FEATURE ARTICLE

E O EkeTuesday, July 3, 2012
eoeke@aol.com


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DO NOT ABANDON NIGERIANS IN FOREIGN JAILS;
IT IS A QUESTION OF INTEGRITY, RESPONSIBILITY AND GOOD GOVERNANCE

have often wondered what makes a people patriotic and ready to lay down their lives willingly for their country and fellow countrymen and women. What motivates people to make the ultimate sacrifice has confounded people since antiquity. The Bible tried to locate this in love; ‘greater love has no man that a man would lay down his life for his friend’. It simply says that in sacrificing one’s life for the good of others, a man shows the ultimate love. For the religious mind, this is probably enough.


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For the past ten years British soldiers have been serving in Afghanistan knowing that many of them will not return. You never hear of a soldier refusing to go. They do this because they believe in their country and love her so much. They are proud of their country because they know that their government looks after its citizens no matter what or where. They sing their national anthem willingly even though the irony of an anthem that only pleads to God to save the queen is not lost on them. They sing it because indeed their queen lives out every word of the anthem. She is gracious and kind. She reigns over them in love and ensures justice and the rule of law.

If a British citizen is arrested for a crime in a foreign country, the foreign office through the embassy gets in touch with the accused to ensure that he or she gets the best legal representation. Even when such a person is found guilty, the government continues to work hard to secure his or her freedom. All over world are British citizens in prisons for the same crimes many Nigerians are in jail also, and one will never hear a British government officials using the type of word Nigerian ministers are using to describe its citizens that are incarcerated in foreign prisons. If any British government official uses such word, he will be forced to leave office as he shows himself unfit to be a public official. Nigerian government should not do less for its citizen, if it wants to build a viable country.

I often feel sorry for Nigerian ministers because they seem to believe that they are right. Many of them who have spoken out against government assisting Nigerians in foreign jails show ignorance of how the justice systems abroad treat black people. They do not know that their ignorance is made even more obvious by the conviction with which they proclaim their judgement, oblivious that enlightened people know that such position can only come from judgemental, prejudicial and ignorant minds. Why would a Minister of a country, who was appointed to look after the interest of the citizens not work at all times for the best interest of the citizens. I do not support the activities of many Nigerians who are in jail in different parts of the world. I believe that if they have committed crimes that they should be punished.

However, the truth is that most Nigerians who are in foreign prisons were not given justice. Many of them were not afforded fair trial, proper representation and their conviction if subjected to due process would not stand scrutiny. This is why and where the government has obligation to its citizens, and why the British government do not take a judgemental attitude when helping its citizens in trouble; and why and where the government of Nigeria is wrong in its attitude to the plight of Nigerians now languishing in foreign jails.

May be, the government of Nigeria do not know that Black people get raw justice abroad. In America, Britain, China, Saudi Arabia etc., black people get raw justice. Many blacks are sent to jail for crimes they did not commit or would not ordinarily attract jail sentences. When they commit crimes, they are treated harsher than their white counterpart in western countries. In America, there are more black men in jail than blacks enrolled in the education system.

Some years ago, I had an experience of British justice system and concluded that it is white in colour and hears only one language, money, which blacks in diaspora do not often have. Somebody very close to me had reasons to take an employer to court for racial and sex discrimination. She hired a white lawyer for over one year to prepare the case. She had a good case. She had been treated in a way no human being should be treated because of the colour of one’s skin. Two weeks to the hearing, the powerful employers bought her lawyer as we were forced to conclude and the lawyer, who is from one of the best employment law firms in England, wrote her asking her to drop the matter, and that if she refused to drop the matter; that she would no longer be represent her. Her options were limited, and she did not know what to do. The lawyer knew that no lawyer would take up the case, two weeks to the hearing. It was a calculated attempt to make sure that the matter was not heard in tribunal because it would be devastating for the employer.

Because I knew what had happened to her, and how much justice would help her to recover, I decided to support her quest for justice. I put my job and career on the line. We decided that I would act as her solicitor and she would represent herself as her own barrister. Every document we presented was the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Even then, the white judge tried to find fault with her case. On the first day of the hearing, the defendant claimed that it did not receive a letter, which they received and replied to and which we again replied to stating the reasons and evidence why they are wrong. In spite of us presenting the two letter, and evidence that they actually replied to the letter they claimed they never received. The judge ruled that they did not receive the letter. This is white justice when blacks are the victims.

At this point, I said aloud, ‘this is not justice’. The judge asked who said that and I raised up my right hand, he warned me that he would not tolerate such behaviour in his court. Few minutes later, he adjourned the sitting because he was uncomfortable that I was writing down everything that was happening in the court. I suspect he wanted to find out more about me. I wanted to write down everything that happened and petition the chief justice and parliament.

When he returned, he decided to try the matter honestly. He changed his mind from simply dismissing the case. The tribunal sat for 9 days and each day we sat in the tribunal questioning witnesses. They even brought a Nigerian woman, to court to lie that she was around when the event took place and made sure that they had removed the document that would show that she was lying from the trial bundle which was not agreed. However, unbeknown to them, we kept all the material we did not agree to be removed from the trial bundle and made it into an independent bundle which we carried to the tribunal every day. With that document we were able to prove that the Nigeria woman whom they called to lie, who we knew was the wife of a pastor of one of the Nigerian churches, was not at work during the period. In spite of the fact that they called the very best employment lawyers in London, we won our case and she retained her job and was offered the double promotion that was denied her. Unfortunately the Nigeria woman died before the end of the year from complication of a heart condition. This was in 2006.

I tell this story to show how difficult it is for black people to get justice abroad. Nigerians may be conversant with the case of Stephen Lawrence, the black boy who was killed by some white racist gang in London. The police refused to conduct normal investigation and it has taken twenty years to convict only two of the five youth who killed him. If Stephen Lawrence was a white boy, his killers would have been arrested the same day and prosecuted within a year. Few weeks ago, while I was walking in a public place, a big dog jumped out of an open back of a car and bite me on the arm. I was shocked and when the owner came, he looked at me as if I was nothing, and told me it was my fault, and that I walked too close to the dog. I asked him how I was to know that there was a dog in the back of a car that would attack me about two meters from the car. He simply looked at me and walked away.

I called the police. Normally the police should take about ten minutes to come. They took forty-five minutes. When the police man came, he was wearing sun shade and went first to find out if the dog and the owner were ok before coming to me. When he came to me, he simply told me that no offence had been committed and that there is nothing he would do. I asked him if he wanted to take statement from me and he said no. Then he tried to switch off his radio which records conversations and relay them to the office, my wife told him not to do it because he is supposed to leave it on. I left and made a complaint. Few days later, another police officer was sent to my house to apologise for the way I was treated and told that the crime has been recorded against the man’s name and that the police are now looking for him as he has disappeared from the address he gave. I got justice because I know the law, work in the system and know what the law does not allow people to do.

This is the reality of living abroad. Not many black people abroad can stand up for themselves the way I have and continue to do. Many of them came in illegally and are afraid of the law. Life is not easy abroad and the government of Nigeria should please stop reneging on her responsibility to her citizens abroad and do everything in its power to assist Nigerians in prisons abroad no matter the crime they have been accused of. The Igbos say that a man does not leave his farm because it has been taken over by weeds. Whatever Nigeria citizens must have done abroad, they are still Nigerian citizens and the government has no moral right to abandon them to their fate.

The federal government of Nigeria has obligation to its citizens whatever crimes they have been accused of. Whether they are innocent or guilty as charged, the government has a duty to ensure that they are accorded due process, their fundamental human rights not denied and their convictions safe. The government of Nigeria is failing its citizens who are incinerated in foreign prisons. This is both unacceptable and indefensible. It is not for the government to proclaim the guilt or innocence of its citizens imprisoned abroad, but to ensure that they get justice and not treated less than that country would treat its own citizens who have committed the same offences or crimes. This is what Nigerians in foreign jails are not getting and it is wrong for the federal government to abandon them to their fate while frustrating attempts to prosecute criminals at home. If the federal government takes the same sanctimonious attitude it has taken against Nigerians in foreign jail towards politicians in Nigeria, there would be no politician walking free in Nigeria, and many of the people are now languishing in foreign prisons might not have had reasons to leave Nigeria in the first place who knows.

E O Eke is qualified in medicine. At various times he has been a General medical practitioner, Medical missionary, Medical Director and senior medical officer of health in Nigeria. He specializes in child, Adolescent and adult psychiatry and lives in England with his family. His interest is in health, religion philosophy and politics. He cares for body and mind.

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