“With A Bullet Lodged In His Brain?”

19 September 2018

Barrister Austin Okeke Writes From South Africa.

In and during 1995, a young budding man at his prime age of about 26, had migrated from Nigeria to South Africa for greener pastures. He hailed from the South Eastern part of Nigeria. He surname was Chime.

On this fateful day, he had boarded a metered taxi within the city of Johannesburg. The fare for a dropped was at the time, 4 Rand for a drop. This was equivalent to one United States dollar ten cents at the time.

Upon arriving his destination, luckily one of his friends came to welcome him; he paid the correct taxi fare, but the South African taxi driver, having realised that he was a foreigner, demanded that he pay 5 Rand. He wanted an extra one Rand for reasons best known to him.

Chime refused, the taxi driver then pulled a gun and shot him point blank in the head whilst he was still sitting in the passenger seat. What?

The public and passersby immediately gathered, police eventually arrived at the scene. There was sudden commotion, Nigerians who were around the scene were enraged, but were contained by the law enforcement agents present.

The taxi driver falsely alleged that Chime wanted to rob him of one Rand, that he then shot him in self-defence.

Chime was taken to the Parklane Private Hospital in Parktown Johannesburg for treatment. He went into a coma and remained there until he passed a few days later.

The report got to me as the leader of the Nigerian Community at the time.; the ugly incident occurred on a Friday and I visited him at the hospital after the Sunday church service.

At the reception of the hospital, I introduced myself and I requested to see him in his ward. He was still in a coma though.

I stood by his bedside dumbfounded. I could only muster a few prayers for him; because I was petrified to see him in such a somewhat hopeless condition.

He was lonely, there was no mother or father or sibling to be with him in his critical condition. I couldn’t hold back tears then, and even now that I write about it. It was sad, to say the least.

Loneliness is sad. My thoughts wandered around about his family who had bid him farewell at the Lagos airport, hoping to one day also, be there to receive him. I cried the more as I also cried when writing this account.

Suddenly, two people walked into the hospital ward furious.

A white elderly man and the lady receptionist that had allowed me inside the hospital ward.

The white man introduced himself as the hospital manager, he then demanded to know who I was.

I introduced myself and explained my mission to the hospital. I needn’t say more because they both found me doing the exact same thing; praying.

The manager sternly and in a very calm tone told me that Chime was technically under arrest for the attempted robbery of taxi fare.

I retorted: with a bullet lodged in his brain? I held back my anger and remained calm.

He answered, yes.

It was indeed a waste of time trying to explain the true account of the story to both of them. Anyway, we were in a hospital and not in the courtroom, I thought to myself.

I then left in utter shock. What injustice it was.

Chime later died after my visit to the hospital.

The taxi driver that shot him, I later gathered was set free. Not court proceeding was initiated and he was not prosecuted.

The above is an introduction to how cold the society could be if you are a foreigner in another Man’s land.


Xenophobia or Afrophobia as it has been termed nowadays didn’t start in 2008 when the former President Thabo Mbeki was embarrassed by South African citizens.

I arrived in South Africa on June 12, 1994, for the first time not knowing what to expect.

I was fresh from the Seminary School in Nigeria training to become a Catholic Priest of the Most High God; a Vicar of Christ.

I didn’t bargain for the role I had occupied as the leader of the Nigerian community in South Africa.

I was automatically transformed from a meek and humble character to a human rights activist cum pro-democracy activist.

I used to fear death until I was thrown into the deep sea and was asked to swim out on my own. I fear no more.


I was at the centre of the diplomatic spat between South Africa and Nigeria.

At the time, I doubled as the De Facto Ambassador of Nigeria to South Africa.

The late Abacha didn’t like it. He unsuccessfully attempted on my life by sending mercenaries to eliminate me. Thank God am alive to give an account of history worthy of preserving.

Reason being that South Africa, led by the late President Nelson Mandela was at the forefront of the campaign for international sanctions against the late Abacha’s military regime. I was prominently and actively involved in the campaign as well.

My face was all over the media. My picture was posted at the Lagos international airport by the security operatives who waited in vain to arrest me on arrival.

I was exiled and became a fugitive for six years.

Nigeria has yet to come out of the consequences of the diplomatic spat. The relationship between the two countries after the spat has never been the same.

I have hosted the Nigerian Independence Day Anniversary parties for three successive years. Good times and proud experience they were.

As part of my daily duties, I was moving from one police station to the other, wherever Nigerians and indeed black Africans were detained; I had to secure their release.

I wasn’t paid by anyone. I performed on free will donations from kind Nigerians, and even a few taxi drivers who had recognized me from regular interviews on Television and in print media.

They would tell me not to pay because they know I was on a humanitarian mission in the interest of my people. That I should keep it up.

I was humbled by the fact that police stations could release detainees by the mere mention of my name. It wasn’t me, it was my alter ego; Jesus Christ, the Lion of Judah.

I did send lieutenants on errands and I did delegate duties on very few occasions.

For those that were detained upon their arrival at the Johannesburg international airport; the white South African man, who was the airport manager at the time would call to inform me that my people have been arrested. He would tell me how many they were and reassured them that I would come for them. That I sometimes did.

In some instances, he would then secure their release on my behalf and board them on a bus to Johannesburg central where I was waiting to pay their bus fare and offer them accommodation for as long as I could. I have lost count of the number of people I had accommodated.

Some of them, I would send to other Nigerians of the same State of Origin. By force.

That I would be the one to visit mortuaries in South Africa, in order to identify dead Nigerians is not an experience I would wish for anyone.

I was made to push around death bodies looking for who is a Nigerian. I sometimes had to walk over the remains of my fellow humans before I could navigate the inside of the mortuary.

Well, someone had to do it for the families of the deceased back home in Nigeria.

For whatever it was going to take for the families to find closure, I was prepared to do.


At some point, there were four dead Nigerians in the mortuary at the same time.

How did we manage that?

We had no money. The cost of repatriating one corpse is not cheap, any more than four?

We left them in the mortuary for over two months because it was a mammoth task raising funds for their repatriation. The bodies eventually were sent home to Nigeria though. Only God could make it possible.


We had a corpse on board Ghana airways via Accra to Lagos. The flight normally would get to Lagos the following day after departure.

Two days had passed not a word from the family who were waiting at the Lagos airport, that they have received the casket.

The family later called us and was frantic. Where has the casket gone, what might have happened to it?

We stormed the offices of Ghana Airways in Johannesburg demanding for answers.

The casket was traced to London after a thorough search. It was eventually resent to Lagos but not on our wallet though.

We were later informed that whilst the corpse was alive, he had wished to go to London from Johannesburg, should he had the means and the wherewithal. He did after all but in death.

The then Igwe of Awomma mma in Imo State sent us a thank you letter.

I was touched by his kind words. This was after we had repatriated a corpse who hailed from Awomma mma.

He compared us to the time the late Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe and his contemporaries were in the United States.

That our selfless services were similar to theirs, he said that they never let any Nigerian especially an Igbo person to be buried abroad. Thank you, Igwe.

Another corpse was returned from Lagos after we had sent it on Ghana Airways. We had to resend it to Lagos using our personal money. Twice, it took money from us. Haba!

We were able to accomplish the above because we ran the Nigerian Association without monthly dues.

We were aware of how finance is capable of wrecking a meeting and making enemies of good friends. It was decided we should not collect monthly dues.

We ran the Association on project-specific levies and free will donations.

After every wake-keep, the remainder of the money collected was sent to the bereaved families along with the remains of their loved ones.

There was love amongst the Nigerian community, the reason we were able to accomplish a lot.

Nigerians would open their hearts and wallets to assist in the repatriation of the remains of a fellow Nigerians, a fallen hustler who had come seeking greener pasture. Not only for selfish interest but also to support his extended family back home.

I have personally sent home to Nigeria over 150 dead Nigerians.

May their souls rest in perfect peace. Amen.

Abacha and the Ex Military leaders did us a grave injustice.

A wasted generation of Nigerians scattered all over the globe. Some didn’t make it back home.

The civilian regime is worse. All of them must one day give the account of their stewardship.

Are these leaders human? Why have they treated us in such an inhumane manner? What have we done wrong?

I am still searching for answers.

I thank you.

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Austin Okeke
Austin Okeke 33 posts

Barrister Austin Okeke Writes From South Africa

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