Former Education Minister Dr Oby Ezekwesili has narrated the sequence of events of her encounter with the State Security Service officers at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja on Monday morning during.
Details of the incident was contained in a statement by the Christian Association of Nigerian-Americans, CANAN which requested for the Federal Government to call to order airport security officials who allegedly harassed Ezekwesili who is one of the leaders of the Bring Back Chibok Girls campaign.
Below is the details of the sequence as narrated by the former Minister, to officials of CANAN in a statement signed by the Executive Director of the the organisation, Pastor Laolu Akande in New York.
” I arrived the airport yesterday on 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 @ about 7.15 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 5 -10 minutes on a passport. As a frequent traveler through our Lagos and Abuja airports I speak based on experience and evidence. Even on the same day the process for those of the travelers that I witnessed did not last more than 5 minutes.
But on Monday, it became, 5, 10, 15 and 20, 25, 30, 35, 40 mins 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 @ 7.37
@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.
@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.
While I stood with him and demanding my passport, we were joined by two of the fellows that had instructed the search of my bags, they reappeared and one of them instructed the younger to handover the passport to me. He hesitated glaring down at me. His colleague raised his voice and instructed him again and he refused.
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 hand the passport. He did.
I tweeted :
@obyezeks: SSS has RELEASED IT. Just barely made the BA flight. Last to board @ 7.55 for an 8.00 am flight that is now taxiing. IS THIS A DEMOCRACY?
@obyezeks: No ONE can SEIZE my DEMOCRATIC RIGHTS. I REFUSED to let the SSS GET AWAY with TRAMPLING on my CONSTITUTIONAL RIGTH.
So Strangely, my passport had all the while been seized away from the processing cubicle and was not with the officer at the desk at the time he was saying “We are acting under instruction”.
Immigration, Customs, airport staff and travelers (including Prof. Jerry Gana) who witnessed the sad episode were at various times intervening while it lasted.
BA was kind in that it not only waited beyond their normal departure time to take me on board, but they also upgraded my class of travel following the unjustified harrowing experience with our SSS.