A former Minister of Education and one of the coordinators of the #BringBackOurGirls campaign, Dr (Mrs) Obi Ezekwesili, has spoken out about her Monday encounter with operatives of the Department of State Security Services at the Abuja International Airport.
Ezekwesili, who was delayed and harassed by SSS operatives for over 40 minutes at the airport, was traveling to London to appear on a scheduled programme of the BBC, HardTalk.
While in London on Tuesday, the former minister and retired Vice President of the World Bank (Africa), who is also a trustee of the Christian Association of Nigerian-Americans, narrated her ordeal during her visit to the association members in that country, as contained in a statement by the CANAN Executive Director, Pastor Laolu Akande:
“I arrived at the airport yesterday (on Monday) to travel to London on British Airline. 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 travelling light, with just my hand luggage leather roll on and my computer bag. I placed the bag for them (to see) 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 staff did his processing and handed to the SSS official. Usually, their 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 other 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.
“He responded, “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.
“At that point, I brought out my phone to record him even as I asked for the passport. He got angry and charged at me that he would seize my phone. Then his colleague screamed at him a third time to handover the passport. He did”.
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