Nigeria’s immediate past Ambassador to Singapore, Ogbole Amedu Ode has called on the Nigerian federal government and her embassy in the United Arab Emirates to urgently mediate with authorities there to secure the release of citizens detained in the emirates.
Ode, who is also a former spokesman of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs spoke to Vanguard in Abuja explaining that in recent times, there is a reckoning within foreign policy experts that Nigeria is punching far below its weight.
It was gathered that on December 9, 2020, security operatives raided the homes of many African migrants, most of whom are Nigerians living in Al Qouz, Abu Hail, Sharjah, Al Barsha, Deira and other places.
“It is already established that the arrests were as a result of visa overstay. Consequently, the UAE authorities are enforcing the immigration laws. And the Nigerian authorities, as represented by the Nigeria Consulate General in Dubai must be on top of the game,” Ode said.
According to the Ambassador, “Diplomatic and consular missions, in accordance with relevant international instruments, especially the Vienna Convention on consular relations -1963 provides for consular access to nationals of a sending state in detention facilities of a receiving state.”
He explained that it is only by interfacing, through consular access, with those arrested that the mission can establish the veracity of their circumstances.
“Were the arrests rightly or wrongly done? Are the detainees being accorded the right treatment,” he questioned.
One of the Nigerian citizens who was arrested said “It was early morning time like 2am -5am, some masked individuals who called themselves CID burst into African accommodations and abducted all of them. They were taken straight to jail without any charges or trial. Several attempts to connect to the Nigerian Embassy and Consulate as usual failed.”
According to the victim, whose identity will not be disclosed for security reasons, “80 per cent of the persons arrested are legal resident while the rest 20 are those with either visit visa or having any visa related issues. I was in jail and I made several attempts to reach the embassy but without success. After a couple of days in jail, I finally got hold of the secretary of the Nigeria consulate who directed the call to a certain man and he promised the consulate would swing into action, till now they never did.
“Barely 30 hours since I came out from jail, I went straight to the embassy in Abu Dhabi and I met one director, Mr Ibrahim, who said that they would channel our complaint to the ambassador but till today we have not heard anything”.
“But our paramount concern now is that there is apprehension in the African communities. No reasons were given for the arrests. Our rights have been taken away; the country is not a safe place for us. We have over 400 black inmates. About 70 per cent of those arrested are Nigerians,” he said.
When contacted, the Chairperson of Nigerians In Diaspora Commission, Abike Dabiri-Erewa said the affected persons would have to liaise with the mission in UAE for more information.
“Pre-COVID-19 , UAE issued a deadline for all those with illegal residency to leave their country . Many had gone with tourist visas but stayed back to work. They made it clear that they will have a zero tolerance for illegal residents and issued several warnings.
“Due to COVID-19, the deadline was extended. The Nigerian mission then asked Nigerians there who were illegal residents to register at the mission so that flight arrangements could be made as the UAE authorities offered to provide free flights.
“As you know almost about seven free flights were made available to Nigerians stranded there who registered to return home. Unfortunately some still opted to stay back despite their illegal residency status despite the fact that UAE has issued several warnings and given deadlines to illegal residents to leave or face their law,” Dabiri-Erewa said.
She advised that families of anyone with proof of legal residency status should go to the mission and report. “Any one with proper documentation ( with proof) will definitely be released,” she added.
When contacted, one other anonymous victims of the arrest in UAE corroborated the government’s explanation but said some of those that stayed back was a result of the withholding of their travel documents by the companies they were work for.
He said, “First the news relating to visa violators is right. The free flights for a scheduled time is also right but circumstances held many who did not go home then. Most companies had their passport and their visa was on process when the the COVID-19 came and after the lockdown, the UAE government stopped issuing Nigerians visa for four months.
“Recently in November they resumed the visa issuance and by the following month which is December they asked everyone without visa to leave while some companies had promised to make visa available.
“Knowing the country we came from and the hard environment, nobody wants to return home after selling all he or she had to travel. This country is a very frustrating one. Then if that is the case why only Africans? There are hundreds and thousands of other nationalities without visa and are in huge fine. Why only Africans?”
Vanguard News Nigeria