On January 14, 2018, at about 11.52pm, a Max Air plane with registration number 5N- HMM, landed at the Port Harcourt International Airport, Rivers state with the third batch of 560 Nigerian returnees from Libya. Among them were 20 infants.
In recent time, the print and electronic media have been awash with news of Nigerian returnees from Libya and their horrific tales during their sojourn.
Libya returnees on arrival at the Port Harcourt International Airport Sunday. Photo: Nwankpa Chijioke.
Nigerians, especially youths , leave the shores of the country in search of better living condition, owing mostly to unemployment . In their desperation to achieve their aim, they fall prey to agents who sweet talked and cajoled them into believing that they could get to their dream country, if they could raise between N150,000 and N400,000. Some youths , resorted to several criminal means of raising this amount , only to realise at the end that this decision was their greatest undoing.
While some of them are lucky to share their experiences , same could not be said of others who died in the course of the deadly voyage across the angry Mediterranean sea. Others had their carcasses feasted on by vultures in the Sahara Desert in Niger, as they could not withstand the harsh condition.
Among ladies who managed to return home , are those living with the Human Immunodeficiency Virus, HIV as they were turned into sex slaves while there.
In this interview with Saturday Vanguard, one of the returnees, Omo Harry , gave a startling revelation of the activities of a notorious group known as ASMA boys in the North African country of Libya, their hatred and subsequent killings of blacks and their alleged connivance with government officials .
He also disclosed that this group of youths owned private underground cells where they keep blacks and contact their families to send money for their release. Those whose relatives back home could not meet up with the financial demand are left with no choice than to be killed. Sometimes, video clips of killings of victims according to him were sent to victims ‘ relatives and uploaded on the internet.
My Libya tale
“ My friend, Denis, said I could travel to Europe if I could raise at least N500,000. He told me that he was also trying to raise same amount for an agent that would facilitate it. I had to sell all my property , including the parcel of land I acquired at Ogudu Bale area of Ogun state. But I could only raise N350,000 at the end. Denis was able to raise N300,000 while his girlfriend, Rita, had N250,000. The agent said he would complete the money but that we would pay him the balance when we got to Libya. When asked how, he said he would introduce us to someone , who would get us a job and that after paying his balance, we would proceed to Europe.”
Journey in the desert
The trio of Omo , Denis and Rita, set out for the journey with high hopes in April 2016 but none of them told any member of their families that they were embarking on such journey. If fact, Rita reportedly told her parents that she was traveling to the Delta State University to pursue her admission. She had told her boyfriend that she would call to inform her family whenever she got to Europe. But little did she envisage that she was embarking on a journey of no return.
Customs alleged indulgence
Continuing, 40-year-old Omo said : “ We bought gala, garri and bread and also bought two bags of sachet water as advised by the agent and left Lagos for Kano. On arriving the border between Kano and Niger, the agent told us to bring N7000 out of the money with us. As we approached the border, a Customs officer came, collected the money from us and asked us to wait until he gave the directive for us to cross thorough a bush path.
The reality of what was ahead dawned on us when we boarded an open van from Kano to Zindaine, in Niger Republic. It was a day’s trip. From there we boarded another vehicle to Agadez, Niger and another to Tripoli , the capital city of Libya . It was a four-day journey through the desert.
By the second day , we had almost finished the food we took along, as we shared it among other migrants from Nigeria and Niger. We also exhausted the water. On the third day, we were all hungry and thirsty but there was nothing to eat.
“Finally, we arrived Qatrun, the first state in Libya . We were taken to a connection house . In that connection house were tranke which are camps where migrants who do not have the needed amount to continue the journey are kept.
On the first day at the tranke, we were welcomed with good food. But at night, they began a roll call and separated those who had completed payment from those who hadn’t . Of course, myself, Denis and Rita were in the disadvantaged group. At this point, the agent was nowhere to be found. In fact we were all confused as to what to do next .
“ At this connection house, the head is called Capon. We also had OC Torture . The Capo collects relatives number and demand money for captives to continue their journey. It was at that point that I got to know that Rita did not tell her parents she was traveling.
When she was given the phone to speak with her mother, we overheard her crying. Rita’s parents sent N150,000, which covered three of us. We thought we were free, not knowing that the horror had only just begun.”
Sabha connection house
“ From Qatrun, we were moved to Sahba , in Western Libya, where the main tranke called Ali ghetto is located. It is close to the University of Sahba . It was a place of no return . From there , you are expected to pay another sum to cross to another connection house in Inias, from where you will embark on the sea trip to Europe. When they demanded for more money, Rita said she would like to go back home. But they insisted that she must pay before going back.
Immediately we got there, they collected our international passports and tore them. They said they don’t allow people to embark on the sea trip with anything except the clothes on them. In my excitement, I called my people in Lagos and they sent N150,000. Unfortunately, it could only take me , as Denis and Rita did not have money to cross the second huddle. Instead of leaving them behind, I kept my money and decided to wait until their relations could send money to them.”
Raped to death
The price he had to pay for friendship was better imagined than explained , as he said that they were all kept in a basement , while those who were awaiting the right time to cross the Mediterranean sea , were assembled at the top of the building. He had barely slept when he was woken up by a foul smell which turned out to be faeces of those on top of the basement.
“ I thought that was the height until Rita’s parents called to say that they had no money. Immediately the call was received, Rita was chained to an iron rod where White Libyans came and took turn to rape her. This continued for two weeks without food . In one of the instances, Denis stood up to challenge one of the men but he had his ear chopped off with a hot iron rod that was plugged to a socket. .
On the day she died, five boys first came , had their turns with her and left. At that point, she could only stare into space . Ten minutes later, another set of young men came to have their turn. It was when the third person was on her that she was discovered to be motionless. Her body was there for two days before it was removed.
Inside the tranke at Saba, Libyan men pay to have sex with black men . They would visit the tranke at night , chose strong men and took them away. They were usually brought back at dawn. I devised a means to avoid being a victim by pretending to be sick every night.
When I could not bear it again, I had to give them my money and proceeded to the next phase of the journey.”
ASMA boys connection
Omo revealed that most of the vicious practices such as killing of migrants were done by ASMA boys . This group according to him, is a kidnap gang which abduct migrants for ransom. They have reportedly infiltrated all sectors in Libya including the Police. They are said to be merciless and kill at will . Omo said that they would pursue blacks to anywhere and when they got them , they would take them to their private trankes which is usually an underground cell. From there, they would call relatives to send money for their release . In their case if they don’t get the money at the stipulated time they would kill their victims and even take a video clip of the killing and post on the internet.
He revealed that there are factional groups of ASMA boys , adding that when a faction releases a migrant to go, another would capture the same migrant and make fresh demand.
There are also private tranke owned by individuals in Libya. He said most times, ASMA boys stormed such trankes and forcefully took migrants to their own tranke. During such invasion, guards at the private tranke were killed , by the ASMA boys who were usually armed.
Members of this gang also worked for the Police. They go as far as the Mediterranean sea to get migrants who managed to cross the huddles to get to the sea. “
Libyan Police connection
Omo further revealed that sometimes , some of the boats used to cross the Mediterranean sea usually had Libyan Police stickers . “ For such boats, ASMA boys allowed them to cross freely while others on which there are no such stickers are held hostage. Out of the captured migrants, ASMA boys would release some to the Police and take the rest to their underground trankes scattered across Sahba .“Also, whenever Police arrested migrants on sea, they(policemen) would inform migrants that they were taking them to the deportation camp. However, midway into the journey, these officials would contact ASMA boys to inform them of their catch. I fell a victim of this hijack.
“ As we were being taken to the presumed deportation camp, ASMA boys intercepted the truck, ordered the policemen to come down from the truck and took over the steering. We were taken straight to their underground camp, where we faced another torture . I spent two days in their underground camp before my people sent N100,000 for my bail. For each person who paid ransom, government officials who released the migrants to ASMA boys got their own share. They don’t do any other business than this.”
Nigerian killed by ASMA boys
“ Inside ASMA boys’ cell, the volume of music is usually high and we were warned not to make noise. If anyone disturbed, he could be killed. One of the gory sights I will never forget was the killing of a Nigerian named Chukwuma. He was brought in same day with me. He said he was feeling feverish and requested for drug , with an assurance that he would pay for the drug the next day. Moments later, he shouted at the top of his voice for them to either give him the drugs or take him to the deportation camp.
At that point, a member of ASMA boys who was not more than 19 years, stabbed Chukwuma in the neck. Not done, he stabbed him again in the face and in his jugular. None of us could cry out , we just watched with our eyes popped out in shock.
It was after the incident that I called my elder sister in Lagos and passionately begged her as I recounted the incident. I was eventually taken to the deportation camp from where I returned to Nigeria after spending close to a year there.
Most Nigerians who are returning are those in the deportation camp. That is why you see them looking well. But there are several others in the trankes of ASMA boys and private individuals. It is difficult to locate private trankes because operators use such places to rear animals such as goats, cows and chickens, as cover up.”
Omo further revealed a major thriving illegal business in Libya: sale of cocaine and local gin popularly called ogogoro . He disclosed that ASMA boys most times masquerade as soldiers to escort Nigerian agents to purchase cocaine and local gin here. .
According to him: “ Any time you see a member of ASMA dressed in Military camouflage , it is either he is about escorting a Nigerian to get cocaine or ogogoro. The business is very lucrative and it is the second highest revenue earning next to human trafficking, in Libya. For instance, a shot of ogogoro that is sold for N100 in Nigeria is sold for N1500 in Libya.”
Free at last
“ Deportation camp is the best place for migrants to stay. Although we were not well fed there but it is devoid of the usual horror. Pregnant women and babies are given special preference there .
I only ate meat for the first time in December 2016 on the day officials of the UN came visiting. Whenever they visited, those manning the camp would bring us out and shared the relief materials to us. But immediately they left, the Libyan officials would collect what was given from us.
Also during the visit of representatives of the UN, the officials would bring sick migrants from the camp, put them in ambulances and start patrolling the city without taking them to the hospital. It was only a show off .
Whenever a migrant died, Libyans would take shot of the corpse and ask us to be crying while they took video shot of us . At the end they would send such pictures and the video clips the UN so as to get more money and relief materials which were never given to us.
The day we were taken out of the camp was my happiest day . It was like a dream . But since I returned , the horrific experience, especially the death of Rita and Chukwuma, is yet to be deleted from my memory”, he said in tears.