Theresa May's decision to deport a seriously ill Nigerian man after university puts Britain's ethics to the test. In early 2008, a very energetic young man bounded into my office in the sociology department of Sussex University. Words tumbling from his mouth faster than he could say them, he hovered above the seat on which students generally sat, a glint of excitement in his eyes.
Extremely courteous – almost deferent – he introduced himself as Luqman Onikosi, a first-year student from Nigeria. He had come to ask for my help in organising an event on campus for Black History Month. Although he was a student in another department, and despite having only been at the university for a number of months, he had found out that I worked on issues of racism. I was impressed by Onikosi's ability to connect his experience as an African to everyday racism in the UK, and his attention, not only to black history, but to the politics of migration and Islamophobia as well. Soon, Onikosi was appointed black and minority ethnic students officer by the students' union and used his position to fight the case of international students and students of colour, who despite Sussex's "radical" tradition, are woefully underrepresented on campus. Soon after, he was coming to my office with other ideas; he had started an organisation, which he still heads, Hear Afrika, to help African youth projects.
When later in 2008, his sponsor temporarily fell behind on the payment of Onikosi's tuition fees – three times higher than those of British students – Onikosi garnered the support of staff and students to successfully stop the university from expelling him, an action that would also have meant deportation and an abrupt end to his degree. Despite the fact that the chronic liver condition suffered by Onikosi and his brothers, causes debilitating symptoms such as sickness, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, itchy skin, weakness of the limbs, loss of appetite, constipation leading to severe painful bleeding and discomfort over the liver area and, if untreated, leads very quickly to the loss of life, Onikosi seemed still to be endlessly campaigning for the causes he believed in. In 2009, the final year of his degree, I was on maternity leave, but I met him volunteering at Brighton and Hove Black History Month. Because of this, I was shocked to learn of Onikosi's diagnosis and angered by the decision of Theresa May to deport him to Nigeria despite his illness. After graduating from Sussex, Onikosi continued to work, pay taxes and volunteer in the UK.
The Home Office disregards this and, following legal appeals and the intervention of Onikosi's MP in July 2012, deems it correct to send Onikosi back to Nigeria where virology specialist, Dr CI Anyanwu, explains there is "no definitive treatment available for the level of his condition he is experiencing". In austerity Britain, the government has no qualms about universities accepting international students to pay huge fees to keep a virtually unfunded higher education system going. Foreign students are regularly referred to as cash cows by cynical university managers.
Yet those same cows are accused of "milking the system" as soon as they overstay, no matter the reason, even when it means life over death. Integration, a word beloved of post-9/11 western governments, suddenly becomes an irrelevance when it comes to wrenching from their homes people who have put down roots, created professional links, and benefited the society. Onikosi has lived in the UK for five years. It The UK is quick to preach when it comes to human rights abuses in other countries, but equally quick to moralise when the same victims of global inequality put its own ethics to the test. Are we really willing to cause a third, useless, death in one family? Because that is what failing to act to help keep Onikosi in the UK, where his chances of survival are good, will ultimately mean.