The Journalist

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“In my home country of Nigeria, I pursued a degree in journalism and mass communication after high school. I worked with several local radio and television stations and reached the peak of my career within a very short amount of time. I represented a television station as a statehouse correspondent. I had amazing opportunities interviewing dignitaries including Presidents. My job allowed me to travel to different countries as a reporter. I come from one of the oil-producing states of the Niger-Delta. There are huge oil and gas ­­deposits all over the place yet the entire region is impoverished. Foreign agencies collude with locals militant groups to steal crude oil from Nigeria. They bring oil barges to the coastline and obtain oil illegally. As head of my media department, I wrote a script and made a documentary addressing the issue. There are many militant groups that are well-armed and rival amongst themselves over control of territories and illicit trade. I have had a series of brushes with security and they can be very brutal to reporters and journalists. I interviewed those involved in the illegal trade and many people saw the interview when it aired. That was when my troubles began. One of the groups targeted me. I received several threats back in 2013 and by 2014, I didn’t take them lightly anymore. I was scared and left my position to live in South Africa. This allowed me to be off their radar, but after a few years, I returned home to follow up on an invitation I had received from a U.S. Christian Radio, who heard about me on a radio station in South Africa.”

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“It happened June 23rd last year. I already had my visa and tickets set for the United States. But on this day, I received a phone call shortly after midnight from my younger sister informing me that my oldest sister and her husband had been kidnapped. Nobody knew where they were. They were kidnapped shortly after my sister picked up her husband at the bus station. I believe they were looking for me. Whenever I return to my city to visit family, I use my sister’s car. I have been trailed a couple times in the past and always managed to escape. They must have thought I was the one driving.  When they stopped to buy gas at dusk, my niece crossed the street and by the time she returned, they were gone. Their cell phones were turned off. She was terrified and ran back to the station to ask the attendant for help. But nothing could be done. In Nigeria, kidnapping is the new robbery. There are many famous people including church leaders, civil servants, businessmen, and footballers that have been kidnapped. Anyone can be a target for ransom. They released her husband but kept my sister captive. They demanded the equivalent of $50,000 if they ever wanted to see my sister alive again.”

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“Even when my father died, I did not feel the same pain that I felt when my sister was kidnapped. It was the saddest day of my life. I was broken. That week, I could not eat or sleep. I was too scared to even go home. All I could do was fast and pray. The impact of that news almost killed my mother. She suffered a very severe heart attack when she received the call. Hostages were killed on many occasions. Sometimes, they would collect the ransom and still kill the victim. They gathered our phone numbers from her phone and after nearly a week, the kidnappers called my brother-in-law threatening her life if the ransom wasn’t paid. This is the same pattern across the Niger-Delta where oil companies experience kidnappings so frequently. They would pay stupendous ransoms to get their staff back. Many people employed with these companies would reunite with their families after being captured and come right back to work. The money is too good, and these foreign expatriates know that criminality is just part of the job. However, the company my brother-in-law worked with decided to help him with negotiators. There is no way to speak to these militant groups directly and they are often heavily armed and sometimes backed by corrupt government officials. When the consultant finally arrived, he worked with my family and handled the negotiations with these criminals. I had to borrow and even sold some of my possessions to raise money the ransom. But it wasn’t enough.”

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“We couldn’t pay everything but managed to pay the equivalent of $25,000 for her release. Half of what they wanted. On July 1st, she was released. They told her she was the wrong target, but they never mentioned who exactly they wanted. I had a feeling they wanted me. I’m on television, broadcasting the daily news on the local channels. They see my face every day. It may have been my fault that my sister was kidnapped. Her captors freed her one night on the outskirts of the city. They dropped her off in a secluded area and drove off. A woman came to her aid and paid for a 30-minute cab ride back to our home. I felt stranded and scared. I didn’t go home immediately to see my sister for fear of being recognized. During those nine days, she was held captive in this beautiful house. She refused to eat anything they offered her, and they wouldn’t tell her anything. It was all psychology. They assigned a young boy to watch over her and would teach her gospel songs and apologize for what was happening to her. They wanted her to feel comfortable, and although she was not harmed at all, it later came back to haunt her. She suffered severe psychological trauma and broke down twice since her return. But after a few weeks, I reunited with her. We arranged for my mother and sister to move to a different city for a while. Fortunately, I was already preparing to come to the United States prior. I would have asked for my money back from my plane ticket to pay for the ransom if it could have been refunded.  I decided to visit a friend from Nigeria who has been living in Wisconsin for many years now. I didn’t know what my situation was going to be here in Nigeria. That’s when I decided to leave.”

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“The woman I knew back in Nigeria contacted me before I left for the States. I already had my invitation, but I agreed to visit her first before I head to Louisiana to work with the radio station. I arrived at the O’Hare airport in Chicago and the woman and her daughter picked me up. She brought me straight to Wisconsin in the dead of winter. Long story short, I was held against my will. It was fine initially, but as time passed, it became apparent her intentions. She wanted me to agree to her terms of marriage. She even paid for an immigration lawyer to finalize everything. By February, she would brag to people that I was her husband, showing me off to her friends and family. She became angry when I told her I wanted to leave and intentionally let my return ticket to Nigeria expire. When she saw that I wasn’t forthcoming, she turned her attention to another man from New York. By now, she wanted nothing to do with me. She drove me straight to the police station and ordered me to sit in the lobby. She caused a scene, but I was unaware of what was happening. As we got back in the car, she didn’t speak a word to me. A few police cars followed behind us. I discovered that she filed a complaint that I pushed her. The police officers entered her home and asked for my story. I could tell they didn’t believe her, but since I was not on the lease, I had to leave. Before the police took me away, the woman’s daughter arrived. She was shocked by what her mother had done and told police that I would be staying with her.”

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“This is what my life has become. After staying with her daughter for 2 weeks, I spent time in hotels, but the conditions were not ideal. When the Solution Center called me, it took me by surprise. I will never forget the warm welcome I received from the most courteous and caring staff. They were so respectful and genuine. They had concern for everyone and I felt at home. I was able to sleep for the first time in weeks. Since I have been here, my life has gone forward. There is nowhere I have been that showed the kind of love and care I’ve experienced here at the Solutions Center. My first few months in the U.S. were characterized by frustration, cultural shocks, and uncertainties. The Solutions Center gave me comfort, peace, food, and empowerment to pursue my aspirations. My short-term goal is to get a job here in Fond du Lac or neighboring counties once the Homeland Security Department approves my application for a permit. I will work and dedicate my spare time to volunteering here at the Solutions Center. My long-term goal is to improve myself by getting a postgraduate degree in Information and Communication Technologies. This certification will empower me to effectively produce and promote my own radio and television show.”

Casey FrenchComment