Despite Economic Downturn, Nigerians Are Happier Than Europeans- Schlagheck, German envoy
By Fiona Freddy
German Ambassador to Nigeria, Bernhard Schlagheck recently spoke to journalists in Nigeria. He touched on various issues like Climate Change, illegal migration, industrialisation requirements for Nigeria, among others. Excerpts:
Learning of my appointment to Nigeria
I have a very good friend who happens to be a Nigerian. We studied together and we meet from time to time but he does not live in Nigeria, he lives in France. As I got the news of being posted to Abuja, the first thing I did was to call him. After congratulating me, he said if I managed to understand Nigeria fully within three years, then I must be a genius, and it is true. This is almost a continent. Nigeria is very complex and diverse, but it is also so vibrant and fascinating, and the most fascinating people I have seen so far.
We are very happy to have reached maximum support so far. As you know, we have been able to achieve the first ever unilateral legal climate deal, most importantly by limiting global warming to well below two degree Celsius, which is really a historic achievement, and we are very grateful that our partners around the globe kept the momentum by signing and rectifying this accord.
Deal with Nigeria
President Buhari signed the accord in New York during the UN General Assembly, which is a testament of the commitment of the Nigerian government for and to the accord. Certainly, as difficult as it was to make roughly 200 countries to agree on the deal, it is now even more complex to implement it and it needs absolute commitment. This is difficult almost for everybody.
Although, the presence of President Buhari at the meeting in Marrakesh will certainly contribute to the setup of a concrete road map for the implementation, it won’t be easy for Nigeria which is still very dependent on fossil fuel. It will also be difficult for Germany which had already embarked on energy transition and statutory. It is for every country to decide what next step to take, but that step has to be taken. There are certain particular challenges for Nigeria: dependency on fossil energy sources and the wide spread flaring of gas, the desertification, the deforestation, which are balancing acts in any event but I think with the German example of energy transition, it can show that Climate Change is actually compatible with economic prosperity and growth which is very important.
The EU and Germany are well prepared to co-operate with Nigeria for an increased use of renewable energy and support the energy sector to improve access to electricity, particularly to rural communities which is very important for Nigeria. Our development agency partnered with the Ministry of Energy and Power, particularly on renewable energy.
There is Nigeria-German partnership which is a business endeavor focused on solar energy project. Recently, I participated in a ground-breaking ceremony for solar power project at the University in Ibadan, geared towards providing formal electricity instead of running on 80 per cent diesel, in addition to the training of first generation of Nigerian renewable energy engineers. This is the first project; the next will be at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, probably by the end of the year, but others will follow swiftly. What we are trying to do basically is to help the Nigerian government realise its energy and climate-related goals. This is a very big chunk of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) and we are also in a close cooperation with Nigerian government on various events marking the beginning of the reflective phase of the Nigerian government on meeting the SDG’s goals.”
On the issue of illegal migration, the German government and Europe recently agreed to support Nigeria on the release of funds on vocational skills.
How far have they gone to combat the migration of Nigerians to Germany and Europe?
Most of the IDP’s and migrants are in Africa and we very much recognize the efforts made by Nigeria in favour of the two known IDP’s in the world which is a huge burden and here we are, not only Germany but the international community, trying to support the efforts of the Nigerian government.
The EU recently increased our humanitarian assistance by €40 million so that the overall amount this year would exceed €60 million. That is besides the considerable funds by the EU. We have also set up a project with the EU in order to support IDP’s to return back to their home communities. The German and Nigerian governments are very interested in stemming irregular migration. We have to certainly obey international monetary law for instance, enshrined in the Geneva Refugee Convention, which prohibits forcible return of people being politically persecuted or under life-threatening circumstances but Germany, by the way, has done so in an extraordinary way last year by accepting almost a million migrants and refugees from Iraq and Syria. That does not mean that Germany would welcome migrants who are definitely not refugees, but for perhaps understandable reasons: economic migrants or labour migrants.
We have a shared interest with the Nigerian government in alerting and cautioning firmly against embarking on this very dangerous and often life-threatening passage towards Europe through the Sahara Desert and across the Mediterranean Sea without having any realistic chance to, say Germany, because, basically, there is a reason for that.
I have spent sometime in Nigeria but despite the shortcomings and perhaps the current economic hardship, I see a grown up and mature parliamentary democracy. So I don’t see a notable reason why people should be fleeing Nigeria; at least there is no cause in terms of the Geneva Convention.
Infact, most of the pending claims of Nigerians for asylum in Germany which roughly stands at 10,000, would be rejected and turned down because there is no reason for that and the applicants would have to return to Nigeria which would make a huge investment not only in monetary terms but also in existential terms because they are putting their lives massively into jeopardy which would make all these investments a waste of opportunity and chances.
Basically, the German, Nigerian and all the other European governments are talking about the possibility of readmission and repatriation and I think we are on a good path. The process has begun and it is to be continued before long. We are also to cater for the conditions to make people stay here in Nigeria; and one of the most appropriate mechanism is a reasonable vocational training programme; that is what the Germans did and they still do. I expect the European Union, together with its member-states including Germany, to considerably increase that programme in the near future. Although it is still under consideration, this is one of the means to give people in difficult economic situations an economic perspective and we are quite intensively pondering these options.
In one of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s speeches she said the rejection of asylum by any EU country is unacceptable manners. How do you reconcile this with your position of Germany probably repatriating Nigerians who are over 12,000 or rejecting their asylum?
Well, you have to accept the reason for asylum, and that we did, and we did it in a very generous manner last year. But asylum, according to the Geneva Refugee Convention, and our domestic law, presupposes that there is a persecution; you must be politically persecuted or under a very acute life-threatening situation, and that was of course the case with the Syrians, with the Iraqis, and without any doubt that might be the case with other people coming from other places.
However, we are not only bound by international law but I think the German government and the Germans all together show that they have opened their hearts and they welcome this people. That again, does not mean that you are invited to Germany for purely economic reasons. This is not according to international monetary law or reason for getting asylum. Of course, you are free to apply for asylum and so the process are pending and on the way. But in my view, most of these asylum applications coming from Nigeria will be turned down. It is the German agency that is dealing with that issue and I think it is a very considerate and substantive process. So, it is not just to say no, it would be checked and there will be an interview with these people who applied for asylum. It is a rather complicated process but at the end of the day, most of the people coming from Nigeria who are economic migrants, at least this is my impression, they don’t have reasons to apply for asylum according to the international laws.”
What lesson can Nigeria learn from Germany in terms of industrialization?
I am in Nigeria to give advice and to consult the Nigerian government on what they think they have to do. I can only say that in general, the prospect for Nigeria as a place to do business and develop its economy is good. This is a rich country not only because of its natural resources, but I really appreciate the optimistic nature of its people, particularly because of its human potentials which is outstanding. In the long run, even in the mid run, I am not at all concerned about the economic fate of Nigeria.
Of course now, I would say there is the recession and there are some problems and these problems have to be tackled. I am quite certain that the government is aware of that and are working towards tackling that. We are not here to tell them what to do or what not to do. The situation of course in German is structurally different because we are an industrialized country from a long time ago. Nigeria is not. Nigeria is a country with a huge energy and fossil depot that they are very dependent on and of course that would remain for some time but of course, there is a huge potential. Nigeria used to be self-sufficient on agriculture and I think that should be reinstated; that is the clear objective of the government. There are lots of mineral here, in the energy sector, Nigeria can do a lot, and there is also the textile; why not go into textiles. A lot of Asian countries have started their industrialization process by doing textiles.
On the volume of trade, you can look at the statistics. I would say that we are on quite a good path, although, we are now in a bit of wait and see in Germany industry, wait and see attitude because of the economic situation.
For me, the main thing is to get accustomed, acquainted and familiar with this country. Coming from Europe where we are much richer, I would say they are not as happy as people are in Nigeria even amidst the current economic situation; a bag of rice has gone up by almost 200% and they are still happy and laughing. My aim is after these three years, to at least understand why people are so happy despite all the hardship and why they still stick together despite all the predictions in 1980, 1990 and 2015, that Nigeria would fall apart, and as a very impressive nation, I hope that it would be a very interesting journey.
Of course, you would see ups and downs, of course you would applaud the government and then you would wonder why they do this and that; you would meet exceptionally nice people and of course meet people who are not nice but this is normal and found in other societies. I have heard people say God blesses a country, perhaps that is true, perhaps you need the challenges and the trials to understand why this is such a particular country.