By Luke Onyekakeyah
What then is the rational in lamenting about Nigerians that escaped the hardship at home but happened to find themselves in prison? I think Dabiri-Erewa and her team were just dramatising their junket to Brazil in order to attract unnecessary attention after which nothing happens.
What actually is the Nigerians in Diaspora campaign out to achieve? Is it to engage in globetrotting to foreign jails to count the number of Nigerians out there? Is it to negotiate their release? (So far, I'm not aware that any prisoner had been released on that account). Is it to negotiate their transfer to Nigerian prisons? Most of those prisoners would prefer serving their jail terms abroad than in Nigeria. Maybe this campaign is just another avenue to siphon public funds.
Is Hon. Dabiri-Erewa's committee out to resettle returnee Nigerians by way of work and accommodation? There is no such programme for Nigerians at home. By the way, I was in Japan in 1998 when former President Olusegun Obasanjo came to Tokyo on a visit calling on Nigerian experts there to return home and help develop the country. When I finished my programme and returned in 2000, there was no job for me.
The Enugu State University of Technology (ESUT) and Imo State University, Owerri where I taught before I travelled refused to re-instate me because politics and not academics had taken over the universities. Your political affiliation or leaning determines your employment. If you're not a crony to a politician or seen as a representative of a favoured political interest, you won't be employed. So, where is the patriotic call for Nigerians abroad to return and help in building the fatherland?
We are in a country where the system doesn't care for the citizenry. Millions of youths are roaming about the street without employment. There is no programme for the elderly. Retirees and pensioners don't even get paid their pension. Those in prison are forgotten, in fact, they are like dead folks. They survive by divine grace. Poverty, disease and ignorance blight the country. At the same time, a few privileged politicians and their cronies revel in opulence, while majority of the people are in pain and suffering.
Based on the foregoing, Dabiri-Erewa and his team should start from the home front to keep this Nigeria house in order instead of chasing those who have voluntarily escaped. There is no way she can pretend to love Nigerians in Diaspora more than those at home who are dying of hunger. She should start from the home front to show her concern for Nigerians. If they make laws that would make life better in Nigeria, there would be lesser exodus of people. And there would be less empty talk about Nigerians in Diaspora.
Hon. Dabiri-Erewa and her team reportedly visited Brazil recently following information she got from a Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO), Youth Without Borders about Nigerians languishing in jails there. She promptly zoomed off to Brazil. Over there, they visited prisons where Nigerians were inmates. They counted 458 Nigerian prison inmates, including a 72 year-old woman.
Speaking on her return in Abuja, Dabiri-Erewa said her committee was "touched by the pitiable condition of the inmates". Hear what she said, "We were touched by the psychological traumas that the inmates were going through, despite the cleanliness and orderliness of the prison environment". Please mark the words "cleanliness and orderliness of the prison environment". Those prisons were clean and orderly. What is the condition of Nigerian prisons where thousands of folks are dumped without care? Who visits them to assess their condition?
The climax of the visit seems to be the 72 year-old woman prisoner, Fausat Abosede. Dabiri-Erewa said her team was "disturbed by the predicament" of the old woman who went to Brazil for medical treatment but got entangled in drugs through an acquaintance. She faulted the Brazilian authorities for keeping the old woman in prison contrary to the law of the country, which stipulates that suspects of her age should be kept under house arrest.
Good and patriotic, one would say. But how I wish Dabiri-Erewa's moves in Brazil reflect the true spirit of Nigeria towards her citizens. There is hypocrisy in the whole thing. Over there, her delegation feigned patriotic Nigerians who have sympathy for their fellow Nigerians in difficult circumstances abroad. But right here at home there is no care about who is decaying in prison? For instance, who cares if 200 inmates are clamped into cells meant for 50 inmates? Who cares if old men and women are dumped into the same cells with hardened criminals?
I find this whole thing about Nigerians in Diaspora as playing double-standards. And, so far, it is not that the committee has been able to redeem any Nigerian from a difficult circumstance abroad. Daily, most Nigerians who have escaped from the harsh economic and social condition in the country are being clamped into prisons around the world mostly in drug related offences.
There is practically no country in the world where you won't get Nigerian prisoners. The statistics is staggering. In tiny Togo next door, reports say there are 800 Nigerian prisoners; Britain has over 20,000 Nigerian prisoners; China has over 732 Nigerians in prisons. In Turkey, there are more than 400 Nigerians in Istanbul prisons alone. And in the United States, some 500 persons were reported to be in prison for spousal abuse alone. If there were prisons in the moon, Nigerians would be there.
Last year, the Foreign Ministry estimated that altogether, there were 5,145 Nigeria female prisoners abroad; 3,719 awaiting deportation, 1,640 in detention and 52 on death row. As a matter of fact, there are three or four times the number of Nigerians in foreign prisons than we have at home. That shows what the country has turned into. Hon. Abike Dabiri-Erewa's committee has a lot to do. Taking occasional trips to some countries won't solve the problem. The solution must begin at home.
After all the lamentation, how many of the prisoners were brought back to Nigeria? Not even one. It seems to me that the committee went to Brazil to lament in front of cameras when the prisoners at home are languishing in more deplorable condition.
Rather than helping matters, that approach tarnishes Nigeria's image. Nigeria is not the only country whose citizens are in foreign prisons. Beaming searchlight on this every time taints our image. If the government wants to do something to address the matter, they should do it diplomatically in a silent manner. Making a fanfare of our mess is counter-productive.
Dabiri-Erewa and her committee should start from the home front to make life better for Nigerians. It is foolhardy lamenting the plight of citizens who have left the shores of the country to fend for themselves elsewhere when those at home are in more appalling condition.
That one is in prison abroad doesn't make him or her more endearing Nigerian. After all, scores of people are clamped into detention here daily and nobody talks about it. That Abike Dabiri-Erewa was shedding crocodile tears for 458 Nigerian prisoners in Brazil when thousands of hapless Nigerians are languishing in colonial dilapidated prisons across the country is ludicrous.
As at July 2011, there were 40,189 prison inmates in Nigeria out of which 64 per cent or 25,000 are awaiting trial cases. Since the law says a suspect is innocent until he or she is proved guilty, it simply means that we are in a country where innocent people are clamped into prison without trial. What are Dabiri-Erewa and her team doing about that? They may say it is outside their brief but what are they doing by way of legislation to improve the appalling condition of prisons in Nigeria? I would have appreciated what the committee is doing if the country is conducive and livable. But that is not the case.
While I accept that it is patriotic to remember Nigerians abroad like the developed countries do for their citizens, such actions should start from the home front. The United States, Japan and all the European countries go to any length to fight for the safety and welfare of their citizens anywhere in the world, knowing that those citizens are better off at home. The authorities in Nigeria should do the same. Our governments should make Nigeria conducive for Nigerians. A situation where life is unbearable for most Nigerians, while a few privileged politicians and their cronies swindle the population and then turn around to lament when people migrate to other countries is sheer hypocrisy.