A caregiver, native of Imo State and former employee of Al Ain Centre for Rehabilitation and Care, Abu Dhabi, Patience Davidson, tells BLESSING AFOLABI why she was jailed in the United Arab Emirates and her prison experience
Can you narrate what led to your imprisonment?
I had four kids (four, 11, 12 and 19-year-old) from Saudi Arabia under my care at Al Ain. I was their caregiver; I was more or less a mother to them. It was the 11-year-old that got injured. This was not the first time he got injured; whenever he is hyper, he doesn’t talk or express himself. He will rather resort to crying. That particular day, after preparing the kids for our usual outing, I went to the restroom with one of them who was epileptic. I usually took him everywhere because he needs attention all the time, and I didn’t spend up to 30 minutes as they claimed.
While I was in the restroom, my colleague who was with them started saying in Sudanese ‘Patience kaluar! kaluar’, meaning ‘Patience come out! Come out!’ I immediately dashed to the room where I saw the boy scratching his bleeding ear. It was just a little scratch which I took pictures and made videos of and sent to my supervisor, a Sudanese woman. After that, I took him to the clinic immediately as instructed. We went for the outing, took pictures and videos to send to the supervisor for their parents. Before we went to bed, the kids were checked because they were usually monitored every four hours and the closed-circuit television cameras cover all activities there.
The incident happened around 5.30pm; at about 11pm while we were fast asleep, I heard my supervisor knocking on the door, asking me to let her in. She asked me to explain what happened to the boy (Ryan), reminding me that she had warned me not to leave the boy. I reaffirmed that I did the needful after the incident. She later called on the male supervisor who told her he checked the CCTV camera but didn’t find anything indicting there. All of a sudden, she told me I would give an account of the incident.
How did you get to jail?
My supervisor told me to get dressed by 11.30pm and that she wanted to take me somewhere. I thought we were actually going somewhere but she seized my phone because she knew I made videos of the incident. She asked me if I wanted to post them online. Little did she know that I had sent the videos to some of my friends because I knew an issue like this could come up, so I could have concrete evidence. I didn’t send the videos to my family because I didn’t want them to panic, especially my mum who is hypertensive.
She took me to the police station. When I asked her what I was doing there, she said the police would interrogate me because I didn’t want to tell her the truth. The police started their interrogation and I told them I wouldn’t say anything since the CCTV captured everything. I informed them that I had the video on my phone as evidence. So, they said they would check through the pieces of evidence. That was how my supervisor lied that there was nothing of such. Unknown to me, she had deleted the videos I made. She told the officers that I took Ryan to the toilet and beat him. When they couldn’t get any evidence because she told them there was no CCTV in the restroom, I was taken to the big jail in October.
How long were you in jail and what was the experience like?
I spent four months in jail though my initial sentence was one year and six months. Getting to jail was a blessing in disguise. On Monday after I got to jail, the epileptic student (Saheed), who I used to take everywhere, died. I believe God used the case of the injury to save me from being framed for the death of the boy. I couldn’t even tell my family about it. It was when one of my colleagues came to see me in jail that I got the information; I was told he slept and didn’t wake up.
The treatment in jail wasn’t so bad; we were given food and well taken care of. Their prisons are in good condition. The only disadvantage is that you’ll be there without pay. However, I learnt quite a lot in jail; how to relate with people from different nationalities and to cope with people and their lifestyles. It was like hell but I’m a strong lady and I was able to cope. Being in jail was a lesson and it has been written that I will experience this.
Was there a trial?
Yes, I faced a panel and some judges virtually. Basically, I was taken to an online court due to the fear of COVID-19. I was accused of beating the boy in the toilet during the first suit. I defended myself by telling them that I had been Ryan’s caregiver for about two years and I never beat him. It was later changed to negligence because I was in the restroom when it happened. At the second trial, I was accused of posting the case online. I told them my phone had been seized and there was no way I would post anything online.
When they traced it through a bail account (used to trace calls and transactions) and discovered I wasn’t communicating with anyone, I was allowed to go and told that I had been forgiven. Later, I found out that it was my family in Nigeria that posted about it online. When I got to the Immigration office in Nigeria, I saw my face in the newspapers though no one could recognise me because I had become darker.
When were you released?
I was released on November 29, 2022, UAE’s National Day when they free prisoners. I was asked to return to work because I have my resident permit and I’m registered under a company. I told them I don’t want to return there or continue working there. I gave the authorities the phone number and address of the school where I worked and told them to send my belongings to me so I can return to Nigeria. By December, I was told that the cost of a flight (to Nigeria) was high and that the government couldn’t buy me a flight ticket at that rate. I remained in jail till January when my ticket was booked. I left Dubai on Friday, February 3 (2023).
How did your family feel when you returned?
My family was excited upon my arrival. My dad came to the airport to wait for me. When my mum saw me, her eyes were filled with tears; she cried a lot.
Did the Nigerians in Diaspora Commission help in the case?
Yes, I don’t know what I would have done without them. If this hadn’t been posted online, I will still be in jail. My sentence was a year and six months or six months with an option of a fine, but it took the intervention of the Nigerians in Diaspora Commission, the media and things beyond my imagination to secure my release. I really appreciate everyone that was instrumental to my release.
Your brother mentioned that your supervisor sent threat messages to you while in UAE. Is that true?
Yes, I always told them whenever she threatened me. I reported to the manager and human resources officer on different occasions. I felt she hated me because I’m a fast learner and I speak different languages. I speak Arabic very well. So, she wasn’t happy about that. I played with the kids a lot and dressed like them sometimes. I bought the same cloth with them whenever I went to the mall but she would express dissatisfaction and say, ‘It is not allowed.’ Whatever I did while I was there in the UAE, she would say, ‘It’s not allowed.’ Other school authorities even cautioned her, reminding her that I’m their mother (caregiver).
When I wanted to resign, she told me that I would not leave the company. She also said she hated Nigerians and called us kaliba (dog). She told me that she would jail me and bring me down and she achieved her aim. I wrote all of these in my resignation letter. I have a copy of it. She refused to return my phone and passport despite the police calling her to bring them. She said I must come over to the school to sign some papers because if any staff member should leave the company without the proper process of resignation, such employee would pay a fine to the government. The company is under the Saudi Arabia embassy and the UAE has shares in the school. So, they must give account for everyone that leaves the job.
When I got to Nigeria on Friday (February 3), she ensured that a Nepali guy was jailed on Saturday. He was fined 10,000 dirhams, which he paid. I was also fined 10,000 dirhams, but I refused to pay because the money would be given to her. That was why I was left in jail. Some of my colleagues resigned within the period I was jailed; I thought they would help me send some of my belongings home, but I was told that she chased them away from the school.
Why did you leave Nigeria?
I left Nigeria because of insecurity and unemployment. If Nigeria was safe and I had a good paying job, I wouldn’t have left in the first place. After I graduated, I searched for jobs everywhere. I got one but the pay was very little. That was when I decided to travel to the UAE. I am a graduate of Psychology in Autism from the Adeniran Ogunsanya University of Education, Lagos State. I majored in kids with autism and special needs, and the kids I taught in Al Ain were autistic and had special needs.
Will you travel to Dubai again?
Never! I will rather go to another place. The UAE doesn’t like Nigerians or blacks. Some of them call us kaliba and some of them are racist. I don’t know if the hatred is just because of our colour. However, I don’t blame them because some Nigerians engage in criminal acts there such as cultism and prostitution; so, the bad ones are spoiling the good ones. That’s why they recently banned Nigerians from their country. I know the UAE laws but I won’t go there. They jail people for the silliest things; posting pictures or videos of other people online (especially if you’re not authorised to), pollution, playing music in the car, and so on. Some people were in jail with me for flimsy reasons. People who commit serious offences are given a lesser jail term, while for flimsy reasons, they give long jail terms. Once you’re African and black, you are labelled a Nigerian and treated with disdain. I experienced a lot over there and I have more understanding of their pattern. I will rather go to other Arab countries than the UAE.
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