Brutalized, Humiliated And Dehumanized: A Day At The Passport Office In Abeokuta -Nike Adex
On Monday the 11th April 2016, I walked into the Nigerian immigration service office in Abeokuta with my personal assistant around 11 am. I met a man who directed me to the entrance to meet one Mr Ogunnaike nicknamed "Authentic". He was to be approached for the passport renewal. Mr Ogunnaike, therefore, told me that a day service for receipt was N28,000 for a 32-page passport and it would be ready by 4 pm the same day. I obliged but asked that I saw a banner downstairs stating a lower price. It was explained that that was not for same day express service. Another young man in mufti appeared and asked us to follow him to a small room close by to the main reception where people sat on wooden benches. I obliged and gave him the payment of N28, 000 and asked for the receipt. He asked me to wait and will be back for the receipt. On coming back, no receipt was issued but he told me to wait but first to follow him downstairs to get my passport photos taken as I did not have any.
After collecting the passport photos, the young man said to move upstairs and that I should speak to Mr Ogunnaike for the receipt. I did and he told me that it would be given later on but I just needed to sit down at another end of the same floor for an interview. He mentioned that his role was over but the receipt and other documents will be handed over to me at the interview spot.
We waited for some more hours and around 3 pm, I was called into a room for a brief interview, I asked again for the receipt but was told that there was none but that the blue slip handed over to me will serve as a proof of payment and that I should ask for any other thing at the next room where a picture capture will take place. My assistant and I waited until around 4.05pm and I went over to ask about taking the capture since we were told that 4 pm is the closing time and that I had not been attended to at all. I was told to wait still.
After 10 minutes, I walked into the capture office where fingerprints and photo capture would take place and spoke to the man who appeared to be the most senior based on the epaulettes on his uniform. His name, from his name badge, was "Umoh." I spoke to Mr Umoh about my plight explaining that I do not reside in the area but needed to travel out of Abeokuta early the next morning and will appreciate being attended to. Based on my plight and explanation that I had been there for over five (5) hours, and was told that I would be finished by 4 pm, he asked me to sit on one of the six seats in the 'capture room.' I sat on seat no 6 and people were directed up for capture from positions 1-6 in chronological order.
After about 15 minutes of sitting, I moved to no 1 seat and the next five seats were filled but those were taken up for capture while I sat on waiting. One of the officials walked in around 30 minutes after and said, "Oh, you are still here" to which I responded, " Yes sir, others who have come in after me have been attended to but not me" . On hearing this, Mr Umoh became furious and screamed " get out of here now. I was going to help you but you are complaining". I tried apologising that I had waited for at least 45 minutes in that tiny room but didn't mean to upset him. He kept screaming that I leave the room which I did.
I stood then along the corridor where some other people like myself stood when a man in white linen-like shirt came close and started screaming " didn't you hear that you should leave this place? Get out of here now". The man appeared chocolate in skin colour with a very low cut but with a semblance of grey hair. He was of slim appearance and about 5 ft 10inches in height (Later got to know his name as Mr Olatunji). I said, "please don't shout at me, sir. I have obeyed the officer to leave the room and you shouldn't shout at me since you are not an officer yourself". At this juncture, another man, a lot younger, about 35 years of age in appearance, lanky, dark man of a height of around 6ft 2-4inches with a bit of hair although low cut came around and joined in to tell me to shut up. That I am a woman and have no right to talk back to a man. I then said, "I am not a criminal and will leave" but the older one in white top screamed that I should shut up and obey before complaining.
I didn't understand what was going on as I was totally perplexed as to why these two men decided to harass and scream at me in such a manner. I was still saying " I am not a criminal and not to be shouted at" and I was moving away when the older man grabbed my right arm and started twisting it, saying that he will drag me out of the corridor himself while hitting me at the same time. I was in tears at this stage as I told him to leave me alone and that he was assaulting me. The younger one said " you will suffer here and nothing will come out of it. Your file will not be found and that will be the end of it " An officer walking on the corridor heard my voice and came to the rescue. Her name badge read "Kadiri", a thick light complexioned woman with low haircut. She took me away from the tight and hurtful grip of this man and led me out in tears. The man had threatened to throw me down from the first floor when Ms Kadiri came to my rescue. I left and sat again for about half an hour but wasn't called upon nonetheless.
Around 5.30pm, I walked over into the capture room again to speak to Mr Umoh . I asked if he knew when my number "120" may be called and what number they were on since I needed to travel out of Abeokuta early the next morning. At this stage, he broke the bad news to me that my file was nowhere to be found and if I wanted to know anything, none of the uniformed staff in that room could answer. Instead, I should produce the receipt of payment for them to deal with me. I explained that I was told to pay to an un-uniformed young man (who looked like a man in his 20s) and that I had asked for the receipt for hours but told to hold on. The young man who collected the money had disappeared for hours and I couldn't locate him. Mr Umoh then said that unless I found the man and the receipt (which I later gathered from others sitting down wasn't issued to them either), my file could not be located.
I understood there and then that I was in a convoluted conundrum and was lost for what to do as they claimed emphatically that my file was already missing. At this stage, I walked away downstairs where my assistant had gone to get some snacks and took her mobile phone off of her. I covertly moved back upstairs and took photos of both the older man (who probably is in his late 40s or early 50s) and the younger lanky, dark one. I stepped back and was approaching the stairs downstairs with my assistant when about six officers rounded me up. The younger, lanky one screamed for me to hand all my personal belongings to him lest I am landed some slaps. He was close to slapping my face when some guys in the crowd pulled him back. On my right hand was the older one grabbing my right hand firmly again and hitting me to hand my belongings to him. I held on closely to my handbag while my assistant did the same to hers. When he realised that I wasn't going to hand my handbag and all important documents in there to him, he demanded we hand over our the mobile phones. I gave him my Samsung model but he said he wanted the second because he knew we had taken their pictures. My assistant handed her phone to the younger man and he immediately crushed the phone. Then one of the men, all in mufti said: " take her downstairs, why are you even talking to her here?". To this end, both men started pulling and beating me to come downstairs with them while I asked where they were taking me to and that they should address issues in front of people rather than take me to an obscure place.
The beating continued as they dragged me down the stairs and towards the left side of the corridor by the main entrance if coming from the first floor. At this stage, I started saying "both of you are assaulting a woman loud. You should not hit me and I will go anywhere that is not obscure." The older man then said, "ok, if we can't do it, we will call a woman." He beckoned on a woman on the first floor who only wore the official skirt with a white t-shirt. She dashed downstairs in a jiffy and started slapping me hard, stronger and harder than both men. My neck, head and arm were properly beaten and hit by this woman as she ordered me to march along that corridor to a place I did not know. My assistant was told to follow behind and not to leave. As I walked on, she said I didn't walk fast enough and hit me harder again. We got to the end of that long, narrow and obscure corridor when I saw a tiny, dingy cell with a morose and tired looking human who appeared to have his hands chained.
As I saw this cell, I knew that that was where I was being led to, I carefully surveyed my surrounding and screamed " you want to lock me up in a cell? " and ran as fast as I could back to the main entrance and gate. The three of those who assaulted me ran after me but my athletic body was too fast for them to catch up with. The officer at the entrance joined in too but couldn't catch me until the lady amongst them shouted " shoot, kill her. we will shoot you!!!" I ran as fast as my legs could carry me in a zig-zag motion as I heard the orders to shoot at me but as I reached the main gate, I slowed down as the security officers caught up with me and held me down. This lady came fast too and held my other hand and was about to slap me when one of the men said " Leave her. Makinde, leave her. She will follow you ". The aggressive lady was ordering me to go back inside immediately as a crowd had gathered- some from members of the public who had come for passport services and some staff who had closed for the day and were going home.
After a bit of hesitation to go back as I felt extremely threatened that I was going to be shot dead in the obscure place and nobody would know where my assistant and I were, two of the guys in the crowd promised to follow us to wherever we were being taken and that they will stay there until we left that day. The lady, Makinde kept saying I feel like giving you three hot slaps now. I feel like hitting you so bad. So you are a coward? You don't want to sleep in a cell?" I turned to the two men and said " can you hear? She's leading me away to be harmed" but they reassured me the more and followed us to a room with a few desks and chairs( arranged like an office for a few officers).
On getting to this room/office, I was ordered to sit on the wooden bench while my assistant was placed on another desk close by. The lady, Makinde kept threatening to deal with me and asked the men to allow her while the lanky, dark younger one said that I will simply be wasted and nothing will come out of it. The younger man then said that the codes to the phones be given to him because he was keen on destroying all the data on both phones. I told him that only one phone was used to take pictures and that he should not destroy any especially since it was my assistant's. He kept threatening and asked me to shut up.
Next was the man in white top who asked that sheets of paper be handed to both of us to write statements on what had happened. He asked me to write my name, family home address where I could be traced to and my telephone contacts. I said that I didn't know phone numbers by heart but wrote the name and address. He checked the address and asked me to repeat it and that it is the correct home address where my family stays which I answered to in the affirmative. I could not write as I was so tense and had been severely battered but I was screamed upon to write or else be in bigger trouble. The younger guy interjected and said, "write on top of the page that you were not made to write under duress. Write it down that you are writing of your own volition" to which I replied that I am under stress and pressure and there was no way to which I could write properly as things were. The older man said, "leave her. Let her just write. I wrote up to the point of the first assault and the older man in white top took the sheet away from me without me signing it.
Few minutes after, a tall, thick man of about 6ft 5inches referred to as PCO walked in and the older man in white told him that I had been insulting their officers, abusing them and harassing them and they had to bring me downstairs here. The man paid particular attention to me with a long peering and eye-penetrating look when I said: "Sir, that's not what happened". He barked at me " keep quiet my friend! Did I ask you any question"? Then he said in a more hushed tone to the older man: " come out here; I will tell you how we deal with people like her ". Both of them went outside, then the man in white called the lady Makinde and the lanky, dark guy into a corner and spoke in whispers.
Barely a few minutes after, Makinde walked up to me and said to stand up and go upstairs with her. The others came along too. I kept asking where I was being led to this time. It was a bit dark and the time must have been around 6 pm or later. I was told that the PCO had asked for me to be given the picture capture and for my passport to be processed. I didn't believe them because the hostility and dehumanising behaviour I experienced a few minutes earlier were in exact contrast to the new offer. I asked why I was being treated nicely all of a sudden and Ms Makinde said: " because we do not want to deny you your basic human right since you paid for the service". I was hesitant in entering the room again because only officers were there with strange looks on their faces. I requested to stand with my assistant on the corridor but Ms Makinde insisted I had to sit in the room for as long as possible.
As I sat, a short, light complexioned man, I think a contemporary of the PCO came in and said that nobody should attend to me but I should be left till last when they were going home around 8 pm. Few minutes later, the PCO came back in and said, take her picture immediately and let her go. They complied with the order and my capture and fingerprints were taken. Little did I know that the ordeal had not ended. My assistant and I were marched forcefully into an office with another short man with a Southeastern Igbo accent and the tall, dark PCO sat on two sofa seats in an expansive room. The office looked like that of a manager with the living room *(sofa area) and the professional table and seat on the left-hand side.
The short man queried as to what audacity I had to take pictures of officers on a secured military ground. He asked me to answer him immediately as he appeared furious and infuriated at me. I said I am sorry because I did not realise that the immigration office was a military ground and that I took pictures of these men in mufti who harassed and assaulted me since I didn't know who they were. He shouted at me to keep quiet and that I should have known that some officers are never in uniform, yet they are permitted to work in mufti. He asked the lanky young man to delete the pictures but the PCO immediately said he shouldn't as those pictures will stand as exhibits against me.
Next was the PCO, who said that a decision had been taken, that based on my attitude, I do not qualify for a Nigerian passport because they have the rights to refuse a person the document and that both phones have been confiscated too. He told us to get out and leave immediately which we did as my assistant burst into tears begging them to please give her back her mobile phone. They told them to lead us out and we went to the car park where the driver had been waiting for us all day dead worried as to our whereabouts.
On the second day, April 12th , my uncle and auntie (a pensioner family friend) went to the immigration office with us, my assistant and I and asked to speak to the PCO and the short, light-complexioned man. The man in white on Monday, who assaulted me, was there in his uniform and with name badge ( Mr Olatunji), another senior officer was there as well as the PCO who wasn't at the happenings relayed lies and untruths to my uncle that I insulted the man in white the previous day by calling him names like animal and other unprintable names. My mouth was wide agape at this stage because it was all a bundle of well-crafted lies.
He further said that I had threatened to deal with Mr Olatunji and to arrange touts to beat him up. These were way beyond what I could comprehend because I didn't even know their names until Tuesday, I am not based in Nigeria, I am a seasoned international award-winning professional who puts up best behaviours at all times and in very civilised ways too. There is no way by which I could conceive such evil, barbaric and unscrupulous thoughts or acts.
Then the PCO whose name badge read Kola- Kayode asked that I kneel down to beg Mr Olatunji if I wanted to collect my personal items back. He went on further to say that he asked for my picture to be captured and fingerprints taken so that he could deny me a passport but also ensure that no consular office of Nigeria abroad could issue me one since it will be on record that I had one done in Abeokuta, Nigeria even though it will not be released to me. That was his scheme for denying me a Nigerian visa for life but that if I kneel down and allow them to delete the pictures, then it could be resolved. My pensioner Auntie was already on her knees and asked me to join in the kneeling down exercise to the mastermind and chief perpetrator of the assault and battery.
Mr Kola-Kayode then turned to my uncle that he didn't feel I was remorseful and that I did not kneel down properly and needed to do so again. He also said that yes I may have travelled around the world as shown on my passport but he has been travelling around the world for over thirty years too and that I am a really "small girl" that has not seen life. The comment about being a small girl was emphasised a few times.
My uncle based on the threat of me being "gunned down" asked me to comply so that we could retrieve the items, mainly my assistant's phone over she's agonized since our ordeal began. I was left with no choice than to kneel down, and say I am sorry for taking your pictures to Mr. Olatunji.
Then, the younger, dark, lanky man came into the room in uniform. I was able to read his name as "Taiwo Romiluyi." He had been beckoned upon to bring the phones while Mr Olatunji insisted that all data and pictures on both phones be wiped out and secondly, I should write a letter of apology and undertaking to him that I will not act or do anything based on the events that had taken place. Notice that he did not mention what the event was. My uncle stepped in and said based on pleas; they should only delete the pictures of their officers I took and that there is no need for a written statement of apology as I will have no access to the photos as evidence again. That was accepted, the phone was opened and pictures deleted and handed back to us. My assistant's phone had been smashed, and the screen all cracked.
Next was to go upstairs to the passport office on the first floor to collect my passport but was told that I needed to wait at least two hours because my file had had various notes and crossings placed on it which will mean that it could not be easily processed. As the official duties, I came for outside Abeokuta were still pending, I asked to come back the next morning on Wednesday the 13th April for the old copy and new passports. On Wednesday the 13th in the morning, I resumed at the immigration office and received the passport and left the immigration office a broken person.
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