In the last couple of years, economic activities between Nigeria and Germany have received a boost with the increasing interactions between businesses across both countries. I’m this interview with ONWUKA NZESHI Nigeria’s Ambassador to Germany, His Excellency Yusuf Maitama Tuggar speaks about the boom of economic, cultural and political exchanges between the two continental power houses has just begun
How long have you been Nigeria’s Ambassador to Germany?
One year and eight months. What has been your experience? Well, it’s been a learning experience and for me. It afforded me the opportunity to put into practice classroom theories because I am a student of International Relations. Now, I’m seeing it being acted out. Germany being the power house of Europe and also a regional and global leader, it’s a very significant post. It affords me the opportunity to accomplish our diplomatic aspirations on a wider scale because here, you are dealing with two power houses (Germany and Nigeria) on their continents. They are shapers and influencers of globalisation and my duty is bring them closer so as to unleash their full potentials, not just for the two countries but for the whole world.
What improvements have we made in Nigeria’s trade relations with Germany during the last one and half years that you’ve been there?
It has been giant strides because there have been significant visits and interactions between leaders of both countries. There was a visit by the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel with a business delegation to Nigeria in August 2018. In the wake of that visit, there has been a lot of interests, a lot of linkages between Small and Medium Scale Enterprises in both countries. In fact during the visit, three Memoranda of Understandings (MoU) were signed including the one between Volkswagen and the Nigerian Automotive Design and Development Council.
There was another one signed between the Nigeria Incentive- Based Risk-Sharing System for Agricultural Lending (NIRSAL) and a German medium sized company called Petcos Technology that specialises in seeds and grains technology which is a very important segment of the agricultural value chain. You have to have the right seeds to improve your yields. There was a third agreement between the Nigeria Association of Chambers of Commerce Industry Mines and Agriculture (NACCIMA) and the African German Business Association which comprises all the major businesses in Germany; the global players, that are doing business in Africa are part of that association. We are talking about companies like Siemens, Julius Berger, Bayer, Bosch, Volkswagen and the rest of them.
So, we facilitated the signing of an agreement between them and NACCIMA and that is also a very important agreement because it provides room for collaboration. There was a fourth agreement signed outside of the visit because it took place a day or two before the German Chancellor arrived and it was between Voide Hydro, one of the oldest players in the electricity sector in the world and a Nigerian company called Genesis Energy.
On the other side, the Vice President, Prof Yemi Osinbajo visited Berlin from December last year. During the visit, we had a business dialogue in collaboration with the Afrika- Verein der deutschen Wirtschaft or African German Business Association. It was a very successful one; it turned out to be a huge forum not just for members of the private sector but for the leaders of the German society. There were several bilateral meetings that took place with the likes of GFW, the German Development Bank, and Siemens in terms of what they are trying to achieve specifically on the distribution side of the power sector in Nigeria. It’s been so huge and I wouldn’t event want for now to give you a specific number in terms of figures and the size of our trade volume because the process is still ongoing and we are still tracking it to see how much it would amount to at the end of the day.
However, the last assessment we did in respect of our trade volume, it was pegged at about $3.5 billion.
We learnt that some investors have actually moved from Germany down to Nigeria within this period you’ve been there. Is that the true situation? How many?
I don’t have their numbers off heart, but like I said, I don’t want to mention a specific figure for now because two weeks ago, a German company started exporting ginger from Kaduna State to Germany.
So I don’t want to shortchange our achievements. When we establish the latest figures, then we will be able to release them.
How would you rate the conduct of Nigerians in Germany? Are there any who are in trouble or in prison?
We have 9,039 illegal migrants of Nigerian extraction in Germany. We also have a total of 121 Nigerians in detention and prisons across Germany and 66 of them are in the State of Boveria which is in the Southern region of Germany.
What could be the reason for having this large number of Nigerian prisoners in a particular location in a foreign country?
This is something we are still investigating and that is why we worked hard to establish these data. It is one of the reforms I instituted when I got there. When I got there, I realised that not enough attention was being paid to data collection and interpretation.
You cannot plan or achieve anything without accurate data. So we’re now paying a lot I attention to these data. It could be for several reasons. Boveria is on the border and so it could be that it is an entry point into Germany and because of that you have more people coming in through Italy, Austria and possibly Switzerland in to Boveria and as such there are likely to be more people arrested for suspicion and tried for one crime or the other. It could also be that Boveria is more stringent in terms of its laws. I don’t know but that is the reason we are investigating some of these trends. Is it true that all these people actually committed these crimes or are they being too hard on them? So without establishing the data and interpreting them there is no way we can ascertain the factors responsible for what is happening on Boveria. We even feel that the figures we get as being the number of Nigerians in prison is contestable because it is always easy for some other Africans to claim that they are Nigerians when facing a threat of deportation because they rather prefer to be deported to Nigeria than any other country. We have been a major shock absorber for migration for a very long time. We’ve taken more Africans than any other country on the continent.
How are Nigerians seen in Germany? Are there any threats of racism or xenophobic attacks against them as foreigners?
There are two sides to that issue. Nigerians are perceived very positively for those who consider that Okwy Enweozor and Emeka Ogwu are Nigerians. They are among the foremost curators in the world of Arts and they are highly regarded and highly respected.
There are a lot of successful Nigerians in Germany. Some are doctors, engineers and other professionals living and working in Germany. So, there’s that respect. But then, sadly, you also have a lot of young Nigerians that leave these shores and end up in Germany with little or no qualification or valid travel documents and they end up relying on the social welfare system for sustenance. Such people are perceived very negatively because Germans are very protective of what they consider to be their commonwealth. It’s good enough for them that a German commits an offence against another German but anybody who takes from the commonwealth is seen to be cheating the generality of the people. So when you go there and you’re on the Social Welfare System, you’re being paid this money that is meant for citizens, they take exception to it and sometimes, there are those that are driven by even racist sentiments and sadly, it doesn’t reflect well. So this is a problem. But the issue of migration is not all together a negative thing because they have an ageing population; they have a need for qualified workers.
For instance, there is a demand for computer engineers. So if a country like Nigeria can provide computer engineers that know where they are going to work, they’ re going to work for some companies, the companies are going to pay them to be able to sustain themselves there; live comfortably and their kids are able to go to school, the parents are able to pay their school fees without taking from that commonwealth or that Social Welfare System, Germans will not have a problem with that kind of a migrant. So this is something that we’ve been dealing with and trying to address as much as possible.
Apart from Nigerians who are arrested and jailed for illegal migration, what other crimes are prevalent among Nigerians in that country?
There are cases of violence, theft, credit card fraud and sometimes, domestic violence. But I don’t think this is peculiar to Nigerians. These are crimes which you find amongst the Diaspora of other countries. It’s just what you find amongst other people from other communities.
Some time last year the German government was trying to assist Nigeria in the building of some skill acquisition centres for these illegal migrants. How far has that collaboration gone?
We’ve been working with them closely. There is an Office of Return and Re-integration that has been established in the Ministry of Labour and Productivity in Lagos. The whole idea is that these migrants receive a stipend before their return and for those who are in a position to do so, they acquire some skills in Germany. Where there is no opportunity to do so, receive that when they come back here. So, that is a programme that is ongoing and thankfully, the German government is very supportive of it. I think that they should be approaching the issue of illegal migration in that manner.
Are Nigerians really taking advantage of the programme to return home?
Well, I can give you an example. There is a video that went viral in the last 24 hours of one Mrs Joy Emovon.
According to our records, the lady happens to be one of such individuals who decided to take advantage of this return programme and she agreed to be returned voluntarily with her children. She’s returning with benefits of the IOM (International Organisation for Migrants) benefits which could be anywhere between €1,000 (N400,000) and €3,000 (N1.2million). Sadly, in her case, you know the social media these days is very unpredictable. Somehow, some persons have misconstrued her return as if she was forcibly shackled and deported to Nigeria. But based on our records that is not the case because she opted to be returned home and it even took some time before she was brought back.
In fact, when opted to return, she could have been issued an emergency travel certificate for her and her children but that was not immediately granted. We ensured that all the paper works were done to be sure she was going to benefit from that IOM fund so that she could come home and start a new life. But of course, there is also the contention that unlike what the video was purporting, that her children were all born in Germany, the truth is that one was born in Italy and another one was born in Switzerland while the last one was born Germany and her husband was living in another country. You know, the European Union is very particular about how you move. Coming into a country, you’re registered in that country and then you decide you want to move to somewhere else.
Once you’re recognised by your first country of entry, you’re not expected to just start moving up and down. When you have this closely guarded concept of commonwealth in a country such as Germany, you need to be careful the way you do things. Even migrants from other European countries would have issues with benefiting from that Social Welfare programme let alone, an African.
So you mean that the video that has gone viral is not a correct representation of the facts about the said Nigerian lady?
It is not. Since I’ve been in Germany, we’ve implemented two work plans. In one of the work plans that we have implemented, one of the areas of focus is not just to collect data but also to ensure that the data represents human beings. But in that video that you saw, nobody is even mentioning her names. I am telling you that her name is Mrs. Emovon because we have records and we know who she is.
We’re keeping records so that if anything like this comes up, we can easily go back to our records to confirm what actually transpired. I am the number one advocate of protecting the integrity and dignity of Nigerians out there. I’ve had several face-offs on this issue and that’s why I am very particular about it. If for any reason a Nigerian is forcibly deported to Nigeria from Germany without following due process and without documentation, I will be the first to cry foul and take it up with the German authorities.
You recently facilitated the donation of some wheelchairs to some physically challenged people in Borno State. What informed this philanthropic project?
Well, it’s the project of a German NGO, headed by a Nigerian in the Diaspora. Remember, I was telling you that there are a lot of Nigerians that have become role models even to Germans and they get all the support because of the good work that they are doing. The NGO is called Bruderhilfe Social Development Initiative (BSDI) and is headed by Mrs. Mary Bruder. She, along with some German and American entities, came up with this idea of donating wheelchairs to Nigeria. We looked at it while we were interacting with them and felt that the best way to make a positive impact with the project on Nigeria given the prevailing circumstances, is to donate it to the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in the North East. These are people who have suffered for quite a long time and giving the strong drive by the Nigerian government and the various state governments to ensure that the IDPs were resettled back on their communities, the donation would further assist the physically challenged among them to move around.
The wheelchairs come with carts, some with storage facilities with which they can use to trade as they move around. So it’s not just a wheelchair. In fact the actual term is mobility cart. So the project went on very well and I have to comment the Borno State Government, Borno State Emergency Management Agency and the North-East Development Commission for their support. We donated about 100 mobility carts and I believe that this is just the beginning. That’s what we are there for at the Nigerian Embassy in Germany. We’ll continue to facilitate such altruistic ventures that will give hope to our people.
What are the major challenges confronting the Embassy?
One of our major challenges is the capacity to implement some of the ideas that we have because there are always limitations. The Embassy has a certain size, it has a certain budget and sub-heads that you have to stick to and there is also the fact that in diplomacy, there are always shifting grounds. There are always new issues coming up and you have to have that capacity to react as the issues arise.
The other challenge that I see is the perception sometimes on the German side to have a sort of multi-lateral approach to Africa as opposed to bilateral. Yes, we recognise ourselves as Africans, we cooperate and collaborate with other African countries but then, you can never discountenance Nigeria in terms of size, population, economy and capacity. Africa is a continent of 54 countries and you can imagine if you were to approach and deal with Asia as a block when you have countries as big as China or India in that block. A multilateral approach to Africa might not always work on certain issues because a country like Nigeria is very large in size and diverse. It could work on certain issues but on others, I think that there needs to be more emphasis on the bilateral approach. The German government has a Compact with Africa, a Marshal Plan on Africa as well as other Africa-wide programmes. Even at that, the application is often selective. For instance, under the Compact with Africa, you have 12 countries and Nigeria is not one of them. So dealing with Africa through such multilateral initiative, could work in certain areas but not on all. Of course, it’s understandable why increasingly Germany and Europe are taking this route; they’ve gone further in terms of continents integration; they’ve got the European Union. But even within the European Union, you could see where sometimes the multi-lateral approach does not work.
What else are we expecting on the economic and business relations between the two countries?
I’m the coming weeks, we shall be receiving about three business delegations from Germany. One of the delegation is into start ups and they are looking for investment opportunities with start -up businesses versed in Information Technology. We are looking forward to linking them up with business counterparts here in Nigeria. They are looking towards investing in agriculture. They’ve come up with templates to manage agricultural projects using cooperatives. They will provide the funds and all of it is done electronically via their online template. There is another delegation consisting of individuals interested in tourism so we are going to take them to Lagos and possibly, Yankari Game Reserve in Bauchi State. Of course, they are going to be in Abuja to explore business opportunities in tourism. The third delegation consists of journalists who are also coming to learn and report about Nigeria. I will be here in Nigeria to receive and host them.
What exactly is the mission doing about the retrieval of these artworks and what successes have you recorded?
It’s a very complex issue but so far, we’ve recorded some breakthroughs. What we have been doing is trying to understand where these things are? Who will be receptive to this type of dialogue? These questions are very important because you have to approach it in a manner where the discussion will yield results. It is not to start making noise without a proper understanding of what is where and what can be done. In certain situations, these museums are in States that had passed laws that have made these artworks a part of their own heritage or state assets. So because of such legal hurdles, it is going to be even much more difficult to retrieve these items. Some are very receptive. Those of them who have visited Nigeria are quite receptive to the idea of returning these sorts of artworks. These are potential allies in addressing some of these issues.
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