By NBF News

Nigeria is worth dying for — Ambassador Rimdap
Saturday, March 06, 2010

Abdul Bin Rimdap

Ambassador Abdul Bin Rimdap is Nigeria's Ambassador to Germany. The vastly experienced career diplomat, who has served Nigeria in the foreign service in many capacities, speaks about life as a diplomat. He also shares his experiences, his challenges and triumphs as a diplomat, with particular reference to his place of current posting.

Aside from this, he also talks about the re-branding of Nigeria and most of all, declares that Nigeria is a great country worth dying for.

What have been your major challenges as Ambassador to Germany?

I had been in Berlin, before this time, on another posting and now coming here to serve as ambassador. I had come first as a visitor from Switzerland and then I was also in the foreign service based in Austria, when I also visited Germany. I found out that there is enormous work to do, because I never expected to come to this big country. Apart from the challenge of working to improve Nigerian-German relations, I also found out that there is challenge in bringing together the enormous population of Nigerians living in Germany. I consider myself lucky because President Umar Musa Yar'Adua has visited Germany seven times, since his inauguration. It made me realize the direction the president wanted our relation with Germany to go.

When the president came for the G8 summit, held in June 2007, after his inauguration May 27, he held meetings with leaders of all the other nations. We had bilateral meetings with German businessmen and women. He also met with other stakeholders, including members of the Nigerian community. He mentioned that his first, second and third priorities were improving the economy. He sought support from all.

We extended our investment promotion agreement. After he left, a German delegation visited Nigeria and part of what was discussed was to help our energy generation and distribution. In 2008, we signed an MOU to promote energy partnership between the two countries. Germany was to inject some 6,000 mega watts of electricity into our energy, while they get some concessions in our oil and gas (NLG). It is one of the major achievements we have here. So you could see that we have been able to remove this obstacle of investment and the issue of energy partnership, which was signed. It is also being implemented.

As an experienced career diplomat, what do you think are the basic problems of Nigerians living abroad?

To understand better the major problems of Nigerians who live abroad, we should classify them into those who have lived in Europe or abroad legally and those who have lived illegally, hiding and seeking. Among those who live here legally are teachers, doctors, engineers, journalists and numerous others. These are those investing in Nigeria through the NIDO (Nigerians in Diaspora Organisation).

These people don't seem to have much problem because they are already settled and contributing to the growth of their countries of residence as well as in Nigeria. Those who have problems are the illegal immigrants, who have not been integrated into the system and who continue to run from one place to the other. For instance, if we have about 50, 000 registered Nigerians, only about 2, 000 are illegal. But there are others who are not documented and you do not know whether they are Nigerians or from other parts of the world. Some of them are smugglers and those who are smuggled. These people have no identity and have no face. These are the people who cause problems. We are working with Germany to see how some of these victims are repatriated. Even the current Minister of Defence, who used to be minister of interior, was in Germany to give us a marching order to see that something was done and fast too.

Is the problem in Europe comparable to what you find in Asia and U.S? What kind of comparison can you make?

It cannot be compared, because Europe is nearest to Africa than all the other continents. Apart from this, Europe has strong historical links with Africa. They colonized us. Even at the highest political level, there is a relationship and the problems are discussed. In Asia, the problems tend to be linked to drugs. I think with time, the migration system could change with African countries trying to change their poverty situation. When I served in Belgium, many years ago, I saw people from other countries claiming to be Nigerians, but now it is no longer same. They have all gone to their respective countries. I think this illegal immigration will be a thing of the past. You also remember that in those days, Asians, Indians and Pakistanis were in Nigeria teaching, but not same now.

How do you feel hearing stories about Nigerians being thieves and very corrupt?

I don't think the people, who make such statements are correct. I do not accept it in anyway. Not all Nigerians are corrupt and I try to tell it everywhere I go. If you talk about 419, which is the usual story, it takes two to tango. It is only a criminal that relates with a criminal. If the victim of 419 activities were not a criminal, why and how would he relate with the 419 person? I believe that Nigerians are among the most honest and most committed, efficient and hard working. Nigeria is not the worst, in terms of criminals and I try to explain to any one who cares. I have been in Europe for quite a while and do know the level of criminal activities that originate from non-Nigerians. The story of the Mafia and their activities is one example.

For instance, it is not a Nigeria issue. So I say no to such stigmatization and urge every Nigerian to reject that stigma with all the energy they can muster. In recent times, some Benin artworks were on display in Germany and people were marveled that such artifacts could come from an African country. They wondered that such history could be found in Nigeria from over 500 years ago. The only major crime here in Germany that concern Nigerians is not credit card and other forms of scams but the issue of over stay of visa and other related matters. So Nigeria is not a criminal country at all. I see such statements as very wrong.

So what would you say is the best way of re-branding Nigeria?

The best way to re-brand Nigeria is to do it at home because it is my belief that once the home front is in good shape, then there will be nothing to worry about. It may take time but that is it. That is why I commend the Minister of Information and Communications, Prof Dora Akunyili. She didn't go abroad to launch it. I have seen her travel through the states, meeting with traditional rulers and students etc. People should be educated about the country. In other countries, as soon as you arrive the airport of a country, you see booklets and handbills saying 'Welcome, Bienvenue.' At hotels, restaurant and so on, you are welcome. If you teach the people and encourage them to welcome the guests, it would be okay.

Yet in Nigeria, people working for you are not smiling and always show themselves as unhappy. They are not cheerful at all. Why? We have a lot to show, but we are not showing them. There are a lot of tourist locations in Nigeria, but we do not know where they are. This is the job of the information department. If you are in any hotel here in Germany, you will find several booklets of what is happening and where. You will be surprised that when you are in Transcorp or Sheraton Hotels in Abuja there is no booklet or pamphlet about Abuja and what is happening, as tourism information. We have a lot to show; so we have to do it at home and not abroad.

In my opinion, the approach of the minister is the best and she should be supported. She should also add some of the approach you can find in other countries. She has not travelled to Cotonou to do a road show or the like. Her successes may take a little time before it begins to show. It is only when we are okay with ourselves in Nigeria that we look okay abroad in the eyes of the world. If people say you smell, what to do first is to see whether you stepped on excreta; then clear it first and move on. Diplomacy should not only be seen, in terms of structures but also on the people's welfare. It is important to see that the people's ideals are not lost.

What do you say about the regular criticism of the Nigerian Embassy by Nigerians in the Diaspora?

It is the usual general complaints, but you have to find out why. One instance is when a person wants a visa from the embassy. He is required to complete all forms and get a visa in 48 hours. But Nigerians will not do that. Sometimes they have not completed these forms and they complain.

Somebody called a former head of state sometime ago to report that he has not been given a visa even when he applied many days before then. By the time we checked, he had not dropped his application and passport where the visa will be put. People complain before even beginning the process. Sometimes they put up an application without a contact address, where the passport should be sent. Where do you send the visa? The visa is now done online. Several people do not want to use the credit card because they are afraid of fraud. It is the decision of the country and not the Embassy of Nigeria in Germany.

The policy is not ours, so we can't change it. They continue to shift the blames upon the embassy for making the new laws about visa procurement. The same Nigerians would go to the British High Commission as early as 5a.m to get an interview that starts at 9a.m, while they won't respect the laws of their own country. We are even liberal that we allow them to send their passports and get the visas posted to them. So the issue is that the people should let the embassy know if they have problems and we would regularly assist. However, if you are a Nigerian and registered as coming from another country, how can we help you when there is problem?

What about the problems of lack of e-Passports, which they say are not available in Germany?

The passport problem is not our making. It is the job of the Nigerian Immigration Service to produce passports. They send the equipment and passports, but here in Germany we did not have that equipment at a time. I know we would soon have them. We would give the old ones until we have the new ones. For the avoidance of doubt, the cost of passports is 80 euro or its equivalent in naira.

But it is a different thing for those who lost their passport. We discovered that the regular stories you hear about stolen passports are not always genuine. Some people throw away their passports to get another one; so they have to prove that they lost it and there must be a penalty for that. It is higher than 80 euros, as a deterrent for those who do that. There was a time we didn't have the booklets, but we have them now; so the complaints have ceased. We are not resting to see that problems of Nigerian are solved. What would it profit anyone not to give out the e-Passports if we have them?

In a nutshell, how can you describe life as a diplomat?

It has been a very interesting life for me. I must say I have been very lucky. As a diplomat, you are trained completely. The foreign ministry has been very kind to me due to the training I got, especially on the multi-cultural desk at the United Nations. I was in Geneva for four years. I was director of international organisations and this took me to New York many times. I was in Brussels and Addis Ababa. After that, I went to Austria as ambassador. As you know, Austria is the base for the International Energy Agency, OPEC and UNIDO etc. All these are unforgettable experiences.

Now I am in Germany and the world is talking about climate change. There are challenges, difficulties and the good things of being a diplomat and I have enjoyed it to the fullest, especially the contacts and the several people you meet and get to know closely. People you met in other missions, you meet them again. There are some people I met in German Foreign Ministry whom I had met while serving in other missions. I find it interesting really. I am lucky I didn't have difficult areas. It is a good experience to be a diplomat. I have been a diplomat for 34 years and I have no regrets. However, I have problems with my children moving from place to place and changing schools. One day we are living in Paris, French, the next day, it is Berlin, Germany. It is a great thing serving Nigeria. In fact, I make bold to say that Nigeria is a country worth dying for no matter what people think.