By Chinwe Ochu, This Day
Chinwe Ochu who was in Rabat, Morocco recently tells the sordid life of Nigerian illegal immigrants in that country which revolves around drugs, rape, begging, tribal gangsterism, murder and other criminal activities. She also encountered one of the Nigerians who wants to go back home
Her spoken English is good. She would not strike you as someone who would abandon her studies in the university for an illegal stay abroad. I met Joy Peters, a 22 year-old secondary school graduate from Ememuri, Edo State at the Nigerian Embassy in Rabat, Morocco. She had given herself up for repatriation to Nigeria after her dreadful stay in Morocco.
Through a friend, she had met a man named 'Baba London' in Benin City, “who promised to take her to Spain to help his wife out in her boutique business.” According to her, the recklessness of the whole arrangement was that she did not know Baba London from Adam and did not ask the necessary questions; neither did she pay him any fees for the travel.
“My father is late and I normally help my mother in the farm. I am the last in the family. So I wanted to put one or two things together so that I can provide more money for us.” Two days after the meeting, she set off with him; in addition to two other girls from Edo State on the journey. “I did not know him. I didn't ask him any questions. He never told me that we were going to Morocco.”
She described to THISDAY the horrendous journey: to Morocco: “I left Nigeria on February 3, 2009. When we (ten of us) were going, we passed through the desert with a Maburro jeep. On our way, we met other people in Algeria and then we got to Morocco and stopped. We got to Morocco in April. It was a long journey. We took the desert road from Issalha to Wahkla to Oran to Algeria, because we faced deportation to Tisawhati. So, we spent almost three months on the road.”
When I asked what sustained them on the journey, she said: “He bought some food items; we were eating Geisha, bread and some juice on the way. We were three girls form Benin that Baba London took. I don't know where all the girls are right now because I was locked up immediately we got to Rabat, Morocco.
“I told him that this was not the Europe that we agreed upon and he said that I should not worry that from Morocco, we will pass through the sea to Europe. I became scared and told him that my mother was not aware of me leaving the house. I now told him that I am going back to Nigeria and he insisted that I should stay there and later I will be in Europe. I said no because I have heard stories that people used to die in the sea. That got me scared.”
Joy continued: “When he wanted to go back to Nigeria he handed me over to his friend, an Edo man named Ason, who was maltreating me. He said that he had spent six years in Morocco. That first night, he was nice. Then everything changed. I later found out that he does not have a work. He begs for a living. A lot of young Nigerian men beg for alms in Morocco to feed. He smokes Hashish and marijuana and comes back very drunk. He raped me all night and will invite his friends too. He said that he attended Ambrose Ali University, Ekpoma and that he was an Eye cultist. That if I scream, he will cut me in pieces. When I refuse, he will beat me mercilessly and say that I do not respect his friends. He ties me up every time he goes out, hands and feet with shoe laces. It was really painful. When he comes back from his begging, he will bring the little food stuff he brought and I will cook just like his wife.”
Joy alleged that she made several attempts to escape Ason's grip, but she was not successful. “Once, I ran away and met an Igbo man who said that he does not want to get involved with these boys because they are dangerous; and he returned me to him.”
All indications pointed to the fact that she was sold to the said Ason as a sex slave. It was then Ason's responsibility to make contacts with other 'buyers' from Spain, who will in turn pay so much money for Joy. Just like the slave trade. Joy would overhear some men bargaining prices for her. She escaped when Ason forgot to lock the door one day and ran to an Ivorian woman in the neighbourhood, who equally begs for a living. She accommodated her until she was strong enough to go to the Nigerian Embassy.
According to her, at the Embassy, she is not even safe since the Ason has friends everywhere and would inform him of her whereabouts. “He will wait for me at the corner till he gets me. I have made him loose some money because no one has bought me already.”
Commenting on the present state of affairs, Mrs. Amina Garba, a Councillor at the Nigerian Embassy in Rabat, Morocco said the situation of Nigerian illegal immigrants in Morocco is really shameful and pathetic. She said the number of Nigerian citizens in the country is not definite due to the high incidence of unregistered arrivals. Garba said most of them are wanted people back in Nigeria. According to her, they are mostly felons who escaped the law from their various states in Nigeria and traveled through the desert road to North Africa.
“The unemployed Nigerians here beg for alms to feed themselves. They go to public places like the mosques, supermarkets carrying their babies and wearing tattered clothes. It's a difficult situation for us here. Most of them come here and continue with their various nefarious activities. They are hardened criminals. They normally demand what they call “passage money” from new Nigerian settlers into their neighbourhood. Failure to provide such fees often results in bloodshed.”
Another situation has reared its ugly head amongst the illegal Nigerian immigrants' community in Morocco-tribalism. Garba explained that “these Nigerians in Morocco have “houses,” according to tribes. Each tribe has a chairman that coordinates the group. Sometimes they have tribal wars amongst themselves that result in violence and bloodshed. Each and every house has own mafia and perpetuates violence. Recently, an Esan man killed an Igbo man over a dispute of 20 dirams (Moroccan currency).
“He was subsequently arrested and sentenced to twenty years in prison. The Igbos, instead of leaving the matter as it is, started their revenge scheme by kidnapping all Edo people that they could lay their hands on, raping, maiming and killing them.
“Reports have it that in Ouchda (a border town between Morocco and Algeria); there is an Igbo man called the 'National Lord'. He arranges for the kidnap of a large number of female illegal immigrants whom he locks up in rooms. While being raped, these women are videotaped and the videos sent to their relatives in Europe demanding ransom for their release. He is said to be rich and bribes his way out of prosecution,” Garba told THIS DAY.
When asked what the Embassy is doing about this 'National Lord' and other nefarious Nigerians, Garba said “When the embassy sought more information on the said 'National Lord', nobody wanted anything to do with the investigation. Nobody wanted to reveal anything.”
The Councillor said that the Consular issue is the Embassy's most daunting challenge. She said that “if only the Nigerians can live peacefully amongst themselves . . . The Moroccan police sometimes say that they have let some Nigerians that are illegal immigrants go because they look poor and harassed. What they are bothered about is for them not to disrupt public peace.”
According to her, statistics have it that in the Casablanca prison, Nigerians are the second largest in number after the Moroccans- totaling over 100. Of this number, 60 are for drug-related offences, while the others are jailed for murder, maiming and violence of all sorts.
At the end of the day, Joy entreated to be taken back home to Nigeria, saying that she wanted to go back to school. “I wouldn't wish for what I went through for my enemy”, she said.
Is it not high time Nigerians stopped bringing shame to this great country and work for the common good of Nigeria? Although we might be lacking in basic infrastructure for a normal living, engaging in disgraceful conduct outside the shore of this country will contribute to the negative perception that pervades the average hardworking innocent Nigerian worldwide. Or are we not re- branding anymore?