Nigerians in Austria cry to President Jonathan: Ambassador Gbenga take note

By IndepthAfrica
In Article
Dec 20th, 2012
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“I have declared war already today, … this is too much and unacceptable” NANCA president - “The Nigerian ambassador has neglected the Nigerians” NANCA vice president”.

All is not well between Nigerians in Austria and their embassy, and when a kingdom is divided against itself, the center cannot hold.

The officials of the umbrella body of Nigerians in Austria, “National Association of Nigerian Community Austria, (NANCA)” have not hidden this unhappy and uncomfortable state of things as they have used this medium to cry to the federal government of Nigeria to help them un-code the unprecedented scenario that has badly dented their official relationship with the embassy and made them to live like cat and mouse with their ambassador, Her Excellency, Mrs. Maria Oyeyinka Laose. They are bitter as they have also claimed that the ambassador had unbelievably for the first time in the history of NANCA denied them their birth right when she had not extended the invitation of the Nigerian 52nd independence celebration to them. Irrespective of any circumstance, it is a deed they have considered a grievous error and cannot fathom out why.

They equally have accused the ambassador of not showing any interest towards the complaints of their plights as she had only been too busy signing the deportations of people without proper investigation. In a similar development, they also query the federal government of Nigeria what they have done wrong that has made the government to abandon them to be discriminated and maltreated so badly by the authority of their host country without any resistance or protest from Nigeria.

When I went to the embassy to get the other side of the story on the issues raised, sadly and disappointingly all what I got were insults from a rude receptionist of Asian origin who is also well known by many Nigerians for his impatience, arrogance and lack of respect when talking to Nigerians whether on phone or at the embassy. Sadly, according to information reaching me from impeccable sources this receptionist derives the impetus to let Nigerians down the way he does of which I have been his victim two times, because of the protection he feels he enjoys from the connection that brought him to the embassy and his color, a development that no Nigerian ambassador unfortunately seemed to have been able to deal with.

It would be recalled that I had earlier this year written an article titled “1,000 Planned Deportations of Nigerians from Austria, Nigerian Communities Boiling” which elaborated on the ‘I don’t care’ attitude of the Nigerian embassy in deporting people. The situation has not changed as deportations of people to Nigeria continued still without contact or proper identification of their nationalities by the embassy. Some of the people they could claim they identified went through charade and shameful predetermined interviews conducted outside the premises of the Nigerian embassy. A trend that is very peculiar to some African embassies around Europe.

With the look of things, the situation of the unpleasant experiences of many deportees without the sincere opportunity to defend themselves or face the scrutiny of many issues like their identities before the Nigerian embassy officials will unfortunately not change at least for now. Information around Nigerian communities in Vienna has it that the ambassador, Her Excellency, Mrs. Maria Oyeyinka Laose, is carefully trying to avoid the politics and pressure from certain quarters and to evade the kind of trouble the former ambassador to Austria, Dr Jerry Ugokwe, had ran into that had brought squalor and palace coup that had contributed to his untimely withdrawal as ambassador from Austria. Available records showed that the sin of Dr. Jerry Ugokwe had been that he had sincerely and reasonably maintained that all the rights of asylum seekers regarding their deportations as enshrined in the Geneva Convention had to be respected especially with his blunt insistence that those cases still in court had to be exhausted and all protocols adhered to before he could sign their deportations. A commendable decision that had for unknown reasons to many Nigerians in Austria triggered the anger of the then officials of the Foreign Affairs Ministry under the leadership of Chief Ojo Maduekwe who is currently the Nigerian ambassador to Canada, to order three wise men from Abuja without regards to protocols to Austria and they had disgracefully and painfully done the work of the ambassador by cruelly signing thousands open deportation papers of Nigerians without expiry dates that had led to indiscriminate and massive deportations of people at that time.

In a move that may look smart but shallow to those close to these vulnerable victims, mainly asylum seekers, investigation centered on some of the deportees revealing that, if forty people are presented to the embassy for deportation, the ambassador usually signs the deportations of about twenty of the people in order to avoid pressure from one party while leaving about twenty other people also as evidence of defense to any question that may come from whomever it may concern that they did their job well, when in the actual sense the whole processes before their decisions had been rather unprofessional and shabby. Many Nigerians in Austria have chorused that the impression they have is that, as long as the powers that maybe are happy with the official conducts of the embassy officers and their places of work secured, the pains of ordinary Nigerians and their complaints are secondary and very much irrelevant.

Never in the history has NANCA had it so bad with the Nigerian embassy and their ambassador like they are having things now with the current ambassador. The relationship has gone so sour and bitter. The NANCA version of the Nigerian independence celebration which took place on 12th October, 2012 in Vienna where many distinguished Nigerians like the first Nigerian Olympic medalist in Tokyo 1964, Mr. Nojim Maiyegun, Mr. Georgr Alaba, father of the millionaire Austrian National team star, David Alaba, Dr. Smart Eze, ex-Biafran soldier and host of others that included NGO’s were recognized and honored with awards afforded many Nigerians the opportunity to express their anger and surprise over the ambassador’s action to celebrate the Nigerian independence without Nigerians when they spoke to me.

Some of the questions on their lips were: Why did their ambassador neglect them on that special day for Nigeria? Why did she take their independence party to somebody’s gallery that could also not comfortably contain 40 people? Was there any deal before this special favor to advertise somebody’s business? How much would the Nigerian embassy claim that they spent in that gathering in the name of their independence party when they only wined and dined with their close friends? Is the ambassador here to represent her personal interests alone without regards to the feelings and opinions of many Nigerians in Austria? As many whys reigned the air, one thing was obvious, the relationship is stained, trust lost and there seems to be no door open to bridge this widening dangerous gap unless through the intervention of a higher authority. In consequence, Nigerians in Austria through the officials of NANCA sensing the sad effect this situation would have if not urgently checked, have cried to President Goodluck Jonathan and Foreign Affairs Minister Olugbenga Ashiru to come to their rescue as the NANCA President Engr. Oluyemi Ogundele said that he had “declared war” and threatened to organize a protest to occupy the Nigerian embassy.

Group photograph of those honoured with awards and NANCA officials

Here are the things some of the NANCA executives and few Nigerians had to say about the whole brouhaha:

General Secretary NANCA, Mag. Leonard Kazie Obiagwu: “In the history of NANCA in Austria, this is the first time NANCA and Nigerians at large were not invited to the Nigeria independence celebration. It has not been the nature and the culture between Nigerians or NANCA and the reason we were not told and we do not feel good about it. The last celebration under her she sent a very few invitations and the celebration was done during working hours which was unusual and we were also very sad about it. The relationship we enjoyed with the embassy is no longer what it used to be as it looks collapsed. We do not know whether they are actually here to represent us and we are not happy about the whole thing. Information reaching us said that the Nigerian independence celebration 2012 was for them and their friends and not for the purpose.

“My message to Nigerians is that, there is power in unity and NANCA is for all of us and if we should rally round NANCA and make it great, we will have a voice both home and abroad.”

Vice Chairman NANCA, “Ozo Muonyiroha” of Unube, Louis Asuzu: “We were not informed and were not invited to the Nigerian independence celebration party organized by the embassy and I think that it is a very bad and a very wrong thing to do. I believe strongly that they are moving in a very wrong direction.

“The Nigerian ambassador has neglected the Nigerian association here in Austria and has neglected Nigerians, she is not interested in whatever opinion we have, she has never bothered about us, she is only interested in signing the TC’s (traveling certificates-deportation papers) and we really don’t know why. My message to the ambassador is that she should come down and listen to the Nigerian community here, we are all human beings. We know that she will not be staying here for a very long time, maybe she is doing it probably as a response to the reactions from the Austrians. But she should also understand that we are living here for a long time and we know the Austrians and the way they act, she is not going to get what she thinks she will get. First of all she has to listen to us because it is very important that she listens to what we have to say and it is also very important that she works with us because a very old woman has more broken plates than the younger one because it has been long she started cooking. […] She should understand that she is a career diplomat and not a politician because if she is a politician it is a different thing. We had a politician like Dr. Jerry Ugokwe who was here, he did fantastically well and we know why he was taken out because people like her back sided to work against him. So, we know why and we have the documents, we are not afraid to give out the documents or to say why he was taken away.”

A Nigerian guest at the party: “I am Tajudeen Bello, a Nigerian, and I have been living here for the past 32 years and I work for United Nation Industrial Development Organization. I am very happy that we are celebrating our independence and I wish Nigeria a happy birthday.”

When asked to comment on the controversy trailing the embassy version of the Nigerian independent celebration, he said, “I was invited officially by the embassy and my understanding of what happened there and the reason the venue was chosen was because a Nigerian was exhibiting his arts and they wanted to encourage him. We all have different opinions about things that transferred there but I did not see it negative because the person who was exhibiting his art is also a Nigerian. I believe that it was good for us in Austria because Nigeria has been associated with negative things and this is something positive, a Nigerian artist showing his art to the Austrian world. So I did not feel that it’s worthy criticizing it. We should all work together, if people have grudges against the ambassador they should ask for a meeting and tell her what they are not happy about but I do not think that that action was bad.”

Social welfare of NANCA, Edwin Nwaka: “Nigeria did not celebrate the independence here in Austria because embassy officials only went to a man who was opening a gallery and the man was the one that invited people. Nobody is happy the way the ambassador is treating Nigerians because the embassy is supposed to care for all Nigerians in Austria. She does not care and we appeal to the federal government to take care and seriously look into this matter before it gets out of hand.”

Financial secretary NANCA, Chukwuka Emmanuel: “Everybody has got his own view but for me I think that Nigeria celebrated independence here in Austria in a low key, but I do not see anything we are celebrating actually. We are trying to use this medium (NANCA) to bring Nigerians together.

“For the Nigerian embassy not to invite Nigerians to the Nigerian independence celebration, honestly I am not happy as a Nigerian because without Nigerians there would not be an embassy here. The embassy should recognize us. […] What is happening between NANCA and the embassy now I do not see it to be a problem but I rather call it a challenge.”

Unanimous contributor: “Whether the embassy celebrated in low key or high key, why did the ambassador not invite at least the executives of the ethnic groups? May God have mercy on this country!” Many like him have lost hope and fate at the embassy.

NANCA Presidednt, Engr. Oluyemi Ogundele: “We ask for one thing, that is, they should treat us (here in Austria) equally like any other citizen of any other country but they refused. When the Nigerian government says that a document is genuine […] with the official stamps of the Foreign Ministry the Austrian authority here does not recognize that until the Austrian embassy in Nigeria asks the person involved to pay around N150, 000 (around €800) for a local lawyer to go and verify such document.

“We wrote a simple letter to the Minister and in order to make sure that it got to him we sent it through the embassy and up till today no single comment about it. We have been pushed to the wall and we are law abiding citizens here and for more than 22 years now that I have been living in this country we never demonstrated once but this time we are going to change. Since they do not want to reply to our letter maybe they will react to our action because action is better than letter.

“I have declared war already today and have told them that this is too much and unacceptable. We have been discriminated and treated badly […] and for the authority everything that came from Nigeria is counterfeit and our government is looking and they are allowing us to be exploited.  For this issue, I went to the National Assembly asking them to help us and beg the presidency. Nigerians are complaining that they are being maltreated and on some issues Nigerians will be treated separately and other countries separately; what have we done wrong? And if our government does not defend us; who is going to defend us?

“For the celebration of the 52nd Nigerian independence day organized by the embassy we were not part of it, we were not invited and we were not in support of it. The owner of the gallery himself invited me and I only went there to honor him and left after about five minutes because I was not happy since all Nigerians were supposed to celebrate. The gallery is so small that not even up to fifty people can go inside and how many Nigerians do we have here? Last year was the same thing and this year the same thing again. The ambassador may not be here next year and it means during her time no interaction.”

United we stand and divided we fall. I join many concerned Nigerians to appeal to the federal government of Nigeria to please look into the issues raised hereof by these honorable Nigerians. Every reasonable government cannot just wave grievous allegations such as the ones stated above. Irrespective of different views we may have, I also appeal to Her Excellency to play the mother role to all as the ambassador of this great country in Austria and also to accept good criticisms as part of her status and call NANCA officials to a round table discussion. And because it takes two to tango, NANCA officials should equally understand that Her Excellency, Mrs. Maria Oyeyinka Laose is the ambassador and accord her the due respect and recognition that goes with her profile and work together in order to achieve great results in most of the cases they have complained here.

May God bless Nigeria my father land and bless Austria my adopted country.

Uzoma Ahamefule, a concerned patriotic citizen writes from Vienna, Austria  uzomaah@yahoo.com (+436604659620)

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