By SIMON EBEGBULEM,BENIN CITY
It was another sad tales of horror by a fresh set of 335 Edo state indigenes who were rescued and brought back home from slavery in Libya. They all recounted their bitter experiences and regretted leaving the shores of Nigeria to seek greener pastures. They recalled how they were starved of food, beaten everyday while the girls were forced into prostitution to make money for their masters.
The Libyan returnees arrived the state last Monday and were part of the first batch of 481 who were airlifted by the Federal Government delegation to Libya, who arrived Port Harcourt last Sunday. Presently, there are about 2,300 returnees being rehabilitated by the Edo state government at the hotel where they were being camped.
However, some of the returnees spoke to Saturday Vanguard about their experiences in Libya.
I dressed like a mad man so I won’t be arrested-Joseph
“I spent a year and four months in Libya. I dropped out of school in SS 2 due to poverty. I started hustling and I became a stylist but my Oga sold the shop behind me and I was stranded. I was frustrated because I thought I had settled down. So, I started doing menial jobs and after I had saved some money, I called one of my friends who travelled abroad to tell me what to do. He introduced me to somebody, and I called the person who promised to help me.
Initially he asked me to bring N450,000 but I told him I had only N210,000. He then said that, that amount could only take me from Nigeria to the first state in Libya and I told him not to worry that he should take me there and that when I got there I would source for more funds. I spent over a month there before my family members were able to send me some money.
I spent N50,000 from Sabba to Tripoli. I was staying with the person who wanted to help me, there was a ghetto there where he kept those of us he wanted to take to Italy. So, when he told me that if I could give him N100,000 he would take me to Italy, I worked for the money in Libya and I paid him the money. However, we waited endlessly for that day but the day never came. People became frustrated and the bad boys in Libya came there and arrested me on August 23, last year in Tripoli.
“Libya is like a pit, going in is a problem, coming out is also a problem. Once you are in, it’s difficult for you to come back. I dressed like a mad man because once you dressed well they would arrest you and put you in their jail so you could call your people to bring money. You can’t carry phones anywhere, you are not free at all.
They kidnap people and use them as slaves and unfortunately they don’t have police or anything, no laws in Libya. I started barbing hair and hustling but when I was arrested it was hell in prison. They beat people every day. The girls were sold into slavery for prostitution. No food, no water sometimes we had to drink our urine to survive.
They threw away the corpses of our brothers in the desert—Odemwingie
“I spent ten months in Libya. Every day I hoped I was going to cross to Italy but no way. I was there when about five boats left but they were arrested and I stayed. I was waiting before they came to arrest me and took me to a deportation camp. From there I was taken from one prison to another prison and I was taken to six prisons. In prison. I ate small macaroni in prison for six months before the Nigerians government came to rescue us. We were beaten everyday and I have injuries all over me. They used us for force labour and if you argued they would threaten us with God or they would shoot us.
On December 20, a Nigerian guy who was in prison with us died. On the 24th another one died as well as on the 25th and they told us that whenever they were taking us back that we would go with the corpses for burial in Nigeria but when we were coming now the corpses did not come with us. It is obvious they have gone to give them mass burial as usual. They have no value for human beings at all. But I am back now and I want a second chance”.
They beat us before and after food each day——Donald Omoregbe
After learning how to be a stylist, I had to hustle for money to travel out. I sold everything I had including the room I rented to go to Libya. But when I got to Libya I found out that it was a place where they hate blacks. When ever they saw a black man it was like they had seen gold because they used black as slaves to make money. There was a time they came to take some of us in the camp, trained us to fight war for them because they always hold their internal elections and it is about war. In this particular camp about 248 persons died in my presence the day they attacked us.
This camp was close to the sea and a lot of others died inside the river that we know. One of our Igbo friends, they shot his leg and they did not treat him. The leg got worse and they had to amputate the leg. They shot another on his chest, many died. I was arrested by the sea side and it was hell. I saw different kinds of guns the day I was arrested.
I stayed in prison for eight months eating only Oza bread (little bread). Before we ate, they would beat us and after eating they would beat us, they said they wanted us to leave their country, yet they were using us to make money, but if you are able to give them money they will allow you to stay.
I was therefore happy when they said the Federal Government and our governor wanted us back. All I want now is to open my shop because if I can open it I will settle down and mind my life. I want government to assist me.
Our food was drugged——Sarah Sarah Idris
“I spent three months in prison, I was arrested at the sea side while I was trying to travel through the sea. I was kept in three different prisons, it was a terrible experience. They were drugging our food so that after eating it we would feel weak. We could not move anywhere, we would feel dizzy and useless. We were surviving with the food in prison, sometimes they would be nice to the girls but not the boys. Libya is not a country, I can’t advise anybody to go because they are evil.
My friend was in front of me the day we were arrested. I can’t even see her now whether she succeeded in traveling through the sea I don’t know. I just pray that she is alive that is my worry now. I want to go back to school, I was a stylist before I left. I wrote my WAEC and JAMB in 2014 but there was no body to help me to further my education and that was why I decided to fly out. I have no parents but I have younger ones”.
I was in Libyan underground jail for months—Uwadia
I was already crossing the sea heading to Italy when they arrested me on the water. I spent six months before trying to cross but now spent eight months in prison. We were already heading close to Italian border before the bad people in Libya came to arrest us and threw us into jail.
The jail is not a place to go because people died like chicken there. It was a place where you will wake up and discover that the next person to you was dead, we would go and report to them but they would beat you and throw the body away into the desert. I was kept in an underground prison for months and it was because they came to take away one Nigerian guy one night and one day when I saw one of the Libyans and asked him where the Nigerian guy was. He called his people and they started beating me and after that they took me to their underground prison. They broke my leg and beat the hell out of me.
People died in that underground prison every day, the place looked like where they kept condemned criminals. But I was lucky when the delegation that President Buhari sent to come and bring us back came, one of the men who came into the prison insisted that they should open a door leading to the underground prison, that was how he forced them to open it and we came out. We thank God we came back alive because Libyan road is where you go and may not come back.
Meanwhile, there was pandemonium at the camp last Tuesday when the new returnees demanded the sum of one hundred Euro which they claimed was given to their colleagues who arrived through Lagos by the International Organization for Migration (IOM). The Situation created tension until the state government delegation led by the Attorney General of the state and Commissioner for Justice, Prof. Yinka Omoregbe who also doubles as the chairman of the Task Force Against Human Trafficking explained that they were being misinformed about the money. It was glaring that this set of Returnees have been in prison for too long before they arrived Nigeria and you could see some violent traits in them unlike those who arrived earlier.
Apart from the IOM money, the returnees were also demanding that they be given the sum of N5,000 as transport to their various homes but officials of the state government were insisting they should undergo different tests including HIV before they were given any money as transport. But majority of the returnees disagreed insisting they should be given money or no deal.
However, police men and soldiers stormed the camp to quell what seemed like a rebellion and that was when Prof.Omorogbe who was obviously shocked with the action of the angry Returnees was given the opportunity to address the returnees telling them that they were misinformed. She explained that “there are two evacuation programmes.
The first one is by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM). Returnees that are brought into the country by the IOM, receive one hundred (100) Euros, courtesy of the European Union, which is about forty-one thousand naira (N41,000).
This set of returnees are brought into Nigeria through Lagos and are given their money in Lagos. The Federal Government evacuation programme is the second programme and brings in Nigerians through Port Harcourt and no money is given to the returnees. So, some of the returnees brought in by the federal government are having difficulty going home to their families. The Edo State government, though almost stampeded, is doing all within its power to assist in returning the affected people to their families through the payment of some allowance”.
She further explained to Saturday Vanguard that “When they come to Benin, we have a package for them. We give them a pack for their essential needs. We profile them, we do medicals for them, we do counseling for them and we keep them for a couple of days for those who wish to stay. We have a stipend programme of three months for every single returnee. The stipend is not available immediately. We do not start payment immediately. Their biometric are taken by the revenue service, they open an account and pay the stipend into their bank accounts. We have paid for the first few set of returnees.
We do not give money at the venue. On the designated day, they will receive message from us and get their money. The returnees from Port Harcourt were brought under a different regime. I am told they are not paid any stipend. These people from Port Harcourt, maybe they have been told about our stipend and the money others got from Lagos and believed they will get the money immediately. We decided to manage them and opted to give them some money for transportation. It was not what we planned. These ones see themselves as not getting the same standard of treatment.
“What we have done is the proactive nature of Governor Godwin Obaseki. No amount has been approved to be given to returnees at this stage. This is a stipend, that you cannot expect people to go home like that. We now made the N5000 provision on the spot. We are in discussion with the federal government. Everything the Edo state government has promised to do is what we are doing. There is no deviation from our promise. We are committed to paying the stipend for three months. During those three months, some sort of training programme would have been done for the returnees.”