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How Immigration Officers stripped me naked in Amsterdam

Posted by By Adeola Balogun on 2008/02/09 | Views: 1262 |

How Immigration Officers stripped me naked in Amsterdam


When Spectacles met him in his office at the University of Lagos during the week, it was obvious that comedian and academic, Tunji Sotimirin, was still trying to get over the shock of his experience in the hands of Dutch immigration officers on his homeward journey from Dublin.

When Spectacles met him in his office at the University of Lagos during the week, it was obvious that comedian and academic, Tunji Sotimirin, was still trying to get over the shock of his experience in the hands of Dutch immigration officers on his homeward journey from Dublin.

Sotimirin was invited to Dublin to star in a play, At Peace, written by Declan Gorman, the associate artistic director of Upstate Theatre Project. Upstate is an independent performing arts organisation located in Drogheda, County Louth, Dublin. The event was a three-month tour of major theatres in Ireland.

But at the Amsterdam airport, Sotimirin was stripped naked and locked up in a dingy cell as a result of a joke which failed to impress the officers when he was asked to submit himself for a search.

“When they wanted to search me, I told them that they could go on, but I added, jokingly, that my ‘bum bum’ was very precious to me. Immediately I said that, they told me to step aside and they called in the police. There was chaos in the airport and I started wondering what I had done. I was curious and I asked what I did. They said I must not repeat it again, that what I said was something that shouldn’t be said at any airport. They said they would delay me, delay the flight and search the plane. They did all that while I was still waiting, thinking that I would still board. I later found out from an immigration officer that they thought that I said bomb and that I had come to blow up the airport!

“There was nothing I didn’t do to convince them that I was only joking, including crying and weeping and sobbing, but they didn’t listen. They locked me up, I was starved and I couldn’t eat after the plane had left for Nigeria. Where I was locked up, you would have your name and particulars recorded that you had been there. Your photograph must be put there. To cut the story short, I was held with criminals till the following day. Of course, you would have to be stripped naked, stark naked, before they put you in the room.

“I showed them photographs of the cultural exchange programmes and the drama I went to do, but that did not satisfy them. I was scared because at that time, anything could have happened to me. I thought of my family, the university community and the country, which I represent as an ambassador. The officers went wild, they were not ready to be reasonable with me. Because of my own integrity, I didn’t want to do anything that would portray me as a tout, a real criminal that they intended that one would be. I managed to pray silently within myself because I didn’t know where it would lead me. I was shattered and I sobbed and cried but they insisted that I must be punished for what I said jokingly. For some time after I came back, I couldn’t tell my family until I stabilized a bit, it was a very terrible experience.”

Sotimirin said that the following day when they released him, he was asked to pay a fine of 500 euros.

He said, “They gave me my clothes and saw me to the aircraft. Meanwhile, they asked me to write a statement and I wrote down everything, which they put in their system. I then asked whether that would not affect me if I wanted to come to Netherlands again. They said no, that it was just to punish me for what I said and to ensure that I didn’t have access to Amsterdam. They said the captain of the aircraft would give me my passport and my other documents.”

Sotimirin told Spectacles that the officers lacked intelligence as they ought to have realised that even if he had the intention of blowing up the airport with bombs, he would not go out broadcasting it at such a sensitive place.

“Someone asked me whether it was a case of illiteracy and I said no, it was more of deceit. Someone whispered to me that the Nigerian passport might have compounded my ordeal and I agreed.”

He has, however, petitioned the Dutch authorities seeking for an apology. Sotimirin said the Dutch officers totally spoilt his three-month fun in Ireland which he had planned to celebrate in a big way.

“To be honest with you, I had wanted to celebrate it with people but unfortunately, the celebration turned sour at the end of the day. But I want to emphasise that there are still Nigerians who do things on merit and should be given due recognition.”

Sotimirin admitted that for once, his trade put him in serious trouble which he said he greatly regretted.

“One lesson I learnt is that once you are at the airport, maybe you should mind your business and keep quiet because sometimes when we travel in groups, we do all sorts of jokes but I was alone. Maybe if I had been in a group, others would have protested on my behalf. I really regret what happened.”

Nonetheless, Sotimirin who just finished directing the convocation play of Unilag told a very pleasant story of his experience in Dublin

“The performances were all fine, they were quite an experience that added to one’s knowledge of theatre because you were acting with international actors from all over the world. I was given a special invitation based on my antecedents. Because in the production, I composed songs, I sang and danced and acted a lead role which portrayed the Ogun culture as a deity from our environment here. The writer too also used Ogun as a deity of justice. He thought that it would be more appropriate to bring someone from Nigeria who would have to interpret the role well.”

Ironically too, the story is about people who faced immigration problems in Ireland. “Even before I travelled, I had some experience which kind of warned me of what to come. I had problems getting a seat in the aircraft because I missed the day I was to resume for rehearsals. This came to my mind as I was put in the cell; when I was leaving Nigeria, it was frustrating but when I was coming back, it became more frustrating.”.

Sotimirin, who said he was born in Warri, cited his upbringing as one of the things that shaped his worldview. He said he grew up with one of his father’s wives who brought him up in a very strict manner. His wealthy father was always on the road and the stepmother gave him a hell of a time.

“My father had all the 911 trucks in the area then, but he was not always around. I was left with one of his wives, who was then childless. I saw the absence of that in her life, she maltreated me. I would work in the house and sell things for her; yet I was going to school. I had a very hard upbringing and I had to cope because I didn’t have my mother around. But today, I can say that the upbringing has turned out to be a positive thing for me. It has helped me to be a thoroughly trained person.”

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