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Opinion

How SSS Harrassed, Emeka Ogwunonye, Diaspora-based International Human Rights Lawyer

Emeka Ugwuonye’s account of his encounter with Security Operatives at the MM International Airport, Lagos, Ngeria.

“Today, upon arrival at the Murtala Mohammed International Airport, Lagos, the SSS identified me as the Emeka Ugwuonye. They seized my passport and set me apart from other travelers. The SSS officers informed me that some information on their computers directed that I be intercepted at every port of entry into Nigeria. I inquired as to why.

I was informed by the officers that the instruction was from Abuja. At this stage, we were still at the immigration point of entry before the landing hall. I was taken away by the SSS officers and asked to wait while they made calls to their superiors for further directives on what to do with me.

Apparently, some instruction soon came from above. The officers took me to their office still within the airport premises, where I was to meet a higher officer. Apparently, calls were still being made on what to do with me by the time I got to their office.

At their office, I met a superior officer, who already had been instructed on my case. In my presence, he placed another call to a superior and I heard him say: “Sir, the Barrister is here. What do we do?” The voice at the other end must have said something I did not hear.

But the officer turned to me and told me that I would be allowed to go this time. He explained to me that the whole instruction on me was from Abuja and that it could only be solved from Abuja.

Based on further directives from his boss, this officer instructed that the data page of my passport be photocopied. The entire encounter with the SSS today lasted for about one and a half hours.

I must admit that the officers, particularly the highest officer that I was taken to at the airport, were polite and respectful to me. But the whole impression I have from this is that I am a marked man.

The Nigerian government and its security agencies have placed me on the list of people they are worried about. And what have I done wrong to deserve such treatment? My only wrongdoing is that I have criticized the Government for the level of corruption by government officials.

Another thing I have done wrong is that I have called them to account for the massive and continuous abuses of the rights of Nigerians, as we saw in the recent beatings of civilians in Benin and in the dumping of bodies in a river in Anambra States.

For these offences, they have tried in every which way they could to intimidate me and try to force me to back down from criticizing the Government. It is clear that the effort was to scare me and force me to stop coming to Nigeria.

If it is an offence to challenge Nigerian government officials for corruption and human rights abuses in this country, then I am ready to plead guilty to such offence. If I must continue to suffer in their hands just because I spoke out in face of these abuses, then I am ready to endure whatever suffering they are capable of inflicting on me. But I simply can’t keep quite. I simply can’t back down, either.

And nothing can force me to run away from this country. I am prepared to die here if that’s the only option left. The notion that they could put things against my name and have me harassed from one end of the pole to another is totally silly and unfortunate. That is not how to address the issues at hand or to resolve the crisis we face in this country.

I have wondered to what extent the President of Nigeria has been aware of what his officials are doing to me. But it also occurred to me that President Goodluck Jonathan is really not in control of the country. He is largely clueless as to what is going on under his administration. But that is not an excuse for him. He chose to aspire for the office of the President and he must take responsibility for all that is done by his men.

I am going to be in Nigeria for series of events that call for my professional responsibility and for my role as an international human right lawyer. I will be at the Benin Federal High Court on Monday to defend the twenty boys who were beaten and tortured by the army and the EFCC and then accused of cyber crimes. I am going to Anambra State to ask questions about the bodies that were found floating in Ezu River. And then I would be in Abuja to defend myself in the trumped charges the EFCC filed against me.

Nothing, short of death would stop me from doing these. I will seek every avenue possible to stand with the poor peoples of Nigeria, who have been robbed of their rights to a decent existence by corrupt, inept and cruel leadership.

At this moment, I want to assure my friends and supporters that I am okay. I am in a great spirit. I am in the company of my staff and some close friends. I thank you for your support and sympathy. God bless.

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