THE widow of a murdered Nigerian journalist hopes to begin a new chapter of her life in Wigan after her family was granted the right to stay.
Abiola Famakinwa has been given temporary leave to remain in the UK following a desperate battle to claim asylum.
Wigan people are very friendly, although some have found it hard to welcome us. My children don’t want to move, they have integrated into the school system and have made friends hereAbiola Famakinwa
She fled her African homeland with her three children after her husband, one of Nigeria’s top investigative reporters, died in suspicious circumstances while investigating a story in the northern Nigerian state of Borno.
She and her family now have the right to stay in the UK for two and a half years, and at a time when asylum seeking is a hot topic which has been criticised by the public and elected officials - with Greater Manchester mayor Tony Lloyd claiming last week the region was taking too many asylum seekers - the Famakinwas’ story is a reminder both of the perils that drive people to flee their homeland and the difficulties they face in staying in a new country.
Abiola spoke of how well her children have settled in the borough and her gratitude towards Wiganers who have supported her campaign.
Abiola said: “I am excited and happy. All along it has been a challenge to really settle in the UK but this brings a kind of relief because the threat of deportation is no longer there.
“Wigan people are very friendly, although some have found it hard to welcome us. My children don’t want to move, they have integrated into the school system and have made friends here. I didn’t want to uproot them as we have made Wigan our home. I want them to be happy because they have lost the most important man in their life.
“I wish the right to remain could have been longer but this is a starting point for me and my children. We have been given this opportunity and we want to maximise it and contribute.”
Abiola claimed asylum after studying biomedical science in Surrey because her application for a work permit was refused, with the family being allocated to Wigan to await the outcome of their case.
Abiola and other Nigerian reporters believe Samuel, a newsman for This Day, was murdered for his investigative journalism, with researchers uncovering the Borno governor’s links to extremist group Boko Haram. The family had previously been threatened and their home broken into.
As asylum seekers are forbidden to work Abiola has been volunteering with human rights organisation Rapar, which has supported her campaign to remain, and as a receptionist at a Hindley care centre.
However, being granted temporary leave is creating challenges of its own for the Famakinwas, as Abiola is currently searching for somewhere to live and trying to get into employment. She said: “We’re looking for somewhere else to live as we will have to move out of the temporary accommodation we were given when we moved to this community.
“I am also actively looking for a job. I’m a medical scientist so I’ve contacted most of the agencies I know and I’m also applying to the NHS.
“I really enjoy the volunteering, I get to meet people who otherwise would be working but have to care for their loved ones or friends. Their whole lives have been changed and when I help out and see their smiles it gives me joy in my heart.
“In the future I want to be able to contribute to national health care. I don’t know what the future holds but that’s my aspiration.” Abiola says she is currently concentrating on building her family’s new life in Wigan rather than dividing her attention between the UK and any attempts to bring Samuel’s alleged killers to justice back in Nigeria.
She said: “It’s difficult to think of the future at the moment with the restrictions we still have. My daughter will be sitting her GCSEs and hopes to go to uni, so it’s going to be a very sensitive time for her.
“Hopefully she will be assisted with that as she may have to pay international fees with the limited leave to remain.
“I want to move on with my life for these few years I have been given here. I want to look forward rather than going back to what I ran away from and bringing back what is emotionally traumatic for me.”
Abiola’s campaign for asylum has been backed by groups including the Wigan branch of the National Union of Teachers (NUT) and the Wigan Diggers Festival as well as Manchester-based organisation Rapar, which paid tribute to her determination.
Charity matron Dr Rhetta Moran said: “At this time there are so many people seeking asylum who are being very badly treated outside the borders of this country. There are so many people inside the borders who have also suffered along with their families at the hands of the British state.
“Abiola and her three children have endured terrible experiences and their courage has never faltered. They are a great example of never giving up, believing in themselves and finding people who would show solidarity with them.”