Ordeals of Nigerians studying abroad amidst elusive Eldorado

Ordeals of Nigerians studying abroad amidst elusive Eldorado

Over time, the number of Nigerian students studying abroad killed by identified and yet-to-be-identified persons has been on the increase, yet justice has remained elusive despite promises made by NiDCOM and governments, GODFREY GEORGE writes

Gagged and tied, Chibuikem Emmanuel was battered to death in a strange land where he went to seek additional knowledge.

Earlier on that fateful Wednesday afternoon that his life was cut short at Orlacson Street, 6014, Mandaue City, Philippines, the 28-year-old nursing student got into an argument with some Chinese nationals over who gets the commission meant for his lover, who happens to be a Philippines nationality.

“They lured him to a corner that evening and overpowered him. There were over six of them and they were of Asian origin. They beat him so much but he could not cry because they gagged him,” revealed his classmate, who said he only wanted to be identified as Xiu for security purposes.

When our correspondent first reached out to Xiu, who is also of Chinese origin, he first refused to speak for fear of attack. But, after several attempts, he said he was one of the first friends of the late Ikem when the young man came to the Philippines from Nigeria to study nursing.

“We were very close. We were in the same faculty,” he blurted. “It was surprising for me to hear that he had died. So, I began to ask questions. It was then I found out how he was ensnared and killed by people who were supposed to protect him.”

Asked if he knew the perpetrators, Xiu said no but was quick to add that it seemed like a case of “deliberate attempt to kill.”

“I took a short trip away from the Philippines and have been in South Korea to see my mum. It is traumatising that a young man like that can be killed right in the city centre,” he added.

A friend of the deceased, Michael Ojuola, had on Wednesday, raised the alarm via a tweet on X that his friend, Ikem, studying in the Republic of Philippines, was brutally murdered by a group of Chinese nationals.

He wrote, “A friend of mine, A Nigerian Medical Student named Ikem studying in the Republic of Philippines was brutally murdered by a group of Chinese.

“They tied his hands, covered and tied his mouth and he was beaten blue-black until he gave up the ghost.

“This should never be swept under the carpet regardless of the relationship between the Philippines and China!

“This is so inhuman and barbaric! I can't even think straight at the moment because of the horrific videos I'm getting right now from the hospital.”

More fact emerges

After weeks of digging, and with the help of several Nigerians living in the Philippines, our correspondent learnt that Ikem's girlfriend, identified only as Diane, had accompanied him to go get a call centre job in one of the country's leading telecommunications sectors to make ends meet.

Diane was said to be the recruiter for the firm's Pogo office in Cebu, which is said to be owned by a group of Chinese nationals.

Multiple sources told Sunday PUNCH that Ikem's trouble started on October 21, exactly three days after was hired in the call centre.

Some Nigerians who also worked at that call centre claimed that when the boss got wind of the relationship between Diane and Ikem, he reminded them of the company's no-dating policy for co-workers.

It was noted that the boss advised that one of them resign, but Ikem said he and Diane would leave if the company did not want them to be together.

This, it was noted, did not sit well with the boss, who told Ikem that he would not be paid for the period he had worked.

However, Diane, his girlfriend, who had worked for quite a long time as a recruiter for the firm, based on her contract, was entitled to some kind of commission.

When the day for the duo to leave came, Diane requested for her commission, but her employer said it would only be made available to her at the end of the month.

Our source said, “This plan did not sit well with them because she and Ikem came from Manila to Cebu to work. So, they have to travel back to their city. Ikem began to argue with the boss, insisting that he must be paid.

“Other workers even pleaded that their commission be paid. While the argument was on, the boss made a phone call and several Chinese men walked in. Everyone thought they were police officers, not knowing that they were thugs. They lured the two of them to the back of the building for a talk.”

The source added that after a few minutes, Diane came back to the office space and was shouting for help, adding that the men had taken Ikem away to an unknown destination.

“Nigerians at the company confronted the boss and he claimed that Ikem had been taken to a police station. But it was a lie. Some residents called the police and when they came, it became clear that the boss was lying. They took Diane to the police station where Ikem was meant to be, but he was not there.”

The source said not long after, a car screeched to a halt by the station and Ikem was thrown out, gagged, and battered to a state of unconsciousness.

The men who dropped him off were said to have told the police that Ikem sexually molested someone at his workplace, which was the reason they were invited by the owner of the place to restore normalcy.

Dead on arrival

Ikem, our correspondent gathered, was pronounced dead on getting to the Chong Hua Hospital, Mandaue, when he was rescued by some passersby.

Several photos and videos obtained by this reporter were bloodied and showed the extent of damage done by the assailants.

Reports by Cebu Daily News, a local newspaper, noted that the victim was brought to the hospital by the Mandaue City Disaster Risk Reduction Management Office personnel and was declared dead by the physician at about 7.15 pm that day.

Initial findings showed that he died of head trauma, apparently from the attack.

A Nigerian national living in Cebu, Philippines, who visited the clinic after the incident told our correspondent that the doctors were instructed by some ‘officials' not to speak to anyone about what happened, adding that investigations were still ongoing.

“It is a bit difficult here. Everything is being done in hush tones. But, a nurse from Uganda who spoke to me confirmed that Ike was not breathing when he got to the hospital and attempts to resuscitate him were futile as he was bleeding from his nostrils and had sustained several internal injuries and broken bones,” the source said, in a WhatsApp chat.

Another Nigerian resident in Cebu, Tochi Nwagu, told our correspondent that he visited the police station for several days after learning that the young man who had been killed was from his hometown, but was advised to leave.

“These people here are so hostile. I was in China for three years for my Master's in Public Health programme. I had to run to the Philippines in 2019, but it is clear that even here is not safe.

“Blacks, especially Nigerians, are treated like trash. Mob justice is rampant. If they say a Nigerian stole something or was caught peddling drugs, before the police would be called, they may have beaten that person to death.

“Most times, the allegations are always untrue. The other day, a young Nigerian girl was brutally raped right here. She was a student in one of the universities here. But when the matter was reported, nothing was done. It has been months now and they seem to have swept matter under the rug. Nigerians go through a lot in this country,” he added.

Asked what the Nigerian mission has done to protect their interest, he said, “The Nigerian Embassy here is like an extension of the government of the country. They are reactive. It is until someone dies that you'd see them act. After Ikem's death, they released a statement that Nigerians should be calm and follow peace, adding that they were handling the matter, but we know that they are only trying to be diplomatic.”

Another Nigerian student in the Philippines, Charly White, accused the Nigerian embassy of not doing enough to get justice for the deceased, adding that it was students that pulled their resources together to see how Ikem's corpse can be flown to Nigeria to be buried by his family in Nnewi, Anambra State.

 Distressed family

Back home, Ikem's family is still grieving and distressed. A cousin of the deceased, Nnamdi Oke, told our correspondent that Ikem was from Nnewi North, Anambra State, adding that he abandoned his Medical Laboratory Science Programme at the Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, to study Nursing in the Philippines when the opportunity came.

“He is the only son of his family. His elder brother died years back. He has two sisters and his mother is a teacher,” Oke added.

The young man said Ikem had finished his Nursing Degree and was pursuing his Master's Programme as well as working before he was killed.

“You can imagine how shocked I was when I saw my brother's picture all over the internet that he had been beaten to death. I didn't even know how to react. I called his number but I could not get through. I have tried to reach his family back in Nnewi to see how we can retrieve his corpse and get him home.

“Nigeria should not abandon us at this time. We need justice. A young man full of dreams should not just die like that. His immediate family is devastated.”

Several attempts to contact one of the deceased's sisters were futile, as her mobile number could not be reached.

Nigerians hounded in Philippines

As it stands, this is an isolated case as it was learnt that Ikem might not be the first Nigerian student in the Philippines to have died in controversial circumstances.

Students who spoke to our correspondent claimed that blacks in the country were often targeted by the citizens once any crime was committed, and were made to face dehumanising treatment.

A man on X, identified as Ikenga Okija, claimed that his cousin died mysteriously in the Philippines in 2019.

According to him, “I'm yet to get over the loss considering how valuable this guy was to our kindred. Are there things to be unravelled about the sudden demise of Nigerian students in the Philippines?”

 Another X user who begged not to be named and claimed to be living in the Philippines, said since he got to the country in 2017, he knew more than seven persons who had either died, were jailed or killed while studying.

 “On one of the occasions, the embassy had to beg us to lay low till it blew over. No one is safe. One time when a Nigerian student was said to have killed his roommate, it was like war. Everyone came for us, saying we were killers.

“The other time, a Nigerian was said to have been caught with drugs. The way they beat him up before he was charged to court, you would think he killed someone. The hate is too much. I have said once I am done with my PhD in Robotics, I will relocate to Germany or Spain. I am already working on it,” the source later said in an interview with our correspondent.

 Suspects arraigned

The Philippines National Police said it has filed murder cases against six Chinese individuals suspected of being involved in Ikem's brutal murder.

The Police told Cebu Daily that they discovered that the Chinese nationals fingered in Ikem's murder rented some apartments in Barangay Alan-Alang, where they allegedly plied their trade.

The police, however, noted that they do not know the nature of the suspects' business because they were awaiting reports from the Cyber Crime Unit on their examination of computers found on the premises during their arrests.

Apart from the murder case, our correspondent gathered that the Chinese nationals would also face human trafficking charges if their stay in the country was proven to be illegal.

“We are already speaking with the Bureau of Immigration,” A source in the Philippines police told Cebu Daily.

Earlier, Police Lieutenant Colonel, Franco Oriol, MCPO's Deputy City Director for Administration and spokesperson, said, “According to the witness, the Nigerian national refused to work there on the job that he was given, and the Chinese allegedly suspected him of sexually harassing one of their co-workers. According to our witnesses, the Nigerian was mauled in the other room.”

However, Diane (Ikem's girlfriend) has continued to deny their allegations of sexual assault and rape.

NiDCOM investigates

The Nigerians in the Diaspora Commission promised to investigate Ikem's murder.

According to the Head of Media, Public Relations and Protocol Unit of NiDCOM, Mr Abdur-Rahman Balogun, the commission had launched an investigation.

 Death aboard plane

Meanwhile, justice is still yet to come for the family of a London-bound Nigerian student, Meshioye Remilekun-Toyosi, who died under controversial circumstances aboard Egypt Air.

Her life was cut short when she reportedly fell ill mid-flight and died at a hospital in Cairo.

All attempts to unravel the cause of her death have proven abortive, as Egypt Air has been adamant to respond to several letters sent to them by the family, NiDCOM and the Nigerian Embassy in Cairo.

The lady has since been buried but the family's grief and fight for justice is far from over.

 Found dead in the UK

In July, reports emerged that a Nigerian student, identified as Mr Opeyemi Adedipe, was found dead in his room after failing to show up for work.

The master's student of Data Science at the School of Computing and Communications, Lancaster University, was engaged in his summer work placement at the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology in Oxfordshire at the time of his death.

It was gathered that he showed no sign of illness and an autopsy is expected to be conducted to uncover the actual cause of his death.

So far, nothing tangible came out of the investigations carried out by the police, as no arrests were made or anyone made to face justice.

 Fadlullah's death in Ukraine

Another incident of controversial death involving a Nigerian student abroad was that of 19-year-old Fadlullah Agboluaje, who died a day after he arrived in Ukraine to study.

The deceased's sister, Rofeeha, while narrating the incident said her brother left Nigeria to study Science at the Lviv Polytechnic National University in Ukraine on January 8, 2022.

 She added that Fadlullah was picked up at the airport by the school's representative on January 9.

“On getting to his designated room, he wasn't happy with the way it looked and also complained that the heater was not effective. My mum told him to request a room change.

“So, he went to the front desk of the accommodation facility to report to the personnel on duty but, unfortunately, the person did not understand English so he ended up reaching out to the liaison officer, the undersigned agent on the letter the school sent before he left for Ukraine. This man asked my brother to see him in the morning of the following day,” she said.

She said their mother who saw him off from their Ikeja home in Lagos to the airport chatted with him until 11 p.m. Nigeria time on Sunday (January 9). But on Monday, they couldn't reach him anymore.

“My mum began to panic and reached out to different people for help in the afternoon after we did not get any response from him all morning,” she added.

Ms Agboluaje said their mother eventually called the liaison officer but it seemed like the official was avoiding their calls.

She said the news of Fadllulah's death was shocking because her brother, before leaving Nigeria, did a “complete health check” including the COVID-19 test and vaccination and was declared medically healthy.

Days later, NiDCOM's Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Abike Dabiri-Erewa, paid a condolence visit to the family of Agboluaje, stressing that the commission would not rest until justice is served in the matter.

More than a year later, justice seems elusive for the family of Fadllulah, despite promises made by the Ukraine embassy and NiDOM.

Avoid Northern Cyprus, NiDCOM warns

In 2020, Dabiri-Erewa called for the blacklisting of universities in Northern Cyprus following a petition by Justice Amina Ahmad Bello, a Judge in Kaduna State High Court on the mysterious and inexplicable death of her son, Ibrahim Khaleel Bello, a third year Civil Engineering student at the Girne American University, Girne (Kyrenia), Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus via Mersin 10, Turkey.

The late 25-year-old Bello was reported by his school to have fallen from a seven-storey building in Cyprus.

Justice Bello believed that her son was murdered as opposed to the report received from his school.

She also alleged that her son's death is equally being covered up by the university authority.

According to her, hours before her son was killed, she spoke with him, and he was expressing fears over his safety in the university environment.

Dabiri-Erewa, in a statement, would later disclose that over 100 Nigerians, most of them students, have been killed in mysterious circumstances in Northern Cyprus, a country not recognised by the United Nations.

She warned Nigerian parents against sending their children to universities in the country, adding that it was too risky and described Northern Cyprus schools as killing fields for Nigerian students.

The NiDCOM boss stressed that the death of Khaleel had brought to a tipping point the incessant killing of Nigerian students in the country under baffling circumstances.

The NIDCOM boss, who read out 15 names of Nigerians from a list of more than 100 who were killed in the country, said it was difficult to employ international diplomacy in the investigation as the country was only recognised by Turkey.

She said when Ibrahim's mother paid her a visit in her office, “It is not only Ibrahim. Kennedy Dede, Augustine Ngok, Gabriel Sorewei, Osabanjo Owoyale, Augustine Wallace, Stanley Eteno, Hassan Babatunde, Temitayo Adigun, and Kubat Abraham are just a few of the ones that we even know.

“The problem is that most Nigerian parents do not know that Northern Cyprus is not recognised by any country in the world.

“It is not a UN-recognised country. It is only recognised by Turkey. That is why we have not been able to do much. Who do you report to? Thousands of Nigerian students are schooling there and I tell you that hundreds have been killed. Who do you take these cases to?

“They are killed in similar circumstances. The school just tells you, ‘Well, they committed suicide' and nothing happens.

“We are going to list all these names of Nigerians that have been killed and we demand justice. There has been no prosecution and no compensation.

“No Nigerian parent should send their children to any university in Northern Cyprus – there is a collaboration which we do not understand that makes them kill blacks, particularly our Nigerian students,” she said.

She assured the mother of the deceased student that the commission would work with her to demand justice, not only for her son but also for other Nigerians, who have been killed while studying in the country.

Bellos's mother said that autopsy reports and investigations, which she had requested in the past seven months, were yet to come, adding that the school authorities were being evasive.

She also said despite being told by authorities that her son jumped from the seventh floor of a building, there was no visible injury on his body or head to suggest that.

To date, nothing indicates that justice was served in the matter, as several reports did not show that anyone was arrested or brought in for questioning despite many promises by the government.

INTERPOL raises the alarm

In 2014, INTERPOL said at least 10 Nigerians studying in various tertiary institutions abroad were killed in questionable circumstances, adding that murders were worrisome.

The then-Interpol Commissioner of Police in Nigeria, CP Muhammed Aduba, said the addition to the number of Nigerian students killed within six months of that year in the universities abroad is Naizi Evah, a third-year Computer Systems Engineering student of Vaal University of Technology, South Africa, who was found dead in her hostel room.

According to the Interpol boss in Nigeria, it was her friends who were trying to get the media involved in the case, whereas, the South African Police is doing everything possible to bury the case.

One of her friends who reached out to Interpol, said prior to her death, Naizi had been in an abusive relationship with a Zimbabwean student, who also studies in the same school as her and is studying the same course.

An unidentified man was arrested by police in connection with Naizi's death but was granted bail two days after, with the police saying they could not find any substantial evidence linking him to her death.

Aisha Falode's son

In Dubai, Toba Falode, a 19-year-old son of a popular sportscaster, Aisha Falode, a student of SAE Institute, Dubai, died in mysterious circumstances. The ace broadcaster is still seeking Justice.

“This is a very worrisome development and the government is not at peace with it. I can assure you that all these cases are being pursued vigorously and soon, justice shall be done. I have provided the necessary logistics to the Interpol department to facilitate their work and I am sure they will deliver,” the Interpol Commissioner said.

In the same 2014, in Ghana, four Nigerian students were killed

In November 2014, barely 26 days after another student, identified as Ogukwe was reported dead, two Nigerian students, Eddy and Charles of KNUS Federal University Accra, lost their lives during their school excursion. Their death was later attributed to drowning by the school.

On February 20, two weeks after the death of Eddy and Charles, one Mr Godwin Ayogu, a 300-level Social Science student of the University of Cape Coast Central Region was brutally killed and his lifeless body was found on campus.

In the same year, the Malaysian police killed one Tunde Adelabu from Ekiti State. He was a student of Lagenda University, Nilai, Malaysia.

That same week, a group of unknown Russians stabbed a female Nigerian, Forester Samson, to death in Russia.

According to reports, more than 80 Nigerian students are currently in danger in Malaysia, with no intervention whatsoever coming from the nation's embassy in Malaysia.

Are Nigerian students targets?

In 2017, a Quartz report stated that it seemed like the wave of violent attacks on Nigerian students in India and around the world was calculated and targeted.

In Noida, a town in Uttar Pradesh state, five Nigerian students were beaten and badly wounded by a mob on Monday, March 27 because of their link to the death of an Indian student.

The 19-year-old Indian allegedly died after a drug overdose and the victim's parents as well as the community accused Nigerian students of supplying the drugs.

Initially, the Nigerian students were accused of cannibalism and their fridges searched for the body of the dead local, Huffington Post India stated.

However, local police told Reuters that the cause of the student's death remains unknown.

 Why Nigerians are leaving – Sociologist

A Senior Lecturer at the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Nigeria, Lanre Ikuteyijo, said Nigerian youth, especially students, constitute one of the largest populations among migrants travelling from countries of the Global South to Europe.

He noted that an “imagined West”, which is an idealized view of life in Western countries, is often at the heart of the immigration plan.

He added that the economic realities, coupled with other variables such as political instability, rising waves of conflict, and now, the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have led to an increasing number of youth in certain categories leaving Nigeria for other countries perceived to hold greater promise.

‘Nigerian Govt must ensure students' protection'

Another expert, a senior lecturer at the Department of Political Science, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Enugu State, Dr Ikechukwu Ugwueze, said the government must ensure the protection of students who go abroad to study and make their welfare a priority.

“Many students who go abroad in search of greener pastures leave using the student visa. So, if they are killed at will or any slightest provocation, then we have an emergency in our hands. The government must rise to the occasion and make sure our students are safe outside the country,” he added.

All lives are sacrosanct – Lawyer

Also, a lawyer, Mrs Selena Onuoha, urged the government to set up a register in all the embassies, specifically for students who come in.

She also urged students who go abroad to register with their respective embassies and be law-abiding.

In fighting to get justice for the dead, Onuoha said, “No life is worth less or more than the other. Nigerians all over the world demand a better life, and the government must see that the lives of its citizens are protected as enshrined in the constitution.”

Killings not targeted – NiDCOM

NiDCOM spokesperson, Abdur-Rahman Balogun, in an interview with our correspondent on Thursday, confirmed that Nigerian students are being killed abroad.

He, however, believes the killings are not targeted at Nigerians alone.

“Different issues may arise while these students are studying. It could be a deal-gone-bad, cultism or drug-related.”

He said in countries like South Africa, Ethiopia, China, and mostly in the UK, some Nigerian students have been stabbed to death.

“They are not stabbed because they are Nigerians but because of some of the issues I've highlighted earlier.

“We had a case in the UK where a Nigerian student was stabbed to death because he saved someone from being bullied,” he added.

Balogun urged Nigerian students not to engage in any illegality while abroad, adding that the commission was capable of intervening in cases where Nigerian students are falsely accused, imprisoned or killed.

He added, “When you leave your country to another country, register with our embassy there. Let the embassy know you're in that country because if anything happens, they're your immediate family that will quickly attend to your needs.”

The spokesperson revealed that NiDCOM has created a diaspora data mapping portal, adding that Nigerian students outside the country are encouraged to upload their data.

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