A 73-year-old U.S. citizen had no idea that he’d end up in a Tijuana jail for possessing the ingredients for a Nigerian soup. But he said the spices, dried fish and vegetables must have looked like illegal drugs to the inspectors in Mexico — and he landed in jail for two days.
The Mexican inspectors asked the man, as he entered Mexico, if the labeled packages contained marijuana, and he said no. Since he doesn’t speak Spanish, he couldn’t explain what they were. Mexican authorities put him in jail, saying they needed to test the materials.
San Diego social worker Uokoronkwo Umeham, who was born in Nigeria, was just doing a favor for a relative who was longing for a taste of home when he crossed the border March 15.
He was entering Mexico to deliver the ingredients for “ugu,” a traditional soup, to a homesick younger relative. His nephew, Xavier Nnanna Nwafor, lives in Tijuana and doesn’t have a visa to cross the border to San Diego, where the ingredients are available.
Umeham took the same ingredients across the border last September without incident, his wife, Gail Umeham, said Wednesday, reports Raquel Maria Dillon of The Associated Press
Gail’s cousin in San Diego, David Amos, said a contact in Tijuana told him an official had asked for a $5,000 bribe for Umeham’s release, but no money was ever paid, reports Sandra Dibble at the San Diego Union-Tribune
“We have no knowledge of this,” said Javier Cossio, head of the federal attorney general’s office in Tijuana.
But Cossio confirmed that Umeham was arrested. He said authorities, after testing, concluded “he was not carrying any drugs.” He also said Umeham did not test positive for using any drug.
“The whole situation was really unnecessary,” Umeham said. “It shouldn’t happen to anybody.”
Umeham’s wife said he was humiliated by the experience.
“It would have been nice if someone had said sorry,” Gail said.