Following public outcry and media campaigns that trailed these events, there seemed to have been reprieve for Nigerian students in foreign lands, until last week’s incident.
Last week, the Nigerian news media were awash with the story of the 50 Nigerian students in the neighbouring West African country of Benin Republic, who were arrested and detained for some days without the knowledge of their parents.
Parents of the ill-fated students had cried to President Muhammadu Buhari to intervene in the arrest, which was allegedly carried out because white people’s pictures were found on the students’ phones.
They claimed that their children were unlawfully arrested by the Beninoise police and kept under inhuman conditions, with some of them spending up to seven days in detention without being told their offence or charged to court. According to the parents, 50 other students were arrested, tried and jailed without their families’ knowledge.
In a petition last week, the distraught parents sought President Buhari’s intervention through the Senior Special Assistant on Diaspora Affairs, Abike Dabiri-Erewa.
Mr. Femi Akinwande, who represented other parents, alleged that the Beninoise police had been picking up Nigerian students whose phones contained a white person’s picture, a Google code, or any Internet- related item. He maintained that many of the students were being held at a police station in Gendamerie Ablangadan, Cotonou.
Some of the students were Matthew Longgapp, Bayo Ridwan Oyenuga, Chukwudi Ezeanyom Chukwuneke, Tomi Ogunleye and Jacob Oluwatobi, among others.
Following the prompt intervention of the Federal Government of Nigeria, through the Nigerian High Commission in Benin Republic, Dabiri-Erewa, on June 10, said seven of the Nigerians held in Cotonou had been released by the Beninoise police.
She gave the assurance that the embassy in Benin Republic would ensure that justice was done. According to the presidential aide, the Beninoise police complained that many of those arrested were involved in various cybercrimes. She added that only 13 students were arrested but some had been freed.
She said: “Seven of the arrested Nigerian students have been released following the embassy’s intervention. A scheduled meeting with the prosecutor will hold tomorrow morning over the charges against them. After the meeting, the embassy would be in a better position to give a detailed account of the case.
“So far, the Nigerian High Commissioner to the Republic of Benin, Ambassador Oguntunase Kayode, has moved in promptly and will ensure investigation is thorough. For now, we also appeal to the parents and their children to keep calm and work with us to get to the end of the matter.”
A similar incident happened in 2016 when 50 Nigerian students were arrested in Turkey for alleged terrorism. The matter was brought before the floor of the House of Representatives through a motion of urgent national importance sponsored by a member of the House Committee on Diaspora, Solomon Maren.
In a related but worse development, a Nigerian student, Ibrahim Badmus, recently died at the hands of policemen in South Africa after they suffocated him during an arrest over drug peddling allegations.
Speaking on the incident, the consul-general of the Nigerian Mission in South Africa, Godwin Adama, confirmed that Badmus was killed at Vaal Vereniging, Vanderbijlpark Triangle, near Johannesburg.
Badmus’s friends who posted the sad news on the social media insisted that he was just a victim of circumstances and not a drug peddler as alleged by the South African Police.
One of the deceased’s friends, Emeka Okoh, who posted the news and photos on Facebook, said some police operatives had raided Badmus’s house and, in the process, handcuffed him and continuously sprayed pepper on him, covering his face with a polythene bag, leading to his suffocation and eventual death.
In March 2017, a group of Africans protested against the unlawful detention of five Nigerian students in India. According to the report, residents in Delhi accused the Nigerian students of killing an Indian student and eating him thereafter.
The report further said that the accused Nigerian students were booked by the Greater Noida police in connection with the death of a class 12 student, who died from a cardiac arrest, caused allegedly by drug overdose.
According to the reports, Manish Singh was a class 12 student of Jaypee International School, a resident of NSG Society in Greater Noida. He allegedly went missing one Friday evening and returned home the next morning in an inebriated state. He was later admitted to a private hospital, where he died due to cardiac arrest.
The Nigerian students who were arrested and charged for cannibalism included Said Kabir Abdullahi, Said Abubakar Abdullahi, Adamu Usman, Muhammed Amir Zakari Yau and Abdul Qadir Usman. They were all students of Noida International University. They were booked under the charges of kidnapping, culpable homicide and murder.
Like today, like 2014
The recent incidents are quick but sad reminders of the events of 2014, when Nigerian students in foreign lands became targets for elimination. If they were not murdered by the security agents of their host countries, they were murdered by citizens of such countries, who just detested the name Nigeria and anything Nigerian. From Africa to Europe, Asia to America, the story was the same. Many Nigerians who had travelled to countries like Ghana, South Africa, the United Arab Emirates, Malaysia, Cyprus and Poland, among others, to get quality education, were gruesomely murdered during the period. It was tales of sorrows, pain and anguish for parents, whose wards became victims of the hate crimes. Many of them were murdered when they had almost completed their studies. Others had scarcely settled down to their studies when the messengers of death struck.
A brief rundown of the 2014 incidents include the killing in Dubai of 19-year-old Oluwadamilola Oloruntoba Falode, the only son of the ace sports broadcaster and Confederation of African Football (CAF) executive member, Aisha Falode. She cried blue murder over the callous and gruesome death of her son in Dubai, UAE. She raised many questions on the circumstances surrounding her son’s death, especially the credibility of the Dubai Police report on the cause of death, which was in sharp contrast with her own personal findings when she travelled to the Arab country. She was also heartbroken that the Nigerian ambassador to the UAE did not live up to his diplomatic responsibilities.
Her pains became heavier when she found out that her son’s death brought to five the number of such gruesome murder of innocent, harmless Nigerians in Dubai at the time, without the ambassador alerting Nigerian parents of the dangers in sending their children to that country.
On February 15, 2014, Falode’s 19-year-old son, Oluwadamilola Oloruntoba Falode, an undergraduate of Audio Production at the SAE Institute in Dubai, met his untimely death inside his own apartment. He had travelled to the Arab country, where he hoped to actualise his age-long dream of becoming a professional musician. However, he was allegedly murdered by one of his friends inside his apartment.
As Nigerians were still sympathising with Falode, another Nigerian student in Ghana was killed.
Eighteen-year-old Ayogu Godwin Chukwudi, from Umuiyida in Igbo-Eze North Local Government Area of Enugu State, who had left Nigeria for Ghana to study Economics and Statistics at the University of Cape Coast, never imagined he was going to swell the list of the ill-fated Nigerian students who had been gruesomely murdered in Ghana.
But on Wednesday, February 19, 2014, messengers of death mowed him down inside his residence, the Royal Palace Hostel, bringing to a sad end all his life’s work, dreams and aspirations.
On March 6, 2014, Ekiti State-born Adelabu Tunde, who had travelled to Malaysia in search of quality education, was murdered. Tunde, a student of Lagenda Unversity, Nilai, Malaysia, was allegedly shot dead by the Malaysian police. However, the police claimed that Tunde was killed in a street fight, even though a witness account had countered the police report, describing it as false. According to the witness report, “Police were raiding another apartment. Tunde and his friends were coming back from school when the police car followed them. Tunde ran and got shot in the head by a policeman. Please, share the truth, he was not fighting. He was shot by the police that came for extra pocket money. And the police left the scene as soon as he was shot dead.”
Also, in October 2014, Oyemiefa Alamieyeseigha, the second but the last of the children of the former governor of Bayelsa State, Chief Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, was murdered in cold blood in Dubai. Oyemiefa, 32, who was until his death a student in the Arab country, was found dead on a street in Dubai. Police in Dubai alleged that he committed suicide, an allegation Alamieyeseigha’s family roundly refuted.
Following public outcry and media campaigns that trailed these events, there seemed to have been reprieve for Nigerian students in foreign lands, until last week’s incident. The dark days when Nigerian students were killed without any cogent reason seem to be lurking around the corner and, unless urgent measures are taken to contain the trend, there might be a repeat of the dark days of 2014. This does not include the plethora of abuses, intimidation, harassment and brutal killing of other Nigerians who are not students in foreign countries.
Commenting on Nigerians’ quest for foreign education, which tends to make them vulnerable to hate crime abroad, a human rights lawyer and national president, Committee for the Defence of Human Rights (CDHR), Malachy Ugwumadu, attributed the scourge to the total collapse of education system in Nigeria.
He said: “Nigeria has not ceased to amaze those who are critical. You do not wish away what you have no capacity to control. The bottom line is that the outsourcing of education is a direct function of the failure of the educational system in Nigeria. As you know, those who have the luxury of sending their wards to study abroad are paying through their nose; they are paying far more than those studying in Nigeria. The corresponding risks to which their wards are exposed underscore the insufficiency of government to provide education, and it has complicated the whole challenge of Nigerians and their search for quality education in such a way that our successive governments are now exposed to the ridicule of the entire world. Even as close as Benin Republic here, the statistics of Nigerians there in make-shift buildings in the name of education is pitiable.”
He also stated that the failure of successive Nigerian administrations to keep faith with the United Nations recommended minimum budgetary requirement of 26 per cent of annual budget for education had also worsened the situation.
He equally agreed that the perennial cases of industrial action by lecturers have not helped matters in the sense that students have continually experienced an ‘endless’ education system: “And that is what has promoted private universities in our country, where our people are subjected to excruciating expenses to take their wards through normal academic education. So, instead of spending 10 years for a course of five years, parents tend to make do with private universities, where they are made to pay what it has taken the entire generation to go to school.”
He attributed the upsurge in the number of Nigerian students abroad to what he called politicisation of education in Nigeria: “There is too much politicisation of education in the system. It is no longer seen as a core professional and foundational enterprise that determines and defines the future of the country as well as guarantees the quality and content of leadership that can come there from.”
He submitted that, unless things are done right, Nigerians would continue to seek foreign education, in spite of all the dangers out there: “So, to think that people will stop sending their children abroad is to imagine that all of these things are already in place. But the reality is that they are not in place and there are no signs that they will soon be in place with the direct consequence that things will continue to be as they are.”
He attributed the nasty and poor treatment that Nigerians are exposed to in foreign lands to the strong resentment that other countries have for Nigeria and its citizens.
He said: “The poverty of the situation is that, given the total resentment of comity of nations against this huge and potentially great country that is squandering its fortunes, our people are subjected to the worst forms of attacks and harassments. In South Africa, it is xenophobia; in the Asian countries, it
is intolerance because anything committed by any Nigerian, be it the least of offences, attracts maximum punishment. The common denominator is that our citizens have come under direct siege in their pursuit for better education outside the shores of this country. It is an indictment on this government.”
He called on the National Assembly to rise up to its oversight functions by whipping the ministry of foreign affairs into line in this regard.
He said: “I think that the committee on diaspora in the House of Representatives and Senate must find a way, in furtherance of their oversight, to compel the ministry of foreign affairs to do something. It is not just drinking tea from one country to another; these are core responsibilities. The way and manner we have continued to undermine and expose ourselves to the ridicule of the world makes it easy for them to kill us and nothing happens. So, the ministry of foreign affairs should be able to mobilise and respond adequately.”
But for the labour activist, Comrade Abiodun Aremu, people should look beyond why Nigerians travel abroad for studies. He wants people to take a holistic look at such issues as why students even travel out in the first instance as well as what the state of education and security in the country are. He believes that the foregoing factors are critical because, according to him, “when you talk in terms of safety, you need to relate it to the issue of the abducted schoolgirls in Borno State and many other Nigerian students who have been killed in the North East and across the country, on account of insecurity. I think it is very important to have a holistic approach to understand these issues and not just necessarily getting alarmed about what happens to Nigerian students abroad. What is also Nigeria’s role in protecting her citizens in the country or outside the country? So, these are the critical questions that must be addressed.”
Aremu also looked at the matter from the economic angle, as he said: “When you run a global economy that is exploitative and more concerned about profit and market forces, there is always a disregard for human life. So, the context of security, whether in Nigeria or anywhere in the world, must be placed
at the heart of who controls the economy and for what purpose. Is the economy being controlled in the interest of the people or not? So, you also have people, whether in Cotonou, Dubai or anywhere, who also have their own peculiarities in terms of insecurity, irrespective of what is being presented. When you present such places as peaceful and comfortable, it is to the extent of what is being projected, which shows that there are some discontents in those societies. And for those who are marginalised of access to their basic needs, they also transfer aggression and that is what has been responsible for violence instead of promoting unity and peace.
“Our perspective from the labour angle has always been that the spirit of internationalism has to be based on what affects us and that is why the slogan of workers of all countries is, ‘unite against the oppressors and exploiters of various countries.’ So, that is the context because without placing it in that context, we just get unnecessarily alarmed. For those who have to travel abroad, there is the material force that propels them because they have to survive, irrespective of the dangers they are going to face. It is like somebody who is in danger; he will assess which is less and that is the desperation of Nigerians wanting to travel abroad despite the dangers. The policy environment necessarily turns them into those frustrations. For them, death is a necessary consequence they have to face, if they don’t want to starve to death.”
On whether parents should keep sending their wards overseas for studies in spite of the dangers ahead, he said: “It is not about parents. Do you know how many Nigerians go abroad without the consent of their parents? That is the issue. How many millions of parents in Nigeria can afford to send their children abroad? The children of the poor that you find abroad stowed away in most cases; they personally struggled to be there out of desperation. That is the issue to look at. If the academic environment in Nigeria is conducive for learning, people won’t be going abroad to study in such large numbers.”
He also agreed that the collapse of education was largely responsible for the prevailing education tourism. He said: “The decay has been over the years and that principally informed what has been our campaign over the years on the same public education. Several Nigerians have also been victims of travelling abroad which can also be attributed to the irresponsibility of the political environment. The approach is not just to have some of those cosmetic pronouncements by the government. It is basically to have a holistic approach to it. Once you have a system that cannot guarantee people the basic necessities of life, they are bound to have those kinds of things.”
For retired naval officer, Ozor Uchenna, as far as human beings are concerned, man would always search for better things anywhere he could find them. He wondered why Nigeria would always claim to be Big Brother, when its neighbours regard its citizens as inferior human beings.
“People in leadership positions in Nigeria seem not to care about the citizens; they will make a lot of promises that will never be fulfilled. This boils down to our youths going outside the country in search of a greener pastures, including educational advancement,” he said.
He lamented that, at this stage, Nigeria could not take proper care of its citizens. “And that pushes our people to begin to access education in minor countries like the Republic of Benin. We always pride ourselves as the giant of Africa but my question is: what makes a country a giant? Is it by its geographical size? Is it by what the country can offer in the quality and quantity of the goods and services available? Or do we just answer giant of Africa because of our population? I think none of the questions fits into the equation because I believe that if you can manage your affairs very well, you don’t need to borrow. But Nigeria has become a borrowing nation in all ramifications. We borrow money, education, ideas, virtually everything. We can’t originate anything that will give us pride as a country and that shows the kind of government that operates in Nigeria. I think it is a government of deception because if your children cannot get anything from you as a father, then you have failed in your fatherhood and I pray that God will come to assist Nigeria to come out of these negative things” he said.