Mr. Shehu Rabiu was the deputy head of mission, embassy of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Germany in Berlin. He was principally next to the Ambassador and his duties were to coordinate the various departments which includes the administrative, account, political, economic and consular departments in the chancery.
KK: Could you please let us abit into your operation?
Although the window through which Nigerians and other nationals see us is through the consular’s. Foreigners and Nigerians who need visa or new travel passports to travel to Nigeria, meet the staff of this departments on a daily basis. But really, the political relationship between the host country and Nigeria is handled by the Political department. They arrange the visit of ministers or senior government officials visiting Germany. Same thing goes for economic and commercial unit. The account and administrative departments are internal in their operations. So, that we perform or not are measured by these departments but unfortunately most people look at just one of it which is the consular.
KK: What are your challenges here?
The section we are faced with many issues is the consular. Remember that obtaining a visa and the issuance of passport is still by this department. We receive Nigerians from and outside Germany to get these services. We have just one machine here to produce this passport which breaks down usually when we have produced about 17 to 20 copies in a day. Imaging a case where people come from Frankfurt or Munich to Berlin or a country like Hungary for the same purpose and meet this kind of situation. Where would they sleep if we cannot attend to them in one day? The only machine we have remains at times out of service for a whole day. Do you also know that we don’t have embassies in places like Serbia, Czech Republic and even where we have like Vienna, they don’t have the machine to produce the passport. This is why the pressure was on us.
KK: Does that means it is a must for Nigerians in Germany to come to Berlin to update their status or get a new passport?
As it is for now, yes and not just from Germany alone.
KK: What solution do you have in place to alleviate the sufferings of your people?
We ask them to go online to start the process and once it is confirmed they make online payment and come down to finish the process. It is important to know that the money they pay, go directly to the immigration department because they provide these services. I remember the 16th of November 2010, a Salah day in Nigeria which automatically is a public holiday for us here too. I took a walk to my office from the prayer ground and at about 9:10am, I saw about 23 Nigerians in front of the embassy who came for new passports. I also remember a boy from Osun State but lives in Hungary and a girl from Czech. Even though some of the staff in the consular department that I called complained of denying them their free day but they came and we sorted things out for them.
KK: How many Nigerian names do you have in your data base?
We always have it between 5 to 7 thousand. If you attend some of the associations here like the Ndigbo community almost everywhere in Germany, the Edo community, the Yorubas, you would find out that the number we have is a far cry from the real figure. This is why we also find it difficult to identify with them and we are of the opinion that there should be one community that brings Nigerians together. In this way, we can know each other better and assist ourselves.
KK: There was a protest against the official by some Nigerians resident in Germany that your officials connive with the German authority to deport Nigerians. What do you have to say to this?
There is no way a foreigner would be deported without the host country contacting the deportee’s embassy for proper handling. For instance, the German authority would have established who they feel is no longer possible to stay in their country for one offence or the other. They present a list with the nature of the offence to the entire embassies that have their nationals on the list. Some may have served jail terms while some may still be serving but may be released and asked to be taken back to their country. At this point, they are taken to detention centers and we are then asked to come in because for those who really do not have any reason to stay back in Germany, would need emergency travel documents to facilitate their return back home because they cannot use the passport that brought them in again. It is an obligation for us to take them home.
KK: Can there still be a way out for some people?
The German law gives you the permission to stay if you are married or you have someone you both have agreed to marry each other or better still, if you have a child with a German or have impregnated someone and you are cleared of any criminal record. We make case for Nigerians who are in these situations and you would find out that out of 80 Nigerians, if only 10 of them are issued the document for deportation that means that we have allowed those who could perfect their documents to stay especially if it is an over stay issue. And for those requesting for refugees status, as long as their case is still in court, there is no way we can accept for the person to be deported. The law here permits you until judgment is given.
Are you aware that Nigeria deported about 42 Chinese? They still have valid stay in Nigeria but they engaged in businesses they are not permitted to carry out under our law. They infringed on our law. In any country of the world, if one infringed on the host country’s law, one simply becomes an unwelcome alien. The person’s country has an obligation to take the person away.
KK: What exactly led to the protesters talking about your cooperation with the German authority to deport Nigerians?
(The consular cuts in) We need the people to know that we are not above the German law here and certainly not under their law. We therefore cannot encourage Nigerians here to break their laws because we cannot stop them from being punished as the law prescribes. We can only monitor the judicial process so that, they are not punished beyond what the law stipulates. In European Union, they have the privacy law. Within 72 hours when a foreigner is arrested, his embassy would be informed and what is called the ”consular access” is granted. His consular is allowed to see him in private so as to present his own side of the story. The consular offers him a legal presentation, financial assistance and ask for his real status; married or fathering a child. They both wait until there is judgment on his case. The consular issues a deportation document only if the judgment says that he is no longer wanted in their country.
KK: Any challenges in this regard so far?
The privacy law here says, you cannot inform a third party the travails of the man in detention unless he gives you his consent to do so. So when they arrest our people and the German authority asks if the embassy should be contacted, they simply say no. When they are jailed here, they wouldn’t want people to know and because they can make phone calls from the prison, the people back at home may not know what is going on.
By waving the consular access to them, they deny themselves the opportunity of getting advice that could help them. We only get to know when they are about deporting them. One other thing is that Nigerians deny being Nigerians when they are caught forgetting that the Germans keep records. Therefore when you deny being a Nigerian and it is proven beyond reasonable doubt by the Germans that you are indeed a Nigerian, there wouldn’t be any help we could offer at this point.
KK: The President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria was here and Nigerians were not allowedto see and talk with him. How true is this?
The President visit was an official and not a state visit. These are two different issues. If he had come for a state visit, the Nigerian community here in Germany would have had the opportunity to see him and talk with him. He did not even have the time to visit our office because he came on official visit. He had appointments with the German government and attended to official matters in that regard. But then, few Nigerian representatives were allowed to see him.
KK: What is the way out of all these?
We have a website through which Nigerians here and elsewhere can contact us on any issue. We also wish to remind our people that it is very important to register yourself with your embassy in any foreign country for easy guidance and proper documentation and we hope for more data capture machines here and also its provisions for other Nigerian embassies abroad. On our own part, we would continue to look for ways to serve our people better. And more importantly, people should desist from using the Nigerian Coat of Arm as a logo on their public document as this is illegal and can only be used by some government official.