In 2009 someone called my attention to what they then described as imminent execution of about 17 Nigerians in Indonesia. I was a member of a community group one of whose aims was monitoring and preserving the welfare and well-being of Nigerians in Diaspora all over the world. I was the head of the Actfast Team. My group investigated the information we were provided and confirmed that indeed the men were on death row in Indonesia.
We decided to intervene by meeting with the Indonesian Ambassador in the UK then. He warmly welcomed us and explained the difficulties they had with Nigerians who go into their country either with drugs which they then sell for big sums of money to the detriment of their citizens. Some form or join local drug gangs who receive and sell drugs in Indonesia. Every attempt to warn them that Indonesia has zero tolerance for drug peddling or consumption usually fell on deaf ears. He also informed us that their government as a matter of deterrence are not flexible in these matters and capital punishment is usually the sentence regardless of the nationality of people involved.
We were then further informed that the the Nigerian government officially visited the Indonesian government and the death row prisoners in 2008. There were a number of proposals by Nigerian government which they in turn considered and suggested what they thought were reasonable conditions including prisoner exchange. Sadly they did not have any prisoners to exchange at the time. In an effort not to be seen as undermining the Nigerian government he declined to outline the rest of the conditions. He was however disappointed that they have heard no further from the Nigerian government since then and if they did they had not satisfied their conditions. He was clear that unless our leaders returned to them and satisfied their conditions, then the men were very likely to be executed in no distant future.
We then pleaded for clemency and remission of the sentences to life to be served either there or in Nigeria. We submitted further petitions for the attention of the president and King of Indonesia which he promised to forward to them. He advised that we should seek updates on the outcome of the visit of Nigerian government in 2008 and find out what has delayed them in getting back to them. So literally stating that they could do a deal and save the men’s lives.
We embarked on a long exchange of letters writing to whoever we thought may care to listen including the President and First lady of Nigeria, Minister for External Affairs, Nigerian Ambassador to Indonesia,Speaker House of Representative in Nigeria, Senate President, Chairman of the five Eastern Governors, Traditional leaders, Speakers of respective Houses of Assemblies where the men come hail from and many others. Sadly apart from the Minister of External Affairs who responded after a threat of legal action and media campaign against them and said that he had assigned the case to a permanent secretary, to date we have not had the courtesy of anyone’s response.The Permanent Secretary did not bother with us at all. Attempts to reach him on the telephone number we had was abortive as either no one answered or it was not going through.
Our experience of dealing with the Nigerian embassy was shocking. We first came into contact with the then head of chancery who was covering for the Ambassador who was in Nigeria then. He was first full of himself telling us all about his qualifications and experience which frankly speaking meant nothing to me personally and I made that clear in no uncertain terms. In my mind my little nephew could have cared better than him. It was clear that he was affronted that anyone dared ask questions of him.
When we updated the men on our efforts and mentioned his name some of them were affronted claiming that he was very prejudiced and constantly told the Indonesian authorities to do whatever they liked with them because they are greedy Igbo boys who do not care about anything other than money. He rarely visited them and when he did he did not bother to find out about their living hell conditions. He was rather too keen to impress the Indonesian prison guards and exemplify himself. This did not go down too well with me personally and I threatened hell and thunder which I sincerely meant.
We first went to see Dr Tafidda, the Nigerian High Commissioner to the UK to seek help in getting through to the Ambassador himself.He was kind and made the connections immediately. We were able to get updates and assurances. To my greatest surprise the man who the prisoners complained about sent me threatening emails on the Embassy’s template. This was followed by phone calls when he alleged that I was a bully trying to force him to reveal official secret. To cut the long story short, he failed in his duty to his fellow Nigerians and was consequently transferred to a remote country somewhere. The transfer was not before the same man threatened to deal with me. On on my way from worked one day and soon after his threats,a man followed me all the way home in order to intimidate me. I reported it but took no further action because I knew that the man was trying to show me that he could carry out his threat to deal with me with his contacts in London. He possibly forgot that London is not Nigeria. CCTV pictures of the man can be easily traced anyway.
The beauty of civil service manifested when someone from there who said that he was arranging to leave began to get in touch with me with updates. He confirmed that the man was in charge of the welfare of the prisoners but did nothing at all as he hates Igbo people and majority of the men are Igbo. Armed with this information from the mole we intensified efforts to get the men out but this did not yield fruit. No one seemed to care People had business to do. That was sad.
What was heart breaking was that some of the men swore that they were targeted by racist police and some of those who were indeed peddling drugs were doing so for Indonesians drug barons out of desperation caused by lack of work and resident permit.The men informed us that some of them had been framed but because the cost of litigation is expensive and as much as $20000.00 are charged for a review.
Our contacts with the prisoners was sporadic as they could only call when someone visited and they are allowed to speak with outsiders.
Every further attempt to engage with Nigerian leaders failed as no one bothered to respond to any of our letter.
Out of frustration we sent an unless letter to the Minister for Foreign Affairs who responded promising to place a senior civil servant in place. That was the last we heard from them. The civil servant did not ever contact us again. Every attempt to engage anyone else failed. The prisoners were kept in formed and one of them who used to manage to reach us advised that I was careful as these people in power are very dangerous and may do something sinister including bumping me off. That was pitiful.
As majority of the prisoners are Igbos and Igbos always claim that no one cares about them, I had hoped that Igbo leaders should have responded to our calls to save these men and taken up their case with Nigerian government but not a single one of them responded. It was so funny that one of them asked someone if i was a drug dealer as he could not otherwise understood why I was so interested in the fate of the men. That was sad coming from the same people who claim persecution and marginalisation by Nigeria. You would have expected them to try and assist these men.
The thoughts of these men have remained with me. So it was a bug shock when I heard that one of them have indeed been executed.His death has brought back memories of our failed attempts to help resurrecting a desire to try again for the remaining one. But the big question is who can assist with efforts to help? Who is prepared to listen and who is next to die.
Following the death of the death row prisoner in Indonesia , the Nigeria government summoned the Indonesia Ambassador to Nigeria and expressed Nigeria’s opposition to that barbaric act. That was good but what is important is why they have failed to meet any conditions given to them and if the man had to die at all. Could we not have saved their live and what are we doing to ensure that no one else dies and our people are stopped from peddling drugs. Is this expression of opposition the last or one of many to come.
Recently there was the case of Nigerian man running for his life while being pursued and humiliated on the streets of Indonesia. That caused me to despair a lot wondering what was his final fate. Was he indeed guilty of anything, if he was, how fair was it for him to hounded and humiliated in that manner, was it humane to treat anyone like that, Why are Nigerians being treated like subhumans abroad and our leaders are silent and at the same time squandering our collective inheritance, could our leaders not have used their loots to create opportunities which would have stopped these people from going abroad to embarrass Nigeria and endanger themselves and what are our leaders doing to stop this and save lives.
Value for one’s life and rights without equal value for the lives and rights of others in my mind is tantamount to abuse of office by leaders and Nigerians must call them to account.