Guardian Story. July 17 2007.
Spain apologies over Osamuyia Aikpitanhi’s death.
From John-Abba Ogbodo, Abuja.
FOLLOWING the public outcry, which greeted the death of a Nigerian, Osamuyi Akpitanyi, in the hands of Spanish security operatives, Spain has tendered an apology to Nigeria with a promise to carry out a thorough investigation.
The Spanish ambassador to Nigeria, Angel Losada, offered the apology on behalf of his country on the floor of the House of Representatives yesterday just as the Speaker, Mrs. Patricia Etteh, asked the Spanish government to arrange for the transfer of Akpitanyi’s remains to the country to save his parents further agony.
The Speaker frowned at the torture the Spanish security operatives meted out to Akpitanyi to the point of death.
She observed that the country should have contacted the Nigerian mission in Spain if they had any difficulty in dealing with the deceased. She noted that from the investigations carried out so far, she was not sure if the Spanish laws provided for the kind of treatment that was meted out to the deceased.
Etteh told the ambassador that the country was worried that the corpse of the deceased was still being kept in Spain instead of being released to the parents for burial. She then asked the envoy to ensure accelerated investigation so that the body could be released for burial.
She added that in the Nigerian culture, families affected by such misfortune would not rest until the corpse was buried. “I believe that the issue at stake is something that we are going to discuss outside the camera but since you have touched the issue, I think it is only nice for me to touch that aspect as well.
“We received a motion on the floor of the chamber alleging the torture the Spanish government meted out to one Nigerian on his way back to the country. On our own side, we never knew the cause of his death but we heard about his death and we realised that whatever the problem was, it was better for you, your government to deport him than to bring him back to the country dead.
“But you have mentioned two issues concerning rape and refusal to be deported. Well, I quite agree with you but all the same, we have an embassy in Spain which I think your government should have talked to in such a way that they would have looked for ways and means of bringing this illustrious son of the country back alive”, she said.
Still stressing the need to follow due process in a matter like that, the Speaker said: “Again, with the complaint you have given, I think we still need to sit back and look at these issues behind the curtain instead of washing the dirty linen outside but all the same, I am quite sure the post-mortem has been concluded. If it has not been done, we will want the Spanish government to expedite action on that and ensure that they return the corpse to the country so that the police can see it and (the parents) can bury him.
Lying there in Spain is not going to help the situation. It is not going to help your country, neither can it solve the problem on the ground but if he is buried, we will want to follow the rule of law to ensure that whatever is the cause, we will want to go into it. I know that the Foreign Affairs Ministry of Nigeria will be sending out a powerful delegation to go and see what actually happened because you have given us your side of the story but it is pertinent for us to go out there and see things for ourselves.
It is good for the government to know what really went wrong. Even if your account was right, that does not warrant a death. If you have a law that says if anybody rapes or refuses deportation, you can go ahead and kill the person, so be it but if you do not have any law to that effect, I believe that he (the deceased) had a country that you could deport him to rather than tie his hands to the extent of killing him. I don’t think that is good enough but I am not here to apportion blame. I don’t want to blame you neither do I want to blame the dead. We want to have his corpse back in the country as soon as possible.”
Earlier, the Spanish Ambassador had regretted the incident and pleaded that it should not be allowed to affect the diplomatic ties between both countries.
Losada who later had a closed door session with the leadership of the House and members of the ad-hoc committee probing the killing, maintained that Akpitanyi died in a hospital in Spain and not inside the aircraft as being rumoured.
He said the incident was unfortunate but insisted that Spain is not an emigration country. Losada said the Spanish government was equally worried over the matter and assured that everything would be done to get to the root of the matter.
The envoy said there were reports from Nigeria indicating that the deceased had been indicted in Nigeria for rape and murder.
“I first want to assure you that we all share the idea that there is nothing, nothing that can really justify or excuse the death of a person, whatever he had been or whatever he had done. I want you to believe that Spain is a country where there is rule of law. The judiciary has taken up the matter. It is under the jurisdiction of the judge. This morning, I have been trying to reach the judge and you know how justice is also. When justice starts, you never know when it will end but I tell you that we will go to the end. We are a country of rule of law. The responsibility will come out. I assure you. We have made all necessary contacts with your government. Your Ambassador has been with my Minister of Foreign Affairs. Your Ambassador has been with my Ministry of Interior. He has also been with the King to show you the high level of interest that we give to this case. I want you, please to understand that this is a terrible case.
“Actually, Spain has a lot of deportees and that is the first time something has happened to a deportee. I know it a terrible case and I say it again, nothing justifies the death of a person. But for this person, that was the third time he was asked to go out of the country. The first time he was given the ticket and I am sorry you have to go, you know for criminal offences, certain criminal offences in the country. He did not go but stayed. The second one, he was summoned by the police. He went into the plane, made a terrible noise in the aeroplane and the captain of the plane said I cannot accept him”, the ambassador said.
Losada further told the Speaker that despite the incident, he still believed that every person should be allowed the right to live and said that a letter of condolence had been written to the family, adding: “This matter is taken seriously by our government.”
He also said he felt bad reading in the press that Spain is a racist country. “It is not true. We have perfectly integrated, we are perfectly working in your country’.
He added: “Spain has never been a country of immigration, it has always been a country of emigration and that is why we have a lot of immigrants who come to our place.”
Losada again, tendered another apology, saying: “It is very sad what has happened. Whoever he was, whatever he has done, but I really hope that this will not injure the excellent relations that we have. I am going tomorrow on a trip for two weeks, I will really hope, your Excellency, that the matter does not heat up again. This will be treated and really the justice of Spain will make its own duty. I can assure you that the law is supreme in Spain as it is also in Nigeria.”
He said Spain was putting plans to hold a conference for African parliamentarians and Nigeria was one of the countries expected.
Nigerian Guardian Story, 13th July.
Govt threatens reprisal over maltreatment of Nigerians abroad
From John-Abba Ogbodo, Abuja (Guardian 13th July 2007).
WORRIED by the harassment being suffered by Nigerians in foreign lands, the Federal Government has lodged a formal protest with the European Union (EU), the United Nations (UN) and other international organisations.
Nigeria is also considering reprisal actions against the countries involved.
This is coming as the government plans to send a delegation to Spain next week to monitor ongoing investigation into the death of a Nigerian, Osamuyi Akpintanyi, in the hands of that country’s security operatives.
The permanent secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Hakeem Baba Ahmed disclosed this yesterday when he appeared before the ad-hoc committee of the House of Representatives probing the killing of the Edo State-born Nigerian. He noted that the harassment of Nigerians by foreign countries, especially the United Kingdom (UK), had reached an unacceptable level. He disclosed that the Federal Government had to recently protest to the EU and other international organisations that the situation must be reversed.
The permanent secretary who also narrated his ordeal in the hands of security operatives in the UK recently despite the face that he was there on invitation of the British government. He said that a situation where security operatives harass Nigerians at entry points was unacceptable. Ahmed said in most cases, it was only Nigerians that were being subjected to such inhuman treatment. He also deplored the use of dogs to screen Nigerians, both male and female abroad, adding that besides the indignity, such an action has cultural and religious implications. Ahmed insisted that Nigerians must be treated with dignity.
“Dignity of Nigerians must be given the highest priority. We have protested the harassment to the EU and other international organisations. We have decided that we are going to take up the issue with all seriousness it deserves”, he said.
Ahmed continued: “Why should it be only Nigerians? You send dogs to us in the name of screening, they scare our children and do all sorts of things to our women. As a Moslem, if a dog touches me, I will have to wash my body before I can pray. We are insisting that they must find a civilized way of doing it instead of this humiliation. The issue is before us and we are dealing with it seriously.”
The official further said that following the death of Akpitanyi, the Federal Government sent words to all its missions abroad directing them to be more concerned about the welfare of Nigerians in Diaspora. He said that henceforth, any Nigerian envoy who treats complaints from Nigerians in his country of assignment with levity would face disciplinary action. “If a Nigerian says he or she is in trouble and the Ambassador or the High Commissioner refuses to attend to the person, he or she will be queried immediately.” he said.
Ahmed disclosed that because of the priority the Federal Government was giving to the death of Akpitanyi, he would lead a delegation to Spain next week to monitor the investigation which the authorities of that country were conducting into the case. He assured that the government would stop at nothing to get to the root of the matter and ensure that justice was done. He also briefed the committee on the steps that had been taken by the government so far to redress the situation.
The permanent secretary said that the Foreign Affairs Ministry went to the extent of waiving certain diplomatic processes and made the Spanish Ambassador, Angel Losada, to address a press conference on the matter. He said due to the public outcry over the incident, the Spanish authorities had expedited action on the investigation and assured that in a matter of days, the Federal Government would come up with a statement on the first leg of the investigation.
He said: “We will ensure that justice is done. The Spanish authorities have set up police investigation as well as autopsy. We are carrying out investigation to ascertain whether there was complicity on the part of the Spanish officials. Because of the public outcry, the Spanish authorities have expedited action to complete the autopsy”.
Ahmed continued: “We summoned the Spanish Ambassador and made him to appear before camera. We acknowledge that the Spanish authorities are also sad about the development. There can’t be justification for the death but we ask for patience and no judgment should be passed until after the investigation.”
“Our outgoing envoy in that country went and saw the king who assued that every effort would be made to get to the root of the matter. There will be no cover up and we will ensure that justice is done. We are in constant touch with the Spanish authorities. The reaction of the National Assembly has been conveyed to them. Nigerians will soon get to hear from us”.
The permanent secretary said that if the foreign affairs ministry is not satisfied with the outcome of the autopsy, an independent medical probe would be conducted. He also explained that the body of the deceased was not flown to Nigeria because of the law on international flight and therefore, had to be deposited in a mortuary in Spain . He added that if the body had been flown to the country, the reaction of Nigerians would have been uncontrollable but gave assurance that on completion of the investigations, the body would be released to the parents.
He suggested that a member of the family should go with them to Spain next week to follow the development over there. Ahmed told the committee that information available to the ministry indicated that the deceased had resisted deportation twice before and that informed the use of physical restraint which led to his death. He, however, noted that it was not enough reason for the manhandling of the Nigerian which led to the death. He expressed displeasure over the huge number of Nigerians leaving for abroad illegally and urged the citizens to do something about it.
Ahmed lamented the inhuman conditions under which such Nigerians in foreign lands, citing Italy where he said about 22 Nigerian commercial sex workers live in a room.
He also disclosed that members of the National Assembly in the last dispensation had refused to return their diplomatic passports despite several appeals by the Foreign Affairs Ministry and decried abuse of the facility by Nigerians. “We have written to the Senate President and the Speaker of the House of Representatives that old members should return their diplomatic passports but not even one has responded,” he said.
He attributed the harassment to the attitude of Nigerians abroad and disclosed that necessary steps were already being taken to address the issue.
May the Glory of Nigeria come, soon!