Benson LarryFriday, February 23, 2007
Zurich, Switzerland



n the beginning, he was the only one on the floor, dancing, jumping and sweating profusely. For the few that were in this popular Zurich night club, he was simply a delight to watch. By the time more people joined him on the floor, one would almost think he wanted to rubbish others in a dancing competition.

Olawale Bashir Chukwu, better known as OBC, had his reason to be happy. It was his birthday. And that was how he chose to celebrate it. When he announced this to other guests in the club, the few Nigerians around, showing a brotherly love, cheerfully sang the usual chorus.happy birthday to you.

On his part, the celebrant eventually "washed" his birthday to show his appreciation to his well-wishers. Trust Nigerians, within the blinking of an eye, in their usual funny and "owanbe" nature, they took over the whole club, formed a ring around OBC and treated guests to hilarious moments. It appeared well-planned and organised that no one would ever believe that the celebration was a coincidence.

Ironically however, that same night, it was some of these Nigerian well-wishers that led the celebrant to a place no one prays to inhabit or visit - even for a day: Zurich Detention Centre. OBC was a guest there for five weeks. How did it happen? How did people that just celebrated with you and wished you a happy birthday lead you into a confinement?

OBC told his story to Benson Larry in Zurich.


In the early morning hours after the celebration, I left the club in the company of some of my Nigerian well-wishers. Honestly, I didn't know them before; we only met at the club. It was my birthday celebration that brought us together.

We were waiting to take a train at the Zurich main station when some policemen came to us, asked questions and decided to conduct a search on us. After a little resistance from one of us, they found a huge amount of money, some stuff suspected to be hard drugs and some fake documents on him. There and then, my agony began.

At this point, they (the police) asked us to follow them to their station for further interrogation. My whole world broke down. How could fate play this fast one on me? Not on my birthday! I thought within myself.

Anyway, at the station, the questioning continued as the police wanted to know more about my "well-wishers". Still not convinced about my response, the officers knew I would still be with them longer than 24 hours, they then asked if I had a personal lawyer or they should provide one for me. After a while, a state lawyer took up my case and I had to leave for the detention centre.

Though the officials at the centre were very nice, I wasn't really myself as different thoughts ran through my head. Am I really a detainee? Is this supposed to be a providential present for my birthday? Why did I allow my fellow Nigerians to celebrate with me? Or why did I even go to the train station with them? Why do I deserve this? Why?


The detention centre was like a hotel where you could choose the kind of service you wanted. For instance, you could decide to be alone in the room or share with a partner. Every detainee is entitled to 6CHf (equivalent of #600) as pocket money everyday. You are allowed to work with low wages, but you need to be of good behaviour. You may decide not to work since it's not compulsory. During my short time there, I worked and earned some money for myself, which I used to buy provisions like milk, toothpaste, toothbrush, etc. You only need to put in an order and after 3 days you have your delivery which would be subtracted from your account. When you are leaving the centre, the balance would be given to you.


I had a room to myself. The room was small but self-contained with a toilet and bathroom. It's also equipped with a TV that has about 40 channels - CNN, BBC, Eurosport, etc. Apart from when we were allowed to stroll around on the big field or do sports, I spent my whole time in the room reading the Bible, praying, watching CNN and sports channels.

As a detainee, you may receive visitors depending on how long you've been there and the level of interrogation with the prison officials. No one visited me during my incarceration. But the truth is that very few Nigerians are confident enough to visit a police station because you never know what kind of information the Swiss police have about you. Therefore, better not walk into a lion's den! Perhaps, that explains why even my friends stayed away.

Many Nigerians were in the detention for different reasons though none would be ready to tell you why he was there. However, I visited a Nigerian in his room after having done some sports together. He confided in me that he was a "businessman that specialised in moving goods" from other European countries to Switzerland. The "goods" I later learned were hard drugs. According to him, he was "arrested on duty" on one of the fast trains from the Netherlands.

I only met other Nigerians when we were let out on the field for an hour. We spent this period discussing Nigeria and the coming elections. We discussed OBJ, EFCC, Niger Delta, 3rd term issue, etc.

Surprisingly, most of us didn't really care which direction the country took as we only talked politics to avoid boredom. Maybe because we all felt, being in detention, the worst had already happened. It didn't really matter again which term OBJ wanted - 3rd, 4th or even 10th. After all, we were living in our own world.


Yes. The centre is a separate world. A world you could choose to live in but can never influence while you are there. Some Nigerians were waiting for deportation but they were not happy about it. For them, the place provided all they came to seek abroad - work and earn money. If they had their way, they'll like to apply for a residence permit in the camp; to stay in there permanently and live quietly.

They'll gladly state their reasons. They argued, that while their three square meals could not be guaranteed if they were deported back to Nigeria, the centre offers regular meals for detainees. A vegetarian detainee could have his wish; a staunch Muslim would not be served pork and there were always extra plates of food for any "waki and die". In short, the meal was comparable to what the airlines serve on flights: delicious and nourishing. For any health complaint, there's a hundred percent medical coverage in the centre as one only needs to book an appointment and the doctor would show up within a short time! What do you want more?

These Nigerians weren't alone in this kind of thinking. In fact, a detainee from the eastern blocs who was there for the second time told us while we were watching one of the champions' league matches on T.V that the place had long ceased to be a detention centre for him. He believes, it's simply a home away from home. Little wonder he was always smiling. His prayer was that they won't release him until the cruel winter days were over.


While I asked myself questions about what brought me there, the only answer I found was in my belief in God who, of course, knew why I had to suffer this fate.

On a Sunday morning, almost exactly the same time I used to leave for Church, I heard a knock on my door. It was my lawyer. He visited me a number of times before to brief me about the status of my case, but never so early. Nevertheless, he brought a message of joy. I should pack my things together and follow him. I've been found innocent of the suspected offence and I could go home immediately.

I thought it was a bad joke. But like a thin line separating freedom and incarceration, by the time I got to the reception hall, all necessary documents were ready for me to sign and go back to freedom.

Ironically, on my way home, I found myself at the same Zurich main station where I was arrested some 5 weeks ago - also waiting for my train. This time around however, I made sure none of my Nigerian "well-wishers" was around - not even somebody I didn't know. That was the hard lesson I learned: carefully choosing my friends.

When I got home, scores of mails were waiting in my email box, most from my family and friends in Nigeria. Almost all were about financial help. Though, I became richer - having got the rest of my "salary" from the detention centre, some financial compensation and a letter of apology from the authority, I didn't want to "wire Western Union" to Nigeria. Not from my detention sweat!!!


Barely 2 weeks after this interview, OBC was re-arrested along with 10 other Nigerians. This time around, they were caught with about one kilogramme "stuff" and over $160,000.00. Presently, he is cooling his heels in another detention centre close to Zurich.

With over 130 Nigerians convicted in 2005 for drug peddling in Switzerland, OBC might be added to the 2007 statistics by the time it is released.

What if the Swiss, Italians, Germans, etc. were also executing drug dealers like the Saudis, Singaporeans, etc.? Certainly, our claim to being the most populous nation in Africa would have been rendered doubtful. Though The National Population Commission's job of conducting a credible census among the remaining honest few millions would have been a lot easier. God save our country.

LAST LINE: This is a true story. The interviewee spoke in person with the author. But please note that the name, Olawale Bashir Chukwu (OBC), is a product of the author's imagination and any resemblance to an actual person is entirely a coincidence.