Their original anger, frustration and bitterness have crystallised into melancholy. Apparently helpless, dejected and depressed, they are crying for justice. They are friends and relatives of Nigerians who are languishing in various prisons in far-away China, for offences ranging from illegal entry and expired travel documents to drug trafficking. There are also cases of Nigerian inmates who did not know why they were arrested. They just found themselves in the prisons.
Ever since Sunday Sun in its issue of December 25, 2011, reported that over 1000 Nigerians were languishing in China prisons, the families of the inmates have been making frantic efforts through several civil and government agencies to secure the freedom of their loved ones, many of whom are allegedly there on trumped up charges. However, the matter took a new turn on January 1, 2013, when at about 1am, a Nigerian prisoner who identified himself simply as Paul, cried out from Beijing Prisons in China to Sunday Sun, to help tell the world that they were grappling with the worst kind of treatment prisoners could face anywhere in the world. Again at about 3am on January 16, 2013, Paul screamed again that they were dying.
"Please, my brother, we are dying. We are over 700 Nigerians in various prisons here. Our health condition is very terrible. If you are sick, nobody takes you to the hospital. The kind of food they serve us here is better not tasted. It is tasteless. In fact, I lack the proper word to describe the kind of food they serve us. We spend heavily on our feeding from the money our families in Nigeria send to us. It is really bad and I hope you understand what I mean when I say it is bad. What is bad is bad and it is bad," Paul said in subdued tone.
On what he wants done for them, he said: "We want our president, Goodluck Jonathan to hear our cry and come to our aid. There is a new policy here in China that empowers other countries to come and take their citizens back to their countries for prosecution. We call on Nigerian government to take advantage of that law and rescue us from this hell called prison.
"We would gladly like to face prosecution back home if they say we committed any offence because here, we are not prosecuted. They just dumped us in the cell, even when most of us did not do anything to warrant being here. We appeal to the President and all Nigerians to remember that their kith and kin, most of who are innocent, are languishing in China and they should do something to save our lives."
Corroborating Paul’s tale of woes, another jailed Nigerian who identified himself as Ayowale, said he was released on Tuesday last week, and returned to Nigeria on Wednesday, January 23. He said he went to China in 2004 and had been doing business in that country until he was arrested on February 22, 2006 on charges of credit card fraud. He told Sunday Sun that although he told the Chinese authorities that he was innocent because he was engaged in buying shoes and baby clothes and sending same to his people in Nigeria who usually remit the money to him after sales, he was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment on March 10, 2007.
"I was a businessman based in China and my business was buying shoes and babywear and sending them back home after which the money is remitted to me for more purchases. Sometimes, I would even go to Thailand and Malaysia to buy products that I would send home for sale. That was my business until I was arrested and charged with credit card fraud. “It is better not to go to court because they will provide a lawyer who will do the government’s bidding. Whatever you tell your lawyer will be used against you in the court of law. And you can’t get a lawyer of your own except the one provided for you by the government," he said.
The man who served in Beijing prisons number two, where, it was gathered, over 70 Nigerians are languishing, said life in jail was terrible. He said they worked until recently when the authorities introduced the work system.
"I refused to do any work since I had almost finished my term when they introduced it. I also don’t know the kind of work they do in the factories but from what I observed, the work is so tedious and terrible because it tells on them. They wake up early in the morning, go to factory and come back around noon but by 2pm, they are back in the factory to work till night. They no longer sleep or rest as before.
"These are the people that are very sick. Now tell me, how do you want them to get well? We went out once in a week and they allowed us only one hour. People are dying there in the prisons," he stated. Narrating his ordeals in jail, Ayowale said: "You serve your sentence by points but the way they calculate the point is confusing. People die like fowls in the prisons. It is in their law that people above 65 years of age should not be in prison, but we have people that are more than 70 years in our prison. There was a Japanese who was above 90 but he was in the same prison with us.
"Life is really terrible there. Look at my skin. When I was arrested, my skin was smooth but look at what the condition in the prison turned my skin to. You can see the infections I contracted from inside the prison. I pleaded with the prison authorities for more than six years to take me to the hospital but nobody listened. I cried day and night but nobody listened."
Accusing the Chinese government of treating the Nigerian embassy officials in China with disdain, he said: "Each time we complained to our Embassy, the embassy would write to them and they (Chinese) would book appointment with the Embassy but they never honoured the appointments.
"They toy with our Embassy as they like and they are not straightforward. I want our government to know that the Chinese government does not respond to the Nigerian Embassy the way they respond to other countries that have embassies there. The way they treat Nigerians is painful. They are rude to our government. I urge our government to find solution to the way Chinese government treats our Embassy and citizens there. Nigerians are dying in prison."
On the quality of food in the prisons, he said: "We feed ourselves because even pigs cannot eat the kind of food they give us. They serve us white rice without stew in the morning, afternoon and night. A lot of people have become diabetic; some have developed vision impairment due to what they eat."They injected some of us three times daily to suppress the effect of the diabetes. They can’t take you to the hospital where you can get proper medical care. We feed ourselves and we spend $60 every month to do that."
Ayo, who is worried that he didn’t know the kind of skin infection he contracted, urged the Nigerian government to do something urgent to save the lives of Nigerians in Chinese jails who are the brink of death due to illnesses like diabetes, High Blood Pressure, chronic cough and weakness of the bones.
He lamented: "I don’t even know the kind of infection that I have contracted. All I know is that it comes and disappears, leaving black spots on my skin as you can see. Sometimes, it appears after I have eaten certain food. For six years and 11 months, I battled with the disease without any assistance from the prison authorities."
Another Nigerian who came back recently to Nigeria from Dun guan City Prisons in China, painted a more dreadful picture of life in Chinese jailhouses.
The source that identified himself as Ejima, a native of Ebonyi State, said he travelled to China in January 2006 but was arrested on November 10, 2007. He said he was jailed for seven years but spent five years and two months before he was released on January 10, 2013. According to him, he was released before his seven years term because he worked hard in the factory as a prisoner. Ejima summed up the situation the fate of Nigerians in China thus: "We are not seen as human beings; they see us as animals, especially Nigerians."