Over 300 Nigerians languish  in Indonesian prisons

By Chioma Gabriel
T
IITO Henry Iyere, an indigene of Edo State had challenges in his business in Nigeria and decided to travel to Australia en route Indonesia in search of greener pasture. But he did not get to Australia.

He ended up at Indonesia where he served nine months in prison out of which he spent three in solitary confinement for standing surety for a man who borrowed $2,000 from an Indonesian and later ran away. His experience in prison opened his eyes to the travails of Nigerians serving prison terms in that country.        

Excerpts:

What really happened to you in Indonesia?

It is a long story. I just came back from Indonesia where I was locked up for nine months in prison. I had a transaction with somebody whereby I stood as a guarantor for a friend who borrowed money from another person. I was taken to the police and locked up. I was later charged to court and I was in jail for nine months and within that period, I saw how most Nigerians that were convicted for one crime or the other were being maltreated.

TITO Henry Iyere...I was in prison for nine months

There was a case of one Igbo man called Tony whose manhood was chopped off by Indonesian police. I was told he was involved in drugs. He said somebody asked him to pick up something for him and he picked up the parcel and was on his way to deliver it to the person that sent him when he was arrested for drug peddling  and his manhood was chopped off. I saw him in jail and he showed me his manhood and narrated how it was chopped off with a sharp scissors. I was so shocked.

There were so many other cases whereby, once you are a Nigerian and your visa expires, the Indonesian police would plant drug in your apartment and then arrest you for drug peddling. It happened to so many Nigerians whose visas expired. Some of them are now serving 10 to 20 years in prison.

Once you are a Nigerian and you have immigration problem, they would plant a substance in your apartment and label you a drug dealer and before you know it, they would take you to the police and if you call our embassy in that country, they don’t usually want to be associated with drug matters whether you really peddled drugs or not. And once you have been labelled a drug dealer, you would be taken to court and while in court, there would be nobody to defend you. In court, they would ask if you have a lawyer and you are not allowed any representation. They would take you to court and jail you. We had this case where a Nigerian was arrested and the police, they are called BN, went in search of that guy and till today, that guy is still missing. Nobody has been able to locate him.

The Nigerian community in Indonesia went in search of him but since the BN got him, nobody ever saw him again. We believe he was killed and nobody knows where he was buried. And there are many cases like that.

There’s somebody in jail over there and we can call him and ask him and he will tell you how that Nigerian guy got missing.

Is it confirmed that the Nigerian has died?

Well, nobody can find him several months after his arrest and nobody knew where he is. Other people who even have smaller cases of 419 are treated in similar manner. They don’t hang people for 419 or visa offences, except when they allege drug peddling against you. Nigerians were being given outrageous jail terms of ten years, twenty years, for offences their own people serve for six months. When I saw this, I told myself that when I get back to Nigeria, I would lay this complaint so that the Nigerian authorities would know what is going on with her people and if there is a way they can liaise with the Indonesian government, Nigerians serving different jail terms will get reprieve.

I learnt from one Nigerian prisoner that during the Obasanjo regime, he (OBJ) went to Thailand where he reached an agreement with the government of that country and Nigerians serving life jail terms in that country were released after four, five years and sent back to Nigeria to serve the rest of their terms. What I saw in Indonesian prison is a very terrible situation and I think the Nigerian government should do something. There is so much injustice done to Nigerians in that country. Even the president of Nigerians in diaspora in that country has made series of complaints over this but nothing was done.

Really, Nigerians serving jail terms in Indonesia need help because some of them have families here in Nigeria and their families don’t even know their people over there are in jail. They are languishing in jail and their families here in Nigeria cannot do anything. I was there, I know what was going on and I can tell you, it’s a bad situation. I came back on June 3, the day of the Dana aircrash. I complained to the people I know that things are not going on well with Nigerians in that country.

But Nigeria has an embassy in Indonesia, what is it doing about the problem?

For quite sometime, there was not an ambassador. There was an acting ambassador, Mrs. Izua and in the past, they always posted Hausas as ambassadors and there were few Nigerian Hausas in that country. Now, some of these past ambassadors are Muslims and most Nigerians, if not all in the prisons there are Christians. Really, it’s a bad case. I was about to killed but when my case was related to the ambassador representative, Mrs. Izua that they were about to kill me, she intervened. She was the ambassador representative for four, five months now. That woman took up the matter. She was really the one that saved me before the appointment of a new ambassador few weeks ago. That woman and one Mr. Yakubu were the ones who helped me. Otherwise, they would have killed me.

What took you to Indonesia?

I’m a businessman. Two years ago, somebody who came from there told me it would be easy for me to travel to Australia from Indonesia and New Zealand. I decided to go to Australia to look for work through Indonesia and that was what took to that country. I used to have a shop here in Nigeria and after the building where I had my shop was sold, I couldn’t afford another shop and I decided to go and work in Australia through Indonesia and that was it. I was jailed for nine months for standing as a surety for somebody who borrowed $2,000 dollars from a citizen of that country. Well, the person I stood surety for was not seen and he didn’t pay back the money and that was how they got me.

It was very difficult for me to raise money to travel to Indonesia. After the building where I had my shop was sold, somebody told me about job opportunities in Australia. I sold my car, raised N750,000 by rallying around my family. I got the visa but when I got to Indonesia, it was a different ball game. I called the guy who told me about the Australian connection but he said I should be patient. I was there waiting for my Australian contact until I stood surety for somebody who borrowed money and ran away. My offence was that I guaranteed the man would not run away but he did.

His house was still there but I didn’t know where the man went to but  the police said that since I stood surety for him, I should pay the $2,000. Well, I paid the $2,000 with the help of the Nigerian community but I still got jailed by the court. It was the desperation to survive that took me to Indonesia. I was on my way to Melbourne, Australia to work.

Were you maltreated in prison?

I was in prison for nine months . The treatment meted out to Nigerians is different. Because of the drug involvement of some Nigerians, others are being maltreated as well. I had nothing to do with drugs and that was why the ambassador representative, Mrs. Izue came to my aid. But it didn’t stop them from maltreating me. Even the money that somebody borrowed from an Indonesian which I stood surety for was repaid but I was still maltreated. After serving my nine months, I didn’t have money to come back home and I was told they cannot buy ticket for a deportee.

It was a Nigerian in prison  that volunteered to buy me a ticket. In Indonesian prisons, the Nigerians there are very big people. They are multi millionaires. But my case was different.

The embassy came to my aid because I didn’t push drugs. The embassy doesn’t help those that pushed drugs. They don’t involve themselves in such cases. I travelled legally to Indonesia. I got my passport legally. I got my passport in 2007 at Ikoyi near the old Secretariat. I travelled aboard Qatar Airline on the 10th June, 2010. I also had a Malaysian visa attached to my Indonesian visa. I returned 3rd of June this year.

What was the maximum term given to you before your escape?

I didn’t escape. I served out my term. I had no business going to prison for the offence I didn’t commit . In such an offence, once you returned the money, you are let off the hook but because I was a foreigner, they didn’t let me go. When my case came up again, the judge who handled the case in court asked why I was sentenced to prison after I have paid back the money I stood surety for. I went to jail because I was a foreigner.

What was your experience?

Well, in prison, I became a pastor. I won so many souls and when they saw that, they mellowed down. They have a church for Christians and a big Mosque for Muslims. There was also a place of worship for traditionalists.

My family suffered while I was away. My children were no longer going to school and so after my release, I had to return home to organise my family. I couldn’t continue to Australia. In fact, it was not possible or I wouldn’t have this ordeal. I was on solitary confinement for three months. I was isolated. I didn’t see anybody or talked to anybody for sixty days. I don’t speak their language. The guards would just bring food and pass it through the iron gate and disappear. I was alone and at a stage, I began to bang those gates and I did it for several days. I would be shouting prayers and singing worship songs until one day, they brought me out of isolation.

They wanted me to die in isolation but I kept telling myself aloud that I would not die there. They used all kinds of intimidation but I found a bible from American amnesty international which helped me a lot. The prison authorities didn’t allow the American amnesty group to see me. They have a lawyer but they didn’t let him see me. But I eventually came out of confinement after 60 days.

It was then that I began to go to church and began to meet other Nigerians.

How many Nigerians are in prison there?

There are over 300 Nigerians in Indonesian prisons. Out of that 300, 15 are on death row, eight are serving life imprisonment. Others who committed mild offences were being heaped together with drug dealers.

They are scattered in different prisons in Indonesia. In the prison where I served, there were seven of us. But let me tell you, the embassy doesn’t involve itself with problems that have to do with drugs or 419 and their police are unfriendly.

They usually tell you if they notice you’re a Nigerian that your passport is fake, that your embassy cannot come because they are scared, that they can kill you and nothing will happen. That’s how they kill Nigerians.

There’s a guy that is declared missing now. That guy is dead but his body was not found. They are killing Nigerians. They would have killed me, that was why they isolated me but the embassy came to my aid when they learnt my offence was minor.

A lot of Nigerians do drugs

I didn’t do drugs. I’m legit. I’m a businessman but after the building where I had my shop was sold, I was stranded here in Nigeria. I had to sell things to raise money to travel to Australia en route Indonesia but I never got o Australia. I ended up in prison in Indonesia and that was bad.

Nigerian government should dialogue with Indonesian government and help the plight of Nigerians in that country. Some people who should serve five, six years term are serving fifteen and twenty years. Some were falsely labelled drug dealers because their passports expired but rather than repatriate them, they label them drug-peddlers. In some cases, they planted the drugs themselves in their homes. I think the Nigerian government should look into these issues.

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