A businessman, Femi Olaniyi narrates his experience at the Los Angeles Airport to ADELANI ADEPEGBA
Tell us about yourself and your experience at the Los Angeles Airport in the United States.
My name is Femi Olaniyi, I retired from an electricity distribution company. I am now into property development. In December last year, I applied for a visa at the US consulate in Lagos and I was given a two-year multiple entry visa on December 23. I had wanted to holiday in California. I also planned to visit a family in Indianapolis. I had planned to go on the trip with my wife but she could not make it on account of her official schedule. She is a police officer. So, I left Nigeria on a Turkish Airline on February 21 but when we arrived at the Los Angeles Airport, things took a different turn.
As we entered the arrival hall, an immigration officer accosted me and wanted to know why I was visiting the US which I politely told him. He asked how much I had on me and I said $300 and I also had $3,000 on my visa gold. The officer also demanded for my phone and travel documents which I released to him. He then went into an office with the items. He came back shortly when he didn’t find anything incriminating and said he wanted to capture my biometrics. Later, he said he would like to check my luggage, which I obliged him. He asked about my family and I told him about them; that I was married with children.
Did he find anything incriminating in your bag?
He searched the bag but did not find any contraband or incriminating item, so he asked me to sign a form. I collected the form and attempted to read it before signing it, but he flared up and said I should simply sign it. I said, ‘why do you want me to sign something without reading it?’ He got angry, brought a pair of handcuffs and clamped them on my hands. He then locked me in a cold cell. When I observed that the cell was quite cold, I knocked on the door and I told him that the cell was too cold, so he moved me to another one. I was in that cell for four days before he released me and sent me back to Nigeria. I was released on February 25 when I was placed on a plane back to Nigeria. To date, I don’t know the offence I committed that warranted my being treated like a criminal.
Have you experienced such treatment in other countries you visited?
I have never experienced such humiliation. I have visited many other countries but that was the first time I was treated like a common criminal. It is unfortunate and sad. I told them to charge me to court if they felt I had committed a crime. But they said no; that I was not entitled to a 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.
Why do you think the US immigration officer treated you the way he did?
Honestly, I don’t know because there was no reason for it. I had a valid visa, I had enough money to spend on my vacation and I was not found with any contraband or incriminating item. Despite that, I was treated in the most degrading and dehumanising way.
What would you like the Federal Government to do about your case?
The Federal Government should raise the issue with the US government. We cannot afford to gloss over the incident because it is a stain on our image. I don’t think I was the only one denied entry into the US. I am sure many other Nigerians might have experienced the same treatment to a lesser or greater degree. So, what Abike (Dabiri-Erewa) said about the US treatment of Nigerians is true; I am a living witness. This incident cost me close to a million naira and I am not even talking of the damage done to my reputation through the revocation of my visa and the five-year ban. If I take my passport to any embassy, they would think l committed a terrible offence. The American officer detained and treated me like a criminal. The Federal Government should address this issue; it is very unfortunate.”
A Nigerian, Kabiru Garba, who was denied entry into the United States by the immigration and border protection officials at the Abu Dhabi Airport, United Arab Emirates shares his ordeal with TOLUWANI ENIOLA
Tell us why the United States’ immigration denied you entry?
I left Lagos for the United States after obtaining a vacation visa for me and my family. When we got to the Abu Dhabi Airport in the United Arab Emirates, we were told that we needed to be examined by the immigration officers and we submitted ourselves for an examination.
An immigration officer started questioning me about my luggage. She asked why I had so many bags. I explained to her that they were not too many because I was going with four kids and my wife. I told her my luggage did not exceed the normal range. After that, she also asked why I had Nigerian foodstuff in my bags.
I explained that I was travelling with Nigerian food because my family and I had not been to the United States before. I told her that I took Nigerian food because of my children. Then she felt I had someone I wanted to go and meet in the United States,that I was going to give the food. I told her I was only going there for a vacation. My plans were to visit many cities. I had a ticket from Lagos to New York, then from New York to Texas and then another ticket from Texas to California. We were going to Disney land.
Their main reason for sending us back to Nigeria was because they claimed we had someone in the United States that we were going to meet, which is not true. Then they said if I would not tell them about the person I was going to meet, they would send me back to Nigeria. I accepted since I had nobody I was going to meet.
Is this your first time of going to the United State and how did you feel about the experience?
This was my first time of travelling to the US. I have been to Dubai and South Africa on a similar trip with my family and never experienced this. I felt so bad because I had spent a lot of money on the trip. For the plane tickets alone, I spent about N2m. Before applying for the US visa, we were told not to buy tickets before coming for an interview so that if you are denied the visa, you won’t lose your tickets.
But after applying for a visa, and we got their embassy’s approval, I think it is our right to buy a ticket to the United States. Telling me to go back to Nigeria after I had bought tickets is sheer wickedness. What pains me more is the fact that the money is not refundable. I have been trying to get the airline since then to sell my return tickets or refund me but they said no.
Do you think the immigration officers directly targeted Nigerians on the plane?
To be quite honest, I think that they focused mainly on Nigerians. I think it’s an order from above, in continuation of President Donald Trump’s immigration agenda. There were three Nigerians on our plane. Every other national of other countries were allowed to go freely. Two of us were sent back. The third Nigerian was threatened before they let him go. They told him that if he should spend more than 15 days in the US, that they would go after him. They made him sign an oath before they let him go.
With this bitter experience, will you ever apply for a US visa again?
I was humiliated but I will apply again. If I had seen the travel advisory in time, I would not have travelled now. My visa is supposed to expire by October 2018. They told me that since they had denied me entry into the country; the procedure is that my visa had been cancelled.
Don’t you think they had a good reason to deny you and your family an entry?
I don’t think so because their reasons were flimsy. They asked me why I had many clothes in my bag. I told them I had my hotel booked for the entire week. They even lied to me that the hotel had cancelled my booking which is not true. The hotel sent me an email asking my whereabouts. They seized my phone for more than 10 hours. They delayed us for nothing. I did not commit any crime. My kids had to sleep on the floor of their office before. It was a bad experience for me.
The Federal Government should quickly address this nonsense. If they have given Nigerians visa, I think it is the right of those citizens to use the visa. They should know we have spent a lot of money and we can’t get a refund from the airline.
Will you suggest retaliation or diplomatic resolution of the issue?
I will support the two. This is unacceptable. This is a disgrace to Nigeria. If they could trust me to give me a visa, there is no reason to deny me entry to their country. They need to do something diplomatically. I think its sheer wickedness to allow people waste their money. The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, was not at the airport to see what we went through. They are giving us every opportunity to be discouraged about the United States. I have also met some people who experienced a similar situation.