From Paul Osuyi, Asaba
A concerned Nigerian, Miss Chika Nwachukwu has raised alarm on the poor condition of Nigerians detained in the Kaliti Prisons, Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital city, over allegations of possession of hard drugs and money laundering.
Nwachukwu, a native of Anambra State, and an international business tycoon who deals on clothing and fashion, said she was shocked when she recently discovered that over 150 Nigerians were presently languishing in the Ethiopian prison facility.
She lamented the condition of the Nigerian inmates, alleging that they were being fed a single meal of white rice once a day throughout the year.
The white rice, she claimed, does not come with the complementary sauce (stew), as the inmates are left to provide that for themselves if they wish to at least, enjoy the meal.
According to her, relatives of the inmates back home in Nigeria have been sending money for such complementary sauce, as well as other personal effects necessary for their upkeep over the years.
Nwachukwu said most of the inmates are still awaiting trial, adding that a few were convicted, not because they were actually guilty of the offense but for the lack of adequate legal representation.
“I am just a concerned Nigerian. I care about my fellow Nigerians a lot, though I am not a politician. I am a business woman. I import clothing and fashion accessories. I have travelled on pilgrimage and gone on business tours across the globe.
The predicament of Nigerian inmates at the Kaliti prison in Ethiopia is very worrisome. They are fed only on white rice day in, day out, without the complementary sauce. This has made most of them to fall ill and looking unhealthy.
Some of them have been in the prison for over a year, feeding on just white rice, once a day, if their relatives are unable to send them money for stew. On top of that, the prison security recently brutalized the inmates, leading them to declare hunger strike,” she alleged.
Nwachukwu is however worried that the inmates may continue to endure the harsh treatment as a result of what she described as the lack of commitment of the Nigerian government to free them from the foreign prison.
She said the governments of other African countries including Kenya, Sudan, Eritrea, whose citizens were also trapped at the Kaliti prisons activated their foreign missions in Ethiopia to set their nationals free.
Nwachukwu admitted that officials of the Nigerian Embassy in Addis Ababa visited the prison in January, this year with a promise that the government would do everything possible to ensure their release and repatriation to Nigeria within three months.
She added that it’s been over five months since that visit and nothing positive was in sight with regard to freeing the inmates. She appealed to the Federal Government to step up its rescue efforts, adding that the inmates were “even willing to foot the bill for their return.” She further disclosed that in February, this year, the President of the Ethiopian Supreme Court was shocked by the alarming number of Nigerians incarcerated in the prison facility, when she visited, and was forced to ask if the Nigerian Embassy was aware of the situation.
Nwachukwu explained that from what she discovered, the Ethiopian government was willing to let the inmates go only if the appropriate Nigerian authorities would come forward to identify them.
Her words: “Many of them are awaiting trial while some have been convicted. As at January, officials from the Nigerian embassy visited them and made promises that they were going to return home in three months. Yet our government has not done anything about it. As a matter of fact, as we speak right now, the Ethiopian government is not unwilling to let the Nigerian people go, all they need is for the Nigerian government to come and identify her people.
So they cannot just let the people go except the authority comes to identify that they are citizens of Nigeria. The Nigerian embassy in Ethiopia has not done anything. President Muhammadu Buhari has to do something about this situation urgently,” she appealed.
She added that some of the inmates who have been convicted were willing to come to Nigeria and serve their prison terms, while those on the awaiting trial list were also willing to come back home and face the charges, if possible.
“But I must tell you that most of them maybe innocent of the allegations because for some of those facing drug and money laundering charges, there is no evidence linking them to such crimes. They have gone to court several times but no evidence to convict them, yet they are being held. It is quite unfortunate that some of them were intercepted while on transit to other countries,” she claimed.