When Teni Tayo, a Nigerian and an African development expert, tweeted about her experience in the hands of authorities in Cape Verde, she had little idea that her message would “become something big.”
She had only felt appalled by how her intended easter vacation to the archipelago West African country with her friend, whom she convinced to join her, was controversially scuttled.
Border authorities in Cape Verde had barred her alongside two other Nigerians, a Guinean, a Cameroonian, a Jordanian, a Kenyan, an Ivorian, all on board the same flight from Dakar, the capital of Senegal, from entry into the country.
They, however, allowed travellers bearing Western passports in, she alleged, while she and the other seven were deported to Dakar.
Flight ticket from Dakar to Cape Verde
She noted that authorities told them it was due to COVID-19 restrictions.
“We asked why whites and those with European passports were left behind,” she explained, “and (they) replied that it was their decision.”
The incident which happened at Praia International Airport, on the island of Santiago in Cape Verde, triggered national angst in Nigeria and among other African nationals who alleged that treating travellers with African passports poorly was “a regular occurrence” in Cape Verde.
Ms Tayo said she had filed a complaint to the Nigerian government upon the request of the country’s diaspora commission. But she is yet to hear from the commission.
Ms Tayo was billed to stay for three days as against the claim by Cape Verdean authorities that she was in the country to look for job
“It is also not fair that the rules are applied selectively. It was very painful to be so mistreated in a West African country, compared to white passengers, while traveling with an ECOWAS passport,” her complaint read in part.
She has had to field questions from the media both in Nigeria and other African countries.
There are reports that her account has also sent ripples across the political landscape of the West African neighbour.
PREMIUM TIMES request for comment from Prime Minister Ulisses Correia e Silva was declined. Although, the government has denied wrongdoing in a statement by the police.
Cape Verde’s response
The Cape Verdean National Police said Ms Tayo and the other seven tourists were prevented from entering the archipelago because they “did not present a document justifying/proving the purpose of the trip.”
The police particularly singled out the Nigerian citizens, whom they said “were disparate and contradictory” with each other during their interviews for border control formalities.
This, they said, led “to suspicions of false declarations, aggravated by not confirming hotel reservations and livelihoods. in national territory.”
“Among them, there was a citizen who would have previously been denied entry to the national territory, for the same reasons,” the police added in its account.
But Ms Tayo countered the allegations, saying the police’s account was “inaccurate.”
She said she had all her documents but was never asked to present any of them other than her Nigerian passport.
This newspaper is in possession of her travel documents, one of which showed she had slated her return flight for Monday for the three-day vacation.
“All they asked for was my passport, which was taken from me for examination,” she told PREMIUM TIMES over the telephone Wednesday.
“The police issued a statement and accused us of lying. It’s not accurate. They didn’t ask us for any document. What they told us is that ‘we are not open to tourists.’”
“I think it is fine that a country says it is not open to tourism, but that information should be widely disseminated and passed through the airlines,” she added.
Moreso, she noted, “as long as Cape Verde is a part of ECOWAS, they need to continue to play by the rule governing travelling within the region.”
Ms Tayo’s COVID-19 test result showing she tested negative for the virus
This newspaper also saw a copy of the result of the COVID-19 test she took in Dakar dated April 1 which certified her as negative and it was appended by Papa Diaw, a virologist who manages the Institute for Health Research, Epidemiological Surveillance and Training (IRESSEF) labs in Dakar.
The centre is where Senegal’s health ministry designated travellers flying out of Senegal to have their COVID-19 test.
Ms Tayo said the experience has been psychologically disturbing for her and more so for her friend, but she has taken the bravery to speak about it and continue to demand justice.