On Yet Another Encounter With The SSS By Okey Ndibe

Okey Ndibe
Okey Ndibe

As I approached an immigration officer at the Murtala Muhammed Airport on January 12, I had this sense that a now familiar routine – a brief detention by officials of the State Security Service (SSS) – was going to play out. It had happened during my last four passages through the Lagos airport. Yet, a part of me hoped that it would be different this time.

I had had little sleep the two nights preceding my trip. To worsen matters, flying in on Delta Airlines from Atlanta, other passengers and I had endured a rather stressful flight. Our flight was scheduled to depart Atlanta at 11:50 p.m. and arrive in Lagos about 5 p.m. the next day. However, after the plane had taxied close to the runway, ready for take-off, the pilot announced that he’d caught some cockpit light that indicated there was an issue with the plane’s engine. He was going to return the plane to the hangar to enable mechanics to figure out the problem and to fix it.
Most passengers took it well, but a few edgy ones were visibly agitated. One man sought out a flight attendant and furiously demanded to be let off the plane, even if the engine problem were identified and addressed. My take – and it seemed the consensus of most passengers – was to trust the pilot and flight crew. Once they were satisfied that the plane was flight-worthy, that would be enough for me.
At some point, we were all asked to disembark and process back to the departure hall. Earlier, I had greeted Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka who was traveling on the same flight. I went to him and we talked briefly about literary and political matters. He seemed shocked when I voiced my suspicion that the SSS would, once again, take an interest in me on my arrival in Lagos. Since I hadn’t written about the issue after my first encounter in January, 2011, he didn’t know that the harassment had continued – four times altogether.
Eight or so hours past our original departure time, we were ushered into a different plane to continue the flight to Lagos. I had spent the time between reading, writing or talking to other passengers (certainly not sleeping). I slept fitfully during the flight. By the time the plane landed in Lagos, close to midnight, I was terribly tired, and looked forward to a deserved rest.
True to my suspicion, the immigration officer took one look at my passport, asked me to hold on, and then whispered to an agent of the SSS. Soon, I was ushered to a seat just behind the immigration kiosks and asked to wait. The time was 11:52 p.m. About an hour and a half later, a rather courteous female agent told me that the agency’s airport director was on his way to the baggage claim area to see me. An hour later, I asked why the director hadn’t arrived. “He’s coming,” I was told.
At 3:30 a.m., three and a half hours after my arrival, a male SSS officer asked me to come with him. We were headed upstairs, he said. My impression was that the director was waiting in his office for me. As two SSS agents and I meandered through the airport’s ill-lit, dilapidated arteries, it suddenly hit me: the Murtala Muhammed Airport was the dirtiest, ugliest, most run-down airport I had seen anywhere! There was a little consolation: the elevators were working. It wasn’t the case the last time, in June 2011, I had passed through. Even so, the elevators were so dingy, disheveled and scratched that entering them filled me with a sense of embarking on a reckless adventure.
In short, the airport struck me as a metaphor for Nigeria, a country conceived in hope but reared into near-hopelessness. The airport was as broken, as misshapen, as scarred by neglect and as visually unattractive as much of Nigeria. My eyes wandered to the ceilings, the floors, the walls and saw everywhere evidence of shameless, criminal neglect. An international airport affords the foreign visitor a quick, snap portrait of a country, its people, and their ethos. The MM airport paints a sordid, harsh and unflattering portrait.
After taking one elevator, then another, and then logging my two suitcases up a dusty, chipped flight of stairs, we finally arrived at an office on the fourth floor. One of the agents unlocked the key and I was led into a room with a whiny, ineffectual air-conditioner and two or so couches with torn, discolored leather.
“Sit and relax,” one of the agents told me, as if he had a macabre sense of humor.
“So where’s the director?” I asked.
“He’s coming,” the agent said.
“When will he get here?”
“He can come in any time.”
“What does that mean?” I demanded.
“Just relax. He can come in any time.”
Frustrated by his hedging manner of speaking, I rang two relatives and friends and told them I was again being detained by the SSS. Then the agent glowered at me and told me I was not supposed to make phone calls. He asked to see my phone, and proceeded to switch it off. For the first time, I lost my cool. Who did he think he was, I asked, some dictator? I told him I found his action insulting and disrespectful. Then I demanded that he immediately turn on the phone and return it to me. Just that moment, another officer entered the room, took the phone from him, turned it on, and gave it back to me. Just in time – because a friend had tried to reach me, found my phone turned off, and was about to alert an international news agency. I told him to wait.
I stayed in the room for more than six hours, awake all through despite my tiredness. The director finally arrived just after 9 a.m. Thirty or so minutes later, I was ushered into his office. He was a genial man and appeared quite professional. He immediately apologized profusely for my more than ten-hour detention, and promised to see to it that my name was finally removed from the agency’s watch list.
I told him that, seeing the state of the airport/Nigeria, I had no apologies to offer about my commentary on the country. I explained that I had no plans to write a petition to be removed from the agency’s list. I had not asked to be put on the roll to start with, and – as a matter of principle – I will never plead to be removed from it. As a law-respecting person, I deserve my freedom from all forms of state harassment. And, in the spirit of Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, I’m not one to beg for my rights.
In all this drama of detention and release, the immigration did not stamp me in as having arrived in the country. Two days later, I was in Calabar visiting a relative when I received a telephone call from an SSS officer. He asked that I come to the airport after my trip to Cross River and Anambra states to have the immigration anomaly rectified. When I did, the immigration department insisted on stamping me in, not on the day of my actual arrival – Saturday, January 12 – but on the day I showed up again.
Such inconveniences can be grating. Yet, my reaction to the whole experience was not complicated. On the one hand, I could put it all in perspective. Many writers, including Soyinka, had paid and continue to pay much harsher prices. But I also believe that an innocent citizen should not be put upon, not even for one second. And certainly not with so many prominent criminals allowed to strut the stage in freedom, often protected by the country’s law enforcement and security agents! Fear never entered the equation. I believe that, in the end, fear can be a choice – and I have chosen not to fear.
I permitted myself, instead, to entertain some hope, perhaps a fantasy. I told the SSS director that I hoped the day would come – soon – when the SSS and other law enforcement agencies would be re-organized along sound professional lines. Once that happens, these agencies would start going after Nigeria’s real enemies, the criminals who rig elections, plunder and embezzle public funds, and commit other acts that jeopardize Nigeria’s present and future and leave its once proud, prim airport in wretched disrepair. Unless the SSS and other security apparatuses of the Nigerian state learn to tackle the true enemies of Nigeria, whether these enemies are serving or ex-governors, ministers, legislators or presidents; whether they hold such grand-sounding but hollow honorifics as GCFRs, GCONs, MFRs, CONs, and even if they are regaled with equally empty, so-called chieftaincy titles – unless this starts happening (and urgently), Nigeria’s doom is certain to proceed.

Please follow me on twitter @ okeyndibe

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One can always tell true

One can always tell true Nigerians apart from hypocrites like you. maybe you were paid to coat the rotten cake with sugar. okey is making meaningful contributions and all you desire is run him down... please start living and stop existing.


Okey my brother don't mind them.Any day we find a scrach on your body,we know the people to hold responsible.The people detaining you are the real enemies of Nigeria.Most of those people parading as SSS men & women don't even know how to write their names.Even if they remove your name from the so called list,you will still be arrested because they can't read nor write.Just keep on writing.We shall overcome one day.God bless you,Achebe,Soyinka & all others both dead & alive fighting for a better Nigeria.

Bloody revolution

Nice write up,going by the inefficiencies that have befalled the nigerian state,i deem it right to call nigeria a failed state,which i can only withdraw when the security apparatus rise to tackle the contemporary security menace,the state security service(sss) are regared as under dogs supposed to curtail any uprising facing the state,but i deem it fit to ask where are they In maiduguri? Why have the bokoharam insurgence gone unabatted?what happed to suspects paraded by marylyn ogar and her office? Have the sss become a dungeon of lies and a pack of card like the nigeria police force? O yes,we know well that the npf is a failed organisation,infact it is worthless and requires scraping,i profer as the only to the nigerhan epidemic as revolution,i mean region revolution,because it is lucid that we are not united as a nation-state.

Okey, Good job and sorry

Okey, Good job and sorry about your predicament but keep writing do not let anyone of the nay sayers get you down my only hope is when the true leaders do surface aome if not all of these concerns will start getting improved so help us God.....

Welcome back Okey. Thanks for

Welcome back Okey. Thanks for staring back at the face of thunder.

Nagodi aka wahala alleged

Nagodi aka wahala alleged that he was based in the USA. How come we are now being told by Osita Dioka that the devil himself was all the time resident in Australia? Saad Ibrahim or Nagodi is good riddance to bad rubbish! He was here to propagate his Izala religious faith to us via Boko haram-may have moved over to Afghanistan or Mali.@ As for Okey he should remember there are too many overzealous security agents around our airports-so he should take heart and not allow Buhari hear his ordeal with the SSS next time around.

@ Anonymous, Re: Thank You

Your have a faulty thought process, and going by your comment. I believe that you have a retarded brain too. Your specie kind of humans are what is wrong with the contraption call Nigeria. My only consolation to you is that your kind of human specie are fast becoming an endangered species. People like you will be sacrificed when the time comes. If you had used your thick headed tunnel brain and do a little research, you will know that Okey Ndibe article does not appear in Sahara reporters alone. His article also appears in one of Nigerian News paper. So keep on jogging would ya. Assh&@#

@ Anonymous, Re: Thank You

Your have a faulty thought process, and going by your comment. I believe that you have a retarded brain too. You specie kind of humans are what is wrong with the contraption call Nigeria. My only consolation to you is that you kind of human specie are fast becoming an endangered species. People like you will be sacrificed when the time comes. If you had used your thick headed tunnel brain and do a little research, you will know that Okey Ndibe article does not appear in Sahara reporters alone. His article also appears in one of Nigerian News paper. So keep on jogging would ya. Assh&@#

and me-thought

'Nigerians are the 'appiest pipul on earth' ...

me-seeems Okey just does NOT manage to be one of them.

I pity'em too motch!


Paranoia is a Disease

A similar experience for another foreign-based journalists:



My brother,

that is the condition of service in nigeria o. Agencies do what they ARE TOLD by the same people that ought to be hiding from them.

Everything is upside down. The inmates run the asylum.


Meandering alone at that tine of the day with that officer through the airport halls and been left alone for hours, to my thinking, is a gross mistake. Next time call someone to await your arrival at the airport, and fulfill all righteousness with the SS in his presence.

Welcome Okey.

Welcome to Nigeria Okey...and that's all I will say.

it is people like you that

it is people like you that bring this country to its feet.get ur facts right before making unfound allegations. hausa fulani is nt ur problem, rather our selfish leaders. u think up there they care about ethnicity or religious differences? all they care about is their loot, they come home and instigate you, feeding you all sorts of rubbish about hausa fulanis. so that you become blinded by hatred and nt see what they are really about. i cry for my country's future, for my children's future. i dont care if my president is from north, south or west, if he is muslim or christian, all i want is someone that really has integrity, and fear of GOD. One who will make Nigeria better, but if we don't put our differences aside and do whats right, we will never overcome.

Thank you

Many thanks for this insight. I wonder why they keep making a meal out of everything and anything that happens in Nigeria. Where on earth is it all aright? Okey Ndibe, with due respect, please stop crying wolf every time. You might as well remain where you are celebrated as we are made to believe rather than always being at the page of Sahara reporters. Am really getting tired of you always complaining. What's been your contribution in righting the so-called wrongs?


Sad development!!

Re: Ibrahim Nagodi Saad (a.k.a Abu Qaka)

The way and manner that miscreant defended (or supported) Boko haram, and the 'lightening speed', and deafening silence that we are now 'hearing' from him, since the onslaught by the JTF on the Boko haram stronghold, won't surprise me if the inevitable has occurred to him. It wouldn't surprise me if he was one of several Abu Qaka (a.k.a BH spokesperson). He was their mouthpiece! Nobody else I have heard defended Boko haram like him. And like everything evil or bad, it doesn't last.

After all, Malam El-Rufai (a latter-day or 'born-again' critic) and co are still alive.


A well known blogger on SR, Sa'ad Ibrahim,a Nigerian and resident of East Australia is missing,Saad was said to have travelled to Nigeria but has not been heard from.Before he left Nigeria he was schooled at the Federal polytechnic Afikpo,Abia State.
It is important that his where-about is ascertained soonest,it is important to notify Human rights organisations and civil society in general.
Lastly this is the moral duty of all democratically minded media,Saad cannot just vanish without a trace,it is out of character for not to blog on national issues like he is used to.
Having made my point,I must specifically state that I do not have any proof to suspect any person,organisation or entity as responsible for his cyber disappearance.

Security watch list my foot.

Security watch list my foot. Who was thid director of SSS at MM airport, you didn't find out? He is hausa/fulani. They man all the international airports, seaports and major boarder posts from SSS to immigration, customs etc. Hausa/fulani decides who is a nigerian, when to come in and go out of the contraption. They will leave nigeria when they are satisfied enough damage has been done. All the so-called JTF round the country are manned and corordinated by them. All the military baracks are headed and controlled by them. The rest of the country is at their mercy. Sheik Gumi recently boasted they have dipped the quran in the sea and in one fell swoop the biggle will sound and every non-muslim will convert.

Welcome to Nigeria Okey. The

Welcome to Nigeria Okey. The Nigerian security apparatus is part of the problems with Nigeria. That is why there is resort to self help like attacks on police and military personnels instead of helping them do their jobs. They will waste your time at the airport again; mark my words.

What a country!

In Nigeria, security agencies seem apt in meting out fiendish treatment on the innocent , while protecting the culpable political glitterati. But irrespective of all the ills i've read and heard about my country, i'm still optimistic about her. Prof Ndibe's encounter urges me to reprint this phrase from 'The Communist Manifesto' - hoping i would not be perceived a promoter of that chimerical political system which that book propagates - ''Proletariat of this world,
(good people of Nigeria) unite! The only thing you have to lose is your (tribalism) chains''.

@ Prof. Ndibe : You're Lucky...very lucky!

@ Okay Ndibe :
There was a blogger by the name of Sa'ad Ibrahim. (aka's Sa'ad NAGODI; NAGODI SAAD). He was a resillient piece of the "Tripod" here on sacred Saharareporters. Find out what happened to him and that moment will mark the beginning of your wisdom! A word...

This shouldn't be happening!

Sad, and harsh, as it may sound, this ordeal described here, is not peculiar to Nigeria, as my friend and colleague is usually detained by the British Immigration, albeit, for less time.

Every time, and at least, on more than 5 occasions, while passing through the British Airports, my friend/colleague has been stopped, because of some marker against his name. Although he is usually promptly released after about 1 hour, after sorting things out, supposedly, only for him to be stopped and detained the next time.

Although, not justifying the happenstance, my point is that it isn't peculiar to Nigeria. It shouldn't happen at all. My friend's case is even worse, as he had written to the UKBA to delist him.


Prof Ndibe should not relent in playing his noble role of educating and emancipating the world and his homeland in particular.History will eventually vindicate his actions,he need not worry about who the enemy is.
Nigerians know their real or perceived enemies and Prof Ndibe is nowhere in that list,rather these real enemies have their own list of "enemies" and Ndibe and the likes of Prof Soyinka who was on that same flight always make their infamous list.
Stand firm and fight the good fight,bear your cross with valour,dignity,hope and faith and in the end the judgement of history,the judgement of man and most of all the judgement of the Almighty will be on your side.

Not fair

I think it is absolutely what is being done to this man. Why continue to harass and detain him? Very wrong on so many levels.