Ndigwe learnt that the boat in which the wife and sons embarked on the voyage across the Mediterranean Sea had a problem very close to the Italian coast.
Forty-Three-Year-Old Ikechukwu Ndigwe, a native of Ezinwoye village of Adazi-Nnukwu in Anaocha Local Government Area of Anambra State, has been running from pillar to post, strenuously trying to reunite with his two sons who survived the perilous journey to Europe that claimed the lives of his wife and one son.
In the cruel fate that befell the family happened in 2016, when the boat the wife and three sons boarded to ferry them across the Mediterranean from Libya to Italy capsized, not very far from the coast of the Italian city that was their destination. That horrible incident added their names to the lengthening list of Nigerian migrants who have died in the treacherous journey across the desert and the Mediterranean Sea, in the quest for greener pasture Europe.
Long before members of Ndigwe’s family ebarked on the ill-fated journey, they were living well in Morocco, where he was running a business. Their life took a wrong turn when Ndigwe had a problem with a citizen of the country and was arrested by the Moroccan police. He was tried and jailed.
Narrating how his ordeal started, Ndigwe told Sunday Sun: “It was in 2014 when I had a problem with a Moroccan where I was doing business. I was arrested and imprisoned but my wife and children were coming to visit me in the prison. So, in 2015 I told my wife that she should take two of my grown up boys and return to Nigeria.
I told her that it was necessary to enroll them in school at home, because over there in Morocco, they were only taught French, Spanish and Arab languages but I needed them to read English, which is our national lingua franca.
“So, initially she accepted the idea of bringing the children home to Nigeria but in December 2015 she changed her mind and said that she would not return to Nigeria. Instead, she said that she would travel to Italy. I sought from her, who she would stay with in Italy, because I knew that I had nobody there. Besides, she would have to abandon her business in Morocco. On that day, we were talking on the phone, so I did not hear her reply before she dropped the phone. I contacted her family in Benin and my family, to inform them about my wife’s decision, in the hope that they would advise her properly.
“Discussions on the issue continued until September 2016, when I could no longer get her on the phone, because normally I used to call her at night to avoid being caught by the police officers because it was an offence to make calls. I called my friend and requested him to go to my house and check my family. When he went, he saw that the house was locked. I told him to go to my wife’s shop; he went and told me that it was also locked also. I started making contacts and asking people, to know the whereabouts of my family. That was how I learnt that she had traveled.
“So, after two days my phone rang in prison and it was a foreign number. I picked the call and it was my wife. I asked her where she was, she told me that she was in Libya, I pleaded with her on phone to come back to Morocco or go to Nigeria but she refused. I asked her to give my children the phone and I spoke with them. After that call, she switched off her phone. Then I called the phone number of the person she was with in Libya and she picked after several trials and told me that I should thank God that my wife and children had entered reached. I was shocked and immediately I started having some unusual feelings.
Continuing the gripping tale, Ndigwe said that began calling his friends in different European countries, to ask them about his family but none of them had seen them. On further inquiries, Ndigwe learnt that the boat in which the wife and sons embarked on the voyage across the Mediterranean Sea had a problem very close to the Italian coast.
His words: “As they were approaching their target city, my wife out of joy stood up in the boat, probably to get a glimpse of the city. The boat tilted to one side and my son fell into the sea and was shouting, mummy, mummy. When my wife reached out to grab him and also fell into the sea. Though she was rescued, my son was not found. She was unconscious and vomiting a whitish substance. On the way to the hospital, she died. I have the video of the whole story because it was sent to me. My other two sons with her, who became stranded by the accident and her death, were rescued alive. When I heard this, I started calling my in-laws in Italy to help me locate my two surviving children, Tobechukwu Matthew Ndigwe and Ebubechukwu David Ndigwe – and eventually he found them where they were with the help of a lawyer. They also got the Nigerian embassy in Italy involved. When they saw the children, they were given my pictures to identify me. The older one excitedly shouted, ‘Daddy, daddy,’ and looking around thinking that I was close by. But they told them that I would come for them and then they went back to their office.
“They told me to come and claim my children but I was in prison at the time. I had to serve out my term, which remained about six months. When I came back to Nigeria, I went to the Italian embassy in January to apply for visa, travel to Italy to reunite with my children but I was denied visa. Instead, I was asked to appeal. I am simply appealing to the Nigerian government to use its diplomatic leverage to help me get a visa from the Italian government. Alternatively, the government can bring back my children to me.” Ndigwe stated.
Following their rescue, the two sons have in the custody of a guardian, Ms. Malandrino Maria Paula, in Siracusa, a city located 30km away from Catania in Italy.
He said the two surviving boys are his only hope and every thing he has on earth today. All he wants is to reunite with them.
Ndigwe recalled that while he was still in detention in Morocco, his relations had attempted to take custody of the children but the President of Tribunals of Minor in Catania, Italy, Dottorressa Pricoco Francisco, said that the two boys would only be released to their blood relation who must present himself or herself physically to the tribunal with his or her full identification and evidence of financial capability including bank statement.
The Judge further ruled: “Such a relation must bring to the tribunal a comprehensive biodata of the three boys including the elder one that died and also the identities of the children’s biological father and mother.”
It was based on that ruling by the Judge that Ndigwe applied for a visa to travel to Italy in line with the order of the judge. But the embassy turned down the request through a letter dated June 10, 2018, on a number of grounds.
However, in an appeal filed with the Appeal Section of the embassy, Ndigwe’s lawyer, A. M. Egbeson, stated that the applicant had provided more than enough documents both from Nigeria and from the Italian government, to fully establish that he is father of the children the wife intended to take into Italy before the disaster happened. He argued that the demand for financial capability should not in anyway be extended to the biological father of the children.
“Ikechukwu Ndigwe is applying to visit Italy to set his eyes on his children after the ill-fated journey that befell them and nothing more. Any decision to deny him the visit amounts to unfairness, inhuman and condemnable,” Egbeson said and urged the embassy to discountenance the earlier position and allow the Appeal in the interest of justice.
The lawyer said further: “If the appeal fails there is the ugly possibility that these children will forever not be allowed to see their only surviving relation, which is their biological father, Ikechukwu Ndigwe and as such a situation created by human mechanism is absolutely wrong and must be avoided at the earliest opportunity.
Meanwhile, the Chairman of Human Rights Defenders of Nigeria, Dede Uzor A. Uzor, has joined in the campaign to persuade the Italian authorities to respect the sanctity of human life by providing Citizen Ikechukwu with the necessary papers to travel and see his sons.
He however commended the Italian government for the rescue and safe custody of the two children, while appealing to them to expedite action on the release of the two boys. He urged the Italian authorities to console the unfortunate widower who is still mourning wife and 14-year-old first son, both of who died in the ill-fated journey.