In Bahrain, every Nigerian is an Ebola suspect [Pulse Exclusive]
The Bahrain government still treats every Nigerian like an Ebola patient and families are being separated due to the stigma.
On October 20, 2014, the WHO declared Nigeria Ebola free, after the West African country passed the mandatory period with no new cases; 42 days after the last confirmed case of the virus was discharged from the hospital.
Perched in the Middle East, Bahrain is an Island nation marooned between the Qatar peninsula and the north eastern coast of Saudi Arabia.
Nigerians who have been making hay in Bahrain, now find themselves being handed the long-pole treatment. Worse, their family members back home are being restricted from gaining access to the country, according to 40-year-old Sunday Ogunkoya.
“I ply my trade in the area of occupational safety in Bahrain. I’m a married man with two kids--Dominic and Deric. I arrived Bahrain on August 27, 2012. I got the job to teach Business Studies in one of the international schools in Bahrain. But I can’t get my kids to live there with me. I feel like I don’t have any family of my own. I feel sterile and empty,” Ogunkoya says in an emotion-laden voice, his hands unsteady.
He says Bahrain “used to be a safe haven for Nigerians. I do not have anything against the Muhammadu Buhari-led federal government or any party or any person. I’m not partisan. I’m not sectarian. I’m just saying it as it is. People are doing very well in Bahrain. It’s lucrative for Nigerians there. But we don’t feel like we belong there any longer because our government hasn’t acted decisively.”
Removing Nigeria from the list
Ogunkoya says many Nigerian nationals in Bahrain just can’t understand why the Nigerian government hasn't established any diplomatic ties with Bahrain just yet, with a view to resolving the issue and blotting out the Ebola stigma once and for all.
He says applying for a Bahrain visa as a Nigerian has become doubly difficult.
“Bahrain has placed an Ebola ban on Nigeria since 2014,” Ogunkoya says for the umpteenth time and more out of consternation than emphasis, his voice now a blur. “At a time, no airline from Nigeria could fly to Bahrain. They were banned totally. That really affected many people.
“Some of my friends who traveled to Nigeria were frozen...they couldn’t come back because they couldn’t find airlines to bring them back. Some who got to Bahrain were deported right at the port of entry.
"One of my friends, his wife came back to Nigeria to do the mandatory national youth service, now she cannot return. The guy got frustrated. But luckily for him, he got a job in Qatar. The family is now in Qatar. There are several stories like that….
“Ebola is now a stigma for Nigerian nationals in Bahrain. In Bahrain, they see all Nigerians as Ebola stricken. In Bahrain, they still believe that there is Ebola in every Nigerian even though Nigeria has been declared Ebola free. If you apply for a Bahrain visa as a Nigerian, it’s not likely to be successful..no matter the visa category, no matter the location...as long as you are holding a Nigerian passport.
“On the labour dropbox where we apply for visa, the name Nigeria has been completely removed. It used to be Namibia before Nigeria and then Niger. These days, from Namibia, the next country is Niger. Nigeria is not on the list even as we speak."
'Willing to pay any amount to get the kids with me'
Ogunkoya continues; “My kids are in Nigeria in the custody of my mother-in-law and they are willing to join their parents in Bahrain. We are willing to bring them along as responsible parents. We have tried everything humanly possible from the Bahrain end to get them visas. We are willing to pay any amount, but it cannot be done.
"My second kid got to know me as his Dad last December when he was two years old. Sometimes I feel like I don’t have children because I don’t have my kids with me in Bahrain. This is the same story for a lot of Nigerians,” he pauses, while staring into space.
“The government of Bahrain has been so kind to us. They have treated us fairly. They just want the representatives of our government to come and identify with them and then everything will get sorted out and resolved.
“If you have a residency visa, it’s fine. But if you are outside of Bahrain and want to come to Bahrain as a Nigerian, your visa application would not be successful.
“The Bahrain government just needs the right person like Mrs. Abike Dabiri (Chairman, Nigerians in Diaspora Commission) or the Minister of Foreign Affairs Geoffrey Onyeama to resolve the situation by opening up communication channels with them.
“We do not have an embassy or consular office in Bahrain. The Nigerian embassy in Kuwait which caters to Nigeria, has made several promises on this issue and has fulfilled none. We need the right government official to speak up for us and to intercede on our behalf. We are crying for help.”
Abike Dabiri responds
Ogunkoya also says he’s written to government officials about the Ebola stigma as it concerns Nigerians in Bahrain, but has received no responses whatsoever.
“I have written to the Foreign Affairs Minister, I have interacted with Dabiri on several occasions on this and even on Twitter. I’ve written to Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila….,” he trails off, a teardrop or two now visible from a corner of his eye.
However, Dabiri tells Pulse that she is just learning of the situation. “I’m hearing about this for the first time. But you may want to reach the Hon Minister of Foreign Affairs on this. Who a country allows or does not allow is the prerogative of each Ministry of Foreign Affairs, guided by each country’s rules and regulations. If however Nigerians are specifically being maltreated in that country….”
When Pulse informs Dabiri that Ogunkoya says Nigerians are not being treated badly in Bahrain and that they are just facing an Ebola profiling, she says, “the Nigerians in Diaspora Commission (NIDCOM) cannot decide who a country allows or cannot allow into their country. Like I said, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is your best bet.”
Pulse would go on to contact Sarah Sanda who is the spokesperson of Foreign Affairs Minister, Onyeama, for a response. She is yet to pick up our calls, three weeks after. Text messages sent to her mobile have also not been replied.
A senior official who summons Pulse to the Lagos airport to detail the ministry’s side of the story, offers caveats instead and pleads not to be quoted for this story. “I’ll make sure the minister resolves this as quickly as possible. But please do not quote me. I’m just hearing of this for the first time and I can say I’m shocked by it all,” he offers in a raspy, panicky cadence, before scurrying to the departure lounge in a huff, a bottle of Coca Cola falling off the breast pocket of his jacket.
Meanwhile, Ogunkoya says he can’t wait to wrap his kids in bear hugs when he returns home from work in Bahrain. It's one scenario he says he can give anything for, at the moment. “The kids are all I’ve got. And to keep them away from my wife and I because of a disease that is no longer in Nigeria is the ultimate torture,” he says.
And this time, the tears do morph into a cascade.
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