How challenging is the position of the president of the Nigerian Community in Europe, specifically Spain .

Quite strenuous. A lot of work to be done because there is quite a lot of problem among Nigerians with respect to getting papers. A lot of our people are staying there illegally. You know what it means, so they need a lot of representatives to file in their favours. That is why this Osamuyia issue is as a result of not being documented. Being the president of the Nigerian Community is a whole lot of work, because of the great percentage of Nigerians that are illegal in Spain.

How does the negative reports about Nigeria  and Nigerians affect the relationship you have with the host country; both the authorities and citizens.

On a personal ground, I think the reception from the host country is positive because I have been in that country for decades. I would tell you that the reception from them is cordial. In the 70's, we were received as kings; we were well honoured. I am going to be real with my answers and believe me, our image, talking about Nigerians in Spain, started dwindling and we started losing our prestige, why?

In the late 80's, the names of Nigerians started flashing in the newspapers as drug peddlers and so on. From then to early 90's, the question of human trafficking became the order; a lot of our girls were being imported into Spain for prostitution. And in the late 90's down to this moment, our names are being flooded everywhere in cyber crime otherwise called 419.

Sociologically, as you can imagine, when these sort of things started happening, our people started losing their prestige. It is logical that if we say that we are a great country, which I believe Nigeria is. But then, every weekend there are ships coming in with loads of Nigerians flocking into Spain by sea. No matter how great you might try to tell them you are, if your people are great and they are coming in illegally by sea and with some of them dying in a journey that takes a very dare-devil dimension, an impossible mission and coming in there, all these things bring our image to nothing. Many of our girls are naked on the streets of Madrid, the boys are involved in crimes, but don't get me wrong, not all of them are involved in these.

This is what has tarnished our image. As for Nigeria as a nation, that name Nigeria is respected at least within my own community, among the people that I interact with but then, remember that discrimination is not   against you as a black man but poverty. I have come to know this sociologically. So if they say something bad against Nigerians, well they feel, all these guys that lose their lives in the sea in, not only Spain, but also in Italy, Germany, every where do not have a great country because if things were good in your country, you wouldn't be fighting to leave.

 How receptive are the Spaniards towards Nigerians at the moment?

I think the Spanish society is very receptive, and I can tell you that I think that there is nothing I can say against their hospitality.

But the only thing is that, when you hear everyday that some segment of the Spanish press and Spanish politicians keep saying that the causes of high crime rate in the country is due to immigrants, the first immigrant they point their fingers to is not those from Brazil or Argentina or the United States but to the black man.

And talking about the black man, the first people they see visibly are Nigerians because we are the people they see come in through the sea. It keeps flashing on the news, two ships came in today with this number of Nigerian immigrants and you see them dying on the high sea, a lot of them.

They come in completely dejected and worn out after weeks of a mission impossible journey. What I am trying to say is that their reception is good but because of the image of what they see, we have no respect.

Spain has been having a lot of illegal immigration problems over the years. Would you have an estimation of the number of Nigerians residing illegally there?

According to the Spanish government, the last statistics they gave to me there was about 19,000 Nigerians registered officially residing in Spain with their work permits and residence. But within the Nigerian community, we believe that if you multiply that number by three or four, you may get a rough estimate of Nigerians living in Spain illegally. So I would say that the 19,000 make like 30% - 40% of Nigerians living in Spain, that is, to be on the safe side. The remaining are undocumented. I say this because, through my experience over the years, if you meet 20 Nigerians, maybe less than six have their documents. This is enough to show the number of Nigerians in Spain.

As the president of the Nigerian Community, how do you help in controlling this continuous influx of Africans, especially Nigerians?

To start with, the objective of the association is to be your brother's guardian, to help your brother. But then, when we came face-to-face with this problem, the influx of Nigerians from 1995 or 1994 down to this moment, it has reduced considerably in the last two years.

Then we were faced with the problem of how to solve this problem and the major way was by the dissemination of information through the African  Churches, African shops, and call centres. This is what we do. But then, a normal Nigerian in this situation does not want to hear. They started the human trafficking which I am completely against, because it is inhuman to bring a human being to become a prostitute in a foreign land and you are collecting money as the Madam.

I shed tears when I got to the parks and see young girls, 18, 19, naked in the street, you don't tell me this is a good image we are building for Nigeria. Spain is the most liberal country in the world; in Holland, there is what you call Zero tolerance for Nigerians, in Germany, in the US. Those people you see in Spain today are those that came from other European countries- from Netherlands, Sweden, Germany because they still have it easier in Spain irrespective of what the day is.

My brother, I can tell you that our job is to disseminate information, to let them know that what they are doing is very wrong. But I would say again, not every Nigerian is like that, we still have reputable people living in Spain who are respected as Nigerians.

We disseminate information on immigration laws, what to do and what not to do. Anytime they call me up, I go to assist. But the problem we are facing is for them to come out. Many of them want to keep going through the fraudulent means of forgery to get their papers, but we still try to let them know what they are doing is wrong.

Talking about the level of crime and illegal activities Nigerians get involved in, the reports are always on the high side, is it the statistic or is it exaggerated?

I don't have a statistics and wouldn't be able to tell you 10%, or 20%, but all I can tell you is, whatever the number, they are causing a great damage to our name and to that of Nigeria. I can't tell you the actual figures but I will let you know that the number is high and I know they are causing a lot of damage to the name Nigeria.

Recently, a Nigerian citizen, Osamuyia Aikpitanhi, died under the custody of the Spanish authorities, what was the reaction of the Nigerian community in Spain when the news got to them?

As soon as this incident happened, I think I heard about it an hour after it happened. Somebody called right from the plane to a friend and immediately the friend contacted me. As I heard the news, I called the Nigerian Consul, and he said he heard about it and immediately we called the police in Madrid and they said they didn't have any information as regards to that but, if eventually they get it, they would forward but to the Spanish Embassy.

Then I started calling other Nigerian activists to wait until we get more information. It happened on Saturday, on Sunday, I gathered the newspapers, read about it and saw the face of one of the brothers who didn't know he had relations here. Immediately, I called people in from Edo  State and that was how I got hold of his brother's phone number. His name is Chester. I called him and he informed me he was in a city about 400km away from Madrid where the corpse was. I introduced myself and told him I wanted to see him. He saw me that night at about 12midnight, and we went to a meeting with the Nigerian Community and there we discussed immediately and then went to the Counsel who informed me that they were following the incident in their own way, but encouraged us to go on.

I would like to state here that the Nigerian Embassy acted very fast in this matter to let the world know about our feelings about the whole thing and we called the press- the two national TV stations were there and a lot of newspaper media. Also the two brothers of Osamuyia were there together with a lot of Nigerians, both young and elderly. They were all there and expressed their grievances and we asked for three things-justice, investigation and adequate compensation to the family and again, a fourth one which is that this does not happen again to another Nigerian.

We were not accusing anybody until we knew the result of the autopsy that was what we did. After that, I put it on the blog and sent a letter into I received emails and letters from all over the world from people telling us to take the matter calm-it was too wrong to say that they killed or assassinated him though they do this but I felt there were certain words that were judicial issues we had to be careful about using until the scientific investigation which is the forensic examination result was out.

Eventually it came out and proved that he was killed. The autopsy result showed that he died of asphyxia or suffocation and immediately I called the press to let them know that Osamuyia was killed.

Were there any Nigerian medical personnel present when the autopsy was carried out by the Spanish authorities?

No, but the autopsy said that this man died of suffocation which means that somebody suffocated him and again, he died in the hands of government. We would have raised eyebrows if the autopsy said nothing happened, that he died of natural causes because they were speculating that he died of heart attack. The autopsy was clear that this man died of asphyxia which is as a result of suffocation, induced suffocation. This was as a result of their gagging his mouth.

They said that they used the police tape which restrains people and is not harmful but we are made to understand now that that was not the tape used in gagging Osamuyia. The lawyer handling the case, Mr Pedro Victor de Bernado Riafa, said the tape used was about one metre long. So the hypothesis now is that they were trying to subdue him because he was fighting not to be deported so threw him to the ground with his arms and legs tied, his mouth covered while he was being crushed to the ground, probably that was when he got suffocated. The autopsy showed that he died as a result of the treatment he was given by the security operatives of Spain.

The earlier report said that he swallowed the tape used in gagging him?

There were a lot of speculations; you know what the media is. When this sort of thing happens there are a lot of stories that will be told and this was what happened precisely. People were busy analysing the issue, some said he was intentionally beaten and swallowed the chord but the autopsy put things right.

According to the autopsy report, he died of suffocation; there were traces of blood on his body and his lungs showed that he was manhandled and the bottom line is, according to the lawyer whom I have been in contact with, his death was induced by somebody, it was natural, that is the scientific picture.

Three days after the incident, the Spanish minister for internal affairs was asked by the opposition party leader to give account of the incident to the congress and he said he was definitely going to do that but needed more time for investigations to be finished. As for the judicial investigation, there are a lot of muddles of issues there which we protested. I

 called the press two weeks ago and had the lawyer talk to them. He said that he has interviewed the air hostess aboard the plane and the two other deportees who are still being held in Spain and there is a misunderstanding there. Between the judge and the prosecution team; the prosecutors are saying that this man had two police officers accompanying him-who are those culprits?

They have to be charged as the accused but the Judge is inviting them in as witnesses, that sparked our protest but the lawyer made me understand that the situation might also be to our advantage because, as an accused you can lie and get away with it but as a witness you are under oath and cannot lie otherwise you have a 12-year jail term waiting for you. So that is the situation at the moment.

There were reports that the Nigeria Embassy in Spain did not respond on time when this incident occurred, who true is this?

That is completely false. Let me put it this way; there are a lot of misconceptions our people have towards the Nigerian Embassy in Spain. A lot of them do not have a relationship with the embassy because they do not get what they want room the embassy. The embassy is a diplomatic mission that has to do things diplomatically. If they are saying the embassy didn't do anything concerning the death of Osamuyia then it is unfortunate and not true.

I know what many people expected was to see the ambassador protesting on the streets but that cannot happen. As soon as this incident occurred, the ambassador, Mr Oloko and I got involved and the embassy has been following the matter till date. They automatically got in touch with the relevant agencies, both the police and the interior affairs ministries, invited the police chief to give an explanation about what actually happened.

This is what they were supposed to do and the embassy has been giving daily reports to Abuja on the issue. They did their job perfectly well as far as I am concerned. Immediately the embassy intervened, the Spanish government have stopped deporting Nigerians for the time being, they even went to the further to request that from now on, for any Nigerian that would be deported, a Nigerian embassy official will accompany them home to make sure they are not treated as animals. This is the latest development.

How has this incident affected the relationship between ordinary Spaniards and their Nigerian counterparts?

On a personal ground I have been making a lot of press appearances since this incident so that the Spanish citizens will be carried along and within the masses it is as if nothing happened; their relationship with Nigerians still remain cordial. You see, if there is anything wrong, there is no problem between the Nigerian community and ordinary Spaniards.

Having lived in Spain for decades now, what have you identified as being the root cause of a higher number of Nigerians being undocumented?

It is a government issue in the sense that the Spanish law and the Nigerian policy make it difficult for Nigerians living in Spain and I will explain. Over the years in Spain, one of the reasons why our people are suffering and why they are holding the Nigerian embassy as the one causing Nigerians this problem is because the embassy do not give them what they want and I am talking about papers and other documents. Some come to them to help them alternate their papers which they don't always agree.

In Spain, it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for Nigerians to get residence permit in Spain, Why-police reports. Hundreds and thousands of Nigerians are illegal because most of them came in through the sea. Now, the Spanish government are ready to give permits for anybody be it illegal or otherwise that have lived in Spain for three years and with a proof of not having criminal records, fine.

But at the same time, they came up with a law which the Federal Government of Nigeria gave that Nigerians abroad wishing to obtain police reports will have to obtain it in person at Abuja.

What am saying is that, if you want to get a police report you have to come back home to get it. This is a tactical way of mass deportation of Nigerians so they don't attempt it. Nigerians, being what they are, started forging and our name is being tarnished because of these falsifications. I have been to the highest office in Spain to talk to them about this problem but they keep telling me that the law is not from them, it is from our government in Nigeria.

There was a day I went to the office of police general and he opened a cabinet containing thousands of files of Nigerians and told me that he knows that out of a thousand files there, not up to two are genuine and asked me why our people are so into forgery; he said a Ghanaians don't do this neither do Senegalese, why Nigerians.

And the answer to the problem lies with this method of obtaining police reports, it is very difficult and is giving us troubles there in Spain. If it were something they can ask their families to get for them in Nigeria then I assure you that no Nigerian will forge his or her papers.

If it were something you appear before a notary or before the Nigerian consul with their fingerprints and send it down to their families to file for them and process and present it at the Spanish embassy, then I give you my word that 90 per cent of this people will not engage in falsifications of their papers. This is the problem we are facing in Spain. Again, another issue that affects even those that are documented is the issue of issuance of Nigerian passports. For the past eight years the Nigerian embassy in Spain has not issued any Nigerian passport to anybody because they don't have the machinery to do it.

I have complained on end about this problem but nothing has been done about it and our people keep getting into trouble because of this ugly development.

When the former president, Obasanjo, visited Spain sometime ago, I told him about this problem and he was surprised and assured me to consider the problem solved but here we are today still facing the same problem. I have told the former Senate President, Sen. Wabara, the former minister of information, Frank Nweke Jnr but nothing, nothing has been done concerning this.

Now I want to use this medium to appeal yet again to President Musa Yar Adua; to the new National Assembly to come to our aid and help us solve this problem if not thousands of Nigerians, both legal and illegal residents, would continue to get into troubles with the law in these foreign countries and our name will keep on being dragged in the mud.

The passport problem has made so many Nigerians to obtain their passports by proxy which gets them into problems when they visit other countries. According to the Vienna law of 1963, you do not get passport by proxy but will you blame Nigerians that obtain their passports that way, how can they remain for eight years without their embassy issuing them passports and you don't expect them to improvise a means of doing it.

This is the problem we are facing and until this issue is tackled, I am promising you that hundreds and thousands of Nigerians will keep getting into troubles and the issue of illegal immigrants will continue. This is the nightmare Nigerians living in Spain face, it is a very big problem for us here.

What advice do you have for Nigerians especially the youths who seek to enter Europe  by all means to seek for greener pastures?

They are making a mistake, a very big one for that matter. Europe is not a heaven, America is not paradise. There is no where in this world that life is filled with beds of roses and in places like Spain, France, Italy and so on where you have to learn the language, life is not as beautiful as they are made to believe. My advice to Nigerian youths is, stay back here and look for a legal way to survive, Europe is not paradise, Europe is difficult. I don't care where it is; United Kingdom, Sweden, Finland, United States, name it whatever you want, it is no heaven.

What fools our people is when they see someone who travels abroad and in a couple of years, due to the exchange rate, sends down a car or two, don't be deceived, there is suffering there too.

Our people are suffering there. My advice to people is, don't risk your life to go to Europe, it's not worth it especially when you do not have the education to help you get integrated into the society. Europe is not a bed of roses.


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Re: Nigerian Government Policy Contributes to Illegal Immigrants in Spain---Joe Illoh
THE VOICE posted on 09-02-2007, 11:35:55 AM
Solutions and not justifications are what Nigerians in Spain required for the myriads of problems confronting them both in the hands of Spanish authorities [the discriminatory police report issue ] and the Nigerian embassy in Madrid [the issue of Nigerian passports]

It is absolutely impossible that such a Nigerian law that favours tactical mass deportation of Nigerians in Spain will exist without the knowledge of the Nigerian embassy in Madrid.
Anyway, the Nigerian government through its' delegation to Spain last July has denied the existence of such Nigerian law and I think Mr Illoh and the Nigerian embassy will do well to focus their actions on this denial by the Nigerian government.
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