INTERVIEW

Recently, news broke about the arrest of seven stowaways who were discovered on board MT Electra Bari by the ship master in Lome, Togo, and subsequently shipped back to Nigeria and arrested by the Nigerian Navy and later handed over to the Nigerian Immigration Service. Shipping Position Daily has been following the developments, especially the plight of the stowaways.  Our correspondent; Roland Ekama trailed them to the custody of the Nigeria Immigration Service at Apapa port. He spoke with the quartet of Joel Lykon, Joe Mcgee, John Okhikan and Kwukwu Asamoah (all foreigners). Their co-travellers who are Nigerians have been transferred to the Police.
 
 
Joel Lykon (Liberian)
“In Such Voyages, Death Is Never A Positive Remark Or Consideration”

 
What is your name and how long have you been in Nigeria?
Joel Lykon is my name and I am from Monrovia in Liberia, I have been leaving in Nigeria since when I was a kid. Presently I reside in one of the islands very close to Liverpool.

How did get to know about MT Electra Bari?
From a friend, who confirmed that the vessel will be leaving for Europe, and as a young guy who want the best in life, I felt I should give it a try and that was how the thing started.

What do you do for a living?
I am a musician and also a footballer

How did this journey that has landed you here start?
I got the information from a friend that the vessel will be leaving for Europe, we boarded, but when the ship got to Lome, they discovered that we were on board the ship through the bunkerers at Lome. When the Captain of the ship noticed it, he took us back to Nigeria. It was while we were somewhere close to the Lagos anchorage that we noticed the presence of some boat operators, then we raised alarm on the need for them to help.

How did the Navy get involved in your arrest?
Ordinarily, we were about 12 in number, but five have to jump into the water in the process; they swam to some nearby boats thus finding their way out, but we waited for a while. The master was about sailing away when he discovered that some of us were still on board. It was when were screaming at the high sea that the navy noticed our presence. From there we were taken to the naval base.

Can you swim very well and did it ever occur to that you could be killed in the process of being a stowaway?
Yes I can swim very well and in such voyages, death is never a positive remark or consideration.

Joe Mcgee (Liberian)
“We Hired A Speed Boat From One Of The Jetties At Coconut Down To The Where The Ship Was”
 
Tell us your name and where you came from?
Joe Mcgee is my name and I am from Liberia.

Tell us how you found yourself onboard MT Electra Bari?
It was on the 19th of February when we gathered that he vessel is sailing to Europe and if you track the vessel right now, you know the exact location it is at the moment. The vessel left for Lome in Togo to collect bunker. We were in batches and we happened to be three in my own set. It was while we were in Togo that they discover that the vessel had stowaways on board. The bunkers were the ones that saw us on board and then disclosed to the ship master and after that the vessel master decided to bring us back to Nigeria.

Was there any form of communication between the captain and you guys?
Although we could communicate with ourselves, but we couldn't see the crew, because of the compartment where we were. Even we told the crew at a point that we want to sail with them to Europe when we understood that the vessel is sailing back towards Nigeria. So we do communicate but we never had the advantage to see the people we were relating with. At a point the captain asked us if he could drop us at Cotonou, but we refused. We told him that we are going to Europe and if he can't take us to Europe, he should bring us back to Lagos. At this point, we were about to leave the shores of Lome.

How many days was the voyage from Lagos to Lome?
It took the vessel three days back and forth. Going to Togo took like one and half days same goes to coming back to Lagos.

Did you guys want to disembark at Lome in the first instance, since the captain had the intention to drop you all at Cotonou?
We pleaded with him to drop us at Lome, but he refused and I want to believe that it might cost him more if he tried it, but on getting to Cotonou, he asked if we could drop us at Benin Republic, but we refused.

The captain is of what national?
We couldn't see him very well, but from the way he spoke, I guess he is from India; if not, he must be from other neighbouring countries to India.

At what point did you gain entrance on board the ship?
It was in Apapa; at the Lagos anchorage. We hired a speed boat from one of the jetties at Coconut (Liverpool) down to the where the ship was at that point in time.

How long have you been in Nigeria?
Just a year plus.

What do you do for a living and how did you gain entrance into Nigeria?
I am a footballer, I have played in a lower division club in Cameroun as far back 2010 but I left because of the poor terms and agreement in contract they offered me. In Nigeria as well, I have been on trials with one of the lower division clubs as well, but I couldn't meet their conditions. I have my travelling document with me which makes me a traveler. I have my international and ECOWAS passports
 

John Okhikan (Ghanaian)
“We Have No Choice But To Start Screaming For Help At An Unknown Location At Sea”
 
What is your name and where are you from?
My name is John Okhikan, I am from Ghana.

How long have you been in Nigeria and how did you gain entrance into Nigeria?
I have been in Nigeria since 2002; I came into the country through the Camerounian border. Actually my mother used to leave in Calabar.

Since you have been in Nigeria what have you been doing and where do you live?
I am a bus driver and I shuttle CMS to Eko Hotel in Victoria Island; Lagos and I leave at Tuwagon island, which is an island after Liverpool.

How did you find yourself aboard MT. Electra Bari?
I got the information from a friend who told me that a vessel is about to sail to Europe; Holland to be precise and I said there is no cause for alarm that I would love to be part of the voyage. On our way to the vessel at night, we noticed the presence of different groups who are also interested in the vessel. When we got there we found out that it was also survival war; who will gain entrance on board the ship because we were 12.

But how come we only hear of seven at the end?
It was when we got to Nigeria on our way back from Lome. At the anchorage in Lagos where vessels normally berth before proceeding to the port proper was when some of us have to disembark  because personally, I was on top while others were in the block and it is not possible for everybody to be on the block because it is a small compartment and it is when the captain was asking us how many we were that we responded by saying we are four , but before we knew what was on ground, two other guys jumped into the water drifting ashore because of the high current at the moment and one of them was screaming for help and remaining seven of us on board were also screaming for help on his behalf because really, the current was too intense, though the guy can swim but the current was just too heavy for him to control. At last, a boat came to the rescue and in the process another three jumped into the water, making five and that was how those ones were not in involved before the navy came to our rescue.

Was the ship in motion when all these were going on?
Yes, the vessel was moving but not on high speed. It was moving and at a point was about to turn before navigation proper. We gained entrance into the ship from where you have the propeller location. There is a wall close to the propeller which you must climb to gain entrance into the ship.

Were you guys prepared for the voyage?
Yes we were. We came with our foodstuff. Pure water and other items; we are in batches, so I don't even know some the people we were together on board the ship. If not for the fact that some of the people that attempted the voyage do not have the wherewithal, we would have been more then 15. But some were afraid and it was when we arrived in Lome; Togo during the bunker process that the bunkerers told the captain and crew that there are stowaways on board the ship. For them to confirm truly they started hitting the vessel with all kinds of steels to confirming if really stowaways are onboard the ship.

How then did the navy come into the scene?
It was when the captain took us back to Nigeria that navy got involved. We have no choice but to start screaming for help at an unknown location at sea. Though we were aware of the fact that we were still in West Africa, but we can't fathom where the location was at the moment so we became scared. One , we have not eaten for close to three days, we ran out of water and we became worried about the whole process. Though still have what to eat but no water for us to drink.

But none of you died?
Nobody died in the voyage. Those that jumped into the water were rescued by some unknown boat operators. Two of my own set were involved in that.

What is your perception about the Nigeria Immigration Service?  
They are worthy of praise. They are very good and kind to us. When we were with the navy, we didn’t bathe, we didn't brush our teeth, we were not taken good care of, they fed us like prisoners, but the situation changed when we were transferred to Immigration.

What is your advice to those who belief they can make it through the act stowaway?
I just want to let them know that someday sometimes they get to uptown which is foreign country. Nigeria is good, Ghana is also good but there is nothing like uptown. There is nothing like foreign land and uptown is the best.

If eventually you succeed to travel abroad what will you be doing?
I am an artisan, I am automobile painter.

Kwukwu Asamoah (Ghanaian)
“I came to Nigeria through stowaway via a RoRo vessel at PTML,……I know one day I will find myself in Europe through any means”
 
Tell us your name and where you came from?
Kwukwu Asamoah is my name, I am from Accra in Ghana, and I have been in Nigeria for two years before the opportunity to travel via the vessel to Europe came through a friend.

How did you find yourself on board MT Electra Bari?
Just like what others have said, there is no difference from what they told you.

What have you been doing since you came to Nigeria?
I am a boat operator at Liverpool in Lagos. Although I don't have a boat, but I help boat owners to look for passengers and I get paid for such services.

Is this your first experience as a stowaway?
No, it is not, in fact I came to Nigeria through stowaway via a RoRo vessel at PTML. This is my third attempt and I know one day I will find myself in Europe through any means.

What is the difference between Nigeria and Ghana in terms of socio – economy activities?
The truth is that there is no difference among the two countries. Even Togo and Benin Republic inclusive are all the same. It is only the language that the people of Togo and Benin Republic speak that differentiates the four countries. Tradition, culture, social life and even food are almost the same.

Do you feel safer in the hands of the Nigeria Immigration Service since the navy handed you guys to them?
We are very comfortable with the Immigration people because while we were with the navy, it was not easy but at least we very fine here to the extent that we can move freely within the premises and eat, take our bath, brush our teeth, and even relate with officers. So, I will say they have done well in that regards.