by S’ola Filani
Champion of the #BringBackOurGirls campaign, Obiageli Ezekwesili, has recounted her ordeal in the hands of security operatives at the Abuja International Airport on Monday.
Sharing with members of the Christian Association of Nigerian-Americans (she is a trustee) on Tuesday, the former minister shared a timeline of the events for the first time:
“I arrived the airport yesterday (Monday) to travel to London on BA. First, after the luggage screening section, I moved to the Customs people, sitting right next to it and do a more thorough bag search. Rather than they handling my luggage as is the practice, there were three SSS men, who rudely took over before they could do so and ordered me to open my bag.“I was traveling light with just my hand luggage leather roll on and my computer bag. I placed the bag for them and one was already furiously frisking through it when the Customs advised that a woman be allowed to do it. She was allowed and she did it.
“She finished, zipped up the luggage and they said I could proceed but I asked that the computer bag be also searched and they did.
“I went on to do my checking and got my boarding pass and was swiftly done. I arrived the departure immigration desk at about 7.15am and presented my passport and forms. The immigration worker did his processing and handed to the SSS official.
“Usually, the entire process lasts no more than five to 10 minutes on a passport. As a frequent traveller through our Lagos and Abuja airports, I speak based on experience and evidence. Even on the same day, the process for those of the travellers that I witnessed did not last more than five minutes. But on Monday, it became, five, 10, 15 and 20, 25, 30, 35, 40 minutes for the departure desk processing for me, with no explanation given except ‘We act under instruction’.
“At each point after 10 minutes of waiting, I asked the officer why my passport was taking so long and not being handed to me. His recurrent response was “We act under instruction”. I would go on and state that he owed me explanation on what was wrong since there seemed to be a different process from the regular and that he had no right to trample on my constitutional right to movement.
“He would respond, ‘I am not doing this personally madam. I am simply acting based on instruction and you of all persons should understand that’. When it was 20 minutes into the process, and with BA announcing the final boarding call for the 8am flight, the officer walked out of the cubicle heading off. I followed him asking where he was going without giving back my passport nor an explanation on why it was being withheld. His nonchalant response was ‘just wait. I am trying to help you’.
“It became evident that they withheld the passport to detain me at their departure desk in order to miss the flight. That was when I tweeted @ 7.37am ‘@obyezeks: IS THIS A DEMOCRACY? I am being detained by the SSS @ Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport . The SSS has REFUSED to GIVE MY PASSPORT TO ME’.
“At 7.41am ‘@obyezeks: On my way to London this morning for my @BBCHARDtalk appearance billed for TOMORROW and the SSS has DETAINED me by WITHHOLDING my PASSPORT’.” she said.