Terror List: Tales of Humiliation at Foreign Airports

by Bayo Olupohunda

Sometime in mid January 2010, a group of Nigerian international travelers emerged from the tunnel of the KLM flight that had just landed at the Amsterdam Schipol from Lagos. After what seemed to be a long delay, the Nigerian passengers disembarked and walked apprehensively towards the first immigration point for the first in a series of screening they would later be subjected to at the Amsterdam Airport.

The passengers heading towards US were immediately removed from the throng and herded into a large room where they were made to go through intense screening, pat downs and total body scan that was introduced in the aftermath of the December Day attempted bombing of a US North West Flight 253 Airliner in Detroit by a Nigerian national, Umar Farouk Abdulmuttalab.

This singular act of the young Nigerian has prompted a backlash against Nigeria and her nationals by immigration across Europe where Airports have introduced stringent measures to check travelers from Nigeria, especially those heading to the US who are now made to go through degrading pat downs, bizarre questionings and total body scan specially introduced for Nigerians and the nationals in the US terror watch list.

Amsterdam Airport, the famous airport in Netherlands has always been the hotbed of humiliation of Nigerian travelers. Thus searches have become rigorous on all arriving KLM flight from Lagos since Dutch officials revealed the Nigerian December Day bomber would have landed on his KLM Boeing 777 before dawn and had a layover of nearly three hours at Schiphol Airport before the Northwest Airbus A330 lifted off for the nine hour flight to Detroit.

At the airport, reported cases of humiliations of Nigerians have been the norm. With the foiled Christmas Day attempted bombing in Detroit, immigration officials in Amsterdam Schipol are said to have tightened the noose on Nigerian travelers. The KLM flight from Lagos was severely combed with immigration entering the plane and sniff dogs rummaging through hand luggage.

They were particularly hard on young men from Nigeria who were grilled and asked hard questions about the purpose of their journey. Embarrassing questions such as asking young Nigerian travelers about knowing Umar Farouk Mutallab or if he had been a class mate of theirs is common.

They were also asked if they had traveled to Yemen or any Islamic countries. “Do you have any relationship with terrorist organizations like Al-Qaeda, Hezbollah or the Mujaheedin? Have you ever traveled to Afghanistan? A young Nigerian who is presently in Lagos told me of how he was questioned by immigration at the Amsterdam airport.

These are some of the horrifying questions that United States investigators ask Nigerian students resuming in schools abroad after Christmas and even now when they arrive in the country. Many students have complained that this type of treatment infringes on their dignity. More horrifying and degrading treatment of Nigerians is a daily affair at the Amsterdam Airport.

These questionings are said to have taken place in a room designed for Nigerian travelers. Some of the Nigerians on that plane were worried that they would miss their connecting flight because of the length of questioning by immigration officials who adopted different unorthodox method to criminalize Nigerians.

At the Frankfurt Airport in Germany in the first week of February, a mild drama played out. Nigerian travelers were removed from other travelers and put in a room. Some young male immigration officials emerged and announced they would do a pat down for all the travelers including female travelers. The Nigerian women objected to being patted down male officers.

The men insisted. But trust the amazons from Nigerians who insisted on being patted down by a woman immigration official. After all they were in transit through Germany enroute to France. Why would they be subjected to these humiliations? Eventually, reasons prevailed and a woman was brought to do the pat down.

Are those male immigration officials perverted or are they just capitalizing on the current onslaught against innocent Nigerian citizens? In France Charles De Gaulle Airport, the story is no less different. Immigration officials at this airport are known to be Nigerian-phobia even before the Mutallab saga. Since the Detroit bombing, Nigerians are openly searched, segregated and delayed.

It is much worse if you are carrying the green passport. In a particular reported incident, a young Nigerian student heading to school in Ukraine was repeatedly questioned till he broke down in tears. Why? His first two names were Umar Farouk but the surname was different from the Detroit underwear bomber. It took a divine intervention for the boy to be cleared for the journey.

Ever before the news of the Mutallab attempted bombing broke, Nigerians have been humiliated at airports across the world. The most shocking was the revelation in 2008 by the respected General Overseer of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, Pastor Enoch Adejare Adeboye who gave details of a humiliating experience he was subjected to at an international airport while visiting one of the European countries.

The respected cleric narrated how he was given a thorough search at the airport as soon as he tendered his Nigerian passport, saying the immigration officials became more suspicious of him when he claimed to be a pastor from Nigeria, regretting that most foreigners now regard all Nigerians as fraudsters and would-be bombers

Pastor Adeboye recalled “the moment they heard that I am a pastor, that’s when they decided that the search must be thorough. In fact, they told me that I must preach a sermon! They asked me the last time I preached; I said last Sunday. They asked for the topic, I gave them. What was the theme? I gave them. What was the Bible passage? I gave them. “At the end, they apologized, saying, ‘in your case, you are genuine.

Some of the most humiliating searches recently have been on US bound planes and Airliners such as Air France, Alitalia and Lufthansa have just simply treated Nigerian travelers in a less than human way with the most difficult searches being the body search.

So what is to be done? The truth is that these degrading searches would not end even after Nigeria may have been eventually removed from the US terror list of interested countries. Recently the US government gave conditions for removing Nigerians from the list of countries prone to terrorism.

One of the conditions requires Nigeria to maintain a vocal stand against any act of terrorism, through public condemnation of any form of terrorism anywhere in the world. Another condition demands improved security in the nation’s international airports, particularly the use of body scanners.

A third condition requests the deployment of air marshals on board all US’-bound flights from Nigeria. The fourth condition expects Nigeria to make speedy progress in passing anti-terrorism laws. It also expected that the anti-terrorism bill before the National Assembly will speedily passed so Nigeria can be seen to be in the league of countries denouncing terrorism. More importantly is for Abuja to condemn internal killings arising from religious crises in various parts of the country and all the culprits brought to book.

Sadly, it appears that there is a general belief that there is official connivance by states prone to these recurring religious crises to perpetuate a permanent crisis for political gains. The damage to Nigeria image is not going to go away when the country is eventually removed from that infamous list.

The root of our bad image is far more rooted in the advanced fee fraud and some criminal minded Nigerians involvement in international illicit drug trade. These have tainted other honest Nigerians who have continued to bear the brunt of these humiliations at international airports. It is hoped that the Good luck Jonathan administrat

ion would speed up diplomacy for the removal of Nigeria from the list while condemning and investigating cases of unnecessary humiliation of Nigerians at international airports. The government should know that no one is safe from these degrading treatments.

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