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This Nigerian Tech Worker Was Detained at JFK Because "He Didn't Look Like an Engineer"

28-year-old Celestine Omin says he was detained by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol at JFK airport, and given a written test to prove that he was an engineer.

In January, Trump signed an executive order banning entry into the United States for people from seven predominantly Muslim nations. Though the original initiative was blocked by a federal court, he issued a modified version of the order today, which—hold your non-existent applause—now excludes Iraq.


The realities of living in "Trump's America," become more and more clear every day with the saturation of stories like these:

Last Thursday, 28-year-old Nigerian engineer, Celestine Omin was detained at JFK airport as he tried to enter the country from Lagos on a business trip despite having the necessary visa and following immigration procedures, reports CNN Tech.

Omin, who works for Andela—a Mark Zuckerberg-backed global tech company that recruits software developers from Lagos and Nairobi—says that U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) told him that he "did not look like an engineer" and made him take a written test to prove that he was.

According to Omin, he was asked to "write a function to check if a Binary Search Tree is balanced," and to explain "what an abstract class is and why you need it."

He was held at customs for three hours, and was only released after Andela's co-founder Christina Sass, called to speak with Border Patrol.

In a statement to CNN Tech, CBP claimed that it "does not administer written tests to verify a traveler's purpose of travel. [Our] officers strive to treat all people arriving in the country with dignity and respect."

Maybe they should strive a bit harder.

In a statement entitled "What an Engineer Looks Like," Andela co-founder Jeremy Johnson addressed the incident, urging the American tech community to "do better," pointing out that "the technologists of tomorrow will be every race, gender and religion, and they will hail from every corner of the globe — from Silicon Valley to Sub Saharan Africa."

"Celestine was not looking to immigrate to the United States. He’s a proud Nigerian whose life and young son are in Lagos, said Johnson. "American companies are fortunate to have the opportunity to convince people like Celestine, of whom there are far too few in the world, to work with them from afar. If anything, they need much more of them if they intend to overcome the deficit in engineering talent."

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Photo by NurPhoto via Getty Images.

A Year After #EndSARS, Nigerian Youth Maintain That Nothing Has Changed

Despite the disbandment of the SARS units, young Nigerians are still being treated as criminals. We talk to several of them about their experiences since the #EndSARS protests.

On September 12th, Tobe, a 22-year-old student at the University of Nigeria's Enugu Campus was on his way to Shoprite to hang out with his friends when the tricycle he had boarded was stopped by policemen. At first, Tobe thought they were about to check the driver's documents, but he was wrong. "An officer told me to come down, he started searching me like I was a criminal and told me to pull down my trousers, I was so scared that my mind was racing in different ways, I wasn't wearing anything flashy nor did I have an iPhone or dreads — things they would use to describe me as a yahoo boy," he says.

They couldn't find anything on him and when he tried to defend himself, claiming he had rights, one of the police officers slapped him. "I fell to the ground sobbing but they dragged me by the waist and took me to their van where they collected everything including my phone and the 8,000 Naira I was with."

Luckily for Tobe, they let him go free after 2 hours. "They set me free because they caught another pack of boys who were in a Venza car, but they didn't give me my money completely, they gave me 2,000 Naira for my transport," he says.

It's no news that thousands of Nigerian youth have witnessed incidents like Tobe's — many more worse than his. It's this helpless and seemingly unsolvable situation which prompted the #EndSARS protests. Sparked after a viral video of a man who was shot just because he was driving an SUV and was mistaken as a yahoo boy, the #EndSARS protests saw millions of young Nigerians across several states of the country come out of their homes and march against a system has killed unfathomable numbers of people for invalid or plain stupid reasons. The protests started on October 6th, 2020 and came to a seize after a tragedy struck on October 20th of the same year.

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