Many are the afflictions of the Libyan returnees but many of them returned to Nigeria safely with sordid tales of manâ€™s inhumanity to man; and how they escaped with only their skin as oppressive Libyan warlords turned them into objects of slavery. Some of these returnees are from Delta State. In this interview, Dr. Genevieve Mordi, the Senior Special AssistantÂ on International Affairs to Delta State Governor,Â Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa,Â tells Oge Ezeliora about the many ways the state government was giving succor to the hitherto hopeless and helpless Libyan returnees. She also shares some of the things the victims went through. Mordi also shares how she intends to use her expertise and experience in the United States of America to change the fortune of Delta
Why did you return to Nigeria?
My compassionate nature and desire for a better Delta State actually made me to come back to Nigeria after two decades in the United States. I am a Nigerian and I love my country. I love Delta State; there is no place like home. When I realised I had reached my comfort zone in the US, I decided to return home to support my people and as time went on I did a medical outreach for the present governor and it touched the lives of several people. The governor invited me to work with him. I was appointed as a Senior Special Assistant on International Relations in Delta State.
What is your background?
Initially, I studied Optometry at the University of Benin in 1997 and had my PhD in Democracy and Good Governance at the Covenant Christian University, Houston Texas. After my involvement with the historic election of the first black man, Barrack Obama as the president of the United States, I went into politics. I was appointed the United Nations accredited Representative for Strategic Alliance for like minds in November 2014. I began my tour of duty during the second week of November 2014 in Geneva, Switzerland. I was invited alongside other leaders of repute of the African community in the Diaspora to the first-ever White House policy briefing for African Diaspora leaders which took place at the Eisenhower Towers of the White House in Washington in 2015.
Do you think Governor Ifeanyi Okowa is doing well?
Governor Okowa is a man of his word.Â He is a miracle worker. He has done well for the state. The only state that we are competing with is Lagos. He has paid salaries to date. He is forward-looking and hard-working. I am proud of him. He has a vision beyond 2019.
What are your achievements so far?
What I want is to replicate in Delta is how I lived in the United States for two decades. My Office is an open office; the journey to Port Harcourt to bring back the Libyan returnees is part of responsibilities. I have an NGO that empower widows, youths and create job opportunities for farmers. Soon, I will embark on a familiarisÃŸation tour to all the embassies in Nigeria. The election year is approaching and my office will support the governor of Delta in all areas. My office hit the ground running when I joined Dr. Okowaâ€™s administration a year ago. I partnered the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) for an NDDC-sponsored donation to an orphanage in Asaba. One of my NGOs, The Genevieve Mordi Foundation is youth-focused; takes care of women and the vulnerable in the society. We have so far donated insecticide-treated mosquito nets to youths, women and children in my constituency â€“Ward 9.
During the Yuletide season, my office donated food to widows.Â Early last year, we also hosted the First Deputy Mayor of Newark, New Jersey, Hon. Ugo Nwaokoro, when he visited on a meet-and-greet to acquaint himself with Delta Stateâ€™s business circle. Presently, my office is involved in youth development programmes which involve the training as well as empowerment of youths; monitoring them spiritually, financially, emotionally and mentally.
What is your guiding principle?
It is based on this statement by a famous American President, John F. Kennedy, â€˜Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.â€™ I have modified this on my job to â€˜ask not what your state can do for you, but what you can do for your state.â€™ My training and mentoring programmes give youths a sense of well-being, pride of achievement and self-actualization. This in turn boosts their self-esteem and creates opportunities for them to grow and become useful citizens. We are currently working in collaboration with IEmaxx Farms, under the expert consultation and training of Stanly Moloa. There are 15 youths training presently on his fish farms. When they graduate, they will be given starter packs and financial grants. There are also ladies about to go into make-up and gele training, as well as catering. The training is in batches. I have also been invited to a summit by the Netherlands Ambassador in Nigeria on Trade Investment and Study in the Netherlands. I Intend to create opportunities via the summit to enable students in the state to study abroad especially in Netherlands and also discuss trade opportunities in Europe via the office of the ambassador.Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â
What plans does Delta State Government have for Libya returnees?
They have to be patient. I want them to know that this state cares for them. They will be properly profiled before integrating them into the job creation scheme. We are urging them to become ambassadors of change and peace in their communities. Where they are right now is to look at their health conditions, as the first approach, have sessions with them and get them enrolled in areas they have the greatest aptitude and interest to learn a trade. They have a second chance to live on and they can achieve this chance in the programme the Federal government has set up for them. Governor Okowa is also prepared to care for them. As they come into the state they will be fed and accommodated; the state also gave each returnee an allowance. They are undergoing counselling prior to rehabilitation.
How can youths make it abroad?
It is only when they pass through formal education over there and can be gainfully employed. That is when they will get paid, aside from that, life abroad is not rosy. Some of the positive you heard or watch on social media are not real. People pass through lots hassles to get breakthrough oversea not under one year or two.Â Life abroad is not bed of roses. You must spend exorbitantly for all the facilities you use abroad. I want to warn our young people to steer clear of the abroad fever. They should think of how to make it in Nigeria because our country is blessed and focus on their future.
What is the experience of the Libyan returnees like?
Many of the victims described their experience in Libya as awful and animalistic. We had the case of a returnee who was a youth leader, named Chuks Odiase, from Ika North East Local Government Area and a relative of the Commissioner of Economic Planning, Kingsley Emu. He has been part of YAGEP and other programmes of the state government. The government spent over N2 million to train him under the stateâ€™s youth empowerment programme. After that, they gave him excess of N2.5 million to buy starter packs and poultry cage. He sold all the equipment and took off to the land of the unknown. He squandered all the money and ran to Libya.
Today, he was deported to Nigeria with nothing to show for it. Another returnee named Lucky Oyibo disclosed to us that the amount of money some of them spent on the trip is in excess of N1.5 million. As illegal immigrants, they were forced to pay over N700,000 to cross the sea. The Arabs forced them to call their people in Nigeria to send money. So they kept calling their families and friends for help. A lot of unsavoury things happened to them. Many died in the sea, others in prisons, and many died in the desert because they had no water. They had to drink urine.
Lucky told us, â€˜They keep hitting us on our head and legs so that we can slowly die and they will remove our organs, especially Kidney and other organs useful to them. Many people come to buy organs from them. Many people were starved to death. We were fed with addictive foods inside the prison. The Arab people killed Nigerians like chickens. They took us as animals because we were looking for greener pastures. Many Nigerians are still in underground prison in Libya.â€™ He said the Libyans do not allow the Nigerian ambassador there to see them.
What can you say about the return of Nigerians who embarked on a journey to Europe or America through Libya and Morocco?
The journey was a tough one. Many of them lost their lives. Some of them are paralyzedÂ Â because of the suffering they passed through in the hands of Libyans. So, it was like a dream come true to many of the returnees who passed through hell in the hands of Libyans. Do you know the European Union paid Libya some amount of money for them to start deporting people? Presently, we have over 5,500 Nigerians in Libya and the present returnees were among the 5,500 persons rescued by the high-powered delegation of the Federal Government under the auspices of the European Union (EU) in conjunction with the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons. I was among those who received the first set of the returnee at the Port Harcourt International Airport. The journey to their return started over a year ago. The federal government sent a high-powered delegation led by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyema to Libya and the team to negotiate with Libyan authorities to bring back Nigerians who were being used as slaves. Onyema explained that they found Libya to be a failed country and most Nigerians in Libya were trapped by different militant camps and used for slave work. These Nigerians had to be negotiated for.
Presently, the FG has been able to successfully negotiate for 5,035 Nigerians. This is the first time the FG is directly involved in evacuation of Nigerians trapped in Libya. Prior to this time, the IOM (International Organization for Migration) and EU had conducted and still conduct evacuations. When it comes to human welfare, it transcends party affiliation, tribe, gender and tongue. I thank God for the Federal Governmentâ€™s commitment to return all stranded Nigerians in Libya. The Minister and his team made it clear to the Libyan government that they wanted to see all Nigerians in that country. They insisted on searching all the prisons. The (Libyans) are signatories to international conventions and we expected them to have control of those who guard our children.
Are you working alone on this mission?
No; I am working with the Commissioner for Special Duties, Ernest Ogwezzy, Commissioner for Economic Planning, Kingsley Emu, the Commissioner for Women Affairs, Omotshola Williams, the Directorate on Orientation and the Secretary to the State Government, Festus Agas. I am not alone on this mission.
What is the state doing to prevent a situation like this from happening in the future?
We already have an empowerment programme in the state for all youths. As long as you are a Deltan; it is known as Skills Training and Entrepreneurship Programme (STEP) and Youth Agricultural and Entrepreneurship Programme (YAGEP). There are jingles on radio stations and adverts in newspapers for Delta youths to key into this programme. We always advise them to register for the programme.Â We want the youths to take advantage of Governor Okowaâ€™s administrationâ€™s job and wealth creation opportunities to turn their fortunes around for the better. The governor promised that the returnees would be rehabilitated before linking them with their respective families within the communities where they are expected to be ambassadors to discourage international trips through illegal routes.