•Report exposes official apathy to citizens’ distress
The recent reports on the protracted case of more than 27 detainees in Tanzanian prisons for about six years without justice has again shot to the fore the fate of Nigerians in need of consular support in the Diaspora and the insensitivity of some of the country’s diplomatic missions to citizens’ problems. The latest media attention on the matter followed the visit of Mr. Nigel Dodds, an attorney and former member of a group of lawyers in the United Kingdom, the Solicitors International Human Rights Group (SIHRG), to Nigeria to submit his findings in the east African country.
The case of the 27 Nigerians, who are being held in hellish conditions in the overcrowded Keko Remand Prison in Tanzania, was first reported exclusively by the Daily Sun on Tuesday, October 29, 2013. It was the newspaper’s expose, which caught the attention of SIHRG two years after, that spurred the leadership of the organisation to detail Dodds, a former chairman of the Law Society Charity Organisation in the UK, to visit Tanzania in January 2016.
In the said Daily Sun publication, which was preceded by weeks of telephone conversations with some of the prisoners and a top official of Nigeria’s high commission in Dar es Salaam, the victims had appealed to the government of then President Goodluck Jonathan to intercede and save them from dying in the foreign land. They pleaded for a diplomatic effort that would ensure prompt and fair trial or repatriation.
Beyond the fundamental problem of confinement without trial, the detainees, earlier believed to be 30, had painted a worrying picture of an awful situation sustained by sharp and unethical practices, especially in handling exhibits relating to narcotics cases, resulting in lack of evidence for prosecution, inefficient justice system and lack of access to legal advice and representation.
They further bemoaned the condition in Keko prison, said to be notorious for its congestion and poor sanitation, as well as lack of basic amenities, which, it was learnt, sometimes led to emergencies and avoidable deaths. Most disheartening to them was the lack of diplomatic support from the mission in Dar es Salaam and the tepid interest their plight attracted from the staff. One of their spokesmen disclosed that they were arrested at different times between 2010 and 2012 for various offences, some of which were drug-related, but were not arraigned “due to lack of evidence and corruption” on the side of Tanzanian law enforcement officials.
He had disclosed on phone: “No court appearance, no medicine, no (proper) feeding, no water. We are dying gradually. The cell itself is like hell. Ordinarily, this cell where I am calling you from is not supposed to accommodate more than 16 people, but there are about 50 black foreigners packed here like in the days of slave trade.”
As though to clear any doubts, he had secretly used a phone to record a pitiable video of inmates sleeping while crammed like sardines in a section of the infamous prison. Though the detainees insisted a few of them were arrested earlier, official records indicated that the first Nigerian was arrested in 2011.
Apathy home and abroad
Seven years after the first Nigerian was detained, five years after the Daily Sun exposed the situation in Keko prison, and three years after President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration succeeded Jonathan’s, the situation remains the same.
The independent inquiry prompted by the October 29, 2013, publication has since confirmed that the prolonged detention without trial is an “endemic” problem in Tanzania’s justice system, with Nigerians, Kenyans, Somalis, Senegalese and Pakistanis, topping the list of victims.
This was salient in the report of the investigation, which covered stops at Keko and Segarea prisons, and submitted by Dodds to the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Foreign Affairs and Diaspora, Hon. Abike Dabiri-Erewa, during his visit.
But, even more “shocking” to the septuagenarian lawyer as evident in the report, was the indifference of Nigerian authorities in Dar es Salaam. The diplomatic staff, his investigations revealed, handled the predicament of the detainees perfunctorily and failed to alert the home government accordingly.
The lawyer, who made his findings available to this journalist upon returning to Britain from Tanzania, disclosed that he met with Nigeria’s High Commissioner at the time, Umaru Salisu, at least thrice, briefing him of his mission and findings, and further sending him a detailed report on February 22, 2016, days after flying back to the UK. The additional findings were simpler, humanitarian cases that could have been solved by arranging the repatriation of those involved to Nigeria.
He, however, lamented that there was no indication that his findings and advice had been acted on by the High Commission or the report transmitted to the authorities in Nigeria, remarking: “Despite several reminders, no reply to this has been received.”
Similarly, even after the attention of Dabiri-Erewa was drawn to the same publication in the Daily Sun that elicited instant action by the solicitors group in England, on Monday, June 13, 2016 (and subsequently), there was still no official reaction from Abuja. Rather, the response to the journalist’s email to the Diaspora Office was terse and discouraging: “The narrative here unclear and unsubstantiated.”
Information made available to the Senior Special Adviser included the same summary of the predicament of the detainees that aroused the interest of SIHRG and Dodds. But following the surprising response, a case was made by the journalist for Dodds to fly in and present to her the report of his findings, which the High Commission seemed to have ignored. Interestingly, the solicitor had at that point parted ways with SIHRG that commissioned the trip to Tanzania, but was still willing to visit Nigeria with the report. He now reports to the Human Rights Committee of the Law Society of England and Wales, having served as chair of the Law Society Charity for 14 years.
In a tone of finality that suggested that the correspondence had reached a dead end, Dabiri-Erewa had in another reply said: “Thank you Moses for your concern and depth. If the person (Dodds) decides to bring up all necessary information, would be glad to fully intervene. As at now, (there is) no such petition or complaint before the Ministry through the embassy or families of the alleged detainees.”
Dodds, who was copied throughout the email exchange, and the detainees, who were promptly briefed on phone at every point, were downhearted by the stance of the Diaspora Office, which contrasted sharply with the expeditious reaction from the solicitors’ group in England.
However, on Monday, April 30, 2018, two years after returning from Tanzania, Dodds touched down in Lagos, paid a visit to The Sun office, and subsequently proceeded to Abuja on Wednesday, May 9, where he presented the outcome of his investigation to Dabiri-Erewa. The obvious implication of this interplay of unfavourable factors at home and in Tanzania was that, from 2011,the year the first Nigerian was allegedly arrested, to the time of publishing the sequel to the first feature, about seven years, only three of the 27 detainees have been convicted. The rest remain victims of lack of due process.
More worrying, as evident in the report presented to Dabiri-Erewa in Abuja by Dodds, is that the list of victims is getting longer following an update with fresh cases relating to humanitarian and immigration offences involving a few other Nigerians awaiting deportation in Segarea Prison for unduly long periods.
Findings in Tanzania
Dodds explained that though it was the pathetic case of the Keko 27 that prompted his former organisation’s intervention, the scope of the assignment in Tanzania extended to all nationalities affected by the problem of detention without trial and the structural causative factors.
“It was made clear to all persons seen in Tanzania, including the Nigerians, that I was not there to represent them. I was there to look at the rule of law issues. This meant that, in their individual cases, I would be looking at due process not the outcome of their cases, be it guilty or not guilty,” he said.
Narrating his experience in the course of his investigation, Dodds described Tanzania as “a very difficult place to carry out this type of inquiry.” Regardless, apart from the foreign office staff and the victims themselves, he was able to interact with officials whose positions were relevant to the Nigerians’ cases.
He said: “I interviewed prosecutors at various levels of authority, defence lawyers, court staff, prison officers of various ranks and officials at different levels within the government department for prisons. I also observed the courts in action and visited the prisons. I had separate meetings with the DPP (Director of Public Prosecution) and the assistant DPP. I met with the Tanganyika Law Society, officials at the British High Commission and NGOs. I spoke with a number of prisoners and tried to speak with as many ordinary Tanzanians as possible.”
He also observed that the substantive issue facing the detainees was not just the curious disappearance of exhibits, but chiefly the difficulty in obtaining legal advice and representation: “I received a number of complaints that Tanzanian lawyers had been taking significant amounts of money from the prisoners and then failing to take much, if any, action on their behalf.”
The investigation was able to confirm a total of 27 Nigerians in Keko alone; four of them female, and one detainee, Alberto Mendez (No. 25 on the list) identified as a Guinean-Nigerian. Dodds commented on the attitude at the consulate.
“It was clear that the information in the schedule of prisoners that I provided was news to the High Commission staff. There was little interest in helping them and no consideration given to the fact that some may be innocent,” he said.
He recalled his last meeting with the high commissioner in Dar es Salaam, saying, “He did tell me that he had that night signed papers dealing with the first person on the list, Jerry Cosmas, which meant that he would be released and sent back to Nigeria. He was looking at the other cases. I agreed to provide him with any further information, which came to light.”
Back in the UK, Dodds wrote the detailed report of further findings and transmitted it to the Nigerian high commissioner on February 22, 2016. The report dwelt on three humanitarian cases involving Nigerians at Segerea prison, where the authorities had explained that the High Commission was expected to initiate their repatriation to Nigeria: “Two were immigration cases, one involving a pastor and another a young man with mental health difficulties, and in both cases there had been unreasonable delay by the Nigerian authorities in arranging repatriation. The third concerned a woman sentenced to life about whom they thought it would be humane to serve her sentence in Nigeria.”
It was learnt that several reminders followed this dispatch, but no reply came from the High Commission nor was there any indication of an action in relation to Jerry Cosmas’s planned release and repatriation, or the humanitarian cases, more than two years after.
Hope replaces frustration
Though it took more than two years to materialise, coming to Nigeria to bring the report of his painstaking assignment in Tanzania to government’s attention appeared soothing to Dodds, who confirmed that Dabiri-Erewa “seemed quite receptive to what I had to say.”
To him, the warm reception raised the hope that the issues in the document would at last be addressed.
“My conclusion was that detention without trial was a major problem within Tanzania in relation to serious non-bail cases. Prisoners could be held for four years or more without their cases being tried. Complexity of the cases or lack of it did not seem to be a material factor. It seems to me that the High Commission in Dar es Salaam is failing to provide even the most basic forms of consular assistance to Nigerian nationals detained in Tanzania.
“ There seems to be a lack of awareness of the stereotyping of Nigerians as drug dealers, which puts Nigerian citizens in peril there, in addition to the reputational damage to Nigeria,” he said.