He was lost in the system: Now he wants to change it

Jason Jett (L) and Benjamin Okoro

Fiji Airways Flight 360 from Singapore arrived at Nadi International Airport before I did the morning of 18 July 2018. I lost that race by minutes, and found myself in a pre-pandemic, bustling hub where hourly flights disgorged hundreds of passengers to a network of tourist vans, coaches and taxis for transport to their destinations.

I stood among greeters from resorts and tour agencies who held cards bearing the names of their firms or disembarking passengers. I had not thought to bring a card, and I did not know the names of the people I were to meet and accompany across the island for the Suva Marathon.

 I was looking for three runners from Nigeria. They should have been easy to spot among the mostly European and Asian passengers, but I waited in vain more than an hour as the plane, baggage claim and customs hall emptied.

Exasperated, I turned from arrivals to the waiting area and scoured faces and bodies for people who could be marathoners. There was no one who fit the build. I decided to look for anyone who could be Nigerian and noticed a guy in a leisure suit, not a running suit, and loafers, not running shoes, seated alone.

 “Are you here for the Suva Marathon?” I asked him. He hesitated, likely expecting to be met by a Fijian rather than an African-American, then replied with a relieved, “Yes.”

This is how I met Benjamin Okoro. What follows – my account of how he spent 15 months wrongfully imprisoned, was awarded $20,000 in the High Court as constitutional redress in February 2020, and finally received the funds just weeks ago – is best described in first-person.

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