Since the news that the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Gbenga, plans to visit Austria in return to the similar diplomatic related visit from his Austrian foreign affairs counterpart, Michael Spindelegger in June last year, the tension has been very high amongst Nigerian communities in Austria. While the adrenaline of those in asylum process pumps higher for the fear of the purported reasons of this visit, many Nigerians are displeased with the attitude of the Nigerian ambassador to Austria, Her Excellency, Ambassador Maria Oyeyinka Laose and her refusal to see Nigerian communities in Vienna she is supposed to represent close to two years of her stay in Austria as ambassador disregarding every move that included a letter written and signed by all the executives of Nigerian ethnic nationals requesting her attention.
The fear of Nigerians is not unconnected to reports in some Nigerian media houses last year immediately after the visit of the Austria foreign affairs minister quoting that arrangements had been concluded and agreements had been signed to deport any person to Nigeria whose identity was not clear in Austria. In the report of the Guardian, it was stated that, “About 1,000 Nigerian asylum seekers in Austria may be deported following the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) by Nigeria and Austria . The agreement was signed last week in Abuja by Austrian Vice Chancellor and Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger and Nigerian Foreign Affairs Minister Ambassador Olugbenga Ashiru.
“The agreement exposes these persons who are without clear proof of Nigerian citizenship, most of them living in Austria for many years and well integrated (but not accepted as refugees according to the Geneva Convention).”
As Nigerians gather in their clan/town meetings, or with their friends in coffee bars to discuss the uncertainty of these bilateral agreements in fear and anger based on the fact that they are yet to wholly understand this kind of agreements that trample only on their fundamental human rights, many concerned Austrians and patriotic citizens are appealing for clarification.
Nigerians in Austria especially those living in the capital city, Vienna, are not accepting the explanations given to them so far that the same agreements they are worried about had been signed before in Germany, Switzerland and some other European countries and that all hell did not break loose in those countries. Nigerians in Austria are saying, for the fact that the same agreements as reported by the Guardian had been signed in some of the European countries before and there had been no question or protest against them by Nigerians did not make such agreements right and acceptable. And because so many Nigerians hold the Guardian at a very high esteem, therefore, if what it wrote has not been refuted by the government of Nigeria since July 2012 till now, any explanation given to us here in Austria in any town hall meeting whether in the city of Graz or Vienna will still be regarded by many as another Maradona goal from the hands of God.
In honesty and sincerity, we have not seen any benefit of the so-said signed bilateral agreements in those countries where the agreements have been used to cite as examples in the lives of Nigerian masses living there except cries, humiliations and inhuman deportations of the people. Thus, Nigerians living in Austria would not need such agreements that would only expose them to danger without protection.
Without sounding ignorant of the facts that diplomatic contacts and bilateral agreements are normal and very important between two countries for diplomatic resolution of issues or conflicts, but the ideology of the friendship over the years has never changed from its fundamental goal of providing a considerable quality of life for the citizens of both countries based on mutual respect. Therefore, if the primary aims of diplomatic romances or bilateral agreements have always been to enhance official understandings for macro and micro growth of the countries involved for the benefits of her citizens; can one say the same thing about Nigeria and Austria as a case study bearing in mind the report of the Guardian?
I want to use this medium to inform the honourable Foreign Affairs Minister, Ambassador Olugbenga Ashiru that Nigerians in Austria would like to know when he visits Austria how these agreements would directly affect their lives positively in order to calm tension and nerves. Nigerians would like to know if these agreements will make things easier for Nigerians who want to come to Austria and study. Nigerians would like to know how these agreements will make things easier and faster for Nigerians looking for visas at the Austrian Embassy in Abuja. Nigerians would like to know if these agreements have now made it possible for Nigerian certificates to be recognized and accepted in Austria. Nigerians would like to know if these agreements now have made it possible that when a signed document from the Nigerian Ministry of Foreign Affairs or any government agency gets to Austria that it will be acknowledged, accepted and honoured as authentic without referring such letter to the Austrian embassy in Abuja for verification that costs the affected persons more than N150.000 (over €800). Nigerians would like to know if there is any clause in these agreements that make it now easier and faster for Nigerian men who are legitimately and honourably living in Austria to bring their parents for a visit or to unite with their wives and children.
Honourable Minister Sir, you know Nigerians are law abiding citizens and they would like to know everything so that they would also know their limits. The explanation given as reported by the Guardian was not enough for any citizen who cares about the dignity of his/her country and the welfare of all. It would have even been better if nothing had been explained to us so that we would have to take it as the normal bilateral agreements between two countries, but since the cat has been let out of the bag, please tell us more because we are curious.
I love Nigeria and I am a very proud Nigerian no matter the circumstances because the creator has got His reasons why my placenta was buried in that country, though Nigeria took care of me and protected me to grow, but sadly and suddenly she abandoned me like many at the middle of nowhere when I needed her most, and I ran to Austria for cover and Austria did not disappoint me as she was magnanimous enough to welcome me and gave me hope. Thus, I love my country Austria and I am equally a proud Austrian. As a matter of fact, whatever affects these two countries affects me. On this note, I am irredeemably condemned and obligatorily compelled to use this medium to extend my absolute solidarity to those who in defiance of winter cold occupied the Votivkirche (church) in the 9th district of Vienna, in demand of better treatment for asylum seekers. Just as I equally and humbly appeal to the Austrian government as one of the benefactors of their goodwill to please always show high level of understanding and mercy on the plights of those seeking asylum in Austria if not for any reason at least on humanitarian grounds. On the side of African asylum seekers, while in their bids to escape hunger and starvation, or war from their respective countries because of bad leaderships, many were food for crocodiles and ants on their way without any second chance in life or the opportunity to tell their terrible woes, just as many of them also survived death in the Mediterranean Sea, and scorpion and snake bites in the Sahara desert before they got here.
In another development, since the publication of the article titled “Nigerians In Austria Cry To President Jonathan”, the umbrella body of Nigerians in Austria, National Association of Nigerian Community Austria, (NANCA) and the Nigerian embassy Vienna have never been the same again as the president of NANCA Eng. Yemi Ogundele claimed that he had been “under pressure from the Ambassador,” Her Excellency, Maria Oyeyinka Laose. A pressure that nearly forced him to deny the interview he had granted to me. This pressure was really so strong and powerful that it steered a lot of dust within NANCA executives that generated to an astonishing breaking level. It will be very interesting for the general public to read and see how an attempt was made by somebody for me to sell my conscience and also to understand that the problem with Nigeria is not only leaders but also followers.
It would be recalled that in December last year, in my article as headlined above, I had elaborated the cat and mouse relationship between the ambassador and Nigerians in Austria. A step expected by many to be a tonic towards reconciliation. But the Vice president of NANCA “Ozo Muonyiroha” of Unube, Louis Asuzu said that nothing has officially changed between the Nigerians umbrella body, NANCA and the Ambassador, Her Excellency, Mrs Maria Oyeyinka Laose, a development he was still very dissatisfied with. “… How can the ambassador know us and our problems if she has not met with us since she came here? How can you lead people you do not know”, he queried. For further information on the stained relationship between Nigerians in Austria and the ambassador, the vice president of NANCA can be reached on this number +436766333946
Meanwhile information available to me said that, Her Excellency, Ambassador Maria Oyeyinka Laose started her official duty as the ambassador of Nigeria to Austria effectively on 27/06/2011 and will officially be going on retirement next month March 2013.
Because ministers and government representatives have been coming from Nigeria and going with NANCA members and the ambassador putting up artificial faces to welcome them and entertain them, Nigerians in Austria would not like the coming of the Minister of Foreign Affairs to be the same deceit of reception again because the settlement of this crisis falls into his portfolio. On this note, I appeal to him to please use his official position and power when he visits Austria and see to the end of this rift for the good image of Nigeria and protection of Nigerians.
When I remember amongst other things the role and the stand of the Minister during the diplomatic rift between Nigeria and South Africa, I am proud to say, welcome in advance my honourable Minister to the land of peace and friendship, Austria.
May God bless Nigeria, my father land and bless Austria my adopted country.
Uzoma Ahamefule, a concerned patriotic citizen writes from Vienna, Austria