Okonta, 25, hails from Ihiala, Anambra State. Okonta never had the chance of attending a tertiary institution as he dropped out of Secondary School at the age of 17, following the death of his father.
Okonta, being the eldest of the lot had to travel to the nearby city of Onitsha to perform menial jobs to support his mother and three siblings.
“It was not easy. I worked as a bus conductor for about four years and the little money I was able to make, I was sending back home to my family for feeding and paying the school fees of my younger ones,” Okonta says.
But, the ‘turning point’ came in August 2013 when one of his friends, simply known as Okey, promised to help him to travel out of Nigeria to India, where there was a security job waiting for him.
After his friend had taken him to the Immigration Office in Lagos and paid the fees to procure his international passport, an excited Okonta says his joy knew no bound because he is already seeing himself in India.
Okey filed the visa application at the Indian High Commission for him and after waiting for about a month for the visa to be granted, Okonta was arrested by police officers attached to the Independent Corrupt
Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC).
“I was told that some of the documents I submitted to the Indian High Commission, such as WAEC Certificate and bank statements were forged. I tried to get in touch with Okey, but his number was not going through only for our common friend to tell me he had travelled to China,” he laments.
At the conclusion of investigations, Okonta was charged by the ICPC before an Ikeja High Court where he is currently standing trial for forgery.
Like Okonta, the ICPC is also prosecuting 11 other persons before the Ikeja High Court for related offences—forging documents to enable them travel out of Nigeria in search of “greener pastures”.
On Nov. 3, 2014, Justice Oluwatoyin Ipaye of an Ikeja High Court sentenced a National Youth Service Corps member, Helen Bando,25, to one year imprisonment for using forged documents to process an Indian visa.
The judge also handed her accomplices, Samuel Obiakor and Segun Alimi, a year jail term each, after they pleaded guilty to the charge during their re-arraignment by the ICPC.
The ICPC had filed the charge against the convicts on Nov.15, 2013.
The commission’s counsel, Mr Paul Bassey, said the convicts conspired to submit forged documents to the Indian High Commission, sometime in 2013, to enable Bando to obtain the country’s visa.
He said their alleged offences contravened Sections 25(1) (a), 26 (1)
(a) and (c) and Section 96(1) (a) of the ICPC Act.
Although the convicts had entered a plea bargain agreement with the
ICPC to pay N50, 000 fines and to be handed maximum six months jail terms, the judge chose to ignore the provisions of the deal.
Delivering her judgment, Ipaye said Section 75 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Law of Lagos State, upon which the plea bargain was reached, was only to guide the court.
She said the court was not bound by the plea bargain agreement between the defendants and the ICPC.
The judge said the desperation of the first defendant (Bando) to travel outside Nigeria made her to conspire with the others to submit forged documents to the Indian High Commission. Ipaye said the action of the defendants had brought the country into disrepute and could lead to the denial of visas to other Nigerians with genuine intentions of traveling.
She sentenced them to a year’s imprisonment each, with no option of fine— on the one-count amended charge.
The judge held that Bando’s sentence would begin from the day of the judgment, while that of the other convicts would commence in June 2014 when they were first remanded in prison.
Others still facing charges include Daniel Okoro, Sylvester Aghaonu, Emmanuel Okeke, AdlineEkekalu, Philomena Nwanorue, Okwara Oscar,Kennedy Nwosu and Sampson Ntiedo.
The suspects are currently facing charges for allegedly submitting forged documents ranging from Letters of introduction, WAEC statement of result, bank statement of accounts, sponsorship letters, company registration certificates, to medical reports to enable them to obtain visas.
Okoro, being prosecuted before Justice LateefLawal-Akapo, was granted a stringent N1 million bail which he has been unable to perfect for over four months.
As an aspiring footballer, whose ambition was to travel to India to play professionally, he is currently being remanded at the Kirikiri Medium Prison, Lagos, while his trial continues.
Also, the ICPC is prosecuting the trio of Kaka Dauda, Sunday Nweke and Bartholomew Tumbu before Justice Husseini Baba-Yusuf of the FCT High Court for alleged complicity in visa scam.
They were charged with conspiracy, forgery and making of false representation, in a bid to obtain travel visas to the U.S. for some others now at large.
Speaking recently at a seminar held in Lagos, the ICPC Chairman, Ekpo Nta, warned intending travellers to desist from patronising touts at embassies in order not to run afoul of the law.
Ekpo called on embassies and high commissions in the country to sanitise their visa processes and entrench a culture of integrity in their visa acquisition process.
“The imposition of unreasonable procedures by some embassies seems to have exacerbated the already complicated visa acquisition process which tends to promote corruption-prone processes by unofficial cartels within and outside the embassies,” he said.
Also speaking at the seminar, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Aminu Wali, said the activities of some Nigerians involved in visa scam had tarnished the image of the country.
He said: “Today, touts and miscreants have constituted themselves into visa procurement agents, luring peace and law abiding citizens into engaging knowingly or unknowingly in visa scams.
“Some of those who deliberately patronise touts, using fake travelling documents to deceive visa issuing officials, often travel out of the country to indulge in all forms of criminal activities that dent the image of our country.”
Wali commended ICPC for sanitising the process which has led to the arrest and prosecution of suspects and their collaborators.
However, many Nigerians are of the view that unless the socio-economic situation in the country improves, many young compatriots would continue to do anything to travel out of the country.
The National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) in a recent report said no fewer than 5.3 million Nigerian youths are jobless, while 1.8 million graduates enter the labour market every year.
The Executive Director, Socio-Economic rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), Mr Adetokunbo Mumuni, is of the view that the harsh economic realities in Nigeria was making the youths to become desperate.
He said: “This socio-economic situation is caused by socio-economic injustice in Nigeria and the failure of our leaders to manage our resources to the betterment of the citizenry.
“If the socio-economic situation in Nigeria improves and the issues of poverty and unemployment are addressed, there will be no need for any Nigerian youth to want to go out of Nigeria to the extent of becoming desperate.”
Mumuni, who recently launched a citizens’ guide to promote the workings\ of ICPC, urged the commission to carry out more sensitisation exercises to enlighten Nigerians on the dangers of patronising fake travel agents.
Also, Mr Jude Imagwe, Senior Special Assistant to President Goodluck Jonathan on Youths and Student Matters, advised Nigerians to follow the right processes in obtaining visas when traveling abroad.
“Government on our own part have always continued to educate people that you travel only when there is need for you to travel, and if you want to travel, you should follow the right procedure”, Imagwe said.
According to him, the Federal Government is making conscious effort to tackle youth unemployment through programmes, like Youth Empowerment
Scheme (YES), Youth Enterprise with Innovation (YOU-WIN) and the Subsidy Re-investment and Empowerment Programme (SURE-P).
“For instance, the Graduate Internship Scheme which is a collaboration between SURE-P and Private firms, will help to take more people off the unemployment market,” he added.
During the declaration for his second term at Eagles Square, Abuja, recently, President Goodluck Jonathan also assured Nigerians that his administration was working assiduously in reducing unemployment in the country.
Jonathan said the reforms in the agriculture sector and the privatisation of the Power Holding Company of Nigeria, were geared toward making many young Nigerians employers of labour.

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