[PRESS RELEASE] The region nervously watches as caravans of military-age West Africans arrive in Antigua on the eve of election

As Antiguans and Barbudans prepare for national elections on January 18, 2023, concerns are being raised and tensions are heightening after several chartered flights have been arriving in the country with military-age persons from West Africa, most under cover of night over the past six weeks.

In August, the country’s Prime Minister, Gaston Browne announced on his privately-owned radio station – Point FM that wealthy Nigerian investors have agreed to bankroll a new airline called Antigua Airways.

This new venture, arising out of the country’s Citizenship By Investment Program (CIP), promises to open a corridor between the Caribbean and the African continent. Coincidently the identities of these wealthy investors were never disclosed, despite a requirement to do so in the nations’ CIP laws.

The first flight arrived on November 1 to the pomp and pageantry of the water-cannon salute. Upon further inquiry, it was revealed that there is no such entity called “Antigua Airways.” The aircraft was a chartered flight and most of the visitors who arrived were from several West African countries with no lodging secured upon their arrival. Some were seen walking the streets aimlessly with their travel bags.

Some are now seeking employment and most have not returned to Nigeria.

The second chartered flight operated by Hi Fly Malta arrived at Antigua’s VC Bird International Airport around Christmas Eve. The Jolly Beach Resort, a recently renovated hotel was listed as the place of accommodation for the new set of arrivals. However, most of the passengers could not afford the US$80 per night fee. When pressed for information, government representatives insist these visitors are tourists.

The question must be asked, if these visitors are tourists, how without adequate funding or accommodations were they landed in the country, and more so, how will they be able to help stimulate the country’s fragile economy that depends on tourism dollars?

A third chartered flight arrived in the early morning of December 27, The United Progressive Party (UPP) published a press release raising concerns and asking for an explanation of the blatant breaches of the country’s immigration laws.

The Chief Immigration Officer Katrina Yearwood issued a statement stating nothing unusual is taking place, and all rules were followed. On December 27, 2022, shortly thereafter, Ms. Yearwood’s statement was issued, and a Nigerian-born Antiguan, Owolabi Elabanjo was interviewed on a local radio station in an attempt to quell concerns.

Mr. Elabanjo serves as the country’s Agriculture Extension Officer; however, he appeared in the capacity of a public relations officer (PRO) for the arriving visitors. In his interview, Mr. Elabanjo contradicted the Chief Immigration Officer’s statements, revealing that many of the visitors arrived with false information concerning their accommodations. He felt compelled to find accommodations around the island and admitted he was disgraced by the situation.

To date, the authorities have been uncomfortably silent on this matter, and their silence has created a vacuum for many questions. Like most people who follow international news, Antiguans and Barbudans are aware of the unrest and conflict in Nigeria and surrounding countries that have undermined civil, religious, ethnic, and social liberties, resulting in killings, kidnappings, and violence against women and LGBTQ + individuals.

Many of these atrocities were committed by militia and separatist groups including Boko Haram, Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), and Vigilante Group of Nigeria (VGN). Currently, governments of Nigeria and surrounding countries are trying to capture and bring to justice members of those groups.

Similar to Antigua & Barbuda, Nigeria’s elections are slated to take place in early 2023 (February). Many are fleeing the country because of the complex security crises, violence, and disastrously mismanaged economy. Antiguans and Barbudans and citizens of the region question whether these visitors are hapless tourists, victims of human trafficking,
refugees, or members of the militia and separatist groups fleeing capture and imprisonment.

From the Caribbean, Nigeria seems like a world away! However, the question is being posed whether Antigua & Barbuda’s government, led by Prime Minister Gaston Browne, has unwittingly opened the doors to militants. This question is not far-fetched as Mr. Elabanjo stated in his interview, many of the visitors intend to travel to other destinations in the region. Citizens and residents also question why the current Antigua & Barbuda Government would open the country to scrutiny from regional partners, including Canada and the United States. Even more crucial, why would the Antigua & Barbuda Government engage in activities and practices that could endanger the security and economic standing of the Caribbean?

Inadequately processing visitors who have expressed intentions to travel to other– albeit regional–destinations is a viable security threat. These are reasonable questions, especially since the visitors come from a part of the world where major societal destabilization and mass exodus are taking place. The visitors were not vetted, but were issued “visas on arrival” and, some received “visa-free waivers.” Is there a quid pro quo to use Antigua & Barbuda as a transshipment point to places afield such as the larger Caribbean islands, the US Virgin Islands, Canada, Europe, South America, or the
US Mainland?

At press time, it was announced that the 4th chartered flight, a Euroatlanic Airways landed at the VC Bird International airport from Abuja, Nigeria at 5 am.

These concerns are not unfounded. The nation has an unfortunate reputation among the Eastern Caribbean as being host to an active scandal mill, including, but not limited to, facilitating the transshipment of guns to South Africa’s apartheid regime; sheltering Allen Stanford, the disgraced American financial fraudster; the DC Sniper fiasco, where the country’s compromised immigration enforcement system caused John Lee Malvo, to travel to the US, killing 10 persons and critically wounding 3 in Washington DC; the recent abduction, and reappearance of Mehul Choksi, a fugitive jeweler from India who attained citizenship in Antigua via the CIP program; the ongoing Odebrecht scandal, and the recent FTX collapse, just to name a few.

The public is clamoring to know what steps the government has taken to protect the country’s national security and sovereignty.

In a recent radio broadcast, members of the group Diaspora Progressives posited “…there are too many coincidences, so close to a national election, and Prime Minister Gaston Browne, Attorney General Steadroy “Cutie” Benjamin, Minister of Foreign Affairs, International Trade & Immigration, Chet Green, Minister of Tourism Max Fernandez, Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), Lt. Col. Edward Croft and, Commissioner of the Royal Police Force of Antigua and Barbuda Atley Rodney – all public servants, who are duty bound must present a clear picture to the nation and region and explain exactly what is going on.”

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  1. January 16, 2023

    Confusion . . . about the dates on the article.
    Date on heading: Dec. 31, 2022
    Date at bottom: Copyright 2012 Dominica News Online

    Which is correct?

  2. Malatete
    January 1, 2023

    HiFly Malta is a front for privately owned Iranian carrier Mahan Air.
    Passengers from Nigeria could possibly travel to Antigua on Dominican passports, and subsequently to the U.K. on Virgin or BA to be dispersed into the Nigerian community there, visa free, without arousing too much scrutiny, posing as genuine Dominicans.

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 3
  3. TT
    January 1, 2023

    Wow the insanity …. how do people allow this??

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 1
  4. Antiguan
    January 1, 2023

    I am an antiguan and the amount of these people that are here is beyond crazy … they have no where to stay ,they begging on the street for food ,asking for jobs like antigua have jobs to give ,some of them sleep on the beach ,and we all know they not investing in nothin the body odor smell alone sends you running away,when the flights leave here they are empty but everytime it lands there are at least 250 passengers that do not have nothing. Time for this ass to stop running my country he is nothin but a pig. This is just modern day slavery instead of them coming by boat they coming by the plane load.

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 22 Thumb down 1
    • Sunny
      January 2, 2023

      Make sure they don’t vote and vote Gaston out. Who knows if these people are not violent. Really terrifying.
      And then they want to head to other islands. Watch out Dominica!!

      Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 1
  5. Ibo France
    December 31, 2022

    Most people have read or heard the saying, “One bad apple spoils the whole bunch.” One bad prime minister has put the whole of CARICOM countries in jeopardy. Gaston should be kicked to the curb by the electors of Antigua & Barbuda. Give him the index finger. Flog him with your votes.

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 0
  6. Bring back the kidnapped parrots
    December 31, 2022

    Air insurrection and riot boarding in Nigeria en route to Antigua to scare and intimidate the people. Seems another Grenada style invasion by the UN is justified to arrest all the PM goons getting off the planes. They need to be introduced to a real army.

  7. Wait & See
    December 31, 2022

    I wonder if Skerrit knows about that. Skerrit and Brown are very close friends for every bad reason and one doesn’t act without support from the other as seen in LIAT and recently the Mehul Choksi visit to Dominica and many more. These two will go down together because one will sell out the other when they start to feel the US fire

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 2
  8. Kamo
    December 31, 2022

    I’m afraid these invadors will bring you only unrest and unhapiness. Be careful, these people may also become voters with fake IDs. That will be merry-go-round. On person, taking the ballot leaves the station, then their boss ticks the name and another person goes to the station. He takes a ballot paper, puts the ready-made one into the box and leaves with the blank ballot. In the end the PM wins.

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 1
  9. Time-X
    December 31, 2022

    President Biden is close by in St.Croix monitoring these two islands – Dominica and Antigua. Gaston is probably already preparing to send many of these people to Dominica via speedboats to Portsmouth. Just wait and see.

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 6
  10. Ibo France
    December 31, 2022

    The present heads of CARICOM act like an exclusive, privileged club. No matter how blatant and egregious the corruption and undemocratic the practices are in a member state, not even as much of a murmur from any one of these rulers. (I deliberately refuse to refer to them as leaders as this would give them a false sense of significance).

    Closely scrutinize their standard of living with that of the average citizen. They live in unbelievable affluence while most of the citizens are destitute.

    Is anyone stunned by this new development orchestrated by heartless, power greedy Gaston? This man and his bosom friend, Roosevelt, would breach all laws and protocols to retain power.

    Under the present crop of Caribbean rulers, the region is on a ‘high’- high taxes, high crime rate, high unemployment, high indebtedness, high poverty, high corruption, high thievery.

    This once sought after region that was seen as a second home for non-nationals is now a region in decadence.

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 33 Thumb down 3
  11. Marie
    December 31, 2022

    Once the US and EU are getting wind of this, the CARICOM passport issued by the likes of Dominica and Antigua won’t be worth a cent. Equally, these people given entry without too many checks will rise eyebrows too. Bottom line, we an expect another cooked election similar to those recent ones in DA. 2 rogue states already in the Caribbean, who will be the next?

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 49 Thumb down 5
    • Ibo France
      January 1, 2023

      The US and the EU, for some reason, always have their eyes fixated on the Caribbean countries to sanction them for any conceivable violation. Offshore banking, correspondent baking, black listing, CBI programs, diplomatic relationships are under constant scrutiny or used as battering rams to cripple economic advancement of the region.

      Now Gaston has handed them a legitimate reason to put the whole region in a choke-hold. As usual, the plutocrats in political office, in the region, won’t suffer much if sanctions were to be enforced by the EU and the US. Those of us who are struggling to keep our heads above the surface of the turbulent economic waters will go under.

      Darkest cannot drive away darkness only light can. The best disinfection for corruption is light. The likes of Gaston, Roosevelt and Comrade Ralph have to be excommunicated from the regional politics for the good of all.

      Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 5
      • I Wish
        January 2, 2023

        Nature abhors a vacuum but also, absolute power corrupts people through and through. So in addition to removing bad leaders the populace needs a plan and a strategy for curbing possible excesses in future leaders. A real plan. Because you can bet your life on 2 things: 1. there are people taking notes on what we Caribbean people allow leaders to get away with, and positioning themselves to test those boundaries when they get in power, 2. the Caricom club may contain both the outwardly refined and the brazen ‘pirates’, but both keep the code of silence. So prettifying one or two countries’ leadership will solve nothing. Post-colonial constitutions need an overhaul – to balance/limit politicians’ power. Otherwise, business as usual WILL continue.

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