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Nigerian Stowaway Commits Suicide After Losing Asylum Application

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A Nigerian man simply identified as Toheeb Popoola, who stowed away on a container ship has killed himself after his application for asylum was rejected.

Popoola was reportedly engaged in a 14-hour standoff with police on the Thames Estuary in a desperate bid to escape poverty in his home country, but killed himself before he could be deported. 

The deceased Popoola, 29, stowed away with three other men on the Grande Tema ship when it departed from Lagos, Nigeria, in December 2018, the Blackpool Gazette reports.

However, the group was found a few days later by the ship’s captain. They were barricaded inside a cabin where they remained for five days before they broke out. Thereafter, they armed themselves with metal poles and threatened crew members.

A tense 14-hour stand-off on the Thames Estuary ensued before special forces boarded the ship and arrested the stowaways.

Popoola was sentenced to 31 months in prison. He was released in August 2020 and placed in government-run housing in Bradford under the condition he was not allowed to work or obtain an education. Also, he was ordered to report to the immigration office regularly.

He applied for asylum, but this was rejected in early 2021.

On July 26, 2021, he was found dead by his partner, Judith Stalker, at her South Shore home. He had hung himself.

She said: “We live in a country where we can get money. We can get work. Toheeb didn’t have the money to come over here. He didn’t have an education. He was scared. That’s why he did what he did.

“I knew Toheeb as a person. He was a brilliant stepdad to my kids. He was there for my kids every day, he tidied up after them; brushed their teeth, he read to them at night, and did everything for them.

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“And he loved dancing, singing, and playing with the kids. He was like a big kid himself.

“People struggling in this country get benefits. In Nigeria, they have nothing. They had to struggle for minced meat. At the end of the day, he was scared not only for himself but for his friends as well. He just wanted a better life.

“It bothered him that he couldn’t work and earn his own living, because where he came from; if you don’t work, you don’t eat.”

At a pre-inquest review at Blackpool town hall, the court heard how Toheeb had been released by the immigration office and was awaiting deportation when he died.

In August 2020, Toheeb underwent a psychiatric evaluation which found he was suffering from mental health problems. This was as a result of the trauma he had experienced in Nigeria and his subsequent imprisonment. He was prescribed antidepressants by his GP in Bradford.

But Judith, 34, said she did not know her partner was struggling, as he was ‘always cheerful’.

She told the court: “He never did anything before. Also, he used to say ‘I’m a happy person, I don’t like arguments’.

“He told me his solicitor said to him if he went to the doctors and got medication for his mental health problems; he would be more likely to get asylum. But he never took them in my house.”

Coroner Alan Wilson mentioned the possibility of the inquest being heard before a jury, which occurs if a person dies in custody. However, Home Office counsel Tom Hynes rejected this.

He said:  “My view is that this gentleman was not in state detention. While Mr. Popoola was arrested and remained in custody on entry to the UK in December 2018, and remained in custody until the court case thereafter… he was released on August 26 2020 on conditional bail.

“At the time of his death, Mr. Popoola had not signed on with the immigration officer since May 4 2021, and was largely living in Blackpool. In my submission, he was not in state detention at the time of his death.”

A full inquest, without a jury, was arranged for March 28, 2020.

Judith, a mum of four, mourned the deceased Nigerian and the circumstances under which he passed away.

“Toheeb was a loving person. He was a good stepdad to my kids and was like a role model in their lives.

“And he kept himself to himself; he was a quiet person and a family man.

“Also, he didn’t stab someone, he didn’t kill someone. He came over on a ship with his friends and all they wanted was to get off the ship. In my eyes he went to prison for one reason, and that was for the threats he made, and that was because he was scared.”

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