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BusinessDay 08 Apr 2018

16 BDSUNDAY

16 BDSUNDAY Investigation C002D5556 Sunday 08 April 2018 Libya returnees in Edo want to go back Continues from Page 1 I arrived at the gate of Benin Motel Plaza where the returnees were lodged on Monday, March 26, 2018. It was about 8am. Located in the Government Reservation Area (GRA) of Benin City, the Edo State capital, the plaza is less than 20 minutes’ drive from the Government House and the palace of the Oba, the paramount ruler of the Benin Kingdom. Adjacent the hotel entrance, I saw a young man who sells recharge cards. Just a stone throw away is the Nigerian Union Journalists’ (NUJ) Building, otherwise called the press centre, and further down across the road is Central Hospital, Benin City. I was told that upon arrival in Lagos from Libya, the returnees were handed a phone and an Airtel line. I decided to sit by the recharge card vendor and wait for one to come along. Not long after, a young man who could be in his late 20s walked out of the motel to where I was, bought Airtel recharge card and was about leaving when I approached him and asked if he was one of the returnees. ‘‘Don’t go now,’’ he replied. ‘‘The road is not clear. You have to wait till July, rescue no dey for sea now.’’ Obviously, he had thought I wanted to embark on the deathly desert journey to Libya, so he volunteered to warn me to tarry awhile. I told him I had come to get information about my sister who travelled to Libya two years ago because we have not heard from her in a while. ‘‘You are not the only one. Many people come here looking for their family members. One woman came on Friday (March 23, 2018) when we arrived in Benin to check if his son came back. We could not tell her that her son was dead,’’ he said. He asked for my sister’s name and I gave him some vague name but he said he never met her. I asked if I could accompany him into the motel to ask the other returnees if they had any information about my sister and he allowed me. As we walked into the motel, the young man, who introduced himself as Moses, said people usually came around to ask them (returnees) for contacts and how to get to Libya via land, but he always told them that this was not the best time to travel. Like him, most of the other returners who spoke to me gave only their first names. Inside the motel, I met other returnees and we got acquainted. They told me that many Nigerians were holed in the deportation camp, an underground prison in Libya. They asked me to be hopeful of my sister’s return since the United Nations was still repatriating Nigerians to the country. “I heard more people (returnees) are coming this week,” said Uche, a fair-complexioned lady in her mid-30s, who journeyed to Libya with her husband last year but was deported alone. “Your sister might be among them if she has not got to her destination by now. I pray my husband is safe. I don’t know if he has crossed over to Italy or still in the prison,” Uche said. Forceful eviction When it was dark, I took my leave with a promise to come back the next day. I did, but when I was about leaving, a young man called Nathaniel, an official of the state task force against human trafficking and illegal migration, came and announced to those outside that they should vacate the hotel premises as they were expecting a new batch of returnees. The returnees pleaded that the motel, which I was told has over 100 rooms, could contain more than two batches of returnees since they were between two to five in a room. But when they saw that their pleas could not get them an extended stay at the motel, they resorted to threats. “Go where? Where do you want us to go?” said a male returnee. “We are not going anywhere.” ‘‘Our Nigerian boys were ‘hot’ in Libya to the extent that they burst the prison. My heart dey my back now, I can even carry gun go rob bank,” said one named Joyce. Joyce’s younger sister, Esther, paved way for her (Joyce) to go over to Libya. While Esther spent two years out of her five years in Libya in an underground prison, Joyce spent a year out of her three years in the prison. Libya Returnees arriving at Motel Benin Plaza The ladies told me that the failure of the Edo State government to live up to its promises was pushing many of the returnees into prostitution. The state government had pledged to place the returnees on N20,000 monthly stipend for three months, train them on various skills and sponsor those interested in pursuing higher education. But all these appear to have remained a pipedream. “I know four young girls who returned from Libya the same time I did that have become prostitutes, and they are not hiding it because it’s condition that kept them that way. How do you expect them to survive? Where is the work or the money to start business after wasting so much in Libya,” Peace asked. Although none of them openly admitted to have taken to prostitution, I observed that some of the female returnees at the motel always went out at night and returned in the morning, then slept till about noon. As the returnees barked and said they were not moving an inch, Mercy Christian, a Computer Science graduate from the Lagos State Polytechnic who spent three years in Libya, was full of regrets. “If I had known I would have not come down to Benin. I’m from Lagos State, but when we got to Lagos and it was announced that the Edo State government had prepared a special package for its indigenes, I decided to follow to tag along with them,” she said. Mercy said those that ignored the call to go to Benin to receive what the government had for them and went straight to Prophet TB Joshua’s Synagogue of All Nations in the Ikotun area of Lagos, were given N50,000 each while those that luck smiled on got N100,000. Mercy, who told me she spent three years paying back her sponsor but that luck ran out of her when she tried to cross over to Italy, vowed to go back to Lagos the next day to warn the next batch of returnees not to come to Benin. “I will tell them to go straight to TB Joshua’s church because if they come here (Benin), they will not get anything,” Mercy said. “Some people that came down to Benin with me went to see TB Joshua on Sunday (March 25, 2018) and he gave them N30,000 each. If not for IOM that gave us 100 euros (N43,100), we would not have any money on us because we came back empty,” she said. Arrival of a new batch Before noon on March 28, all the returnees had vacated the motel and at about 6pm on Thursday, March 29, another batch of returnees arrived. The female task force official who had accompanied them to Benin from Lagos complained that the returnees gave them a tough time. According to her, they had already booked five 18-seater buses to convey over 70 returnees to Benin from Lagos, only for more than half of the returnees to run off to see TB Joshua. “We really suffered,” the official said. “We had to beg them, including the ones carrying babies, to enter the bus.” It’s either that Mercy fulfilled her vow to tell the returnees that nothing good awaited them in Benin or word had gone round that there was nothing special about the package the state government had for the returnees. Immediately the returnees alighted from the bus, they filed inside the Moat conference hall of the plaza, where officials of the state task force against human trafficking and illegal migration received them. They were fed, profiled and underwent medical examinations after which they were instructed to vacate the plaza before noon on Saturday, March 31. Around 7pm on Friday, March 30, some of the returnees who had gone to see TB Joshua the day before arrived at the motel but were told they could not eat their cake and have it. Although they lied that they had gone to TB Joshua’s church to testify to the Lord’s goodness in sparing their lives, unknown to them, their fellow returnees had sold them out. “Since we did not profile you, we cannot allow you inside,” one of the

Sunday 08 April 2018 BDSUNDAY 17 C002D5556 Investigation Libya returnees leaving Motel Benin Plaza task force officials who met them at the gate said. “You can use part of the N30,000 TB Joshua gave you to rent an accommodation for the night because we cannot allow you in.” Those that were smart by half sneaked in to stay with their friends but were fished out and sent out of the motel that night. Most of the returnees called family and friends, and by Friday, they had checked out of the hotel while those who had no place to go hung around till midday on Saturday. “I am frustrated. What bothers me most now is that we (my husband and I) don’t even have where to lay our head,” said Edna Godwin, a mother of three who left her three children in the company of her mother to join her husband in Libya so they could cross over to Europe. “In Lagos, they told all Edo State indigenes that our governor has a package for us. Many people went to see TB Joshua but we decided to come and answer our governor. The task force officials asked us some questions, registered us, then gave us accommodation and food but TB Joshua blessed those that went to see him with N30,000 and a bag of rice,” she said. ‘‘The officials gave us a flier on Thursday (March 29) and told us to reach them through the numbers on the flier. We have been calling those numbers for two days now but it’s not even connecting.” Seeking succour in God’s house Some of the returnees who heard that TB Joshua doled out money in Lagos left the motel on Saturday, travelled to Warri, Delta State and lodged in a hotel located a walking distance from Pastor Jeremiah Omoto Fufeyin’s Christ Mercyland Deliverance Ministry so they could make it to church before 6am for the first service. They told me they were going to solicit for funds to kick-start their lives but they didn’t succeed. One of the returnees that gave his name as Phillip said he even tried to give testimony that day in order to attract attention and probably get some assistance but the ushers beat him to it. “When we told them that we wanted to see Pastor Jeremiah, they said he was busy. We only saw him on the pulpit preaching and that was all but at the end, I was blessed by the service,” he said in a phone chat as he journeyed back to Benin. Desmond, another returnee from the March 22, 2018 batch, said he went in the company of some of his fellow returnees to see Apostle Johnson Suleiman of Omega Fire Ministry, Auchi, in Edo State, but they were prevented from seeing him. “They even started fighting us and chasing us away. We told them we did not come to fight but to tell them how God had saved us from Libya and they said we should leave the premises,” Desmond said. “I have almost exhausted the 100 euros I was given by IOM. I don’t know what to do now. I’m so frustrated,” he said. Gloomy tales of torture and death They went on to tell me how they were tortured and starved in Libya and had to drink urine and contaminated water in the desert. Loveth “Some people were begging others to urinate so they could drink. It was that bad,” said Peace, one of the returnees. “I even drank water that had corpse in it while others drank from the same place where all kinds of animals drank.” Loveth Victor, 19, hairstylist whose mother abandoned with her grandmother when she was two months old, said she was tricked into going to Libya. “The man that took me to Libya, Mr. Biggie, told me that hairdressing is a lucrative business in Libya and that before four months, I could make a lot of money. I got to know him through a close friend of mine who is a caterer,” she said. She said her friend told her that Mr. Biggie had asked if she knew any hairstylist who was interested in making huge money in Libya. “Initially I was not interested in going but when business became very poor and I could stay a month without patronage, my friend asked if that was how I intended to survive. She said she had seen a better connection through who we could leave the country. She said since we had no intention of crossing over to Italy or Europe, we could return to Nigeria when we make our money and I agreed,” she narrated. Loveth left Nigeria in June 2017 but was raped many times by Nigeriens in Agadez before she got to Libya in October. When she eventually got to Libya, she did not get what she bargained for. “Mr. Biggie linked me to a Yoruba woman in Libya whom he said owned a salon and the woman said we would split any money I made from hairdressing. We spent so much time in Agadez because our car did not come early. “I spent one week in the woman’s house in Libya and fixed hair for two customers. One of the customers gave me 50 dinars (N5,000) while the other gave me 20 dinars (N2,000). The following week, the woman told me someone was coming to take me to the salon to begin work. It was when I got to the supposed salon that I realized that the lady had sold me to prostitution,” she told me. Loveth insisted on speaking to the Yoruba woman and when she did, she told her that was not their agreement, but the woman told her to cooperate with those people else they would kill her. “In front of me, they used the back of gun on the head of one of the girls who refused to accompany a male customer home. The girl collapsed and we later heard she was dead. “They took me for test and discovered that I was pregnant. So, they scheduled me for abortion but I heard some girls were planning to escape and I joined them in the midnight to escape, though I broke a leg in the process of jumping. With the help of one of the girls because of my pregnancy, I got a job of cleaning the house of an Arabian, but I couldn’t send the money I made to my grandmother. So, someone suggested I use the 3,000 dinars (N300,000) I had to cross over to Italy. I was on the Blue Sea when we were captured and sent straight to deportation camp,” she said. Loveth stayed in the prison till her pregnancy was due and, against her pleas to be allowed to wait for labour so she could have a normal delivery, she was taken to the theatre for surgery. After delivery on March 7, 2018, she was given the option to either remain in Libya or go back to Nigeria. She chose the latter. “I was sold thrice in Libya and on those occasions, they filmed where they were torturing me and sent the video to my grandma. I don’t know where the poor woman borrowed N550,000 to pay them those times. I felt bad for putting her through a lot because she is the only parent I have known since I was little. She hawked to train me from kindergarten to secondary school. My travelling to Libya was so I could take care of her and I couldn’t even achieve that,” she said in regret. Elizabeth Sunday, a 29-year old tailor from Enugu State who had lived in Benin for eight years, left for Libya in July 2017. Elizabeth, the first child in a family of seven children, said she decided to travel when life became too tough for her. “It was too hard for me to eat and there was no one to assist me. My parents are in my village and they are very poor. I have younger ones who are looking up to me,” she said. So, when a lady she learnt tailoring with told her about a woman who would take them to Germany and they would reimburse her later, she jumped at the offer. “When I spoke to the woman on phone, she promised to take me to Germany on the condition that I would pay her N10 million. I said that was too much but she told me that it won’t take me time to make the money once I start working. She said tailoring was a money-spinner and the way she spoke with me on the phone, I believed her,” she said. The woman told her she would put her on boat to Germany after her friend had crossed over but when a fight ensued, she was abandoned. Elizabeth said she was raped twice and later discovered that she was pregnant. “I was raped in Agadez and when they were taking us from Sabha to camp, I experienced another rape,” she sobbed. “I got to know that I was pregnant in the camp and tried to take drugs to remove it, but it refused to go. So, I left it,” she told me. She called her colleague and told her that the woman abandoned her and she was stranded. She sent her N80,000 and with that, she begged to be put on the boat. She was on the Blue Sea when she was rescued by the Libyan rescue team and taken to prison. “They came to check me in the prison and ask how old my pregnancy was and I said eight months and one week. They took me to the hospital and where I was until my baby completed nine months. They did not wait for me to go into labour. They took me upstairs for surgery. I begged them to allow me deliver vaginally but they said they could not wait. So, a caesarian operation was done on me. I told them I wanted to go back to Nigeria and I was brought home a week later,” she said. Elizabeth does not know what to do now or where to begin but she said she is not ready to tell her parents that she came home with a child because that would break their hearts. “I did not tell my parents before going to Libya. I only called them when I was on my way and they were not happy I left without telling them. My mother said even if they had nothing to give me, they could still pray for me to arrive at my destination in sound health. I don’t know where I am going to stay but because of the child, I won’t go to the village now,” she said. George, another returnee, was denied American and Canadian visa but when one of his elder brothers who had travelled via Libya to Germany persuaded him to follow the same route, he decided to give it a try. “He told me to try land. Three of my elder brothers travelled through that route and they are in Germany now. So, I left Nigeria on November 3, 2017 for Libya. “When we were on top of the sea Continues on page 18

IT Focus Mar-Apr 2018