1993 to refuel his energy. In 1999, after years of patching up, Ibrahim finally found his way to Los Angeles, California, one of the largest cities in the United States. Over the next five years, the city, from where he got his now famous moniker – LA – would be his home. It was dreams gradually coming true for a struggling young man battered by years of hardship occasioned by deprivation. Everything was going on smoothly until one day in July 2006 when suddenly things came crashing.

“I was at a friend’s apartment in New York one afternoon when suddenly I heard a knock on the door,” Ibrahim recalled with nostalgia as he shared his touching story with our correspondent who traced him to the small drinking joint in Surulere earlier in the week. “Two police officers had come to pick and hand me over to the immigration because according to them, I was not permitted under the law to visit any other state yet aside from California where I lived. I had left Los Angeles two days earlier after some guys who racially abused and molested me threatened to kill me. Before I knew what was happening, I was already in a detention centre,” he said.

With no prior record of any wrong doing in his time in the country, Ibrahim, through a lawyer, had hoped to secure a fair hearing before a panel that looks into such matters. Having paid taxes while working for a number of reputable firms in the city like the Bank of America, Wells Fargo and telecommunications giant – AT&T, his expectations of coming out of the case unscathed were well-founded. But in a twinkle of an eye, every such hope fizzled into thin air, halting a promising journey just before it had fully throttled off.

“I was bundled into the next available flight to Nigeria after my appeal failed,” he said, looking forlorn. “I wasn’t even given the opportunity to take any of my things with me. My Hummer H2 SUV, my cash at home and in the bank, my clothes, shoes, electronics, gadgets, everything I ever worked for in the US, I lost it all. I was thrown into the plane like a common criminal. I never believed such a day could come where I would be so humiliated. In fact, I was going to be chained in the plane but was lucky the security officers that watched over me were lenient. Before I knew what was happening, we were already in Lagos.

“Apart from the clothes I was putting on, I had only $5 by the time I arrived in Lagos. It was a sad reality from where I was coming from, a place where I had worked tirelessly for five years and had amassed something reasonable. I felt a sharp pain pierce through my heart the moment we arrived at the airport. Even though, I appreciated the fact that I made it back alive to my fatherland, it wasn’t something I looked forward to because I was in a much better environment over there.

“Back in the US, I had a fiancée who was American. We were together for about three years. But after the whole problem, I lost contact with her. She was pregnant for me at the time I was deported. I have not been able to reach her for 10 years now since I was sent back home,” he said.

While the loss of everything he had ever worked for in the US presented a big hurdle for Ibrahim as he struggled to grapple with life in his new environment, finding warm shoulders to rest his troubled head upon also proved a major challenge. Even on the home front, such luxury wasn’t forthcoming.

“My family members felt I had brought added burden upon them when I should be helping them with their needs,” the heartbroken man cut in emotionally. “I had nowhere to go apart from my parents’ home on my return. In fact, I was lucky because a lot of deportees like me struggle on return to Nigeria after finding it very hard to get accommodation. A lot of such people can’t return to their families because they are expected to bring good things back from abroad, so they are simply rejected by these same people for coming with nothing. If not that I am fortunate to come from a fair background, by now I don’t know what my life could have become,” he said.

Well past his active years at 53, Ibrahim has been surviving by engaging in little running around and occasional handouts from close childhood friends who against odds have managed to lend a helping hand in the best ways they can. Last year, some of them pooled resources together to acquire a tricycle for him to use for commercial transportation. But not fully fit for the rigours of the job, he decided to hire a driver to work with it and make weekly returns to him. Sadly, few months into that arrangement, things took a turn for the worse.

“I gave the tricycle to somebody to ride and make weekly remittances to me but in under a few weeks, the guy destroyed it through carelessness,” he revealed with a firm voice brimming with rage. “It has been parked for about five months now and I have lost nothing less than N300, 000 as a result. It has brought added sufferings upon me.

“When I look at all these things, a lot of times I cry my heart out without anybody around to console me. The thought of everything I have been through and everything I have lost as a result of this sad experience breaks my heart anytime I think about it. People provoke and taunt me a lot, but what can I do, how many of them will I fight? It has taken a lot of patience and God’s grace for me to keep my cool.

“At 53 I don’t have a wife or child and don’t even know if that will ever happen even though there is pressure on me to marry. Every day, wherever I turn to, directly or indirectly, I am reminded through the actions of people towards me of the calamity that has befallen me. I am reminded of the rough lane I have passed. As a result of this, I have learnt to move closer to God but the scar inflicted by this nightmare just won’t go away,” he said, before giving in to his emotions. For almost five minutes, tears freely streamed down his cheeks. It was the sight of a heartbroken man letting out his feelings.

Battered and exposed to a new world of uncertainties as the struggle for survival hots up by the day, Ibrahim is not alone on this bumpy and thorn-filled lane. Dozens others, served similar nasty portion along this route, have lived with the pains and scars ever since.

Tobi Aladelola, 54, has survived the last few years purely through God’s mercies. Full of promises in his younger days, he journeyed to Italy in the mid 1980s in search of lush, sparkling pastures. A native of Sagamu, Ogun State, he wanted more from life than just the bit it threw at his doorstep. The migration to the European country represented not just a quantum leap, but a significant shift towards the realisation of the good life. For 10 solid years, Aladelola worked tirelessly to build his desired future. Attending and earning an advanced qualification in management from a polytechnic in Italy, he worked for several firms, piling up some decent savings and acquiring several personal belongings in the process. It was the type of life he had dreamt of. But the smooth sailing ended one evening. He suffers from the consequences several years after.

“I was picked up one night in front of a club and was sent straight into a plane for deportation without being allowed to take anything,” he told our correspondent at a church in Ikorodu area of Lagos where he has been putting up since his arrival in the country. “Though, I didn’t have a house of my own, I had gathered some fortune from years of working in that country,” he continued. “Even though my documents were not yet complete, I managed to study a management course and graduated from a polytechnic along the line while over there. But just when I was beginning to enjoy the fruit of my labour, they threw me back home with nothing,” he said, disappointment, sadness clearly visible in his voice.

Even with the humiliation of deportation, Aladelola’s problems were only beginning. First betrayed by a friend and then rejected by family members against all expectations, things became increasingly difficult for the 54-year-old. His time back home in Nigeria has been a mixture of frustration and fast-fading hope.

“Few days after I arrived in Nigeria, I called a friend of mine in Italy who was owing me some money for him to take pity on me and send the cash. But to my surprise, he told me that he couldn’t send anything and that if I wanted my money, I should come and collect it in Italy, something he knew was impossible for me to do at the time. His attitude has left me in shock ever since. I feel betrayed by him.

“Things have been very difficult for me since I returned. In fact, out of the shame, I had to move into a church owned by a friend’s mother because I could not go back home to my family members who were not even willing to accept me. They told me that since I didn’t bring anything from my sojourn abroad, I shouldn’t come to them, that there was no place for me in the house.

“I have tried to look for a job everywhere and was even close to clinching a job as a security man but because of age, I was knocked out. The lady who recently fell in love with me and had twins for me couldn’t live in the church with me; she stays with her parents in Ojota. I have no means with which to take care of them, I have been practically living through begging,” he said, collapsing his jaw into his right palm while nodding his head dejectedly. It will take a long time before his injuries fully heal.

Like Ibrahim and Aladelola, Festus Anioma, 62, has had his own fair share of ill treatment from persons who should in fact help him settle properly into the Nigerian society since being deported from his adopted country, Belgium, in 2012 after more than 30 years in the European nation. A successful car dealer, Anioma was doing very well for himself and so had no reason to worry about any uncertainty. He was practically swimming and sleeping in money. But one fateful night, luck ran out on him. Four years down the line, his once robust and puffy cheeks have given way to a potpourri of bones covered only by few slices of flesh. He is a fading shadow of his old, vibrant self.

“I touched down at the airport in Lagos with only a polythene bag containing one shirt apart from the cloth I was putting on,” the 62-year-old said, regret written all over his face. “A friend whom I had a little misunderstanding with hinted the immigration that my papers were not complete and before I knew what was happening, I was already in Lagos. I was bundled from a bar and straight into the plane. There wasn’t even any opportunity to carry anything or even call anybody. It was after we arrived in Lagos that I got the chance to make a call. But by that time, there was practically nothing I could do about my situation,” he said.

With nowhere to call a home or a friend to welcome him, Anioma was later accepted by his twin brother, Felix, and his family. He was given one room in the family’s three-bedroom apartment at Isolo, a Lagos town. Even though his sibling whose four children are all graduates tolerated his excesses and occasional ‘outrageous’ demands, his children who grew irritated overtime at the presence of their uncle, showed him their other side.

“After living with my twin and his family for some time, his children suddenly changed towards me,” the 62-year-old explained as he poured out his heart. “They said I was inconveniencing them and disturbing their peace in their father’s house. They said I shouldn’t expect any nice treatment from them because while I was abroad, I never cared about them. Several times they would scream at me and ask their father to remove me from the place.

“Out of frustration, I had to relocate to the village for some time because I couldn’t bear the insults anymore. While there, I tried using all the contacts I had to see how they could help me move back to Europe to start all over again but everything ended in disappointment. I am back at my sibling’s place in Isolo after some of our family members in the village became too hostile towards me. At least I can cope with Felix’s children’s insults, not the taunt of the village people. Only God can heal the pain I feel within my soul,” Anioma uttered solemnly as he reached for a glass of water at a restaurant the reporter caught up with him recently.

The three men’s ordeal – nasty and heartbreaking, is a gruelling reminder of the pains and agony many Nigerians deported from foreign lands, especially Europe and America, contend with each day on return back to the country. Apart from the humiliation they suffer at the hands of security agents and immigration officers in those places, the shabby treatment they receive from members of their families, friends and the society at large, compounds their misery and rubs salt into their already bleeding wounds.

Over the last five years, scores of Nigerians have been forcefully ejected from their adopted countries and thrown back home with nothing to fall back on.

Earlier this month, the European Union announced that it would deport migrants from Nigeria in exchange for economic aid to the country.

In recent months, more 25,000 Nigerians have migrated into Italy, one of the 28 countries in the EU, in search of a new life. According to statistics from the Italian interior ministry, the number of Nigerians arriving the country has shot up to 37 per cent this year, miles ahead of what it was this time 2015. Ejection of the country’s nationals have continued to grab headlines.

In March 2016 for example, about 172 Nigerians were deported from Libya after being held in various camps for weeks.

In December 2015, 28 of the nation’s citizens were deported from Italy, Switzerland and Belgium for not having valid immigration documents.

The previous month, at least 48 persons touched down at the Muritala Muhammed International Airport after they were sent packing from the United Kingdom which still plans to deport additional 29,000 Nigerians despite a public outcry.

In May 2011, a young Nigerian, Riliwanu Balogun, hanged himself at a Young Offender’s Institute in the UK a day after his 21st birthday because he didn’t want to be deported back home. He had moved to Europe when he was seven and feared what awaited him in the country if he was eventually sent back. A senior prison officer, Paul Mayfield, confirmed the reason behind the suicide during a hearing.

“He told me he had nothing to live for. He said ‘I’ll be deported back to Nigeria. I’ve got no-one back there. I’ll be living in the slums’,” he said.

In March 2010, a 29-year-old Nigerian embarked on hunger strike in Switzerland in an attempt to resist deportation. He died at the airport tarmac after his appeal for a fair hearing failed. This was after 180 Nigerians had been ejected from the European nation in 2012.

That same year, the US deported 33 Nigerians for various reasons while the Republic of Ireland sacked 46 persons.

A United Nations Refugee Agency Report in 2011 stated that about 10,500 Nigerians sought asylum in industrialised countries that year alone with many of them unwilling to return to their homeland because there is nothing for them to fall back on following government’s failure in catering for them upon their return.

Even though the Federal Government, through the National Agency for the Prohibition of Traffic in Persons and other related matters, pledged to look after deportees once they touch down in the country, an official of the agency told Saturday PUNCH that they were more concerned on victims of trafficking and not persons who travelled abroad on their own in search of greener pastures. As a result, many in this category are merely released into the streets with little or no form of social support. Others, less fortunate, are sent straight to Kirikiri prisons on arrival in the country where their misery is compounded.

Spokesperson for the Nigeria Immigration Service, Mr. Ekpedeme King, told Saturday PUNCH that after ascertaining which part of the country deportees originate from, each individual is now handed over to their respective state’s liason offices for further assistance.

But rather than help such persons settle properly into the society, the intervention of the liason offices does little or nothing to change their situation.

A human rights lawyer, Mr. Clement Udegbe, reacting to this disturbing phenomenon, called on government and the Nigerian society to treat her deportees more fairly.

According to him, failure to do so could lead to new and bigger problems for the country, thereby discouraging other Nigerians in the Diaspora from returning home.

“The condition of deportees is complicated by the lack of government’s plan towards restoring human dignity to them upon their arrival in the country.

“Deportation is a thing that is in every country, as nations have their right to eject unwanted individuals, but the absence of means of sifting the cases of prejudicial deportation from the rest, compounded by the lack of any known policy on how deportees must be handled upon arrival here, shows how this nation can abandon you at any time.

“The real pain and trauma lies in the subjection of these individuals to forced separation from their loved ones and life’s savings in such countries. It is an issue our society must quickly look into,” he said.

A social worker, Deji Adeleke, told Saturday PUNCH that a deportee needs a whole lot of things to overcome the first few and very important challenges thrown on their paths on arrival in Nigeria for them to be able to survive the harsh terrain.

He said merely releasing such persons to Non Governmental Agencies or other relevant bodies after touching down in the country was not the best way to help deportees overcome their pains.

“It is not appropriate to just fly these guys into the country and then release them into a society where many of them hardly have anybody or anywhere meaningful to go. The fact is that we need to open an emergency centre and take stock, state by state, as these guys arrive in our shores.

“Secondly, they need to be checked for any serious health issues and then their data collected for security, welfare and sundry purposes. Also, telecoms operators must be on ground to offer support by running a free call centre where these people can at least keep in touch with their families and relatives on arrival in the country.

“There is the need for a counselling centre where they would be reorientated with our societal values and made to understand that there is indeed no place like home. Children who are deported alongside their parents or guardians must be immediately taken care of and provided with everything that would make them escape the impact of the experience.

“Without doing these important things but just throwing deportees into the open society, would be like leaving them out in the winter with no coat to weather the storm,” he said.

Sociologist, Ayotunde Dalton, on his part argues that until factors driving people out of Nigeria are critically looked into, more of the country’s nationals deported from foreign lands would continue to face rejection from the society on return back home.

According to him, the rising level of hardship in the country coupled with vanishing opportunities for survival in the face of alarming unemployment statistics and infrastructural decay is part of reasons fuelling the ill treatment people like LA and Aladelola face in the society.

“There is the urgent need for all of us to ponder on the state of our nation and tame the monster that drives people away. The rate of unemployment is daily skyrocketing, insecurity is at its peak, the cost of living is intolerably expensive and corruption is the order of the day while basic social amenities and infrastructure continue to be out of the reach of the common man.

“So, anybody deported to such a society is most likely going to face a host of challenges, among them stigmatisation and humiliation. In some families, they could be seen as failures who had gone to waste their times abroad and so deserve no pity.

“But this is a wrong approach by the society that should help heal their wound. Deportees must be well integrated back into the society instead of being rejected and treated shabbily. They need a lot of care and love otherwise they could turn around to hurt us by taking to crimes out of desperation,” he said.

Psychologist, Buchi Anyamaele, says deportees who face rejection from their families after the humiliation faced abroad, could be driven gradually into a state of psychosis and begin to develop violent traits as a result.

According to him, such persons must be treated with care and utmost caution for them to maintain sanity as they struggle to find their feet.

“As far as I know, deportees are not just ordinary people; they are persons who must be treated with every caution. Having been forcefully ejected from their adopted countries where they are mostly made to leave behind everything they ever laboured for, the trauma they deal with is not ordinary. If care is not taken, such people could begin to exhibit funny traits and soon become violent as a result of the distress they have been thrown in.

“So, people like this must be properly managed by not just the government or members of their families but also by the society at large. They are dealing with a combination of social and psychological problems and must be assisted in the best ways possible,” he said.


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