By Ehi Ekhator, Naija Center News.
In this interview, the Nigerian ambassador to Sri Lanka, S. U Ahmed explains to NAIJA CENTER NEWS correspondent how to check the excesses of Boko Haram and his view about corruption in Nigeria.
How long have you been in the foreign service?
I joined the service in 1982.
Which posts have you occupied since you started?
You know the way mission is, it is not about occupying posts, if you are in a mission, you can handle political, economic and many others. I have been on the political, consular, head of chancery, information officer. Your head of mission can decide which session you can handle. I can say i have gone through all the offices, and i was char·gé d’af·faires in Gabon before i moved to Ghana. I have been the deputy head of mission in South Korea before coming to Sri Lanka.
What’s the different between Sri Lanka and your last place?
I don’t think it is a matter of comparison, when you want to compare South Korea and Sri Lanka, i don’t think they match. Whether you want to compare in terms of development and infrastructure, the two you can’t compare them. It is not a question of preference to me; it is a question of how far your relationship has been in a particular country. I believe that Nigeria relate well with both countries. There have been no any adverse diplomatic relations between South Korea and Nigeria, and then Sri Lanka and Nigeria, so for, they are both good.
How did you become an Ambassador?
It is not a question of how, to become an ambassador is the prerogative of the President, he decides on the recommendation of the ministry of foreign affair. Once you are recommended and the President feels you are capable, and then of course, he can give his accent by sending your name to the National Assembly for them to clear you. So when it comes to ambassadorial appointment, it is purely the prerogative of the President.
What was your first job in the ministry like?
When i was first appointed in 1980 headquarter in Lagos. For some of us who came from the north, we faced a lot of challenges. Then there were problem of accommodation, especially as a young officer who just came in, there was no accommodation unlike now.
But government was supposed to provide accommodation.
Well but then, there were other senior officers; people were also coming back from post at the time we joined. The preference was for them. There was a time they used to give loan-some. They will tell you, take N3000, look for accommodation for yourself. At times, we still face problems because that money, except you go to the suburb of Lagos, then to come into Lagos, distance and Molue you have to take to Lagos were challenges. So It was a challenge to us because in the North, we were not used to have all the city filled with people, struggling, at times you find us waiting by the road side, trying to see if you can get Molue that will not involve you struggling inside, eventually, we end up getting to the office late.
As an ambassador, how will you describe your role?
My role is to protect the interest of Nigeria. That is the key role i am here for, and to ensure that Nigerians are protected. Everything i do, it must been such a way that it must be beneficial to Nigeria.
What is the common misconception about your job?
There are misconceptions. Some people think if you are a diplomat, everybody thinks everything is available to you. It is not so. Everything is not available to you, financially, we have constraint. Sometimes, money is not forth coming, if the money hasn’t come and you have not paid your staff, how do you explain it to them. Even you will not have salary and other things like fueling vehicle, and other things the mission made available to you. Back home, people might say that Ambassadors are paid $3000, they will quickly convert it to Naira, calculate and tell you that this man is collecting almost 500,000 naira. You must think that the officer is outside and he is not spending naira.
Talking about delay in salary because sometimes ago, Nigerian embassy in different locations complained of their money not paid in months.
Well, like now, the budget has just been signed. Unless the budget is signed on time, sometimes you have this little problem here and there. If the budget is signed on time, and then monies are released, you don’t have these problems. Sometimes, delay in signing of the budge creates little problem. Back home,when budget is not signed, how to access money to send to the mission becomes a problem. Somehow the ministry of foreign affair and the finance ministry do agree sometimes to make money available pending when the budget is concluded.
What kind of relationship is Nigeria embassy willing to build with Sri Lanka government?
Well, for now, Nigeria and Sri Lanka, you know we have a long standing relationship. It is not just now; this mission was covered by our high commission in India. For a long time, we have been in a diplomatic relationship with Sri Lanka and don’t forget, Sri Lankans for long have been in Nigeria, many of them were teachers in 1970s. When you look at it now, those people who are in government now, those who schooled in 1970s who are now in the ranks of directors, most of them had been taught by Sri Lankans, so we have a lot in common in terms of cooperation. We cooperate in international forums. They vote for us, we vote for them.
But there was a situation where Nigeria voted against Sri Lanka during the human right violation.
Well, from what i know, we have always been for Sri Lanka now. Our relation is cordial. During CHOGM, there was an MOU that was signed on strategic partnership. So we are now trying to see how we can meet with the officials here and then to see whether we can start inaugural meeting, and look at those areas where we have common interests. There are areas of course, recently, we have been in touch with the ministry of youth development here, and the minister indicated that we want to go into skill and youth development. Those kinds of areas, like skill acquisition, student exchange program and so on. When we meet, we will see how it will go.
What’s your opinion about corruption in Nigeria?
I don’t think corruption is Nigeria phenomenon. Corruption is everywhere in the world. People think Nigeria is corrupt; i don’t think it that way. The world corruption is not Nigeria language; it came from somewhere, right? People will tell you today, Nigerians are corrupt. Go to some other places and see, there are places or countries where somebody earns 500 dollars in a month, but what you see, the type of life he lives, he lives like a king, such country, people are not being seen as corrupt, where did he get the extra?
The last research they did, it was observed that Nigeria is the fifth most corrupt in the world.
Those who said Nigeria is corrupt, they aid the same corruption. Why do i say so? If you believe Nigerians are corrupt, for instance they take money out of the country to buy properties when they know that the source of the money is corrupt, if you allowed them to invest in your country, to buy properties in your country, you too are aiding. If for example, someone is loading money into a bank outside and that country refused to take action, then that country is aiding.
People will tell you that Nigerians are 419s, people who claimed they are being cheated are also corrupt people because how can you tell me that my father or my grandfather left some amount of money somewhere, then send you email and you just fall for it, and you want to share out of the money, how?
Sometimes i look at it as a way of trying to rubbish our nation; you know Nigeria is growing in terms of population and economy development, so some people are not happy. The idea is to tag you as corrupt at all times, and this image of corruption is what i don’t like because everybody is corrupt; no one is free from corruption.
In terms of corruption, I don’t think there are other countries fighting corruption better than Nigeria. There are many organization set up to fight corruption. So if somebody is caught, it is normal that he faces the consequences.
What do you have to say about the problem of Boko Haram in the north?
Well, Boko Haram, for me, there are many reasons that have been given for Boko Haram, some look at it in terms of poverty and others, but as far as I am concerned, my experience, when I was growing up and in primary school, my father was a Christian religious teacher in my school, there was also an Islamic teacher, when it gets to the time for Christian religious class, we all attend, we were all together, because everyone also attend Islamic class. The two religious teachers were friends. So to me, most of the clerics who teach, I think they have deviated from the correct teaching. When you deviate from a particular message, then of course, you corrupt the mind of those who listen. Most of these teachings start from the youth, and so once you learn something from youth, it is difficult to change. I think that there is need to check some of these religious teachers. They inculcate this hatred in the mind of these youth. I think it’s a wrong message through the cleric that is bringing this problem.
The leadership of the two religions should come together. We have to unite against this evil that has come to us because it is not only affecting the Christians, it is affecting everybody. You can be on the street, if they throw a bomb, it affects everybody. Look at what happened in Jos and Nyanya, it didn’t identify Christians or Muslims, it killed everybody. That’s why the government has been preaching unity, we have to unite on this because it is destroying individual relationship we used to have. These days you find out that even during celebration, some Christians would want to serve their neighbours food, their neighbours would reject, the same thing happened to the Muslims. This doesn’t happen before; I think we have to be united. It has nothing to do with religion; my take is that, the instructors are not doing the right thing.
There is a common problem associated with Nigerian embassies all over the world. Nigerians complain about the way they are being treated by the embassies, how do you intend to make a difference?
Well, I don’t know of other missions, for me, the missions I have gone to, there have been no complain. Since I came here, we have not received anything here. If there are complains, we will address it. Sometimes, you may find some of these accusations maybe, a Nigerian national may find, like me and you, if our personal relationship is not cordial, it becomes a source of saying that the whole mission, and the officers are bad. Missions operate differently; here we are, if there is anything is not going normal, we will correct it. I believe most missions strive to do their best, some Nigerians are not patient. Some missions have greater numbers of Nigerians, and when you have that, you look at the numbers of officers, and if they can’t cope, Nigerians would not be patient.
Some Nigerians have resorted to reporting themselves to Sri Lanka immigration officers.
I am hearing this for the first time because we have not gotten such information. If that type of information comes to us, we will try and find out who they are. It happens in some places, there are some Nigerians who are desperate, when they have no jobs, they become informant.
Nigeria has more than 15,000 prisoners all over the world, how many Nigerians are in Sri Lanka prison?
Those that we have here, if we have any at all, they are people who are maybe, illegally staying, that is if there is. As far as I know, we don’t have any. We have not gotten any record of Nigerians in the prison. Recently we have sent a letter to foreign office trying to know if there are any Nigerians in detention or in prison, but as far as I know, consular officer can testify, we don’t have any recorded prisoners, if there are, we have not been formally informed.
What kind of message do you have for Nigerians here?
They should be law abiding, and they have to be good ambassador for their country Nigeria. You can’t come to a country and break their law; you will have to face the consequence. For us here, we don’t have problem, but once we found out that you are a problem are arrested, it doesn’t stop us from recommending that you should be deported to Nigeria because we don’t want any of such problem here. But if you are a Nigerian, you have a genuine problem, report to us, we will do everything to solve it because that is one of the reasons I am here.