Tales from Libya, where wages of illegal entry, dark skin is death
Another aircraft-load of Nigerians returned from Libya last Tuesday with stories that welled up tears from the eyes of many. WOLE OYEBADE reports.
Chinedu Kalu was still in shocks. Fatigue pumped through his veins even as his mind was on the alert, probably working overtime too. He was conscious of every move around him; more like a throwback of his last days in Libya. All repeatedly played in his head- the bullet that ripped open his roommate’s skull before his eyes and the inferno that consumed everything he worked for in three years.
Seated on the long metal bench at the Hajj Camp section of the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA), Lagos, Chinedu could only look on with seeming lack of interest.
Even as his fellow deportees clawed as the packed jollof rice, plantain and chicken to douse their famished soul, he watched in misery. Nothing was appealing. All was lost and the future clouded in uncertainty, if not hopelessness.
Kalu, from Abia State, in his mid-20s, lived in Jamahiriya, a Libyan village that has become ‘the land of blood’ after the Arab spring that consumed the former Libyan leader, Muammar Gaddafi.
It is a place where ammunitions are freely acquired and freely used too. The city earned a reputation, called Allagari (if you die, you die).
“It is one of the toughest places in Libya,” he said, having the highest concentration of foreigners that frequently come under siege. “Sometimes for two days, there will be face-to-face shootings on the streets. Nobody can go out for business or anything.”
It was, therefore, really tough in Libya, to say the least. In three years of sojourn in Libya, Kalu had become a trusted businessman with his master’s boutiques and phone accessory shops under his care.
He recalled that last month, the entire village was sandwiched in bloody clash between the two political gangs, with an anti-Gaddafi camp (Mitiga) that is also anti-blacks, launching a violent attack on the black community.
The Mitiga (also called Dash) wanted to rule Libya by force. “They not only hate us, the blacks, they are also jealous of their fellow Libyans that accept us, because we pay huge sums for house rent.
“A month rent is like 350 Dinars (over N40, 000). Every time they see you at a checkpoint, they will catch you and you have to bail yourself with the sum of 1000 dinars (N100, 000).
“They are angry with us having a place where we (blacks) can do our own business. On January 7, they launched an attack and killed 64 persons, including 50 Nigerians, six Ghanaians and six Libyans.
“They told us they will come again next Jumah, January 14. Me, because I was having nothing less than 50, 000 dinars (N5million) belonging to my master (a Nigerian) and my neighbour was having close to N90million in the house, we just had to stay.
“The issue is that there is no bank; Western Union is not working. All have been destroyed by war. So, we only do hand-to-hand transfers. “That day, all of us were at home waiting for them to come, because we had nowhere to run to with our monies. We waited, but they did not come.
“But around 5:30pm, they launched an attack. Mine is a two-storey with many flats. They climbed up and broke down the iron doors. My friend was trying to escape and they shot him in the head. He died instantly. I wanted to escape too, but just stayed put when I saw the shot.
“Their oga, via the Thuraya, told them in Arabic to kill all. I mellowed down. They arrested over 35 persons and burned down the whole build, with all N95 million-plus in it. Everything!
“They arrested all of us. Early morning, they surrounded the whole village with armoured cars. They caught nothing less 2,000 Nigerians. They killed many too.
“When their fellow citizens would come out to fight them, it was too late. They captured everybody and took us to prison. “On the spot, they started writing reports that they took us from the sea. I told them that I am more than the sea, because I do business and every month, I see nothing less than N1.5million worth.
“It is winter nowadays and all of us were waiting for cold to finish and in summer time, we start our business. Everybody stored Dinar in the house, but they burnt all.
“At the prison, they were calling United Nations (UN) to lie against us. We told the UN officials that they did not catch us on the sea. I brought out my passport and all documents that I have, but they tore them.
“They killed many, including many pregnant women. There is no telling how people that died. I still thank God I didn’t die,” Kalu said. No fewer than 1,000 Nigerians have either been deported or voluntarily brought back in about seven evacuation editions in the last 14 months, with the assistance of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).
It was learnt that 10, 000 are still stranded in Libya, with many held in slavery and detention camps. According to Kalu, fortunes of Nigerians either resident or stranded in Libya changed when Gaddafi, who saw blacks as brothers and accommodated all-comers, irrespective of nationality, was killed.
The current political landscape, though largely divided, faces major challenges in disarming and demobilising militias, improving the rule of law and reforming the state-dominated economy, with the cost of living about 51.74 per cent higher than in Nigeria.
Kalu was quite uncertain of what lies ahead, moving on. “Now, I’m back and rendered a poor man. I was enjoying in Libya, but that is life for you. “I just need to go and see my people. You know that as a young boy travelling, you have to circulate (giveaway) everything you have, because all your mind is in the journey.”
On possible plan to return to Libya, Kalu said he has no future there because “once you have an incident or a problem, you need to learn from it. “I don’t see my dream there anymore. All I made in three years are gone. I had been in prison many times, spending nothing less than one year in prison (in total), just because I am a black man. I have bailed myself with nothing less than N750, 000 and I came out now to pay my debt.
“It is unfortunate that those people in Libya don’t need your money. If you give them N100 million, which is N1million Dinars, they will burn it before you. They only need the Sharia law.
“The only blacks they like are those that can work for them to betray their own brothers. We Nigerians can’t do that; it is against the law of life,” he said philosophically.
Another returnee, Bisola, had similar tales to share. Shortly after arrival and courtesy of a borrowed phone, Bisola immediately called the telephone line of her mother, residing somewhere in Igando, Lagos.
Joy erupted on the other end on hearing that their overseas-based daughter had just landed in Lagos. The conversation, however, ended in tears to the caller.
Unknown to her waiting family in Igando, Bisola was coming home with nothing, besides her life, which she managed to rescue from Libyan war-zone. “I have been in Libya for two and a half years, working as a house girl. I got good money (about N90, 000 a month pay). I was due to come back to Nigeria this month end when I was arrested. I have nothing now,” she managed to say amidst sob.
The narrative was slightly different from others, like Gift Peters. Gift, also in her 20s, also wept freely, having been deceived into embarking on what she called “a dangerous journey to Libya.”
She said: “A man in Benin City, Edo State, said he was going to take me to Germany, but I ended up in Libya. When I got to Libya, I asked him to take me back to Nigeria, but he sold me into slavery.
“When they arrested me and others, they beat and molested us every day, telling us to die. They did all manner of things. They will tell us to exchange our urine and drink,” her voice trailing as she wept in agony.
“The suffering was just much. I beg the Nigerian government to go and rescue over 400 stranded Nigerians in that country. I saw my friends and the way they were killed,” she added.
Damola Oriade said her sister, based in Germany, engaged a man to assist her come over to Europe. But instead of taking her to Germany, she ended up in Libya, where she suffered terribly.
She gave a chilly account of how Nigerians are being killed in Libya, saying she was happy to be back home. Another of the returnees, Bridget Akeama, from Anambra State, said her parents decided to send her to Italy when all hope of securing a job after school proved abortive.
Akeama, who said she left Nigeria in August last year, returned with four months pregnancy. The country’s immigration officials arrested her while trying to cross to Italy from Libya.
Akeama said: “Ever since then, I have been moved from one prison to another until I was taken to detention camp in Tripoli. “We were subjected to all sorts of inhuman treatment while in prison, from the food we eat to the water we drink. Libyan officials raped most of the young ladies in detention camp and if you refused their advances, it will be hell for you.
“Thank God I am back in Nigeria. I know all hope is not lost. But it is painful that I will begin from scratch again with my unborn child.” Stanley Iduh, 34, from Delta State, said he was tricked by an agent, popularly known as Burger, who promised to facilitate his journey to Spain through Libya.
He said when his hope of crossing into Spain was dashed in Libya, he decided to stay back and work in the Arab country. “I worked in Tile producing company and their salary was good, but unfortunately, I could not save my money in the bank. I lived with other Nigerians. I dug a hole in the ground to save my money.
“Unfortunately, one day, some Libyans came, kidnapped us and inflicted punishment on us. They asked us to call our relations back in Nigeria and tell them to send N300, 000 as ransom.
“The $200,000 dollars that I saved, disappeared, as they moved us to another place until we got to detention camp. “Nigerians should be discouraged from travelling to Libya, because they are not treating us like human beings. Our ladies were dehumanised by Libyan officials. It is very painful,” he said.
Iduh, who said he sold the house left by his late father before travelling to Libya, urged the Federal and State governments, as well as wealthy Nigerians to create job for youths to make such trips unattractive to them.
“It was because I was jobless for three years that I was cajoled to travel abroad to look for greener pastures. “Now, I am back in the country after eight months, devastated and humiliated. I have gone to look for greener pastures, but here I am today, I have brought nothing green back home,” he said with tears stream down his cheeks.
Marvellous Isikhuemhen, on his part, regretted travelling out of the country, because of the bitter encounter in Libya. He said that though he secured a good job in a publishing house in Libya, “it was suffering and smiling,” until they were given the opportunity to return home through the IOM.
Isikhuemhen urged the Nigerian government to stop young ladies from travelling to Libya, alleging that most of them bribe Nigerian immigration officers to secure travel documents to travel to Libya.
He added that most of the children brought back home by these ladies have no fathers. “I can boldly tell you that the children you are seeing in their hands and those pregnant ladies are products of Libyan immigration officers,” he said.
Senior Special Assistant (SSA) to the President on Foreign Affairs and Diaspora, Abike Dabiri-Erewa, was at the Lagos airport to receive the returnees.
Dabiri-Erewa confirmed the plight of unsuspecting Nigerians and their parents in the hand of some people who major in pushing greener pastures seekers to slavery.
She called for the strengthening of the National Agency For the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP) law to help catch the traffickers. The SSA said that the Federal Government values the lives of all Nigerians; hence it partnered with IOM, through the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) to ensure their safe return home.
She reiterated that the returnees are not criminals, but average Nigerians that had gone overseas in search of greener pastures that turned out unfulfilling and urged the returnees not to be ashamed of themselves, rather pick up the pieces and move on.
She stated that the evacuation programme would not continue without end, but government would arrange a final one, “where we will tell every Nigerian stranded in Libya to come home.”
“After that, it might be difficult getting IOM to continue doing that. We have to encourage them (Nigerians), because a lot of them don’t even know where they are going (in Libya).
“The message is that it is not just worth it. As bad a you country is today, you are better off here than in Libya,” she said.