Libya returnees protest non-payment of stipend

The 373 Edo indigenes, who were among the 481 Nigerians returned from Libya on Sunday, are protesting the non-payment of stipend for their transportation back home.

Among them are 73 women, some of who are expectant mothers.

They arrived Benin City about 1:30a.m. and were lodged at the Motel Benin Plaza by the Edo State government.

At 7:30a.m., the returnees were seen buying snacks, while those without money begged passersby before the government brought food for them.

Many of them looked unkempt, haggard and hungry.

Some of them said they had been in an underground cell for more than six months.

They were made to undergo medical check-up, including screening for HIV/AIDS.

What led to the protest was that were told there was no money made available for them after they had undergone biometric by the government.

Some of the girls said they had been asked to vacate their hotel rooms for other Libya returnees expected to arrive the state today.

They said they were informed that money was to be given to them to enable them pay their fares home.

Blessing Gilbert, a divorcee, wondered how she would get to Auchi, her hometown, without any money.

“This is very bad. Do they want me to trek to Auchi? I spent eight months in Libya prison and now I am told to trek home.”

Another girl, who gave her name as Grace, said she was surprised when she was told that no money would be given to them.

Grace said previous returnees were given N45,000 on arrival in Lagos State.

Some of the boys vowed that they would not leave their hotel room until they were given money to pay their fares home.

The hotel was besieged by parents and individuals whose relatives are in Libya.

Those who saw their relatives expressed joy and openly danced.

Madam Aisagbonbuomwan  Anna, who hugged her daughter, Blessing Sunday, said she never believed she would see her daughter again.

She said she had not heard from her daughter for the past six months until last Sunday when she got a call that her daughter was in Port Harcourt.

Her daughter told reporters that she opted to seek greener pasture in Europe to improve her family’s economic condition.

She said she spent N500,000 to travel to Libya and ended up spending months in prisons.

“I am happy to return alive. In the prison, we cannot make calls. Police sold people and rearrested them again to be sold.”

Lucky Iyamu, who hugged his son when his wife brought him, said 230 blacks were shot dead the day he was arrested.

He said he gave up after a bullet narrowly missed his ear and hit the wall.

His words: “I wanted to go to Europe to see if I can make more money. I left with N850,000 but didn’t make it out of Libya. We were 24 that eventually surrendered that day. Others staying in that ghetto were killed.

“It is a pity that Libyans do not travel out of their country. I would have dealt with anyone I see in Nigeria the way they treated blacks.”

Reacting to the protest, Senior Special Assistant to Governor Godwin Obaseki on Anti-Human Trafficking and Illegal Migration, Solomon Okoduwa, said it was the Federal Government’s fault that money was not provided.

He said the United Nations provided fund for previous returnees but the Federal Government did not make any fund available except to bring Nigerians from Libya.

Edo State government has begun payment of little stipend to the 373 Libya returnees, to enable them go to their destinations.

The payment started after the returnees threatened to cause trouble at the Motel Benin Plaza where they were lodged and their biometric obtained.

They were alarmed that they were asked to go home without any money, whereas previous returnees were paid N41,000.

To douse tension, the  government  mobilised and started payment equivalent to the destination of each returnee.

Special Adviser to Governor Godwin Obaseki on Media and Strategy Mr. Crusoe Osagie said the government was not aware that the Federal Government did not make any money available for the returnee.

He said the International Organisation on Migration and the Federal Government were responsible for returning Nigerians from Libya.

Osagie said: “The European Union made €100 available for each Nigerians under the IOM returning programme. When they get here, they get N41,000 given to them in Lagos.

“The Federal Government in its programme is not giving any money to returnees. Anybody who returned under the Federal Government is not getting any money. The Federal Government is returning migrants through Port Harcourt, while the IOM is returning Nigerians through Lagos.

“Edo State government is trying to provide something for them and has started making payment to enable them visit their relatives. The little money is relative to where they are going to. It is not big money at all.

“The returnees should be calm. We did not know that the Federal Government was not going to make any provision.”