On November 1, 2020, as Modupe Odele did the pre-boarding rounds at the Murtala Mohammed International Airport in Lagos, she had her passport yanked off her by stern-looking immigration officials.
Odele is a lawyer by profession.
During recent nationwide protests calling for an end to decades of police brutality and extra-judicial killings under the #EndSARS banner, Odele alongside the Feminist Coalition, helped arrange legal defence for protesters who had been arrested by law enforcement.
The protests were largely leaderless.
“I was stopped and my passport taken, some minutes before boarding the flight. No reason was given, other than “you are under investigation.”
“Holding on to my passport without giving me any reason for it is a breach of my constitutional right. I’ve not been informed of any investigation against me, I’m not running. I am here. Investigate. Ask me questions but do not continue to hold on to my passport with no reasons,” Odele shared on Twitter.
A no-fly list or not?
The seizure of Odele’s passport arrived amid claims that the federal government had compiled a no-fly list which had names of young people who had provided some form of logistic or other support during the protests.
The Ministry of Interior which supervises immigration, immediately denied that it had a no-fly list of protesters and branded reports alluding to one as fake news.
On November 5, with Odele repeatedly tweeting that she had not been handed back her passport and that no one had given her a reason for the seizure, the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) said it did not seize Odele’s passport because of her #EndSARS activities, but because it was enforcing a restriction order.
“When there is a directive from any agency of government not specific, we have to enforce either entry or restriction of entry by anybody who has been directed not to be allowed exit or entry and as a matter of fact, we cannot as a border management agency, allow anybody who has been restricted from leaving the country to go out and we cannot allow anybody who has been restricted from entry to enter,” NIS spokesperson, Sunday James, said.
“So, it is a routine assignment and it has nothing to do with #EndSARS. We are the lead agency for the security management of the border. It has to do with the restriction order which we are duty-bound to enforce.”
A deadline to retrieve passport
On Friday, November 6, Odele said; “I have been told by Immigration that my passport is ready for collection from 4pm today. I have respectfully informed them I’ll be there on Monday to pick it up. Since today is Friday, I asked for an earlier time but was told it will only be ready from 4pm today Friday.”
I’ve been told by Immigration that my passport is ready for collection from 4pm today. I’ve respectfully informed them I’ll be there on Monday to pick it up. Since today is Friday, I asked for an earlier time but was told it will only be ready from 4pm today Friday.
— Moe (@Mochievous) November 6, 2020
The NIS is yet to explain why Odele cannot retrieve her passport on the date of her choosing. The NIS spokesperson wasn’t immediately available for comments for this story when Pulseput phone calls across.
It is also not clear who gave the restriction order the NIS says it’s enforcing.
The #EndSARS protests were quelled when soldiers shot into a crowd of peaceful, unarmed protesters on October 20, 2020.
Rights group Amnesty International says a dozen protesters were killed on the night, with many more left badly injured and hospitalised.
Close to 60 persons were killed across Nigeria during the protests, according to sundry reports.