The recent unrest in Libya threw alot of foreign nationals living there into a state of confussion with most of them mainly fellow africans being forced to return back to their countries of origin. Most Nigerians who lived in Libya have since returned back .....unfortunately with sad tales of their experience there and even back here at home. In this interview that was conducted by Sunday Sun, some Nigerians narrated the horror and trauma they went through while travelling by road through the desert to Europe (where they were supposed to go) but ended up in some north african countries. According to one of the returnees.....'it is better to go to prison in Nigeria for five or 10 years than go through the experience in that desert'.
Read the sad revelationt of what life was like for them there...............
According to the Chairman of the Nigerian Community in Sahba, Libya, Zacharia Saleh Abdalla, who said he just returned from the Libyan-Chad border, where he dropped off about 378 Nigerians, who would continue their homeward journey from there, said: "The situation is very bad here. Nigerians are suffering; some are very sick while others are dying."The UN came here to take some people to Chad, but they only took about 260 people to their camp in Chad.
"Nigerians here are really suffering. They are appealing to the Federal Government to provide, at least, vehicles for them to come back home. They are not asking for airplane again. They are willing and ready to travel by road through Chad if government could help with vehicles," Abdalla said. An Edo State-born Libyan returnee, Clement Oronsaye, worked for Mohammed Muammar Gaddafi, the first son of Col. Gaddafi, for close to 16 years.
In this interview with Sunday Sun, he narrates what he saw during the crisis in Libya and also what Nigerians are going through in the desert as they try to escape the hardship in Nigeria to Europe.
Two female returnees, Rose Ikhumen from Edo State and Grace Solomon from Akwa Ibom State equally shared their experiences in Libya during the crisis. Excerpts…
Q::::When did you go to Libya?
A::::Actually, I have been in Libya since 1995.
Q::::Did you originally set out to settle in Libya or were you on your way to Europe and got stranded in Libya?
A::::When I finished studying Computer Engineering from the Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria, in 1992, I saw people were moving to Europe and I decided to join them. It was like a game of fun. So, I originally set out for Spain, but when I got to Libya I decided to settle there.
Q::::Did you go by air or road?
A::::At that time we were all going by road through the desert, because the Libyan government was not offering visa to people to enter their country.
Q::::What was your desert experience like?
A::::The desert was terrible. Let me just cut off the Niger part of it. The Chadian and Sudanese rebels along the desert route are so ruthless. The maltreatment we suffered in their hands was so terrible. At a point, we were about 700 people inside one truck; it was so tight. So, the same people leading us to Europe through the desert after we had paid them money were the same people who connived with these rebels to arrest Nigerians. They would tell them these Nigerian guys are so rich. They would arrest our men and rape our women, and if you were rude, they could kill you. Many Nigerians were wasted because they were stubborn.
Q::::How many days did you spend in the desert from Nigeria to Libya?
A::::The number of days one spends journeying from Nigeria to Libya through the desert depends on the circumstances prevalent at the time. You can spend three months, other people may
more after the jump
spend six months, and you can also be lucky to spend two weeks or even four days on the road. So, it depends on one's destiny.
Q::::What could make it to be longer or shorter?
A::::Good, I love that question. It is just like travelling from Benin to Kano in Nigeria, you could run into armed robbers on the way and that automatically obstructs your movement and ultimately causes delay.
The desert is full of armed robbers, because they call it 'no man's land'. In the desert, you see a lot of condemned criminals who live inside rocks. Most of the rebels equally live inside rocks. And because the desert has become a trafficking route, the rebels encamp close to the route, believing they might be able to make money on daily basis for the rest their lives. With the money they extort from travellers on the route, some of them would buy flashy cars and go to a place called Duruku to flaunt the exotic cars and jeeps. They cruise and squander money in the town and whenever they feel their purse was draining, they quickly run back to the desert to ambush travellers, mostly Nigerians.
Q::::Are the rebels Nigeriens, Chadians, Sudanese or Libyans?
A::::Most of them are Mohammed Gadhafi's rebels.
Q::::You mean people working for former President Muamar Gaddafi?
A::::No, they are working for his son, Mohammed. He kept them there for a purpose best known to him alone.
Q::::Are you talking about rebels that operate along the Libyan route?
A:::::There is no definite route to Libya. There is no tarred road there. It is just like guessing your way to Libya. Sometimes, the driver would be exhausted; the fuel finished in the vehicle's tank and in the process of searching for a place to get fuel to refill the tank, travellers would exhaust their food and water due to the intensity of the sun. And within two to three days, travellers would start dying, including the driver sometimes. We also have rebels made up of condemned criminals from Chad and Sudan, who join forces to terrorize Nigerian travellers along the desert route.
They kill, rob Nigerians, rape our women and commit all sorts of human rights abuse. Sometime in 1998, I had approached the then Nigerian Ambassador to Libya, Alhaji Lawal Babagana, and his assistant, one Mr. Ogu, to explain all these things to them, but at the end of the day, nothing was done.
I want you to talk specifically about your own experience, not what people told you.
Okay. By the time we left Duruku for Zigidim and were headed for Gatum territory, even the Chadian and Libyan policemen working at that place would arrest our women and put them in a cell.
Q::::Is it only women they arrest?
A::::Yes, only the women, because they know that women are hot and lucrative business in Libya. They take our women, bundle them in hundreds, rape them every night and sell them in batches of five to Chadians, Sudanese, Somalians and fellow Nigerians, who would in turn use the women for other businesses. It got to a stage where people started saying that Nigerian girls go to Libya for prostitution, but I can tell you this is what was happening. One day, I was in a house in a desert and I saw a lady shouting for help and I went out only to see that the lady was heavily pregnant.
When I asked her what the problem was, she told me she refused to have sex with a man, because she was no longer strong as the pregnancy was about eight months then. Just then, a Sudanese emerged and I spoke Arabic to him thus: "Hasma talia hara heli," meaning what is the problem? And he replied: "Da shini tahini ta," meaning what is your business? So, I was really upset and I asked him his connection with a Nigerian woman and he said the woman was her 'businesswoman'.
I asked him where the husband was and he said he was her husband, and I retorted, "You are her husband and you are asking her to sleep with another Sudanese man with an eight-month-old pregnancy just because you want to make money; you must be a killer and a terrorist." So, I took the woman with the pregnancy away from him to Tripoli and that was how God used me to save and settle that woman. And she is not the only one in that kind of situation; similar event happens in thousands all the time there. Again, since you want to know my experience in the desert, you find Nigerians travelling through Mountain Ogan, which is the Algerian route to Libya. Sometimes, I ask myself why all these things are happening.
The Algerians are so inhuman to Nigerians caught in their territory. When they arrest you in the desert in their territory, they move you from cell to cell and you could spend two to three weeks in various cells until you get to Tamaracet in Niger before they allow you to go. You might pass through 20 cells before you get to Niger; imagine such scorn! That is for those who decide to go through Algeria. We have the Duruku road, the Mountain Ogan road and another route through the Moroccan side, which is the worst. It is in the Moroccan desert that you find the highest number of rebels in this world. Most condemned criminals that escaped from prisons in Nigeria are all in the Moroccan desert, specifically between Magnaya and Gadaya.
They know that most Spain-bound Nigerians go through this Moroccan route. When they try the Libyan route to Italy and it is not through, they would go through Zuwara to Gadamis to Oran to Magnaya and to Gadaya. When they see that these routes are still impassable, they would now go through Abukamash to Tunis side; Abukamash to Rashide to Sma to Tatawin and then to Suz, or to Tunis, the Tunisian capital, so that they can pass through Italy. These are the stress people go through in the desert and that is why everybody cannot spend the same number of days in the desert. It depends on the route you take and what you encounter on that route.
Q::::Apart from raping and stealing, are there other inhuman treatments these rebels mete out in the desert?
A::::The maltreatment is infinite. From my own assessment of the desert, it is better to go to prison in Nigeria for five or 10 years than go through the experience in that desert, because there is nothing like, "I'm perfect or I'm too good in the desert" when you are passing through it. The rebels or the police could just see you and hate you, and they could take you to a mountain where you would be made to work for them for one year or more as a slave, depending on how they feel. If they feel like releasing you, they will, but if they don't, they train you as a rebel so you can work for them for life.
Q::::What were you doing in Libya before the crisis?
A::::I am a computer engineer. I was working in one of former President Gaddafi's first son's offices in Benashaw. There is one thing I believe, and that is once you have been able to pass through the desert, you should be as hard as or even harder than a Nigerian soldier, because most Nigerian soldiers didn't pass through what we experienced in the desert. So, with that training in the desert, I was so bold when I got to Libya and that boldness led me to Mohammed, the first son of Col. Gaddafi, in his office in Dahra before it was moved to Benashaw.
Q::::When you got to Libya and found that the people taking you to Spain lied to you, what did you do?
A::::When I got to Libya, I found that the possibility of travelling to Europe was remote, because there was no road. I reasoned that instead of going to Europe through the sea in a canoe with the dangers inherent, I should settle down in Libya. And that was how I settled in Libya. I also reasoned that if I could be bold enough to pass through the desert, I would equally be bold to go to Mohammed's office and ask for help. And that was the challenge I took in going to his office.
Q::::Did you meet him face to face?
A::::Yes, I met him face to face.
Q::::What happened after meeting him; did he employ you immediately?
No, he didn’t employ me A:::::immediately; he studied me for two years to know the kind of person I was before he employed me.
Q::::How was he studying you within the two years; were you working for him?
A:::::Yes, I was working as an office boy in one of his offices in the town.
Q:::::Was he paying you in those two years?
A:::::Yes, he was paying me, though the payment was not coming through him; it was through another person.
Q::::So, after two years, what happened?
A:::::After the two years, he was sure I was loyal, so he gave me a job, a car and a house. He even helped me to get a wife.
Q:::::Did you marry there?
Yes, I married a Turkish woman.
A::::Did you have any child from the marriage?
Yes, I have two children through her.
Q::::Where are they now?
A:::::They are in Istanbul because of the crisis. Like I said earlier, she is from Turkey.
Q:::::Are you in contact with them?
A:::::Yes, we discuss on phone and the Facebook every day.
Q:::::How much was your salary?
A:::::He paid me well; I won’t tell you how much because it’s personal, but he tried for me.
Q:::::Were you working with Mohammed until the crisis broke out; and how did it start?
A:::::It was so sudden that even Gaddafi himself didn’t believe what was happening. On that fateful day, we were inside the office and there was this rumour when the Egyptians overran Ben Ali of Egypt. Ben Ali came to Libya to seek one or two things from Col. Gaddafi. Gaddafi was confidently advising Ben Ali not knowing that a similar thing was around the corner in his domain.
Suddenly, the opposition in Benghazi struck, but the president was still very confident. And that was when Gaddafi came out with an umbrella from a bulletproof car and boasted thus: “Who are the Americans? What can they do?” He was so confident of himself. Pronto, every shop was locked up and before I could remember my money and one of the soldiers working for Mohammed, who kept domiciliary account booklet for me, it was late, because when I tried to call his line, it didn’t go through. And when I called his brother, he told me he had travelled with his family to London. And that was when I knew that all my years in Libya had come to naught. The question that came to my mind was, “How do I do this; my money, my account, my cash and some other things.” However, the war was uncontrollable; they started killing blacks in Libya, alleging that Gaddafi was using black mercenaries to fight. But that wasn’t true. At the end of the day, blacks were dying in marketplaces and high wire robberies were taking place.
Even Mohammed Gaddafi’s forces went to banks to steal and loot; this is what I saw with my eyes. Policemen were shooting at them; there were looting and stealing everywhere. Initially, we thought blacks were behind all these. So, when it was announced on radio and television that Nigerian plane had come to evacuate Nigerians, they said Nigerians had looted their country and now wanted to go back home. When Nigerians took their luggage to find their way to the Nigerian Embassy at Sharanaci, they killed them on the streets. I witnessed some of the killings, there was one they burst his intestines open with a knife, and there was another they shot to death.
So, when the Turkish plane came, I told my wife to go to her country with the kids, while I try to find my way back to Nigeria. The very day I left my house in Sinarta, very close to the Malian embassy, they were shooting at sight. It was the most difficult decision I ever took in my life, because it was life-threatening. I felt that if I didn’t leave, they could come into my house and kill me. On the other hand, if I go out, they could still kill me, but I had to take the second option. I told my neighbour, an Igbo man from Nnewi, Anambra State; that I was leaving. He advised me against going out as they could kill me, but I told him that staying back and risking going out were the same, because I could still die of hunger if I stayed back.
So, I prayed, dressed like an Arabian, wearing a white galadia and a rope, and went out of my house. I stood in the middle of the road with nobody in sight except sounds of guns and the armoured cars in patrol. One of the soldiers in the armoured car spotted me and came to my rescue.
Q:::::The soldiers that escorted you, were they Gaddafi’s forces?
A:::::I don’t know who they were, but I felt they were the security men in Tripoli.
Q:::::What happened when you got to the Nigerian embassy?
A:::::When I got to the embassy, I saw thousands of people. They ate and slept there. In fact, I didn’t see the Nigerian ambassador throughout the period I stayed at the embassy. He was in his house at Guruji controlling things. And the possibility of distributing Nigerian travelling certificates to Nigerians was also very remote. The certificates were being sold to Nigerians by fellow Nigerians at costs ranging from $40, $50 to $70. These certificates were provided for free by the Nigerian government, but the embassy officials were selling them to Nigerians.
Q:::::What happens if one can’t afford them?
A:::::If you couldn’t afford the certificates, you would die there. I saw what was happening and because of the little power God had given me in that country, I approached the embassy staff that was putting on a tie and asked him if he knew me. I asked him how long he had worked in the embassy and why they should be selling the certificates meant for free to Nigerians, who desperately needed to leave Libya for their home country. When he couldn’t provide a satisfactory answer, I quickly held him, and the people joined me and we beat hell out of him and forcefully took away about 2,000 certificates from him and shared it to the people. I took three for myself and two for my neighbours in the compound I lived, whom I thought would find their way to the airport. But when I called their phones, they were switched off and shortly after I was informed that the Nnewi man had been killed. How long were you at the Nigerian embassy? I spent five days there.
Q:::::How many days did you spend at the Libyan airport?
A:::::I spent only three days, but there were people who had spent more than a week at the airport when I got there. I have a fast way of putting things in order; besides, I speak the language very well. I speak the language like them and when an Arab man knows you speak his language very well, he becomes afraid of you, because you could report him to the authority if he misbehaved, so as I got to the airport I sought to know why so many Nigerians were hanging around. When the immigration man noticed that I understood the language so well, he became afraid and started shouting, “Where are all these Nigerians; what is the problem, why are they delaying them,” and that was how they started stamping our travel certificates.
Q:::::Are you saying the Libyan immigration officials were responsible for the delays in the airport?
A::::Yes. Some Nigerians, who had escaped to the airport, tore their documents and went back to Libya to die because there was no food for them at the airport. So, out of annoyance and frustration, a lot of them went back to Libya and were caught in the crossfire and got killed.
Q:::::When did you come back?
A::::::Just about four months ago.
Q:::::When you got to the Murtala Muhammed Airport, did anybody give you money?
A:::::They were sharing wristwatches to people; they were also serving them garri and egusi soup, but for me, I asked to see the top immigration officer. However, it Nigeria is Nigeria, so they squeezed me out of the game, because I was bold and know my rights. So, I went out with enough money. They gave some people N1,500; others got N2,000, while some others got N3,000.
Q::::Are you saying you didn’t come back with anything?
A:::::It was an emergency, unplanned, unscheduled; even Gaddafi was caught unawares. If they had allowed him to plan, his condition would have been different from what it is today.
Q:::::What about Gaddafi’s third son, Sahad?
A::::He is stranded in Niger. I met some Libyans stranded in Ibadan; I am even better than them. Even though Nigerian government said nobody should provide refugee for Gaddafi supporters, but I know most of them are in Nigeria to survive. Most of them are stranded in Niger.
Q::::What have you been doing since you came back?
A:::::I have been trying to find my footing, but it has not been easy. You know, I have lived in Libya for close to 16 years and I didn’t come back with anything. What is happening to me now is that my friends in Abuja, Ghana, Cotonou and other places are contributing to my welfare. Some gave me N5,000, $400, $500, just like that. Out of the money I have been able to get an international passport and rent an accommodation . I am also planning to go to Dubai and buy things to sell in Nigeria.
Q:::::When did you come back from Libya?
A::::::I came back in April. I went to Libya in 2009 by road through the desert.
Q::::::Did you know you were going to Libya when you left Nigeria?
A::::::I knew I was going to Libya, but I didn’t know we were going through the desert. The experience in the desert was horrible. We spent three months in the desert before we reached Libya. There was no food; no water and people were dying on daily basis. In fact, a lot of things happen in the desert.
Q:::::Who took you to Libya?
A::::::A friend took me there.
Q::::::What did the friend tell you before you left Nigeria?
A::::::He said we were going there to work.
Q::::::What were you doing there?
A::::::They asked me to join prostitution when I got there, but I refused. I was left to fend for myself because I refused to become a prostitute. Initially, I worked as a hairdresser in somebody’s shop before I started working as a domestic servant.
Q:::::What kind of domestic work were you doing?
A::::::I did washing of clothes, plates and other jobs as a house-help. They were paying me 350 Dinar, which is equivalent to N75,000 per month. They fed me and I lived with them.
Q:::::How were you coping when you had no job?
A::::::I am a professional hairdresser. That was my job in Nigeria before I travelled to Libya. I approached a woman, who owned a salon, and I was assisting her to do people’s hair. She paid me little money and I used it for my upkeep until I got the house-help job.
Q:::::Was the woman you worked for a Nigerian or Libyan?
A::::::She was a Chadian, who didn’t know quite well how to do hair.
Q:::::What was your experience during the crisis?
A::::::It was terrible. It was too much. We lost everything; money, clothes; everything indeed. Libyan hoodlums capitalized on the crisis to rob and dispossess us of our property. With the help of the United Nations, we were taken to Tunis, capital of Tunisia, in a bus, from where we were evacuated to Nigeria.
Q:::::When you got to the Murtala Muhammed Airport, what happened?
A::::::When we got to the Murtala Muhammed Airport in Lagos, we were given N5,000 each for our transport instead of the $200 we were earlier promised. They told us to take heart and that was all. When we asked them how they expected us to survive without any assistance, they advised us to just try and start somewhere and that was how we left the airport after three weeks I can come back to establish a big shop based on what I was told before I left.
Q::::::When did you go to Libya?
A:::::::I went to Libya in 2008.
Q::::::Did you go by air or road?
A::::::I went by road through the desert.
Q::::::What was your experience in the desert?
A::::::The desert was big and wide. People say a lot of dead bodies litter the way, but personally, I didn’t see such things. There was so much suffering.
Q::::::You mean you didn’t suffer in the desert?
A::::::No, I suffered, because I spent three months in the desert. I heard that girls died, but I didn’t see anybody die.
Q::::::What kind of suffering did you experience?
A::::::The people that took us to the place made us suffer.
A:::::They told us we would board airplane when we get to Duruku, but it never happened.