The man from Lahti who is inciting rebellion in Nigeria is marketing services to asylum seekers – they thought they were talking to a lawyer

The man from Lahti who is inciting rebellion in Nigeria

Simon Ekpa gallops through the corridors of Lahti’s Trio shopping center with the steps of a triple jumper. He shows the way to his office on the fourth floor of the shopping center, on the door of which a brass sign promises legal services, consultation and interpretation.

Ekpa is not sure if all the items are in storage, because the Central Criminal Police has visited the office to search the house.

He has not visited his office himself for a long time. There have been other things to do.

The Central Criminal Police recently arrested Ekpa on suspicion of money laundering but released him soon. The public has also said something else: according to the news, Ekpa is fomenting an armed rebellion in his native Nigeria from Lahti.

Ekpa has lived in Lahti for almost twenty years, and he is known as a former athlete, deputy representative of the coalition and also a lawyer.

His law firm Ekpa & Co has had many asylum seekers and African migrants as clients. He has handled these matters together with his ex-wife, a lawyer Marianne Säkäjärvi with.

Contrary to what many customers have thought, Ekpa himself is not a lawyer. Due to the confusion, complaints have been made about him and his ex-spouse to the supervisory board, and their actions have been dealt with in the administrative court.

Ekpa himself says that he has never claimed to be a lawyer. In his opinion, it is a smearing of disappointed customers.

Diplomatic standoff over armed rebellion

Simon Ekpa made headlines in Finland in February when he caused an extraordinary diplomatic row.

For more than a year and a half, Ekpa has been fomenting the independence rebellion in Nigeria in the Biafra region. On his social media channels, he has shared curfews and called for a boycott of Nigeria’s elections this spring.

He claims to be leading the activities of IPOB and its armed wing of the Biafra independence movement while the leader of the movement is in prison.

Minister of Foreign Affairs of Nigeria Geoffrey Onyeama invited the Finnish ambassador in February Leena Pylvänäinen for an interview because of Ekpa.

Ekpa law office advertises that it specializes in immigration issues. The company was founded in 2015. At that time, tens of thousands of immigrants arrived in Finland.

Volunteers who help asylum seekers remember Ekpa as a man who speaks Finnish well, who handed out his business cards at the reception centers. Word about the nice and well-dressed “lawyer Saimon” spread quickly.

Under Ekpa’s name on the business card it says LL.M Master of Laws. It does not correspond to a Finnish master’s degree in law. According to the Board of Education, it should be assessed based on the exact content and scope of the education, what the degree title would equate to here.

Ekpa does not have the qualification of a so-called licensed lawyer in Finland, and he cannot act as a legal assistant for asylum seekers in court with public funds.

has talked to several asylum seekers who have mistaken Ekpa for a lawyer. The real side of the matter has only been revealed to them when they have seen the documents concerning them.

They were signed by a name unknown to them, Marianne Säkäjärvi, instead of Ekpa.

“More remarkable than many lawyers”

Afghan Rahman heard about Ekpa from a friend. He was in a hurry to find a lawyer. The family had received a negative decision on the asylum application from the administrative court and needed a legal assistant. Rahman does not want to appear in this story under his real name.

The Afghan family was impressed by Ekpa’s office. Rahman especially admired the pictures in golden frames, where Ekpa posed in Finnish army conscript clothes.

The family thought that if this man with a foreign background has done so well in Finland, he must be able to advise others as well. According to Rahman, Ekpa went through the family’s documents.

– He assured that the decision of the Immigration Office was incorrect and that he would take care of things. At no point did he say that he was not a lawyer, he says.

Although Rahman is disappointed that Ekpa did not tell him about it directly, he wants the story to tell the good things about it as well.

– Ekpa was more considerate than many lawyers. My family was in a difficult situation, and Ekpa knew how to calm my parents down, especially my mother.

Law degree as distance learning

Ekpa is dressed in a dark blue, well-fitting suit and tie. With gold rings on his fingers, he looks through thick folders in his office, looking for his diploma.

According to it, Ekpa has completed a Master of Laws degree in human rights and human rights jurisprudence at Aberystwyth University and graduated in December 2015. He says that he completed the degree in three years via distance learning.

Before that, he had already familiarized himself with the legal field during an internship and as a partner in Marianne Säkäjärvi’s law office.

Säkäjärvi is a lawyer from Lahti, bachelor of law and Ekpa’s ex-wife. In the early 2010s, the couple had a small joint law office in Lahti. The customers were mostly West African asylum seekers.

– The word started circulating in the reception centers that there is a West African, black, person familiar with legal matters in our office, recalls Marianne Säkäjärvi.

Ekpa understood the language and the plight of asylum seekers. He explained what the police might ask during interrogations, which information is essential for obtaining asylum and how important a passport is in terms of obtaining citizenship. On top of that, he was available even at night.

After the separation, Ekpa founded his own company on the fourth floor of shopping center Trio. Before long, the cooperation with Säkäjärvi also started again. Säkäjärvi started subcontracting services from her ex-spouse.

He has worked as a legal assistant for Ekpa’s clients in the legal process. There are several known cases in which Säkäjärvi himself has not met the asylum seeker he was helping.

Ex-couple: slander and interpretation problems

Accusations of unclear activities are familiar to Simon Ekpa and Marianne Säkäjärvi. Ekpa suspects that they have been deliberately smeared.

– I have always explained that I work as a legal advisor. If things don’t go well, they get angry and then there are rumors like this, he says.

Säkäjärvi estimates that the misunderstanding can also be caused by interpretation.

– If the interpreter says that this person advises you legally, the customer may think that it must be a lawyer, explains Säkäjärvi.

In 2017, a Helsinki-based law firm complained about an unclear division of roles to the supervisory board of the industry. The supervisory board did not find that Säkäjärvi acted contrary to his obligations, even though he had not personally met his client.

The Administrative Court disagreed. According to it, Säkäjärvi neglected his duties as a legal assistant in a very serious way. On this basis, the administrative court also rejected Säkäjärvi’s fee claim.

Ekpa admits that without Säkäjärvi it ​​would be difficult for his company to operate. If the customer ends up in court, Ekpa needs a lawyer to assist him. The ex-wife supports even when there are no customers.

Recently, the door to his office has been visited less often.

Many Muslims have started to shun Ekpa’s services, because in the struggle for independence of Biafra, Christian Ekpa is fighting against Nigerian Muslims.

Ekpa says that Muslims are not a problem for him, but terrorists are.

The financial situation of Ekpa’s company is weak. It has run into payment difficulties and was removed from the withholding tax register last year. Among other things, tax debts were collected from the company.

In May, the foreclosure was suspended due to the company’s lack of funds. Ekpa says that the operation will still continue.

Ekpa’s old friend from the Pentecostal church has served as a deputy member of the company’s board. He tells that he no longer wants to deal with the company.

Fear keeps people busy

On the other hand, Ekpa wouldn’t even have time to take care of legal clients as before.

He is kept busy by Nigerian politics. Right now, the country is preparing for state elections. Ekpa has ordered Nigerians to stay at home from Thursday to Sunday next week.

It is hard to fathom what Ekpa’s real influence is in Nigeria.

Does he really have command authority over armed groups operating far away?

When ‘s reporter recently visited the city of Enugu in southeastern Nigeria, it turned out that the curfews imposed by the bay businessman were really feared. The city center was almost empty.

– If you criticize Ekpa and his regulations, you are in danger, said the men interviewed by . They did not want to appear with their own name or face.

Experts estimate that Ekpa is a self-proclaimed leader and his real position is unclear. A researcher at the Nordic Africa Institute Liisa Laakson think social media and Nigeria’s precarious security situation have made it possible for Ekpa’s words to have an impact anyway.

– People obey him because they are afraid. Not because Ekpa is a charismatic leader or because they themselves support Biafra’s independence aspirations, Laakso estimates.

On social media, Nigerians are also criticizing Ekpa. In several comments left on Ekpa’s writings, the view that it is easy to shout about Finland is repeated.

“Why don’t you come here?”, someone asks.

“It’s selfish to force us home without food,” writes another.