Written by Godfrey AKON

Northern Cyprus: a graveyard for Nigerian students

On Monday, August 24, 2020, the Nigerian Government raised a red flag, waning parents against sending their children to Turkish-occupied Northern Cyprus universities, often advertised as "Education Island.”

Authorities were irked by frequent, unresolved deaths of Nigerian students, the latest being the murder of Ibrahim Khaleel Bello, a third-year civil engineering student of Girne American University in Girne, Kyrenia, Northern Cyprus.

Twenty-five-year-old Khaleel died under mysterious circumstances just hours after sending a distress WhatsApp message to his mother, Justice Amina Ahmad Bello, a Judge of the Kaduna State High Court, over his safety in the university.

"Mama, please I want to come back home. Wallahi if I stay here, I will just die here without anybody batting an eyelash. I just need to come back home. Mama, please try to understand that this isn't a place for me," the message read.

But his assailants couldn't let him live to make it home to his parents. Bello said her son was murdered and authorities in Northern Cyprus as well as the university covered it up, claiming it was a suicide; that Khaleel had fallen from a seven-storey building.

Ibrahim Khaleel Bello is among roughly 100 Nigerians murdered in mysterious circumstances from 2016 to 2020 without any of the assailants being prosecuted by authorities in the Turkish-occupied Island, a statement by the Nigerians in Diaspora Commission, NIDCOM, confirmed.

Reports of the frequent killing of Nigerian students in the island are mired in sordid and agonizing form. Obasanje Adeola Owoyalr, a 33-year-old Nigerian student was beaten to death in central Nicosia and his body found wrapped in a blanket and left in the boot of a car to rot.

Twenty-five-year-old Walshak Augustine Ngok, a student of Marine Engineering at Near East University, was beaten to death and dumped in a field off a highway near Nicosia on April 19, 2019. On February 1, 2018, a 28-year-old Nigerian Kennedy Taomwabwa Dede, of Eastern Mediterranean University, was kidnapped and beaten to death near a lake in Famagusta.

Other victims of the carnage are Gabriel Soriwei, a first year student of Electrical Electronics of Cyprus International University, Nicosia, Augustine Wallies was killed on April 19, 2019, 28-year-old Stanley Eteimo, killed, 28-year-old Hassan Babatunde, murdered, Temitayo Adigun, killed, 24-year-old Kubiat Abasi Abraham Okon, killed, Oziegbe Godspower Airekugose and Olasubomi Ope, among others not reported.

During these murders, Nigerians were taken aback by the brazen letdown of authorities in the island to effect arrests and prosecute persons suspected to be complicit in the bloodletting; a development that has led many to question the conscience of a society priding itself as an education hub with an international appeal.

Now blacklisted by the Nigerian Government as an outlawed destination, the true identity of the island has come to fore. Northern Cyprus is not recognized by the United Nations as a country; its only recognition is by the Republic of Turkey. Nigeria has no diplomatic ties with the country. And most of the courses offered in its universities are not accredited.

According to the Chairman/CEO, Nigerians in Diaspora Commission, Hon. Abike Dabiri-Erewa, the island should be blacklisted given the preponderance of Nigerian Students who have died mysteriously in that country without any prosecution or compensation whatsoever.

"The time has come for us to blacklist all these Universities in Northern Cyprus and advise our students from seeking any form of admission there as it portends danger to their lives and future," she said.

Dabiri-Erewa assured Nigerians  that NIDCOM will work with the Ministry of Justice, Nigerian Mission in Turkey and other relevant agencies to ensure justice is done, saying  the death of Ibrahim khaleel Bello should be a tipping point to end the continuous killings of Nigerian students in that Country.

She disclosed that the office of the Attorney General of the Federation has already reported the matter to Interpol for further investigation.

While submitting a petition to NIDCOM on the mysterious and inexplicable death of her son, Justice Amina Bello, called for justice for Khaleel and other Nigerian students who are victims of the campaign of death and destruction against young Nigerians in that country.

She said “I don't believe it was an accident or a suicide as I went to Cyprus barely 24 hours it happened and got to the mortuary where there was no scratch or wound on his body.

“I suspected foul play that my son was killed as the school was nonchalant in breaking the news to me on my arrival," she said, while insisting that a thorough investigation be lodged and those found culpable prosecuted.

She revealed that when Khaleel's corpse was finally released to the family, she discovered that his stomach was opened and sutured, alleging that it is possible some of the killed Nigerian students’ vital organs were harvested.

Usually advertised as "Education Island" in Nigeria and elsewhere in sub-Saharan Africa, Northern Cyprus is home to only 20 universities with about 103,000 student capacity. Between 2010 and 2019, the number of foreign students to the island increased from 5,000 to over 35,000, with about 20,000 of such students from African countries, mostly Nigeria.

Although a thriving school and business environment, infrastructural challenges are a real issue in the institutions and their society reportedly famous for open racism, violent crimes and ruthless social vices. But the ease with which student visas are issued to the deadly island has boosted foreign students enrolments, with many Nigerians attracted to its ready admission offers.

Back home, the desperation for education tourism has been fueled by widespread problems in the country's tertiary education system. Inadequate access, low quality and lack of equity in the country's admission process into public universities fend off aspiring young Nigerians into the hands of even weaker, waiting institutions abroad.


While some only want to escape the brick wall of stringent admission requirements put in place by authorities responsible, others are however tickled by the high value placed on foreign certificates by the country's public service.


With growing awareness on the importance of university education and a burgeoning population of college-aged students seeking to attend a university, the country's 171 public and private universities have become short of spaces, offering only about 40 per cent of admission opportunities to the teeming candidates who sit for the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination, UTME, annually.

For candidates entrapped by readily-available admission spaces in the "education island," poor researches on cultural and social trends about the country of their destination before choosing their institutions of learning had unfortunately brought them to their end.







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