Damilola
Africa

Nigerians have no reason to rush to UK

Father of the Nigerian-born Damilola Taylor who was killed in London, Mr. Richard Taylor, in this interview with SEMIU OKANLAWON in East London, speaks on the murder of his son eight years ago, the sudden death of his wife, Gloria, earlier this year and how those tragedies have spurred him to seek the good of the human race as the 8th memorial of Damilola comes up today. Excerpts:

You have just been given the Pride of Britain award, how do you feel given the circumstances of Damilola’s death eight years ago and the death of his mother this year?

The death of Damilola and the way we had carried on even before my wife passed on, have shown the authorities here because they know that it is not easy for a parent to lose a child like that. They value life here a lot. In Nigeria, there is no value for life. So, it is like compensating the family with this award. It is like softening the agony so that one can carry on with life without further consideration for what has happened. On Thursday (today), there is going to be a memorial service which the Prime Minister is going to attend with several dignitaries. All the activities that we have embarked upon at the foundation, the authorities see them as supportive of their initiatives.

Looking back to eight years ago, how is the feeling as a father and husband experiencing all that you have gone through?
Many people initially thought that Damilola was stabbed to death as part of a racial attack; it was not like that. This attack was basically a case of envy in the community in Peckham. Peckham as it was in the year 2000, was a community that was neglected by the authorities.

The authorities were not paying any attention to the people living there. People’s living standard was below expectations and that was what created the problem among those young people who were growing up in the community. Majority of those living in that area at that time were Nigerians, Sierra Leoneans and illegal immigrants, so they found it difficult to go and meet the authorities. When the incident happened, the authorities then woke up to the reality that the environment where people were living was not supposed to be like that. And I took the trouble to confront the authorities then; the local government, the police and said, ‘look, people cannot be living like this in this civilised world.’

That was what happened. It was not a case of racial discrimination. You know the young people that stabbed him were blacks. They were young people who capitalised on the vulnerability of young Africans who come to London. They were just like people asking for ransom.

 
Now eight years after the killing of your son, what has been the experience?

Having lost my son, it was a very painful thing for me. Even when Gloria was here, we were both still grieving. My experience has been that having lost my son, I should use my experience to help other people who are facing similar problems; many people who are still travelling to this country as a result of the economic problems back at home (Nigeria). If I had my way, I would not allow many Nigerians who are trooping into this country to do so any more. This is because there are lots of problems that the parents are faced with. So, with the Damilola Taylor Trust, we have done a lot of wok with many of such families, especially those with immigration problems. There is hardly any day that we don’t have cases of people who are living in this country with immigration problems. You can see the environment here (Workinglinks, an employment agency where he works), we need similar thing for the Nigerian communities here. We are discussing with the local authorities in Peckham, that there are several Nigerians who are unemployed; several Nigerians who are students. So, my experience generally is to use the tragedy to help young people to develop their potentials.

You said there were problems faced by parents here in bringing up their children; can you mention some of these problem?Because majority of them have no papers, they cannot work. Go to Peckham, go to all the boroughs, you will see those who are using other people’s papers illegally, they are not feeling secure and the jobs they give them are menial works on the streets. They sweep the streets, they clean the stations. We have been doing a lot of work to help them. But it has been so difficult. That is number one. Number two is the immigration problem. Number three is the children they bring into this country. There is one charity organisation we also work with in Peckham. If that person should tell you about the problems Nigerians bring to her about many of the children that have been brought here illegally, you will marvel because those children have become rebellious.

 

And majority of them as well as their parents, work 24 hours just to make ends meet. So, the children don’t have the parental care and they get into trouble easily and very often.
Majority of the problems we have these days, cases of stabbing, killing, they are Nigerians. If you look at the statistics; majority of those who died between now and last year were Nigerians.

You said if you had your way, you wouldn’t want Nigerians to come into this country again, what do you think can be done from this end to take such a campaign back home?

There is a lot that can be done. For instance, I have a lot of people who have been asking me to write letters of invitation to them which they can use as means of coming here; I will not write such letters. I always tell them that they have potential at home; that they don’t have to depend on government jobs; that they have to be creative. The corporate organisations in Nigeria today are looking for people they can train to man their new operations.

For me, I find it shameful that we have a whole lot of Nigerians coming to this country to maintain their economy, drive their buses, clean their trains, do their cleaning at the underground, and all those other miserable jobs. We did it in the 70s when we came and we don’t want our children to come and continue doing it. When I was studying here, I did it and when I graduated, I went back home .
So also, we want the graduates that we have today to stay at home and think about what they can do. Let the government we have today also think about what to do. Many of the legislators in Nigeria studied here in Europe, America, Russia and all that, and they all went back home. It is just the recent initiative of the Lagos State Government that is changing the face of Lagos. Recently, I was in Lagos and I have feelings that some initiatives are being introduced to change the face of governance. But the issue that we have in Nigeria is that nobody cares for the masses. The politicians don’t have the interest of the masses. All they want is to get their votes.

During the tenure of President Obasanjo, I made several attempts to meet him to pass to him my proposals about how some things could be done to create opportunities for the younger generation, but I was prevented from seeing him by his aides. I was also in Abuja when I was given the opportunity by the then Minister of Defence, Danjuma, whom I had worked with, but I was also prevented by the aides. The same thing happened in South Africa. He was in South Africa about three or four years ago and I was in Johannesburg then and I was promised an opportunity to see him. It was the then Chief Protocol Officer who blocked me from seeing him.
You see, those were the kind of things that discourage people who have some ideas about how things can be made to work in Nigeria. And what we had in mind at that time was not even about funding; all we wanted to do was to show them some ideas about how things can work. Just like what we are doing with the Damilola Taylor Trust; we empower people.

Those who are running the foundation grew up with my first son and when they graduated, they were unemployed. When Damilola was killed eight years ago, they saw in it an opportunity to work on something as a way of preventing issues that led to such occurrences. At the moment, they are working with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission to eradicate cyber cafe fraud in Nigeria. They go to schools and mentor younger ones; making them understand the dangers in getting involved in crimes and all that.
They also use youth football to develop young talents. In fact, the football association here has supported them in a way. But the FA here cannot continue to support them. But before the FA stopped, they had given them kits as part of moves to take those young ones off the streets. But back home, they don’t get any financial support, they are using their own means to get the programme going. Unfortunately, in this country, you cannot take funds from the Damilola Trust Fund to Nigeria to support the programme there. Whenever we seek funding for them from here, they always tell us that our country is so rich that the programme there can be supported by our government, individuals and corporate bodies. They tell you that there are several billionaires in Nigeria. And you know they all know that our people launder money here because they read all those things in the papers as well which give them a clear understanding of how our politicians launder money here. They know how our people buy houses ana cars. All those luxuries have exposed Nigeria as a very rich country.

Those are the kind of things that create problems for a country. And I will tell you why Damilola was here and why we all were here before he was killed. I was here to study in the 1970s. I went back and I was in the Ministry of Defence. We had our first daughter, called Gbemi. We found out that she was epileptic. We were going from one place to the other; one hospital to the other; one church to the other. It was during the regime of Abacha, you remember the World Health Organisation had banned drugs to be exported to Nigeria as part of the sanctions against the military regime at that time.
That affected Nigeria in many ways, including healthcare delivery. We couldn’t get medication to sustain her health. So, we had to bring them, Gbemi and her brother, who were both born here in England back to this place. Damilola, who was born in Nigeria, was just going to 10 then. He said he could not be the only one to stay in Nigeria after his sister and brother had come down here with their mother. Despite the fact that I enrolled him in one of the best secondary schools in Abuja, he insisted on joining them in England. There was a big family issue over it. It was not long after they arrived here that the incident happened. So, if Nigeria had been able to provide the medication we needed to sustain Gbemi’s health, there would not have been any reason for us to come down here at all. To do what? We were comfortable in Nigeria. My wife was in the bank and I was in the ministry.

How did the death of your wife come to you?
It was very devastating. You see, Gloria never overcome the shock of Damilola’s killing.

But she had appeared to be very strong during the trial of the killers, so what happened?
Yes, she did. But that was something that she had to do because during the court proceedings, I would want to blow up, and she would be the one to say ‘kilon se o?’ (what is wrong with you?). But whenever we got home, she would be the one to break down. People didn’t see that. She only found solace in the church she attended. On the day she died, she had told me that she was not going to go out at all. It was a Tuesday. I was at home till about 9am. I was having a meeting with the editor of the Daily Mirror at Cannary Wharf.

 
At the end of the meeting, I didn’t go back home, I went to the office and was there till about 5pm. I left here and got the train. The unusual thing was that the normal place where we used to stop, I didn’t stop there. Something propelled me to go further before coming down.

 
And when I came down, as I was walking down the slope, I saw a body lying on the ground. There were two men. One was standing with a telephone and the other man was looking down at the body on the floor. The closer I moved, the clearer the picture of my wife appeared. The person on the phone was trying to call the emergency. Then, I told them it was my wife. She was lying face down. She was dead. I broke down on the street. They said she was not dead. We took her to the hospital where she was pronounced dead. Everything to me has been like a mystery.
(Source: The Punch, Nigeria Published 11/27/2008){linkr:related;keywords:africa;limit:5;title:Related Articles}

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