This article is a sort of a rejoinder to Mr. Nworah’s article written in early June in one of the Nigerian web site titled “Confessions of an Immigrant .” In the article, Mr. Nworah wrote about his ordeal as an immigrant in foreign countries, and in London specifically.
I have decided to supplement Mr. Nworah’s account by writing about the predicament of Africans, Nigerians in particular, in Russia.
Mr. Nworah needs to be commended for his courage in writing this article and most especially, for the manner in which he articulated his viewpoints. His story is really very moving.
I came into the country officially as a Bureau for External Aid (BEA) scholarship student. After living here for some time, I came to the conclusion that all things being equal, it’s better to live at home and contribute to the development of our country; if we really love it. Why do we have to continue developing societies/countries that are much more developed than ours; moreso at the expense of our dignity? I strongly believe that we hold a moral responsibility to our country. If we all live in America or Western Europe, then who’s going to develop our country for us? As the sayings go: “You can’t eat your cake and have it.” And “As you lay your bed so you lie on it.”
FASCIST COUNTRY…CITIES OF DEATH
Compared to our situation here in Russia, I do rather say that Mr. Nworah is very lucky that he only gets discriminated against in terms of jobs. Things are much worse here. It’s extremely dangerous for a dark skinned person to live, work and study in Russia. Africans are hunted down and killed by the Russian skin-heads on a regular basis.
RUN FOR YOUR LIFE
A few months ago, a final year Senegalese student – Lampsar Samba was shot dead at close range in the midst of his Senegalese friends on their way back from a night club in St. Petersburg. Others had to take to their heels to escape death. A couple of months before Samba’s cold murder, another student was stabbed to death by the skin heads in Voronezh. Within the past 2 years many Africans and dark-skinned people, mostly students, have met their untimely death in the hands of numerous Russian neo-fascist groups. In fact, St. Petersburg and Voronezh are notorious for killing foreigners, and both cities are now called ‘The cities of death.’ Till the time of writing, nobody has been arrested or brought to trial for any of the killings of the Africans.
The Russian court recently acquitted a skin-head accused of stabbing to death a Tajik girl. Tajikistan was part of the former Soviet Union, but it is now an independent country. It based its decision on the fact that there was not enough evidence to classify the killing as racially motivated.
The Russian government classification of these obvious racial killings as ‘hooliganism’ and not ‘racially motivated attacks’ has only worsened the situation. The position of the Russian government on this issue has not only denied justice to the murdered but has encouraged the skin-heads to continue carrying out their heinous acts. Africans are attacked on a regular basis. And whenever they are lucky to escape death, many are hospitalised for months, forced to pay for their treatment and become invalid for life without any compensation. Many Nigerians that were framed for drug trafficking and denied fair trial have lost their lives in Russian prisons.
The Nigerian embassy in Moscow does not have an official record or figure of Nigerians that have died in Russian prisons through diseases, hard and inhuman prison condition, malnutrition and deliberate killings. Yes, deliberate killings. A number of Nigerians were simply murdered by the prison authorities because of racial hatred or personal clashes, or by the police to avoid divulging information that might implicate them. There are reported cases of Russian police officers training the skin-heads in the act of street physical combat. There are many occasions too when Russian police officers change into civilian clothes and took part in the beating and killing of Africans.
YOUR MONEY OR YOUR LIFE
In Russia, promotion of a police officer depends not on the number of cases won but on the number of cases sent to court for hearing. Police harassments of Africans are very rampant. It’s a normal scene to see an African being stopped for an ID check and later forced to undress to his pants and subjected to humiliating public search; irrespective of whether the temperature was -30 degrees centigrade! They justified this humiliation to a search for narcotics. If your ID is in order, and no drugs eventually is found on you, nevertheless, you still need to part with substantial amount to gain your freedom. Otherwise, you might be taken to the station – on the pretext that they want to establish your real identity – and locked up for hours or days with criminals, hooligans in a windowless cell with a very strong odour that can make you to vomit or faint.
There were also a number of cases when Russian police broke into apartments of Nigerians, ordered everybody to lie down; and those who had the courage or the guts to query the police action were beaten to unconsciousness and handcuffed. The apartments are afterwards subjected to vigorous search – which could last for hours or take the whole day – while the residents continue lying down handcuffed with face down. And irrespective of whether drugs were found or not, everybody in the house – including those who were just visiting are charged for drug trafficking. In some cases, the innocent ones might have to bribe the police with hundreds or thousands of dollars to avoid prosecution. Those that have no money are tortured until they admitted or confessed to drug trafficking.
The Russian police very often play different kinds of psychological games with Africans. The most popular is when a police patrol car intentionally slows down beside an African walking on the street and continues following him to wherever he goes. The aim of this game is to provoke the African. With a police car continuosly following him: will he take to his heels? Confront the police or simply ignore them and go his way? In case, he chooses confronting the police, then he’s easily accused of disrespect to the police which could lead to serious beatings and detention for a couple of hours or days in the police station, or spending a couple of days or months in the hospital. Can you imagine!
A NO GO AREA
We live in fear for our lives every second, either inside our apartments or on the streets. We are attacked by skin-heads on the streets and face police harassments and extortions both on the streets and inside our apartments. Living, working, studying or visiting Russia now is like taking a gamble with your life.
EMBASSY DOES NOT CARE
The nonchalant attitude of the Nigerian embassy has not only worsened things but given the Russian police and the neo-nazist groups a carte-blanch to continue their unjustified harassments, unlawful detention, arrests and killings of Nigerians. There was a time when the Nigerian embassy told the Russian law enforcement authority that it did not desire to be informed about any Nigerian arrested for drug trafficking or any other crime, and that the Russian authority was free to take any action it thought fit against Nigerians to teach them some lessons. The Russian police, on many occasions have framed Nigerians in many crimes. The most common attrocity of the Russian police before was planting of drugs on Nigerians.
LAW OF THE JUNGLE
It is practically impossible to get a fair trial in Russian courts. Judges are under the strict control of the government. Holding or showing your green passport is tantamount to an automatic guilty verdict. Practically all those that have been imprisoned or killed in Russian prisons are southerners, and at least about 75% of them are Ibos.
A very popular case was the murder of Tony ‘Montana’ – a Nigerian/Ibo postgraduate student at the Friendship University in Moscow. Tony was actually involved in drug trafficking, but was doing it under the cover of the police and the Russian state security service. Unfortunately, Tony ran out of luck when he was arrested either by another group of police men or from his own group who wanted to extort more money from him for their protection service. Tony was eventually murdered in prison through injection to stop him from divulging information about his collaborators in the Russian police and the state security service. Those that saw Tony before his death said that he was hail and healthy. All of a sudden he was transfered to another prison very far from Moscow. Tony suddenly fell sick and died immediately. No independent autopsy was conducted on Tony’s corpse. Neither was a single letter written by the Nigerian embassy to protest his death nor was any enquiry made about the circumstances of his death.