By Victor Gotevbe & Ikenna Asomba
Hon. Kenneth Gbandi is the Chairman, Nigerians In Diaspora Organisation (NIDO), Europe, a position he has occupied since 2016, after having served meritoriously as the Chairman NIDO Germany since 2011. As a Diasporean Organisation that sees to the welfare and protection of rights of Nigerians in Diaspora, Gbandi in this Exclusive Interview, bares his mind on a number of issues bordering on irregular migration of Nigerians, what NIDO is doing on reviewing the cases of over 12,000 Nigerians recently served deportation order in Germany, saying of these 12, 000 Nigerians, just about 500 persons have approached NIDO for assistance. The Peace and Security expert also talked on NIDO’s Diaspora Housing Project, in the offing, where it projects to build Diaspora Housing across all the States of the Federation in Nigeria, disclosing that NIDO is holding a Housing Summit, in Lisbon, Portugal this November, to discuss the project and get it rolling. Excerpts:
Who is Kenneth Gbandi?
Kenneth Gbandi was born in 1968, to the family of Chief and Mrs Gbandi, in Akwukwu-Igbo, Oshimili North Local Government Area of Delta State, born. I had my Primary education in Akwukwu-Igbo and my secondary education partly in Akwukwu-Igbo and Ughelli, Delta State. From there, I proceeded to the University of Calabar, where I had my Bachelors a Degree in Geography and Regional Planning. I did my National Youth Service Corps, NYSC, in Auchi, Edo State, where I did served as a Corper Liaison Officer, got a State Awards and taught for three months at the Boys Model Secondary School before proceeding to Germany in 1994.
Since coming to Germany, I have been able to establish the second Afro Magazine in Germany, called the African Heritage Magazine. I followed it up with African Heritage Radio and African Heritage TV. Within this period, I was able to get my Masters in Peace and Security from the University of Hamburg. On my private time, I was elected the Chairperson, Nigerians in Diaspora Organisation, NIDO, Germany, that was in 2011, and after four years, in 2016, I was elected the Chairperson of NIDO for the whole of Europe.
There is a perception about a lot undocumented migrants from Nigeria. As the Chairman of NIDO Europe, what are the numbers you have contained by NIDO?
Well, the information was facilitated by the Federal Government of Nigeria. The idea is to have the Nigerians In Diaspora Organisation, NIDO, as the umbrella Organisation for all Nigerians in Europe. Statistically speaking, we have about 5million undocumented Nigerians in the continental Europe, compared to the 17million Worldwide. But of course, this number could be much higher, but these are what documented evidence can point to. So, NIDO, as an umbrella Organisation of all Nigerians in Diaspora, this figure can’t be interpreted that they are all members of NIDO.
Currently, we have the Federal Government passing a Diaspora Bill which is a Commission that is meant to represent the interest of all Nigerians in Diaspora. This is giving us our own Commission just because the Government has recognised the importance of Nigerians in Diaspora, which actually have been a very positive force in developmental projects across the World.
Recently, you had a programme about Migration Enlightenment Project. Share with us about the project?
Well, like we stated basically in every document we have had the opportunity to share, we are being confronted with the issues of irregular migration and the consequences both for Nigeria and Europe. From the Nigerian perspective, we have cases of abled young men and women leaving the shores of Nigeria in search of greener pastures, which is totally legitimate, so to say. On the other hand, we see people coming to Europe uninformed only to regret ever leaving the shores Nigeria. So, what I have done with my partner- African Courier and African-German Information Centre, we came together and asked the Nigerians in Diaspora to morally support this initiative so that we can inform Nigerians at home and abroad that things are not actually the way they see it or the way it used to be.
Coming into Europe these days, there is nothing like a free passage. It’s either you come legally. Don’t even think of coming illegally because when you manage to come illegally, it is saddled with hurdles. Moreover, because these people are undocumented migrants, their security is not guaranteed. It means that you are not registered in a system and nobody can keep track of what happens to you. As a result of this, we have so many complaints of people being murdered, people being jailed without trial and people being accused unjustly, just because they are not documented.
There is no way we can be able to follow these records, to say exactly, who is actually a Nigerian, who is in which trouble and in which place. Without those documented evidence, it is absolutely impossible to track these situations and to advise the Nigerian government and foreign governments accordingly.
So, we are saying, please, nobody is saying you shouldn’t come to Europe or anywhere in the World, but please when you are coming, make sure you are coming through a documented process so that we can be able to guarantee that when those injustices take place we can be able to come to your aid.
International charters guarantee freedom of movement. Giving the complaints by Nigerians and Africans that they find it difficult getting Visas to these European countries, what’s NIDO doing about it?
I will say, I agree with you, but I won’t say I agree with you totally. Why do I say that? A treaty always have two sides. Whenever we have a responsibility, there is also what it’s expected to achieve before demanding your responsibility. If we have international charters saying you can come into any country, the same international law says you also have to go to the embassy to get a visa, and same international law says there are visa requirements that guarantee you entry into such countries. So, when you are not abiding by those requirements, you have also broken that international treaty. So, you can’t claim of having the protection of that international treaty, while on your own part, you are not abiding to the stipulated rules and regulations.
Now, the same international treaty recognises that there are people who might be forced to move without those documents for humanitarian reasons. Now, the question is, are those people applying for that? Do they meet the criteria being seen as natural laws for crises that forced them to move? Truthfully speaking, some fulfill these criteria while many others don’t.
Again, we are saying if we have a documented process, where for instance a student has applied two to three times to the German Embassy and being turned down, and we are aware of such situation, we can examine, has such a student fulfilled all the requirements as stipulated by the German Authority? If yes, we can ask, why has he or she not been granted visa? Based on that, we can lodge an official complaint and request why visas were denied. These are the give and take. We need to have the facts before we can be able to help.
I would give you a funny story. It’s on record that we have about 12,000 Nigerians who have been served deportation order in Germany. We are saying, if you are among these 12,000 Nigerians, please come forward with your name and evidences among others, and let us examine them case by case. And I can tell you that we didn’t have up to 500 persons coming forward. The questions are why? There are so many questions. One is the fear of the unknown, no two ways about it. The second is for instance, if somebody from Delta State comes to Germany and says my name is Mallam Aminu Kanu, and I left Delta State because my family was threatened for XYZ. And of course, if I am from Delta State, I will look you in the face and say, you are lying. And because they know that they have not given out the true information, they won’t come forward. Don’t get me wrong, there are situations that would warrant people from not giving out their true identity for one reason or the other.
While I am not encouraging that, I say it is a possibility and it’s part of the human story. But before you can render a help to anybody, you have to understand what the situations are, what are the narratives. If you do not, you may end up making a mistake yourself. If for instance, the German laws say that if you are in Germany, you must be there as a legal citizen, and I am trying to fight for somebody who is having issues of irregular migration and such a person never mentioned that and has actually told me lies from the beginning to the end, I might end up being accused as accessory to human trafficking and crime.
So, why should I put myself in such a dangerous position just because I want to help out. We have to be clear that we must be honest to ourselves, to say what are the situations and what are the problems, to see what we can address. I think with the support of well meaning Nigerians, who are touched by the situation of the country and how we can help our folks outside, we are willing to help. But first, you have to help yourself before we help you.
How is NIDO helping to strengthen the ties between Germany and Nigeria?
I can tell you that we have over 300 top, active German firms in Nigeria. Let’s look at Julius Berger Nigeria, which has a parent company in Nigeria. We know the role Julius Berger has played in infrastructure, we have Strarbarg Construction, we have the Nigerian-German Business Association (NGBA), which has been very active and organises conferences and business trips. I can tell you that 60 per cent of trade between people who deal in used cars and electronics, come to Germany for their businesses.
So, the Nigerian-German business relationship has been very active. Of course, it could be better. Part of the objectives of NIDO Germany which I was the President from 2011-2016, is improve both countries relationship. I must say that the Nigerian-German relationship is absolutely fine. There are though areas of improvement.
So, what are those areas that need improvement?
The issue of Visa allocation should be more flexible and more proactive. I am totally of the the opinion that most people who should get visas are not getting them. However, without pointing fingers, some Nigerians have the tendencies to cut corners. You are asked to bring your bank statement, of course, if you have only N10,000 in your bank account, you can justify that you have such amount in your account and justify why it’s like that. Of course, there is a very high tendency that it would be rejected as it can’t guarantee you survival in Germany.
These are the things we can look into. But because you want to make your application look very good, you say you have N50million in your account, and one thing that such a person must understand is that some other person is equally as smart as you are. While we make our documents look very good, there are people whose jobs are to also look into those documents to identify the loopholes. So, when your visa application is rejected you would be wondering why it was rejected.
Be that as it may, I totally agree that the visa application in most European countries are not acceptable. These are areas we really need to do a lot of work to find out why such situation is the case. Of course, that’s where we have to call on the Nigerian government and the immigration to apply the principle of reciprocity. If European countries don’t grant us visa, we must also make it a duty that we don’t grant their nationals visa, until they begin to reciprocate. But then, we must insist on making legitimate applications.
We have an import-driven economy, would you encourage Nigerians to go to Europe to invest, or you would encourage Nigerians in Diaspora to come home to invest given our current economic situation?
I think it’s both ways. We have to look at the comparative advantage of whichever business we want to go into. We have to look at: does it make sense to do it from Nigeria or better to go to the Diaspora to do it? Well, I know that at the NIDO Germany, and in extension, the NIDO Europe, we have an agreement with the new Export zone at the Lagos International Trade Fair, where we encouraged Nigerians to begin to go into processing and do finished jobs for exports.
On our part, we are ensuring, we get companies that are willing and capable of receiving those products and facilitating them. Like I said again, most Nigerians would prefer going through the shortcuts rather than going through the legal way. They also prefer doing it in one, two days, rather than two, three weeks to ensure that things are properly done. The fact is that the potential in NIDO is enormous.
We have so much potentials to kickstart this economy. We are actually doing our best. Currently, we are working on the Diaspora Housing Project, where we want to build Diaspora Housing across all the States of the Federation. We are are not asking the Federal Government to give us one cent. We want to bring international partners who would come and build state-of-the-art infrastructure, the way we would like to see it in Europe across the federation, and also we are also bringing local partners in helping us to do this, thereby creating employment for the youths, as well as creating foreign exchange for Nigeria.
We are looking at a Solar Energy Training for about 18,000 youths in the next two to three years. We want to bring our foreign partners, let us see exactly what are the potentials for solar and renewable energy in Nigeria, and let us see how many organisations in Nigeria and abroad can partner to do that. These are areas we are working on. Of course, some agencies and parastatals of government are not helping issues. But I think, we have passed the stage where we just complain. Challenges are meant to be solved. We just look at what the challenges are and how best we can tackle them. Based on this, we are engaging the government and the agencies, and I am optimistic that in the next few years our efforts would yield fruit.
Tell us about NIDO’s Housing Summit scheduled for Portugal.
Every year, the first two weeks of every November, NIDO holds its Summit- Annual General Meeting (AGM). What we do in that meeting, apart from discussing issues that affect the Organisation, we also look at the Business Investment angle. This year, NIDO is dedicating it to the Diaspora Housing. We are trying to push the Diaspora City in all States of the Federation in Nigeria. So, we are trying to bring in the experts from Nigeria, to tell us what are the problems and situation of housing in Nigeria? What are the challenges and how can we get involved? And more so, to tell our foreign partners that we have a lot of business potentials in the Nigerian real estate sector. So, we are bringing the developers and foreign investors together to map out their strategies. That’s what the Portugal Summit is all about. The summit is open to all Nigerian realtors.