Many Nigerians narrate their experience travelling to Cape Verde, a West African country that appears to discriminate against Africans.
It was meant to be a week of reunion to catch lost times between two lovebirds, but it turned out sour.
Oke Osharode and his wife had lived separately for a while, but in May 2012, they decided to have a reunion in Boa Vista, one of the ten islands in Cape Verde.
Mr Osharode flew from Lagos May 4 and was to connect to Boa Vista two days later after stopovers in Dakar and Praia, capitals of Senegal and Cape Verde. His wife was to land on the island from the UK the same day.
“Her own flight from the UK and the hotel cost was £1,223,” Mr Osharode told PREMIUM TIMES, providing details of their travel schedule.
He had booked an economic double room in an all inclusive hotel in Boa Vista for seven nights. They were poised to have fun.
The Nigerian, who currently resides in the UK, said the journey turned on its head when he arrived in Praia May 5, and he was picked out by immigration officials for questioning.
“They inquired of a cash BTA (basic travel allowance). I presented my all inclusive hotel and flights booked and fully paid plus €150 cash and a bank card having €200 equivalent.
“But the officer said he is not sure of the authenticity of my holiday booking and had me locked up in a holding room for removal the next day to Dakar.”
The former microfinance bank official said further efforts to check his papers were not done before he was deported.
In the holding room, he saw more Nigerians who had been detained and barred from entering the archipelago West African country.
“This whole trip was meant to be fun as myself and my wife wanted it as a catch up prior to our family reunion in the UK Unfortunately, it turned sour.
“When my wife got the information, she could not embark on the trip at that time it was too late to seek refunds for her flights and the hotel booked costing us £1,223 plus.”
Out of bounds
When it was clear that the Enyindah Okwakpam, 31, would be travelling out of Nigeria for the first time, he pinched himself to be sure he was not dreaming.
The prospect of having his virgin passport stamped for the first time excited him so much that he began to prepare for the December 2020 vacation to Sao Vicente, another island in Cape Verde, since September.
While he planned, the archipelago neighbour was on lockdown due to the novel coronavirus.
Hit by COVID-19 scare, authorities in the country located in the central Atlantic Ocean, imposed a strict entry ban. This made earnings from tourism and travel-related industry, which account for a quarter of the nation’s GDP, nosedived.
In 2019 alone, there were some 820,000 registered tourists, for a country with around 500,000 people.
So when the country eased its lockdown in October 2020, not only was it meant to trigger economic rebound, it made Mr Okwakpam jolt with joy.
“I was ready for my trip,” he recalled. “I had €1000 in cash on me and also my bank statement showing my bank balance with more cash.”
By December 12, on board a double-headed flight from Lagos which had a stopover in Casablanca, Morocco, he arrived in Praia the next morning.
The Nigerian who now lives in The Gambia began to smell trouble when he was approached by two female immigration officials who skipped those ahead of him on the screening queue.
“I gave one of them my passport, PCR test and yellow fever card. She immediately returned my PCR test without looking through it. She left with my passport, came back some minutes later and told me to follow her,” Mr Okwakpam said.
At the office, a senior official whose tag bore Edar asked Mr Okwakpam about the purpose of his visit, to which he responded was for tourism and volunteering.
“He said the country wasn’t opened for tourism until January or February of (2021), and for that reason he would send me back immediately.”
His contention of Mr Edar’s submission fell flat.
“He told me that ‘your people come in for schooling, and if you come for that we will let you in. But for tourism, no. We are not open for tourism because of the pandemic.'”
He was deported without his luggage, which he got a week later. Crestfallen, he returned home, but with a resolve to return the following month.
On January 8, Mr Okwakpam again flew to Cape Verde. His purpose this time was to work as a volunteer at a not-for-profit.
Like before, he had his paperwork prepped, including his return tickets, PCR result, Nigeria police character report.
He also had his NIF number (Número de Identificação Fiscal, loosely translated as Foreigner’s Identity Number) which is the tax identity number in Cape Verde.
After his documents were checked, he was again set aside and told a document that was to be written by the head of the NGO “stating that she would be totally responsible for me” was missing.
“I was once again told to head back to the plane and I was taken to get my luggage this time around,” he said.
The head of the NGO told him “she had never given that document to anyone coming in to volunteer before. She also confirmed that I was her first African volunteer. The rest have been Europeans over the years.”
He was deported alongside a Senegalese and three Nepalese. He had to part with some euros before his passport was released to him.
Cape Verde’s relationship with the rest of Africa
A cluster of ten volcanic Islands (Santo Antão, São Nicolau, Brava, Santa Luzia, Maio, Sal, Boa Vista, Santiago, Fogo, São Vicente), Cape Verde is flanked by Senegal 570 km away.
Tony Chiedozie, a Nigerian-Cape Verdean who is fluent in English, Portuguese and Creole, offered an insight into what it is like to be black in Cape Verde.
He had lived in the country since 2001 and he became a citizen five years later by the virtue of his residency, but returned to Nigeria in October.
The itinerant, who works as a business development consultant and lives in Enugu, said he experienced, firsthand, how locals expressed stronger allegiance with Europeans and whites than they do Africans.
Due to interracial marriage, the modern population of Cape Verde are largely a blend of native-born African and European descent called mulattos (or mestiços).
Brazil, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Angola, Panama, Guyana and Jamaica are among the countries with significant populations of mulattos.
“Cape Verdeans hate to be called mulatto,” Mr Chiedozie said. “They hate to see themselves as African. They are so racist to the point that it gets me angry.”
As it is derogatory to call blacks nigga, Cape Verdeans call blacks “manjako” (an African community the Cape Verdeans were first exposed to).
Mr Chiedozie said “pé rachado” (meaning cracked feet or destitute) is another derogatory word used by nationals to describe the predominantly black population like those on the islands of Santiago and Mayo.
Nonetheless, Mr Chiedozie said, “they relate with the black among their own people well,” as well as other Portuguese speaking African nations.
“I have not been treated badly. This is because I speak the languages and carry myself with dignity and demand respect because I give it. It pains me that I can be treated well and not others.”
This, he said, worked for him when he sought to be nationalised. Were it not for that, the “immigration might never give you that passport.”
He nonetheless faulted the behaviour of some Nigerians in the country much that “I found myself not revealing my identity.”
Cape Verde’s European quest
Although geographically part of Africa, Cape Verde, a former colony of Portugal until 1975, has made moves to exit from regional the AU and ECOWAS, while it shopped for closer ties with the European Union.
The Praia government announced in September 2006 its plans to limit access to its territory for other West African nationals.
The island nation has also tabled a “special status” proposal to ECOWAS, one that will exempt it from the “full membership” status of the West African bloc.
Unlike Morocco, another African country that once sought to become European, there has been no formal rejection of Cape Verde’s European bid, neither has there been any political recognition.
Nonetheless, if history is anything to go by, Cyprus, an island nation geographically in Asia, has shown that persistence to join another continental bloc is possible as the country is now a member of the Council of Europe and the EU.
One too many?
Over a fortnight ago, a Nigerian development expert, Teni Tayo, recalled how she, alongside three other Nigerians, were deported by authorities in Cape Verde while white foreign travellers were allowed in.
Her account gave rise to a spark of experiences shared by other African nationals who accused Cape Verde of having racist tendencies.
Everyone PREMIUM TIMES interviewed with this experience said they lodged complaints to both Nigerian and Cape Verdean authorities but got no result.
They all said they are still haunted by their experiences.
A representative of the ECOWAS office in Cape Verde declined comment. An email sent to Cape Verde’s airport authority has not been replied. Spokesman of the Nigerians in diaspora commission, Balogun Abdulrahman, said the commission takes complaints seriously.
It has been almost ten years since the Osharode couples experienced harassment in Cape Verde, but it is still fresh in their minds like it was yesterday.
“We still grieve about the loss even though we have lived fantastically better from then,” Mr Osharode said in an email response.
Mr Okwakpam said his experience has since made him develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) whenever he is around police or immigration officers or thinks of travelling abroad by road or air.
All interviewees have vowed to continue to speak up, hoping it could be psychological therapy for themselves and also a travel advisory for other compatriots.