• Never-ending savage tales by returnees
From PAUL OSUYI, Asaba
Their blue tee shirts hardly fit their bodies. Like scarecrows, their dresses hung loosely on frail shoulders, revealing emaciated bodies. Some of them were so weak they staggered while walking and needed to be supported despite their youthful ages.
Altogether, they cut a pathetic picture, badly in need of physical and psychological rehabilitation. While they thankful for their safe return home, the message was clear on the faces that wild horses cannot drag them back to the living hell they just survived.
This gathering inside the hall was Delta State’s contingent of 78 deportees from the North African country of Libya, being prepared by the government for a reunion with their relatives and their respective communities.
They all had bizarre tales to tell, stories of the barbaric treatment meted to them by Libyan security agents during their inglorious odyssey through the north African country en route Europe in search of greener pasture.
When you think you have heard an earful of Libya’s savagery, a new one is sprung upon you that leaves you speechless.
The experience of Okafor Abraham opens yet another stunning aperture to a dystopic Libya.
Abraham, a native of Umunede, has only a Senior Secondary School Certificate to his credit before he took off in his pursuit of greener pasture abroad via the deathly route of Libya.
His recount of his ordeal in the hands of Libyan tormentors included spending 12 months in six prisons in the North African country.
“I left Nigeria last year. I spent one year in Libya but I was free for just one month. I spent the remaining months behind bars, from one prison to the other, about six prisons. Each time we tried to escape, they re-arrested us. The last prison they took me to was where God intervened. About 240 persons died in that prison. Some died of bullets wounds. Some drowned in the sea. Without warning, gunmen would burst into the camp and start to shoot indiscriminately,” he narrated.
Abraham’s journey to Libya from Nigeria started from the northern city of Kano through Niger Republic. He followed guidelines provided by his friend in Germany.
Nigerian migrants arrived in Libya to find fellow Nigerians in charge of the waiting camp from where they expected to cross the Mediterranean Sea to Italy.
“When you arrive waiting to be crossed to Italy, you will be kept at the camp. If you have money, they will cross you but if you don’t have money, they will delay you there,” he said.
The Nigerian agents, he claimed, were not casualties when Arabs and Libyan security operatives unleash their terror on the migrants, “Being the agents, they know when the Arabs are coming, so they escaped, leaving the passengers at the mercy of the guns.”
He continued: “It was like a war zone, bullets flying everywhere. We ran but our feet could not carry us far, so they took us back to the prisons. I will not advise anybody to go through any route. It is very deadly. We lost many people in the desert, in the sea. It was not an easy journey.”
While thanking God for the Federal Government’s intervention, Abraham accused the Nigerian Ambassador to Libya for allegedly sabotaging their deportation process.
“The embassy man (I think he is Igbo) avoided us whenever he came around. Even when the UN and ION were deporting, instead of him taking us prisoners, he would go to the leaving house to take his own passengers,” he claimed.
Another returnee, Chukwuma Enemokwu left Nigeria with his uncle on May 3, 2017. Their quest for an el dorado ended in the hellholes of Libya. Till date, his uncle’s whereabouts remain unknown.
Reconstructing his tribulation, Enemokwu claimed Libyan army at the border horsewhipped them and young men dispossessed them of their monies and other belongings.
“It took us two weeks to get to Libya from Nigeria. From Libya’s border, I travelled to the riverside to wait for boats that will take us to Italy. I entered Libya on May 3, but I didn’t get to waterside until early June. Before I went to the waterside, I stayed with our burger (the travelling agent) for a month. At the waterside, we had to wait. During the period there was fight and killings everywhere. Sometimes, armed men would come shooting at us for no reason. Some of my friends died there. People from other countries were also killed. Sometimes, they kidnap us. This went on until the UN told the Italian government to close the border and evacuate all the blacks. That was when they took us into the prison on October 1 when mass deportation started.
“On October 11, they moved us from there to a UN camp in Sabratha, from there they handed us over to another camp called Gharyan, a caravan prison. We stayed there for five days before they moved us Tolmeita. They told us the place is close to an airport that we would be moved faster, but it was all lies; they were using the prisons to extort money from the blacks. They did sell blacks––Nigerians, Ghanaians, Gambians and Guineans––into slavery for free.
He gave a lucid account of the Libyan slavery: “You work for them for a long period of time in exchange for food. They give you food; nothing more, no money, they don’t pay. Sometimes they asked us to bail ourselves with 300,000 or 500,000.”
Surprisingly, Enemokwu’s burger (agent) whose territory is the route from Kano to Libya was a Ghanaian.
“I did not have any prior relationship with the travelling agent. He is not a Nigerian. He is Ghanaian. He is based in Libya. Someone gave me his number. With his connections, he gives you his number, directing you to one person or the other at each stopping point.”
He added: “I paid N250, 000 from Nigeria to Niger. In Libya, I paid N240, 000 from Gatron––a ghetto with lots of people, about a thousand people leaving in small enclosures––to the waterside.”
For many reasons, he would be haunted by his Libyan experience for years to come. He disclosed to Saturday Sun one of the reasons. “I went to Libya with one of my uncles but till date, I have not seen him, he is nowhere to be found. I only got the news that several persons died near the waterside but I don’t know if he is among. Whether he is dead or alive, I can’t tell now. I had no means of contact.”
The Delta State Government promised to absorb the Libya returnees into its wealth and job creation schemes of Skills Training and Entrepreneurship Programme (STEP) and Youth Agricultural and Entrepreneurship Programme (YAGEP).
According to Kingsley Emu, Commissioner for Economic Planning and chairman, steering committee on job creation, they would be properly profiled to ascertain their areas of interest before enrolling them in the scheme.
He underscored the importance of the exercise thus: “What has driven most of them to this condition is extreme greed rather than joblessness. The amount of money some of them expended in this trip is in excess of N1.5 million. For example, my youth leader that we saw there, the state government has spent over N2.5 million in him. He has been part of the YAGEP and other support programmes ever, then it was YETA, and they gave him a poultry cage. It will be too much of hurry and [could] lead to a big challenge if we just jump into assigning them to various skills without profiling them. It is going to be methodical, and we get to all of them who are willing to be engaged.
He reiterated: “We must exhaust the process of profiling them and ascertaining what they are interested in,” he reiterated.
Senior Special Assistant to Governor Okowa on International Relations, Genevieve Mordi, told journalists the journey to bring the returnees back home started over a year ago when the Federal Government sent a high-powered delegation led by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyema to Libya. The team according to her returned on Saturday, January 6, 2018, when she was contacted by the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP).
The hard lessons of Libya
Odiase, a youth leader in Ika North East Local Government Area of the state, had benefitted to the tune of N2.5m from the state government job creation scheme since 2015. Bitten by the Libya bug, he allegedly sold the empowerment packages and jumped on the bandwagon to embark on the suicidal journey through the illegal, dangerous route to foreign land.
He admitted to Saturday Sun he spent N700, 000 on the botched trip to Europe.
“Along the line, things didn’t go the way I planned them. A lot of things happened, many died in the sea, many died in the desert. The Arabs used guns to kill many of our people. They treated us like animals. Many are still in prison there. We are praying that God should assist the government to bring those people remaining back because they are suffering.”
Odiase came back with a lesson. “I travelled to Libya last year and I learnt a lot of lessons. Nigeria is a great country where you have freedom. In Libya, there is no freedom. This is my advice to all the youths: anything about Libya, stay away from it. Libya is not a country. Our intention was to travel across the country, but we ended up illegal immigrants.”
Similarly, Abraham cautioned other foreign travel-desperadoes. “I will not advise even my greatest enemy to embark on such journey. It is suicidal.”
Although his motive for the trip was the quest for a greener pasture, he is now ready to do anything to earn an honest living in Nigeria.
“Now that I am back, I can fry Akara to make money. Whatever one is doing, little by little, he will make it. I love catering. I can fry Akara in as much it is putting food on my table,” Abraham said.