• Woeful stories of Nigerian pastor, others’ endless detention in foreign jails
Frank Philip Yobo, 51, is a Nigerian pastor incarcerated since July 18, 2015 in Segerea jail, one of Tanzania’s maximum prisons. His repatriation was delayed for a simple reason: The Tanzanians are not prepared to fund the travel costs.
A younger compatriot’s case is more pathetic. Prince John Lee Achuchmaeze, a three-month inmate as at February 2017, had earlier been detained for eight months in a mental hospital. His condition made it impossible to get coherent details from him. He was young. He was plainly unable to help himself. He needed to be repatriated.
The preacher and the ‘psycho’ inmate, remanded for immigration irregularities, are open-and-shut cases. Deportation. But three years on, the process is delayed still.
A third Nigerian whose case appears to be altogether a lost cause is the 45-five-year-old Vivian Edigin. Arrested on December 26, 2012, she was convicted and sentenced in June 2015. She got a life imprisonment. But she has a saving grace––the prison’s governing officer is of the view it would be compassionate if she could serve her sentence in Nigeria.
The Tanzanians wanted these three inmates off their hands, desperate to offload them on humanitarian grounds to the Nigerian government who, since February 2016, has been invited to intervene. Alas, 15 months later, the unlucky three continue to rot away in Tanzania’s prisons.
Detention without trial
Their plight is a page off a damning report on rule of law issues bordering on detention without trial in Tanzania, using Nigerian detainees as a case study.
The report documented cases of 27 Nigerians languishing inside two prisons in the East African country.
The man who authored the report, an Englishman and a lawyer, Nigel Dodds walked into the newsroom of Saturday Sun on Friday, May 4, 2018.
He dropped a sheaf of papers––emails, list, reports, published news story––in hope that a publication by a major Nigerian newspaper will jolt the government from inertia to take charge of the fate of its citizens locked behind bars in foreign land.
The lawyer’s report
Tanzania is well sung for the lure of Zanzibar, its tourism pearl, and the surrealism of Serengeti. But little is heard of the country’s hellhole of prisons and its criminal-justice system that is a rule of law quicksand.
An American consular document exposed by Wikileaks on January 14, 2010 summed up the Segerea jailhouse as an institution plagued by “intolerable overcrowding.”
An excerpts from the leaked document, titled “Overcrowding; Critical Challenge For Tanzanian Prisons,” asserts:“…There are four prisons in Dar es Salaam, of which three, including Ukonga and Segerea, are maximum security. Fewer than 5,000 prisoners are held in these facilities, but more than 50 percent are remand prisoners. Segerea Prison is the primary facility for suspects awaiting trial. Remand prisoners at the Segerea Prison…may wait up to five years for a trial.”
The Dodds dossier focused on two prisons, Segerea and Keku, which held scores of Nigerians, 90 per cent of whom are awaiting trial.
Nigel Dodds came into the picture in late 2015 when his organisation, Solicitors International Human Rights Group, SIHRG, decided to undertake an investigation into structural issues affecting rule of law as per detained prisoners in Tanzania with the objective to find the cause of the problems and recommend ways to improve the Tanzanian systems.
Dodds was SIHRG man for the assignment. The investigation was extended to all nationalities affected by the problem, notably Nigerians, Kenyans, Somalis, Senegalese and Pakistanis. The emphasis, however, was on the Nigerian detainees, because the initiative was originally triggered by a petition from the Nigerian press.
For logistic reason, the investigation was limited to mainland Tanzania, excluding Zanzibar.
Dodds’ visit to Tanzania in 2016 was from January 22 to February 3. In the course of his visit, he interviewed prosecutors, defence lawyers, court staff, prison officers, the law society, NGOs, and the British and Nigerian high commissions. He spoke with a number of prisoners and ordinary Tanzanians.
He made it clear he was not there to represent them, but rather, to look at the rule of law issues. What that meant was he’d examined individual cases from the angle of due process rather than the outcome of their cases, though he had within his purview escalating matters of concerns in the individual cases with other agencies.
He visited both Segerea and Keku prisons on February 3, 2016, and interacted with a number of Nigerian prisoners and prison staff. He observed the condition of the prison and also listened to individual accounts of the cases––straight from the horse’s mouth.
Based on empirical facts, he drew a grim conclusion: “Detention without trial was a major problem within Tanzania in relations to serious non-bail cases, prisoners could be held for four years or more without their cases being tried. The complexity of the cases or lack of it did not seem to be a material factor.”
Having performed similar enquiries in various jurisdictions worldwide including other parts of Africa and South and Central America, Dodds considered Tanzania “a very difficult place to carry out such work.”
His assignment ended with a report in which he identified the names and basic particulars of 27 Nigerian detainees that have been detained for unreasonable periods without trial.
Legion of the damned
Not all Nigerians affected were on his 27-man list. That included the most recent detainee in Segerea Prison, Ejiofor Henry Ohaghu, 35, arrested on the second day of 2016 on drugs offence and three other inmates of Keku prisons.
Dodds spoke extensively with five of the prisoners on the list in Segerea and came up with brief profiles.
There is Ani Chioma, 36, jointly charged with three others––Uchendo Chukwumezie, 43, Ugwu Sunday Valentine, 37 and Ifeanyi Kalu Okoh, 39––for drug offences. Arrested March 30, 2012, Ani and co have been in detention for five years now. As at 2016, her case was yet to be committed to the High Court.
Dodds was in court when her case came up for mention on January 25, 2016. The prosecutor told the court her file was with the Director of Public Prosecution, DPP, for advice, because her case has evidential complications––drugs were found in premises of multiple occupations in a storeroom that is not under the direct control of the accused.
A set of drug cases, by the evidence available, are open-and-shut cases were they to have happened elsewhere in a clime with sound criminal justice system.
The suspects are Anthonia Ojoh, 30, arrested on September 4, 2014 in possession of drugs; Olabisi Ibidun Cole, who would be 65 on July 27, arrested on May 11, 2014, in possession of drugs––her age raises concern over further substantial delay; Chibueze Obiesie Gabriel, arrested in possession of drug on March 31, 2013 and Halimat Tayo Isado, arrested on February 19, 2015. All four were arrested at the airport.
In each case, investigation is not yet completed four, three, two years after their arrest. And they all had no representation.
Uchendo Chukwumezie arrested on March 30, 2012 was in court on January 25, 2016. But his case has not yet been committed. His file is said to be with the DPP for advice.
Then, there are the really bad ones, like Ajana Livinus Chime, whose case exemplified the worst example of delay. Arrested for trafficking drug at the airport on March 3, 2011, in possession of 800 grams of cocaine. When his case was committed to the High Court on April 16, 2013, he had no lawyer. He was told he would be brought back to the High Court in 2015. He is yet to appear in court till date.
In that same category is Steven Basil Ojiofor, probably the most disturbing case if his accounts were true. Arrested at the airport on September 28, 2012, on suspected drugs offences, no drug, however, was found on him. He was identified as a potential drug offender by virtue of him having a Nigerian passport. He was at first kept for three days at the police station, but no drug was found in his system. Yet, more than five years after, he is still in detention.
Although testimonies of alleged drug offenders are to be taken with a pinch of salt, there was a clear pattern of unreasonable delay across all the cases “which prejudices the individual and the states whether innocent or guilty.”
Dodds came away from the encounter with a certainty: “All the people I spoke with wanted their cases resolved one way or another.”
Preys for Tanzanian lawyers
The Dodds report has subtexts that require reading between the lines.
The Englishman echoed one.
In Tanzania, he said, “if you are Nigerian, you are [seen as] a drug dealer.”
Said he: “Nigerians are being identified at the airport and are being tagged for that reason. Some of the names on the list are in the situation whereby the evidence is not compelling”––that fits the predicament of Steven Basil Ojiofor.
A biggest problem for the detainees is the difficulty of hiring legal advice and representation, a development that made them game for exploitation.
Dodds found evidence of this: “I received a number of complaints that Tanzanian lawyers had been taking significant amount of money from prisoners and then failing to take much of action on their behalf.”
He cited an example of a notorious character, Yassin Membar, who preyed on Nigerian detainees, while purporting to act on their behalf, but had no practising certificate or up-to-date continuing legal education.
He turned up in court on January 25, 2016, dressed as an advocate but too late to appear, and Dodds, who reported him to the Tanganyika Law Society for dishonesty, was dismayed at the slow pace of response on the matter.
Nonchalant High Commission
Prisoners and prison staff alleged that visits from Nigerian High Commission staff are perfunctory with little or no note-taking. On his part, Dodds was surprised that the information in the schedule of prisoners he provided was news to the commission staff. That made him to conclude that the detainees “are not getting much support from the Nigerian High commission.”
He did meet with Umar Salisu, acting Nigerian High Commissioner in Dar es Salaam at the time.
He recalled: “We had a brief meeting on January 26, 2016, when I was able to explain the purpose of my visit and submitted the list of the 27 Nigerians.”
At the next meeting on January 29, he provided a copy of additional list of prisoners and also conveyed the complaints of lack of consular and other supports for detained Nigerians.
The commission gave its own side of the story: all Nigerian prisoners are interviewed and their cases evaluated; they are given advice and visited at least once a year, and a report on all the prisoners is sent back to Nigeria at the end of the year.
The high commissioner promised to review all the cases on the list and to also take a greater interest in individual cases and rule of law issues. Salisu reportedly assured Dodds report would be submitted to the Nigerian Foreign Office on the problems in Tanzania, while a legal team would be constituted with a view to pushing the time limit issues.
Their third and final meeting later that evening was a social meet up in a local restaurant. The Englishman passed on the message of the Segerea Prison authorities’ decision on the humanitarian cases––the two immigration cases involving the pastor and the mentally deranged young man, unreasonably delayed by the Nigerian authorities’ in arranging repatriation and the woman sentenced to life whom they thought it would be humane to serve her sentence in Nigeria.
Dodds also drew Salisu’s attention to the activities of Yassin Membar, the unscrupulous Tanzanian who had no practising certificate but was preying on Nigerian detainees. He explained that more weight would be attached to a complaint from the embassy.
The Nigerian envoy in turn had good tidings. He had signed the papers of the detained pastor, which meant he would be released and sent back to Nigeria. He was also looking into other cases.
Dodds was delirious. He promised to provide any further information which came to light. They parted on a good note.
A copy of his follow-up email to High Commissioner Umar Salisu on February 22, 2016, made available to Saturday Sun, detailed the minutes of their meetings.
The aftermath broke Dodds’ heart. He got no reply to the several reminders he sent and Pastor Yobo remains in prison with no significant progress in relation to his case.
“I have not been advised of any action either in relation to the 27 individual cases or in relation to making representation about the structural problems of the Tanzanian system,” said Dodds.
The Englishman pointed out two things that puzzled him.
One: The High Commission in Dar es Salaam appears to be well staffed and resourced.
Two: The problems of the Nigerian prisoners had been raised with the commission by the press a year before Dodds’ visit. Why then is the embassy not motivated enough to take on these cases without an outsider’s prodding.
Expectedly, he scored the Nigerian High Commission in Tanzania low.
“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 the Nigerian nationals detained in Tanzania,” he said. “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.”
Dodds went further: “One would expect cases to be individually identified and tracked. It is normal practice to maintain a list of reputable lawyers and to provide [their services] to detainees.”
Noting that diplomats have access to officials denied to ordinary citizens, an agitated Dodds opined that consular staff should have been making enquiries and representations about the plainly obvious problems in the cases.
“These cases present the most serious rule of law issues and should not be a matter of indifference to the Nigerian authorities,” he argued, “because of the peril it poses to its citizens visiting Tanzania.”
He considered “the lack of care about the plight of their fellow Nigerians shown by officials or their indolence,” shocking to his sensitivity.
Nonetheless, he tried to understand the rationale for the tepid response on the part of the Nigerian High Commission. He summed it up this way: “A basic failing to distinguish between interfering in another country’s judicial system on outcomes as opposed to raising simple functionality and basic process for one’s citizens.”
Reigniting the cause
If there are 27 Nigerians in just two prisons, how many Nigerians are there in total across Tanzanian jails?
“I don’t know,” Dodds answered frankly. “It was difficult to get that information. The prison authorities were far more interested to know how I had my facts than in providing information.”
Since his investigation and his report to SIHRG, Nigel Dodds’ position has changed. He resigned from SIHRG on March 5, 2016, having been chair of the Law Society Charity for 45 years. By September of that year, he was reporting to the Human Rights Committee of the Law Society of England and Wales.
Currently, he is a private citizen and there is a limit to what he could do. Nonetheless, the lawyer would not give up easily on the Nigerian detainees in Tanzanian jails.
That was why he came to Saturday Sun with his story and relevant documents. He would be travelling to Abuja to see Honourable Abike Dabiri-Erewa, Senior Special Assistant to President Muhammadu Buhari on Foreign Affairs and Diaspora.
He declared: “I had a series of representation and I felt I was getting nowhere, so consequently I am here to reignite the issue here and [perhaps] get the High Commission some help.”
Throughout the 35-minute interaction, Nigel Dodds’ sense of humour was evident. But the sadness never really went out of his voice.
“I had a call just last month. The first guy on the list, Uchendo, is still on remand, six years after his arrest.”
His last shot.
Speaking with Saturday Sun on the development, Senior Special Assistant to the president on Foreign Affairs and Diaspora, Hon. Abike Dabiri assured that the Federal Government would step into the matter. She said she had contacted the Nigerian High Commission in Tanzania to look into the cases of the affected Nigerians, while back home in Nigeria, she was already taking it up with the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Mr Abubakar Malami to see how legal assistance can be provided for those in need of legal aid. She however urged Nigerians to be law abiding and obey the laws of their host countries wherever they find themselves.