They grumble almost on a daily basis after suffering one form of humiliation or the other. Yet the majority of them find it extremely difficult to leave the hostile environment in Malaysia and head back home. That is the sad story of many Nigerians who are resident in Malaysia , particularly the students who are undergoing studies in various fields.
The number of Nigerian youths in Malaysia is estimated at about 4,000. This, of course, is unofficial, as many of them had entered the country illegally. But each time the Malaysian Police strike, both the saints and the sinners suffer.
The recent clamp down on Nigerians in the far east country was not only painful but humiliating. Neither the host schools nor the Nigerian High Commission in Malaysia could do anything to help the situation. The operation, codenamed â€˜OPS TIONGâ€™, involved many security agencies in Malaysia. It lasted for more than five hours from dusk to dawn. It was a raid Nigerian students in the country would not forget in a hurry. No fewer than 12 of them spent 11 torturous days in the Malaysian cell.
For one of the detained students, Nkem Okpa Obaji, who arrived the country in 2007, and currently a research student at the Institute of Technology Management of the Universiti Teknologi, Malaysia, life could not be more cruel. He was arrested in his sitting room around 11.35 pm on November 21, while he was watching a football match. It was a baptism of fire.
According to Obaji, he had never imagined that he could be subjected to such an inhuman treatment in his entire life. By the time it dawned on him that he would be sleeping in the cell, his psyche was dealt a big blow. He said it was the first time he would be arrested by the Police.
Obaji, who is billed to complete his studies in Malaysia in 2014, said he informed the Nigerian High Commission in Malaysia that some Nigerians, including himself, had been arrested, but he was disappointed with the response he got.
He said: â€œThe first day we were put in cell, I called the High Commission. I told them that there was a massive arrest of Nigerians, including myself, the previous night. But the respondent told me that the High Commission could not do anything unless the Police informed them.â€
While Obaji would not confirm or deny that some Nigerians are engaged in shady deals in the Asian country, he believes that the Police in the country had not been fair to Africans, especially Nigerians. â€œWhen policemen came to our apartment, they told us that the locals complained that some Africans were disturbing their neighbourhood and that was why they came. I feel they are unfair to Africans in general and Nigerians in particular. Also, majority of the locals donâ€™t like Nigerians,â€ he said.
The university was said to have pledged to take up the matter with the security agency that arrested the students. In the report he was asked to submit to the university on the incident, a copy of which was made available to The Nation, Obaji wrote: â€œA team of policemen invaded our apartment at Ampang shortly after we finished watching the Indonesia â€“ Malaysia football match of the South East Asia (SEA) 2011 Games.
â€œThey searched the three rooms of our flat and the sitting room but did not find anything incriminating. They told us that they came because they received reports from the locals that some Africans living within the Condominium were disturbing.
â€œWe told them that we were all students, but they queried, â€˜If you are students, why do you have refrigerators in every room and how come you have 27 inches flat screen television?â€™ They also asked why almost everybody had laptop computers.
â€œMeanwhile, when they came in, there were two laptop computers in use. One of my flat mates was using his own in the sitting room where he was googling a particular topic relating to his school examination, which he was supposed to take at 10 am the next day, which he definitely missed as a result of our incarceration.
â€œThey demanded for our International passports in order to determine the validity of our visas. These we presented to them and they verified their authenticity through phone calls to the Immigration Headquarters. They eventually confirmed that our passports were valid.
â€œWhile the verification was still going on, local journalists bumped into the house and started covering the incident. When we understood some of the Malay words (e.g. tipu and menipu) used by the journalists during the coverage, we sharply resisted the coverage and drew the attention of the police team. Immediately, the journalists stopped the coverage and went outside the door.
â€œAfter this, the team wanted to check all our laptop computers in the house, but suddenly, another police officer, who claimed to be their boss, came in and told them that all of us would be going to the station where they would check our laptops, visas and urine, and that if no problem was found, we would immediately be released. So, they brought out handcuffs and chained all of us together. The whole event depicted the slave trade era.
â€œAs we were about to leave the front door of our flat, cameramen started taking pictures and recording us, which we protested against. Unfortunately for us, we were already in chains and we couldnâ€™t do much.
â€œWhen we got downstairs, we found that other Africans were already inside their vehicles. When they found that the vehicles would not be enough for all of us, they called for the Black Maria. When the Black Maria came, they transferred all of us into it and zoomed off in a convoy to a location we all thought to be Bukit Aman Police Headquarters. But in the morning, we were told that the place was Police Training School at Jalan Semarak opposite UTM City Campus, KL.
â€œWhen we got to the training school, they just dumped us on the cold floor of the hall with the handcuffs still on all of us and started doing our documentation, which lasted up till 10 am the next day. After that, they took us back to Ampang Jaya Police Station. In the course of the documentation, they called us one by one and hung a tag around our neck with Bukit Aman inscription and assigned a number which ended with â€œ/2011â€. They asked each of us in turn to hold the tag while they took our pictures both in Portrait and landscape formats.
â€œAt the Training School, we saw other Africans arrested who were from other parts of KL which include among others, Cheras, Kepong, Pandah Indah, Sentul.
â€œWhen we arrived at the Ampang Jaya Police Station, they removed the handcuffs and registered our personal belongings like phones, wallets, belts and shoes. After that, they put us in the cell.
â€œIt the cell, on the first and second days, the tap flowed. But after the second day, there was no more water. After every meal, they gave some inmates who were lucky to get a small quantity of water in a water proof plastic bag to flush the toilet and clean up.
â€œThey served us little quantity of rice every day. In some cases, especially in the morning, one slice of bread and a sachet of local flavoured drinks, which contains a lot of sugar, which is against what most of us need in our system. All through our incarceration, they didnâ€™t give us even a drop of drinking water.
â€œOn Monday November 28, 2011, they brought us to the investigation office where we met for the first time the police officer in charge of the case. She called us one after the other to provide our basic information like name, nationality, passport number, name of school, family background, etc. After that, they took us back into the cell.
â€œOn Wednesday November 30, 2011 , she called us again to the investigation room and checked our passports/visas and informed us that she would be going to Putrajaya for the verification of our visas and passports.
â€œOn Thursday December 1, 2011, around 6 pm, they called us to meet the Investigation Officer in the investigation room. At this time, she told us that we had been released but that our registered belongings, including our mobile phones, wallets and house keys would be collected the next day as the office where our belongings were had closed for the day.
â€œOn Friday December 2, 2011 , around 9.am, we went to the Ampang Jaya Police Station and collected our registered belongings. On the same Friday December 2, 2011, around 6.pm, we went to the Bukit Indah Police Station to pick our laptop computers.â€
Obaji said he was still trying to get back to his normal mental state, which he said was â€œbruised as a result of the incarceration. In my wildest dream, I never expected myself to be in that kind of situation.â€
Another student, Wole, (surname withheld), expressed fear over the hostile attitude to blacks and Nigerians in particular. According him, while the raid was going on, the security agencies involved invited journalists from the print and electronic media to record the proceedings.
â€œMy colleagues were handcuffed and hurled into a Black Maria like common criminals. These are students with valid papers. Despite having valid visas, some were kept in police net for 10 days before they were released,â€ he said.
Wole, who is currently a Ph.D. student in one of the leading universities, was miffed over the way the whole matter was handled by the High Commission. He said things could have been better if the High Commission had acted promptly. â€œOur embassy refused to help these people despite the fact that those who were arrested registered with the embassy. Malaysian security agents are out to tarnish the image of Nigerians in Malaysia,â€ he added.
All efforts made by one of the universities to vouch for one of the students were said to have been rebuffed by the Police.
Wole said the authorities at the Universiti Teknologi , Malaysia , called the Police but they refused to entertain their plea. â€œUniversiti Teknologi, Malaysia , is ranked No.1 in Malaysia. There, you see many Nigerians,â€ said Wole.
Wole is constantly living in fear because Malaysian security agents would come down on them if their names and photographs are published in the newspapers.
As if to confirm the alleged contempt the Malaysian authorities have for Nigerians, the security agents allegedly refused to apologise to the unjustly detained Nigerians, even when they did not find anything incriminating on them.
A new twist was added to the arrest saga when Orugo, a Ph.D. graduate who had been at the forefront of the battle for the release of the detained students was arrested a few day after the 12 detained Nigerians were released. Orugo, who got a very outstanding award for his performance in the Ph.D. class, was himself allegedly detained for five days. It took the intervention of his lawyer to get him off the hook of the Malaysian security agents. As a measure of appreciation of his brilliant performance, The Nation gathered that Orugo has been engaged to lecture at the Universiti Kebangsaan.
However, some sources said while the Malaysian security agents should be blamed for allegedly irrational arrests, the attitude of some Nigerians leaves much to be desired. Early this month, a 32-year-old Nigerian, whom the Malaysian Police accused of dealing in illegal drugs, was shot dead on his hospital bed. According to a report, the Malaysian Police said they did so in self-defence because the Nigerian allegedly ran amok and overpowered a policeman.
In October 2007, two Nigerian students were found dead in their rooms. The two were business information systems freshmen. Though described as brilliant by the authorities of the school, some argued that they were probably killed by an overdose of drugs.
Some Nigerians in Malaysia are believed to sometimes make life difficult for those with genuine intentions. A Nigerian was once reported to have connived with his Malaysian girlfriend to fake her (girlfriendâ€™s) kidnap. According to the report, the Malaysian lady and her Nigerian boyfriend were arrested by security agents for an alleged attempt to get a ransom of US$500,000 (N76, 124,988) from her father.
The cry of persecution by some Nigerians also attracted condemnation from a student, Paul (not real name), who is currently undergoing a Ph.D. programme in Malaysia . He was a lecturer in one of the private universities in Nigeria before he left for Malaysia. Paul disagreed with the arrested students. According to him, â€œMalaysians are good to us. Some of these Nigerians constitute a nuisance here. It is so bad that it is difficult to greet your fellow Nigerians, even if they have their papers. They actually need to arrest those Nigerians,â€ he submitted.
When this reporter told him that the arrested people have valid papers, he said curtly: â€œIf they have their papers, they (Police) will never do that to them. Ask them what they are doing in Malaysia.â€
He said he would probably do worse than the Police if he were a part of the system. â€œI would have probably done worse. I just hate some of these Nigerians. They make life difficult for us, doing all manner of rubbish,â€ he said.
Meanwhile, in spite of the negative perception, some of the students are doing quite well. For example, in October, this year, 51 Nigerians bagged Ph.D, while 36 successfully completed their Masterâ€™s degree. One of them, Khadija Adedoyin Opatokun, who graduated with M.Ed in Education Administration, earned the best Masterâ€™s Student Award of the institute of education in one of the universities.
A message was sent to both the Nigerian High Commission in Malaysia and the Malaysian High Commission in Nigeria for their official comments on the allegedly indiscriminate arrest of the Nigerian students, but at the time of filing this report, there had not been any response from either of them.