The founder of African Independent Television (AIT) and a senior member of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Raymond Dokpesi, says he suspects the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) and the State Security Service (SSS) are behind his recent ordeal at the hands of Nigerian Immigration Service officials when he was returning into the country from a trip on March 22. He spoke with Editor-in-Chief Musikilu Mojeed and Business Editor Bassey Udo.
PT: Can you tell us what happened at the Immigration office recently?
DOKPESI: I was at the Immigration office when they called me from Lagos to say there was a follow up to the earlier story on Thursday alleging I travelled out of the country illegally. I did not see it early. Yesterday, when it was forwarded to me, they said it was an exclusive interview with PREMIUM TIMES. In it the Comptroller of Immigration gave two reasons why they invited me, which I find very misleading and very very untrue.
Let me tell the whole story as it is. I travelled out of Nigeria on March 8, 2019, the eve of the governorship elections held on March 9.
I left on the evening of March 8. I went through the international airport here in Abuja. I have my flight tickets. I went on Emirates Airlines. I went through Immigrations. My passport was duly stamped out. I came back on the same Emirates Airlines. My passport was also duly stamped in.
But, on arrival March 22, I was stopped at the airport. The officials said they saw my name in their computer as somebody who was on security watch and banned from travelling.
They said they had instructions from above that on my arrival I should be arrested. I said no problem and followed them.
They took me to a room at the airport where I waited for about 50-55 minutes. They kept apologising to me intermittently.
They said they were trying to get across to their bosses to know the next line of action. They finally came back later to say I could go in and stamp my passport.
They said the Department of State Security (DSS) will get back to me later. I said no problem. My mind never went to the fact that they needed anything from my passport.
So, on my return, in line with the existing protocols, I returned my passport to the Federal High Court on March 25. The court acknowledged receipt of the passport on March 25. It is my current passport and three other passports attached to the current one. They are the passports I still had valid visas at the time.
When I got into the country, I got a letter from the Immigration Service again on March 26 asking me to come for an interview on March 27 at 11 a.m.
I replied them and acknowledged receipt on that same day, March 26. The Immigration Service wrote back to me to acknowledge receipt.
In the letter, I stated that I am sorry I had already returned the passport to the Federal High Court in line with the existing practice, because I travelled on the order of a court. So, I had returned the passport to them within 24 hours of my coming into the country. I came in on Friday. Saturday was a public holiday.
In Dubai, Sunday was not a working day. Monday was the first working day. On that Monday, I returned the passport to the court.
I also apologised that I would not be at Immigrations Office at the 11 o’clock indicated in their letter of invitation, because I was going for the dressing of my stitches after the heart surgery I had.
I said I will come on that same day, but at 2 O’clock. At the hospital in Wuse 2, after the dressing at about 12.30 p.m., I drove straight to the Immigration Office by I p.m.
I met an officer who said the instruction on the letter was that I should meet the undersigned, Chris Gaduya, the Comptroller of Immigration (Investigation).
From their entrance, they led me to the office of Chris Gaduya. He is the Head of Investigation at the Immigration Office. I met with him. He wanted to start discussing with me, but he said those who accompanied me were too many and that we should go to a bigger office upstairs.
We went upstairs and started the discussion. He informed me that he was expecting another officer to come and join us.
He said the deputy Comptroller General of Immigrations had retired, and that there was somebody who is supposed to stand in for him. When we got inside, he asked me: How many times have I travelled in recent times? I said I travel quite regularly.
He asked me to say specifically, between September 2018 and March 2019? I told him, between September 2018 and March 2019, I have travelled twice. He asked me: To where? I told him I travelled to the UK in the very first instance and returned to Dubai for my surgery.
He asked: Who did I meet with while I was in the UK? I said I don’t believe that was the question for the Immigration to ask. But, in any case, I said I went for surgery. The other persons I saw were the doctors. He asked, when I left Dubai, where else did I go to?
I said when I got to the London hospital, because in Nigeria they had diagnosed cancer cells in my blood, I wanted to have a second medical opinion of the UK hospital first before subjecting myself to further treatment.
In the UK, I checked my daughter into the London Marriott Hotel before I proceeded straight to the hospital, where they took my blood test again. They still discovered cancer cells.
They said they cannot allow me to go. They said they wanted to start the operation on me right away. I got in there, but unfortunately for me, the credit card I travelled with, which I paid for my hotel bill with a few hours earlier was no more going through, and I could not pay my bills with it.
I began to ask what the problem was. I called my bank in Nigeria to know what the problem was. They said everything was okay.
Only for them to call me back at about 5 p.m. I was still waiting with my luggage unable to check in to the hospital.
They told me they had instructions from the Central Bank of Nigeria, which was passed through the headquarters of the First Bank, to block all my accounts, including my domiciliary accounts and my Nigerian accounts. So, I did not have a right of existence in Nigeria.
In that situation, I called my wife to let her know the situation I was confronted with. Unfortunately for me, my cousin who is in London had travelled out of the UK at that time.
So, I decided to return to Dubai. In Dubai, I started my medical test. Unfortunately on arrival in Dubai, Friday was a public holiday. They don’t work on Fridays. Saturday and Sunday were their Independence days.
So, it was not until Monday they were able to start my test. I went in on Monday, went through MRI scan and all that. They were able to narrow down to what was responsible for the cancer cells.
By Tuesday, they said I need to go for the first surgery. After the first surgery, I had a combination of high blood pressure, diabetes, glaucoma, and everything one can think of as challenges. So, they needed to sort them out one by one.
I went in for the first surgery and came out. They could not do any other thing. I planned to return to Nigeria around March 15. But, I had to come back around March 22.
So, they asked me: Who came to visit me in the hospital? I told them doctors. Then, they said when I travelled, did I go by sea, air or train?
I reminded them I had already told them initially I left on Emirates on November 26, 2018. I went through Abuja Airport and came back through Abuja Airport. Photocopies of my current international passport, on page 60, one will see the Nigerian Immigrations Service (NIS) stamped on it on November 26.
I came back from that trip on December 22, 2018. Again, Immigrations Service stamped NIS on my passport.
I left again on March 8, 2019. I went through the Abuja Airport here. The Immigration Service stamped NIS on my passport. I came back on March 22, 2019, the Immigrations also stamped NIS on my passport.
So, how can the Immigration Service say they do not have my records? If they do not have the record of my departure and arrival, it means the Federal Republic of Nigeria is wasting its resources sustaining the Immigrations Department.
The millions being voted in the budget for Immigration Service are being embezzled by people in this administration who must be held accountable for it.
So, I don’t know how the issue came that they said they issued a special point to the effect that I did not go through Immigration point at the airport when I travelled.
During that discussion, the official took my passport, looked at it and asked: How come I had a passport that was running concurrently?
He said I had a passport issued from 2008, which expired in 2013, and another one issued in 2014 and expired in 2019 as well as another from 2011 and 2016. He said while one was still in existence, another was issued in 2015. Therefore, he said I was carrying two passports.
That gave me the impression that the man that came to question me was not an Immigration official, and does not know how the system works.
Then, I told him, if I travel very frequently and the pages of my passport are filled up, Immigration is obliged to issue me a new passport to travel.
I told him that each time I’ve had to replace my passport, when I get to the Immigration Office, I go straight to the Comptroller General’s Office and wait for the passport, apart from snapping my photograph.
Therefore, I have never had any illegitimate passport. It is always from the Office of the Comptroller General that they always prepared my passport.
I said the four passports were stamped cancelled without prejudice, because even when expired, some still had visas that were still valid.
So, it cannot be any issue of say I went through the back door to travel, or I sneaked out, or I did anything illegal. Nothing like that.
I didn’t see the Immigrations in any case, in any way, being antagonistic to me. So, there was no need for me to be antagonistic to them.
The man, whose name was put down on the letter of my invitation as the man that granted that interview, was not the person who escorted me out of the immigration premises.
It is the man I am saying I suspect, with the depth of his knowledge of Immigrations rules and activities, who I suspect must have conducted that interview, was DSS, and not the Comptroller General.
PT: Are you considering any legal action against the Immigrations for what happened?
DOKPESI: I must admit that I already have a couple of legal actions that are ongoing against government. But, I have consulted some lawyers already. We will see how they progress.
I don’t have any problem with Immigration Service. I don’t believe they are the ones behind all these. I am absolutely confident that it is not Immigration. I guess it is either from the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) or SSS (State Security Service).
I know all that is going on. I am keeping quiet, even the main case about N2.1 billion from Office of the National Security Adviser (NSA) for services rendered, I am just keeping quiet.
But, if they put hands in my mouth, I will vomit and tell them the whole story of the things that are involved.
I verily believe the SSS has sinister reasons that go beyond the official explanations. They are only using Immigrations as cover