Adelani Adepegba, Abuja
Two Nigerians with valid visas, who were denied entry into the United States have alleged that they were humiliated and dehumanised by the US immigration and border protection officials at the Los Angeles International Airport and the Abu Dhabi Airport in the United Arab Emirates.
The victims, Femi Olaniyi and Popoola Olayemi, the latter having travelled to the US with his pregnant wife and two children, said their two-year multiple entry visas were revoked without any explanation before they were sent back to Nigeria by the US authorities.
Olaniyi, a real estate businessman, said he obtained his visa from the US Consulate in Lagos on December 23, 2016, adding that he had planned for a holiday in the US with his wife.
He explained that his spouse, a police officer, could not make the trip due to her official schedule.
According to him, he had planned to spend some days in California and visit a family in Indianapolis, stating that he had a hotel reservation, about $300 cash and $3,000 on his visa gold.
He said he left Lagos on a Turkish Airline on February 21, 2017 and on getting to the Los Angeles Airport, an immigration officer demanded his reason for visiting America which he explained.
He added that the officer also took his phone and travel documents, noting that he later captured his biometric data.
Olaniyi stated, “He demanded my phone which I gave to him. He went inside an office with the telephone and documents and later checked my luggage. He asked about my family which I told him.
“He later said he wanted my biometrics. He then asked me to sign some documents, but as I attempted to read them, he got angry and he handcuffed me and locked me in a cold cell, but after some minutes, I banged on the door and told him that the cell was too cold for me, so he moved me to another cell.
“I was in that cell for four days before he released me and sent me back to Nigeria. I arrived on February 21 and was locked in the cell and released on February 25, when I was placed on a plane back to Nigeria. Up till now, I don’t know the offence I committed that warranted my being treated like a criminal.”
The businessman stated that he had visited other countries and had never suffered such humiliation, adding that he was humiliated by the US immigration officer.
“I have travelled to other countries and have never experienced this kind of treatment. I told them to charge me to court but they said no, that I was not entitled to court hearing.
“They revoked my visa and banned me from visiting the US for five years. This was written on my passport, for an offence I know nothing about. My visa was to expire next year,” Olaniyi stated.
The father of three called on the Federal Government to raise the issue with the US government, stressing that the nation could not afford to gloss over the incident.
‘What Abike (Dabiri-Erewa) said is true, I am a living witness. This incident cost me close to a million naira and we are not even talking of the damage done to my reputation through the revocation of my visa and the five-year ban on me,” he said.
Olaniyi added, “If I take my passport to any embassy, they would think l committed a terrible offence. They detained and treated me like a criminal. The Federal Government should address this issue. It is very unfortunate.”
Olayemi, who was visiting Florida with his pregnant wife and two children, also had a sorry tale to narrate as he was sent back by US officials at the Abu Dhabi airport where he was to board a connecting flight to New York.
The banker stated that the immigration officials initially said the $8,000 he had on him was not sufficient for him and his family.
After convincing them that he had friends who could raise money for him if the need arose, Olayemi explained that the officials asked him to go back home and return to the US after his wife might have had her baby.
He said, “The officer appeared to dial a number on his telephone, though I am not sure he talked to anyone, he said we didn’t make a hotel reservation but I showed him the hotel confirmation code. I showed them the printout, but he said he had called the hotel and they said there was no reservation.
“He then insisted that I should re-book my hotel accommodation but there was no telephone service at the airport. I couldn’t make phone calls. My children were crying. Nobody attended to us. We were kept there for over two hours. He harassed me and then gave my wife a form to fill.
“Later, they showed me a form, containing passengers they cleared, saying some declared $15,000 and others $20,000. He said this was a lesson for me and that next time I’m visiting the US, I should fly directly to New York and not stop over.
“He later gave me a questionnaire to fill, but the form has only one answer to every question, so you can’t tick ‘no’ to any question even if the answer is no. So, I was forced to tick ‘yes’ to all the questions: that I did not go with enough money; that I did not make hotel reservation, and so on.”
Olayemi further said, “My passport was seized and that of my wife. After some hours, they handed us over to Etihad Airline crew and we were asked to sit down somewhere. Nobody attended to us for about an hour or two. The children were shivering and they had to sleep on a blanket on the floor.
“I later met their overall boss, who gave us tickets for lunch and dinner, they didn’t even tell us they were taking us back to Nigeria. It was when I got to Lagos that I saw that my visa had been cancelled.
“The immigration officer was telling my wife to go home and have her baby and that she should come to the US after having her baby.”
Asked how he was able to confirm that the officers were Americans, the banker identified one of them as a US citizen of Nigerian parentage.
“They are US border protection agents. One of them is a black American with an Igbo name, Ogbonnaya,” he stated, adding that another Nigerian was also denied entry to the US “on account of his luggage.”
Reacting to the statement by the Federal Government that no Nigerian was denied entry to the US, Olayemi said angrily, “I’m sorry to say, but the man (foreign affairs minister) didn’t know what he was saying. He ought to investigate first before addressing a press conference. They just wanted to sweep the issue under the carpet, but this is not fair or right.”
He said the failed trip cost him over N1.3m in air ticket alone.
The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Geoffrey Onyema, had, on Tuesday, refuted the advice of the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Foreign Affairs and Diaspora, Mrs. Abike Dabiri-Erewa, that Nigerians, wishing to visit the US should suspend their trips until the Donald Trump administration clarified its restriction on visits to the US.
Dabiri-Erewa had said the US border officials had denied several Nigerians entry into the US and deported the victims even when the visitors had valid visas.
Onyema, who did not explain his effort to investigate the deportation of the Nigerians, called on Nigerians to travel to the US as they wished, saying no Nigerian had been denied entry to the country.