What are the challenges you face as our ambassador to South Africa?
Our challenges are many. First, a lot of our citizens are doing well here. Our challenge comes from those of our citizens who do things outside the laws of the host country. Am sure during your visit to some of the correctional centres you would have seen that we are not doing too well because going by the statistics we have, currently we have about 409 Nigerians as inmates in various correctional services in South Africa and I think that is a very high number and is unacceptable by any standard. The total number of Nigerians in South Africa is between 380, 000 and 400,000 in all the nine provinces; and for us to have 409 in prisons is too high.
What is responsible for this?
When you look at some of our citizens who create these challenges for us, they are those who do not add any economic value to this environment. That is the truth. When we interact with them every Wednesday, which is the Nigerian day, we come across cases of our citizens who cannot even write their names. So, my question is: what are they doing down here and how did they get here? How did they even get their visas because in some cases you have some of them with genuine visas issued by the South African Mission in Nigeria? That in itself is a mystery to us because it is clear that something is wrong somewhere. We will like to put our best foot forward so that Nigerians who come here should be Nigerians who will excel and do us proud; and truly, a lot of them are making us proud. There are many Nigerians in this country who are well integrated into the South African society be it at the level of business and investment or academic. We have lot of Nigerians in the academia, medical field and services. Most public schools and hospitals in the provinces are manned by qualified Nigerian teachers and doctors; but our challenge is just the few who do not add value to the system and this is a serious challenge.
How can you address this challenge?
I’m not sure I have the solution (laughs). We are trying to see how we can speak to the South African authorities that while processing visa for our citizens to South Africa a lot still needs to be done. It is not our business to prevent Nigerians from travelling abroad but that notwithstanding we should have good Nigerians travelling abroad; not those who will go and create problems not only for the Mission but the image of our country.
What are you doing to ensure our citizens in prison feel at home because they said in the last three years no one from the embassy has visited them?
I think first and foremost, I need to put on record that both the Consulate and High Commission do pay visits to the prisons. Sometimes, some of our people get to exaggerate some of these things. Our challenge is fundamentally the issue of funding and resources. There are so many correctional centres in this country and we equally have problems of communication. From time to time, inmates are moved from one centre to another; and until we pay a visit to those centres, we will not be aware of such movements. We have tried not to make such visits empty-handed. We try to make them feel they are not forgotten and abandoned. We assist them with little things such as tooth paste, tooth brush, soap, and towel. The nine provinces are too much for frequent visits. I’m sure we can do more if we have the resources.
Based on your rapport with the South African authorities, what are you doing to ensure that some categories of prisoners can be transferred or exchanged?
We are in the process. We had a team from our foreign ministry last year on a visit. We are in the process of negotiating an agreement whereby certain categories of prisoners, after certain terms, can be transferred back to us. The South African Government is quite keen because they equally have a problem of congestion in the correctional centres but hopefully before the next state visit, we would have concluded agreement on that.
What about some form of leniency considering the fact that we have a lot South Africans in Nigeria?
What I must say is that we should not run with emotions. I don’t know where the issue of leniency is coming from. I am not even aware of South Africans in Nigerian prisoners. Also if they have not broken our law, we can’t attack them. The question you should be asking is: how can we put our best foot forward? Our youths refuse to stay back home and in spite of the enormous opportunities in Nigeria. A lot of our youths are lured by drug lords and human traffickers who promise them what does not exist. At the end of the day, they are abandoned. Some of them, out of frustration, log onto existing criminal gangs in the country. Even in Swaziland, a Nigerian was arrested for human trafficking; and some parents are even encouraging it. I remember a case when I was in Paris, a lady was traffic for prostitution; she was rescued by the French police and brought to us. We were able to contact her parent but the father was mad with the girl for leaving the man he handed her over to. At the end of the day we had to repatriate her back to Nigeria without the knowledge of the parents and she ended up in Kaduna with her aunt.
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