Osaze Osemwingie-Ero, a former Edo State Commissioner for Arts, Culture, Tourism and Diaspora Affairs, has cried out regarding the plight of over 300 Nigerian youths ‘illegally’ detained in Italian prisons for contrived charges on mafia-related offences.
At a meeting with officials of the Nigerians in Diaspora Commission (NIDCOM), Mr Osemwingie-Ero disclosed that he learned about the plight of the innocent young Nigerians during his wrongful detention in Italy.
According to the former commissioner, the young Nigerians are held in Italian maximum prisons because they do not have the resources to access an independent lawyer.
He said the prosecutors in Italy were manipulating the justice system against Nigerians, adding that it became clear to him that “he was a victim of racial discrimination, and manipulation of the Italian Justice System by a very corrupt prosecutor – Dr Stephano Casano”.
Narrating briefly his ordeal in Italy, Osemwingie-Ero said when he interviewed other Nigerians who were incarcerated for charges similar to those levelled against him, it was discovered that a certain ‘Green Bible’ and forged papers that were brought up as evidence against the commissioner, was the same evidence put forward against the others in custody.
Connecting Flight, Article 416 and the Green Bible
When in 2019, Osemwingie-Ero was getting aboard a connecting flight from Amsterdam to Germany, he could never have known that his brief trip would become an Odyssey Journey of 18 months in an Italian prison, for a crime he knew nothing about.
He was to meet with Yusuf Tuggar, the then Nigerian Ambassador to Germany, and the business was simply – the Benin Artifacts Campaign.
At the airport, security operatives picked him up, and swiftly, he was accused of being a member of what the Italian prosecutors called the ‘Nigerian Mafia’.
Article 416 Bis of the Italian Criminal Code outlines what a Mafia-type organization is and the punishment for perpetrators of these kinds of crimes.
According to the former commissioner, it is upon article 416 that many Nigerians are being detained in Italy, with no solid evidence of any crime committed.
Enters then a forged manual called the Green Bible.
Osemwingie-Ero said in a bid to add flesh to their accusations, the Italians produced in court, an evidence known as the Green Bible, which has been used to convict many Nigerians, especially those who had no qualitative legal representation.
“I decided to do the long trial, where the prosecutor was compelled to bring the evidence that he had against me or against the Nigerian association. Only for him to produce a forge manual that he called the Green Bible, which they have used to convict a lot of Nigerians over 200 Nigerians in Italy,” Osemwingie-Ero narrated.
He and his lawyers thoroughly went through the Green Bible and discovered myriads of discrepancies.
“For example, page 14 of that so called Green Bible, paragraph 3 stated that ‘we the criminal organization’ involve in A-Z were there; and I told the judge that I have never seen an organization that will write in their manual that they are a criminal organization.
“On page 31, 32 and 33 of that so called Green Bible, we have a 2017 event of the communique of the Green Circuit Association in Asaba in that book while on page 51 of that so called Green Bible, it said this book was written in 1978 by University of Benin students and I said, how can we have a communique of 2017 event inside a book that was written in 1978,” the former commissioner pointed out.
Appeal for young Nigerians unjustly detained
Mr Osemwingie-Ero called for the collaboration of all stakeholders including the Federal Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Nigerians in Diaspora Commission and the media, among others to ensure the release of Nigerians unjustly detained in Italy, some of them facing up to 140years in prison.
“While I was there on the 28th of October, 70 Nigerians were arrested for the same Mafia related offences and the only thing they showed on the television was a kitchen knife as a proof of evidence. Meanwhile, they still use this article 416 bis of the Italian Mafia Criminal Code.
“On the 26th of September while I was still in prison, 20 Nigerians were convicted and sentenced to 140years in prison, they were convicted with this same forged Green Bible, I have a copy of it, this same Green Bible was what they used, and if you google Torino Chronicle of September 26, 2020 (page 8), you will see it there clearly.
“Their appeal is coming up on the 20th of September this year, after two years in prison, maximum security in Italy. The 70 Nigerians that were arrested, their trial is starting on the 17th of September this year as well.
“I am aware because I kept interacting with them, knowing more about the case before I was released on the 29th of May.”
According to him, his release was by God’s grace, adding that it cost him a lot of money to get good legal representation which these other Nigerians do not have at the moment.
Osemwingie-Ero who said he made a promise that he was going to create awareness for the release of those innocent Nigerians, expressed disappointment in ‘the fact’ that he did not get the support that he expected from the Nigerian government.
He explained that his then boss Governor Godwin Obaseki of Edo State called the Minister of Foreign Affairs to notify him of the Commissioner’s arrest and nothing was done to follow up the case.
“If that could happen to me, you can imagine the fate of ordinary Nigerians?” Osemwingie-Ero asked.
Turning the focus away from his plight in Italy, the former commissioner told the Chairman/CEO of NIDCOM, Hon. Abike Dabiri-Erewa, that he had come to notify the Commission of the predicaments of those Nigerians languishing in prison, held under article 416 bis of the Italian Mafia Criminal Code without any single evidence of those crimes committed.
On the next step of his advocacy, Osemwingie-Ero said he alongside his friends and family members will hold a protest next week, in front of the Italian Embassy, to let the world know “of the injustice that is being meted on us and those innocent Nigerians in prison”.
‘We will take it up’
In reaction to the ordeal he had narrated, Hon Dabiri-Erewa commiserated with the former Edo State Commissioner for Arts, Culture, Tourism and Diaspora Affairs.
The NIDCOM CEO while emphasizing that key thing at the moment is the plight of Nigerians who the commissioner met in the Italian prison, explained that the first step would be to take up the case with the Attorney General’s office, as well as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Ms. Dabiri-Erewa said there are many cases of this nature that the AGF, Abubakar Malami handles, and that this case will be treated with the urgency that it deserves.
“Indeed if there are so many Nigerians in Italian prisons languishing for years, for an offence (they told you and you interacted with them) that they did not commit, we can’t just watch and see that happen.”
According to the NIDCOM Chairman, the Commission will be thorough about the case, adding that every legal avenue will be explored.