TONY JOHN, Port Harcourt
Nigerians evacuated from Libya, who arrived Port Harcourt airport, Rivers State, expressed their joy at being back to the safety of the country with these statements: “Home is sweet, there is no place like home.”
A total of 1,490 out of 5,037 expected, have been airlifted by MaxAir in three batches. They included young women, men, teenagers and children.
On arrival, the returnees were conveyed to the reception centre for profiling, refreshments and medical screening. All stakeholders were on ground for the operation. Also, the rehabilitation and reintegration team was on ground to administer on-the-spot medical treatment.
Sunday Sun discovered that syndicates of Nigerians had turned the trafficking of Nigerians into a lucrative business in Libya. The traffickers could sell and re-sell a girl several times.
All the male returnees looked pale, rough and unkempt. Their appearance showed the terrible situation they passed through, resulting in some form of mental imbalance.
In fact, when the migrants saw food, which was distributed to them by the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) and the National Agency for the Prevention of Trafficking in Persons, (NAPTIP), they shouted, “See food oooo with chicken!”
Unlike the male returnees, the female ones, who were mostly teenagers, looked neat. But some of them were pregnant. Some had children with them.
One common thing with all of them is the story of slavery and hatred exhibited by their captors, particularly the moment they were out of the reach of Nigeria. Some of them claimed they were brainwashed by a syndicate of human traffickers to believe that they would have better job prospects in Europe.
There was also another group, who said they voluntarily wanted to leave the shores of Nigeria for greener pastures. This set of people said they sold off their property in Nigeria because they wanted to improve their living standard.
Ironically, the dream of having better living standard and wealth became a nightmare to all of them. In fact, some of them told Sunday Sun that their friends who deceived them with fanciful stories of how they were living in Europe, never revealed that their trip to Europe was through the desert.
Several died from exhaustion, dehydration, hunger or they were killed by wild animals. So, the echo of woes from the returnees, who vowed not to encourage any Nigerian aspiring to travel to Libya, particularly through the desert, were pathetic and touching. Their stories had no end. That was why they were filled with joy, when they arrived the Port Harcourt International Airport, Omagwa.
Narrating his experience, Friday Okoh, from Delta State, said he lived in Libya for only six months: “The Libyan government kills our people every day, every time, everywhere, for just being Nigerians. I don’t know what caused the problem or where our people went wrong. The Libyan government hates Nigerians with passion and they do not hide their hatred.
“I left Nigeria because there was no job for me and life was difficult. So, my travelling to Libya was not because it was my planned desire. It was because I wanted to come out of hardship. Instead I found myself between life and death. I wanted to find something doing, so that I could become somebody in life. But, it didn’t work out that way. In fact, my main reason for travelling was to go and make money and return. That’s all.
“I did not know I would end up this way, becoming extremely poorer without hope of survival. That was not what I was made to believe about Libya. If I knew that my life would be turned upside down in Libya, I would never have embarked on such deadly journey.”
Okoh noted that many Nigerians, who travel to Libya through the desert do not survive the journey. He said it took him three weeks to enter the country after a journey that seemed unending. He said during the trip, he lived at the mercy of nature because there was no hope of survival.
Another returnee, Shedrack Lagarde, said he was happy to return to Nigeria alive. He revealed that six of his friends died in his presence due to hunger and severe torture. Lagarde further said that he ate only two spoons of noodle for two months. He advised people not to travel to foreign countries illegally.
Harry Musa on his part said: “One doesn’t know what he has until he loses it. Now, we know that there is no place like home.”
Another male returnee, Monday Odion, was full of regrets. He said he was a footballer and had two cars before he travelled. According to him, he sold the two cars in order to raise money to get to Europe. But, he ended up in Libya, losing his belongings.
Monday said: “When I noticed that the journey to Europe was not feasible, I was surprised. I called my friend. I told him he knew all these things and decided to put me into this condition. My friend denied and said that he did not know that the condition was like that. He said that he thought as we moved, everything would go smoothly.
“I spent about two months in the place (not Libya). The second month, the people taking us put us into two boats. The people in the two boats were kidnapped by sea pirates. People call it kalabush. I can’t really say what happened to the boats and occupants.
“Another day, I found myself in a camp. That was where they took us to and used us to make money. If you didn’t have money, they would beat hell out of the person. You would be there and watch your fellow traveller beaten to death. You could not say or do anything. They would just go and bury the person.
“We were arrested in the camp and taken straight to prison. I spent about four months in prison. People were dying daily in Libyan prisons because of torture and starvation. They were too cruel and inhumane to those of us from Nigeria.
“Life in Libyan prisons was too hellish. There was no medical treatment for the inmates. Even as I am here now, I am not feeling well. In fact, while I was in the prison, I lost hope of survival. I was surprised that President Muhammadu Buhari could be touched to bring us back home. I am so much happy to be back to Nigeria. I don’t know how to express it. God will bless him for rescuing us from death. We can’t express how we feel. Without this gesture, most of us would have died before today.”
Also narrating his own experience, Omoh Eteh, 33, from Edo State, said: “Before I left Nigeria, I was a tanker driver working for Oando. But the money I was being paid was too small compared to the family challenges I had. I am married, but I didn’t tell my wife about the journey.
“One of my friends told me that we should travel to Europe. I told him that I did not have the money to make it. He told me that it would not take much money; he said that with just N700,000 we could get to Europe.
“He did not tell me of the suffering involved. I was only motivated to go on the journey when I saw the picture of one of my friends on Facebook, which he took in Europe. He made it to Europe within two weeks. So, my friend said that we should go.”
Eteh continued: “I borrowed some money from my elder sister in the guise that I wanted to use it to start a business for my wife. She in turn pleaded with another person in a contribution scheme she was involved in and who was to benefit before her for the chance to get first and she gave me N400,000. All together, I left with N650,000.
“I thought the journey would be an easy one. But when we went from Kano to Niger Republic to Zidan, I began to see some changes. My friend told me that he never knew the experience was like that. When we got to Agadez, we spent a month and two weeks there. I started seeing reactions, but by then coming back to Nigeria was difficult.
“We got to a point where we entered a vehicle. There were over 18 Hilux vans, and each of them carried about 30 persons. When we got to the Sahara Desert, the water we had that was supposed to last for two days finished. They told us that we would spend two days, but we spent 10 days in the desert and many people died.
“The harsh sun dried many persons. Before we got to Tomko desert, we saw only 10 Hilux vans, the remaining eight lost their way and the occupants all died including the drivers. Sometimes, when we sleep, in the morning, we will not see some people again.
“When we arrived Libya, we were camped in a place called Sopata. When people enter the boat that will take them across the sea into Europe, the Arabs would kidnap all of them. We stayed there for two months.
“Instead of putting us into the boats to cross the sea into Europe, they started using us to make money. If you didn’t give them money, they would kill you. Later, they put all of us in prison and began selling some of us.
“We are happy that God used President Muhammadu Buhari to save us. We thank Buhari for coming to save us. Our experience in the prison was terrible. I am happy we are free and back to our land.”
A female returnee, Louisa Comfort, 23, disclosed that some of the girls were sold for N200,000, to the Arabs. The distraught young lady who is six months pregnant, narrated her traumatic experience to Sunday Sun.
She said: “The Nigerians who collected our money and took us to Libya betrayed us. What they do is to sell Nigerian ladies to Arab men for about N200,000 and the Arab men would use the girls as sex slaves or housemaids. And with all these conditions, we would only be given one dry bread to eat per day without water.
“If you are sold to a black man, it is continuous resale because the black men keep selling and re-selling the individual just to make money. Human trafficking is the only lucrative business in Libya.”
She continued; “The situation there is very bad, so pathetic. It is not an experience one would wish on one’s worst enemy. The desert experience is worse than the sea experience. In my set, 14 Hilux vans with each carrying 27 passengers left Nigeria. But only 10 people survived.”
The pretty lady, from Edo State, disclosed that some of them paid between N600,000 to N800,000 to cross to Italy. But, regretted that their hopes were dashed when they were left stranded in Libya.
Louisa said when they arrived in Libya, some were arrested; some were sold out, while others were moved from prison to prison with severe torture, without being given water and food. She said the ugly experience forced most of them to begin fasting and prayers to seek divine intervention for a rescue.
“When we were going through all these experiences, we decided to turn our hunger into fasting and prayers .We fasted and prayed for three days; we saw ourselves as one. There was unity among all of us over there; so, we prayed with one mind.”
Continuing, she said: “It was on the third day, when our fasting ended, that we heard the cheering news that President Muhammadu Buhari, had sent a delegation to evacuate us from Libya and we were very happy. We are so glad that finally we are back to our country and we have our freedom.”
She advised those intending to travel out of the country through illegal means to have a rethink. She warned that it is better to learn skills and work with freedom in Nigeria than to be a slave in a foreign country.
Comfort lamented that she left the country due to frustration, saying that the educational system in Nigeria is very costly with no jobs at the end.
“As a graduate, I was earning N8,000 monthly, where I was teaching and before the month runs half, the money would have finished. At a point, I was tired and decided to go and look for greener pastures,” she said.
Comfort also called on the Federal Government to create the enabling environment that would make people learn skills that would enable them work and become useful to the society.