Posted by Emmanuel Onwubiko | 14 February 2015 | 2,853 times
The above caption was given to me by an Ethiopian religious leader I ran into in Heathrow Airport, London, United Kingdom on Sunday February 8, 2015. Well, before this man made this revealing and inspirational catchy phrase, during our on-the-spur-of-the-moment conversation; while waiting for a train to take me to central London to one of the economy hotels I booked online, after a gruelling session of travelling from Abuja my beautiful nation’s capital. Something funny happened to me as I made to pass through the British Border Post, at the prestigious Heathrow Airport (Terminal Five), and these experiences will linger in my memories for years.
I do not wish to whet your appetites any further as I intend to just tell you what happened to me, even though I do not intend to classify it as racial profiling, since the bulk of the officers of the British Border team that I saw while my harsh encounters lasted were even darker in skin colour than my humble self whose chocolate and/or ebony black colour can be mistaken for an African American. Americans, as you may have known, are well respected in Britain.
Dear readers, I was to be processed by this beautiful looking White British Immigration Officer to enter the territory of the United Kingdom, where I have chosen to spend few days holidaying after nearly two years of working relentlessly without break. But the interview that ordinarily ought not to have lasted few minutes took approximately an hour. This lady, who is not half my age, kept unleashing one question after the other: regarding why, where, when and what I planned to do in the United Kingdom; and of all the questions, one of them sounded so awkward and revealing. She saw my old ECOWAS passport and demanded to know when I stopped working for ECOWAS. But I repeatedly educated her that what she has before her very eyes is Economic Community of West African Countries regional passport; not staff identity card and it’s not relevant to these whole questions of why I am in the United Kingdom.
After about twenty five minutes of bombarding me with questions even asking why I haven't travelled with my wife, as if there is now a universal law that husbands must always travel with their wives, the British Immigration Officer took out a small white sheet of paper with some printed inscriptions and signed out some few words and handed it over to me and never allowed me the comfort of even reading through what she gave me. She then matched me to a nearby counter and detained me in the full glare of thousands of international travellers. Interestingly, she excused herself with my passports and rushed to her other colleagues and gestured to me that she would be back in a jiffy. But who said she would? This lady kept me detained in this open detention facility in Heathrow Airport for nearly 45 minutes. And sadly, while I sat down other two groups of people who were clearly Nigerians were similarly walked into this open place and were also told to seat and await the decision. As I glanced through that white paper served on me I could see lots of British Immigration laws cited showing that I am completely at the mercy of this young girl; and that whatever she decides will be followed to the last instruction regarding whether I should be allowed entry into the United Kingdom or not. I wasn’t really worried if I would be allowed in because, first of all, it was my wife that practically encouraged me to fly to the United Kingdom to take a deserved holiday after this long period of hard work, including producing a book described in a critical The Guardian Book Review page, as ‘massive’. I wasn’t bothered if I would be asked to return with the next available flight since that would greatly conserve the scarce British pounds sterling that have become like white falcons that cannot be seen easily in Nigeria; given the rapidly declining international asking price of crude oil, on which Nigeria depends as the only major source of foreign revenue. So I said to myself if this girl asked that I should be repatriated back to Nigeria, at least, what I have on me which I would have spent on hotels and other freebies in the UK can comfortable finish up my on-going building project in Owerri, the Imo State capital.
Well, discovering that she was dead wrong in keeping an innocent man for no just cause, other than she was not totally abreast of the facts surrounding the document she saw with me, she returned and asked me to follow her. I did. So when I thought that it is finished, she smiled and gave me back my documents: almost like practically ushering me into 'Paradise'. Well, before allowing me to finally go, she became unusually friendly with an uncanny sense and intelligence of still trying to discover other hidden facts about me. She asked me why I once cancelled my trip to the United Kingdom in December 2014. When I educated her that the technical hitches that occurred in Heathrow made it impossible for flights to land, for like two days, within the same period I intended to travel, and that this forced me to cancel my trip. When I further informed her that I only recently recovered from flight fright or fear of flying, she looked at me with sympathy and asked if I now find it comfortable to fly. I answered in the affirmative and so we parted ways. I made to enter the luggage's compartments to retrieve my two bags, but what I also experienced in the hands of one hyper-active customs officer is, to say the least, discouraging and seriously reinforced the idea that Nigerians are, indeed, the 'wretched' of the Earth: if they continue to delay the much expected revolution to fix Nigeria once and for all.
If Nigeria is fixed and made to work and all criminal elements are arraigned and made to pay for their heinous crimes, then some of us who even don’t normally like flying around the world would just travel by train to places like Obudu Ranch, and other places of interest like the Bauchi Reserves, to while away time during holidays and even save the scarce foreign currency we would blow if we travel to the Western world. It baffles every right thinking person that Nigeria’s political elite would travel to functional nations outside the shores of Nigeria and live in places that look like semi-paradise on Earth, but would return to Nigeria to lord it on the poor masses and preside over the massive looting and stealing of our commonwealth. That reminds me of a Permanent Secretary in the current Federal Government, who once worked in the office of Head of Service of the Federation whom I saw in the first-class compartments of the British Airway flight that brought us to the United Kingdom. This same Head of Nigerian Civil Service just released a national ban on foreign trips for top government officials. Yet, here is this same Permanent Secretary that once worked in that office travelling to Europe in a big way, only hours after the ban on foreign trip with government fund was issued. This same man, in the days of struggle as a journalist, can hardly buy himself economy ticket. But that Sunday I saw him enjoying first-class ride to the United Kingdom, even when his other political class members are dancing on the graves of thousands of Nigerians murdered in their sleep by terrorists and mass hunger in the land.
Away from this unmitigated digression. This British custom officer accosted me and demanded that I opened my bags and I did. He politely took out some of my items and run them through a computer and came back after about five minutes and smilingly gave them back to me and wished me happy stay in Britain.
And so when I came out after these gruelling times with the British Immigration and customs and met this Ethiopian man, who saw me and asked if I am a Nigerian. And when I told him yes, the next thing he told me was that he keeps wondering why Nigerians have failed to fix their country. He said Abuja is such a beautiful modern city and that he was shocked to constantly read in the press that Boko Haram, armed Islamic rebels are threatening to wipe out the Christian minority tribes in North-east and to ruin Nigeria; and also said he was shocked that the Nigerian military doesn’t seem to know what to do to crush these rebels and restore peace and tranquility to Nigeria. I agreed with him, particularly when he generously displayed good and working knowledge of Lagos and Abuja. I too told him that I am as shocked as he is, since there is no place like home. In Nigeria our immigration officers are so courteous that they welcome people of different races with the smile of warmth and hospitality. But here in the Europe, the immigration officers will first believe that you are a criminal until proven otherwise by you. Why do they believe that any Nigerian that enters legitimately into Britain may not likely take himself or herself home? This is a hugely deficient reasoning since I myself been someone that has travelled and returned to my home country on several counts can as well be seen with an eye of suspicion. So you see why I said that I am dead shocked that the Nigerian political elite are doing everything in their evil political lexicon to destroy Nigeria so they can escape to enjoy their loots. But they are making the worst mistake of their lives because, no matter how much you may have accumulated in your offshore accounts, so long as you have no foreign passports you would still be seen as a crook who intends to hide away from the immigration officials. So it’s crazy that Nigerians can’t fix Nigeria.
•RIGHTSVIEW appears on Saturdays, in addition to special appearances. The Columnist, popular activist Emmanuel Onwubiko, is a former Federal Commissioner of Nigeria’s National Human Rights Commission and presently National Coordinator of Human Rights Writers’ Association of Nigeria (HURIWA).
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