THERE ARE MORE THAN 300 NIGERIANS HERE IN PRISON - OKAFOR, PRESIDENT, NIGERIAN COMMUNITY
Indonesia. It was about 8pm Jakarta time at the lobby of Millennium Hotel in the central area of the city. The man walked in to honour invitation to chat with a team of Nigerian journalists on tour of the country. His name is Kalu Okafor, the president of Nigerians in Diaspora, Indonesia Branch.
Mr. Okafor came to Indonesia about 17 years ago prospecting for work. But there was none. 'I found out that there were not enough jobs even for citizens of the country. So, I had to try my hand on something else.' He began to trade. Today, he is not doing badly.
Although deliberative as he spoke, there was so much emotion in his voice - of anger, frustration and near resignation. All of which is as a result of the plight of many Nigerians living in the country. He said, although there are those who are doing legitimate businesses in the Asian country, many more are sucked in illegal undertakings, like drugs and 419. Expectedly, many of these Nigerians have been thrown into prison. Sadly, penalty for drug pushing in Indonesia is death. According to him, therefore, hundreds of Nigerians are now languishing in the country's slammer, with 16 of them on death row.
Mr. Okafor also spoke of how Nigerian embassy in Indonesia has left Nigerians to the vagaries of a foreign land. 'The embassy here is doing practically nothing for Nigerians,' he said, adding: 'They (Indonesian authorities) know the Nigerian government cannot do anything and the embassy does not even care… (they) will tell you straight to your face to go away that you don't have an embassy.'
This is the excerpt of his interview.
Can you introduce yourself to us?
My name is Kalu Joseph Okafor, I am a native of Umunezechi, Bende Local Government Area of Abia State.
How long have you been here?
I have been here for 17 years.
What are you doing now?
I am into business. I have a shop here then I buy goods and send to Nigeria, and as well sell here.
You came from Nigeria to do business here, how is the business going?
Yes! By the grace of God we are surviving. It is not very easy.
How often do you visit Nigeria?
For a long time I didn't go home. It was in November 2011, that I went home last.
You must have a sizeable number of you here, the Nigerian community I mean?
The Nigerian community here is very large; we have more than 500 Nigerians in this country.
For you, of all countries, why Indonesia?
Actually, I was into teaching in Nigeria but when I found out that I could not support my family, and you know the condition in Nigeria … the extended family is a major problem we have because you can't be fending only for yourself and for your immediate family and that is the idea back home. So, when demands become too much for me, I thought I had to look for greener pasture outside to be able to take care of them.
Why did you choose Indonesia of all countries, that is?
A friend of mine gave me the idea. I was in Cotonou, Benin Republic, because things weren't that easy for me. So, a friend gave me the idea of coming over here that there were job opportunities. Initially, I came over to work, but I found out that there were not enough jobs even for the citizens of the country, and it was not easy for them as well. So, I had to try my hand on something else.
You said you came to Indonesia to work but unfortunately even the indigenes were finding things difficult. But somehow, you have managed to defeat those early odds and now you are the President of Nigeria in Diaspora, Indonesian branch. Now, can you tell me, in a few sentences, how you made it from joblessness to where you are now?
When I came over and there was no job for me, I found out there were some Nigerians who came looking for items to purchase here. So, I will go out, find the things they needed and buy them and the interested ones started buying them back from me. Sometimes, I would bring 200 to 300 shirts to them, which they buy and I would go out to look for more. So, gradually we started building.
As a Nigerian, what does it take to stay in Indonesia?
Indonesia, as a country, is welcoming to everybody, but just like every other country there are racial problems sometimes. If you decide to stay in Indonesia, at least for a little while, you will have to go through it but you have to endure because you have a purpose. It is not easy living outside your own country coupled with other economic issues. You are to pay your house rent, electricity bill, your shop and a lot of other expenses, as well as try to meet up with demands from home.
Generally, what sort of businesses are Nigerians into in this country?
There are three major things that Nigerians do here; most of us buy clothing materials, electronic items and raw materials that we send to Nigeria. If you are fortunate and you have a good representative in Nigeria who handles the sales properly and send back the money for you to be able to make use of it then you can easily make it.
Then, there is another set of Nigerians that go into illegality like dealing with drugs and the usual 419. But we have been doing our best to discourage these people because the image of Nigeria is much greater than our individual interest.
I understand there are several Nigerians in prison here for illegal undertakings?
Yes! We have so many Nigerians, at least we have more than 300 of them in prison; five are on life sentence, some are doing 10, 15, 20 years and 16 are on death row.
How is the Nigerian embassy in Indonesia helping out?
It is quite unfortunate that we have a country as big as Nigeria with the resources, human and natural and our leader cannot take care of our people. The embassy here is doing practically nothing for Nigerians. At times a lot of people perceive our embassy here as a mini Mosque. It should not be and that is why we here have been saying that Nigerians should not just see Indonesia as a Muslim country and therefore only a Muslim or a core Northerner should represent Nigeria. There should be flexibility. They should have a change in the areas where people come from because majority of us here are form the South. Although, I am not saying that a Southerner might do it better, he might understand our problems and be able to act without fear or favor because he is dealing with his own people. We want the government, represented by the Nigerian Embassy here, to deal with these people that are into illegal businesses; we want our embassy to help us flush them out and re-brand the name of Nigeria, that is exactly what we need here.
You said the embassy didn't do anything for you, don't you think that they might have been overwhelmed by the problems Nigerians cause, if you tell me that you have such a large number of our nationals in prison here?
I don't think Nigerians bring much trouble to them. Most of the troubles Nigerians here have are brought to our union and then we approach the embassy. We carry much of the burden as a union than the embassy. The problem we have here is that Nigerian government does not behave like other governments. We have been saying that if a Nigerian commits an offence, the law is there to try him. Arbitrary killings of Nigerians should be stopped. We have lost more than 90 Nigerians within a year and they were just killed on allegations.
Are you isolating Nigerians or it is a general practice by the government…
It has a lot to do with Nigerians.
Do you have good reasons for your assertions?
Yes, because when you look at the quantum of the substance (of drugs) that is said to be recovered from these people and the amount that is recovered from other nationals, yet nothing happens to these people but if it were to be Nigerians, they would probably be killed.
Really, why do you think they single out Nigerians to kill?
It is because of the weakness of our government; they know the Nigerian government cannot do anything and the embassy does not even care. The Indonesian will tell you straight to your face to go away that you don't have an embassy. There was one particular case that involved a Nigerian, then, the case was in court. The guy's name is Hilary. The court be acquitted him and the police said no he could not acquitted. They started beating him there in the courtroom and dragged him back to detention room and now he is on death row. This was happening in the presence of our embassy officials and they did nothing and have not done anything up till this point.
We have a most recent case of a Nigerian's genital cut off - I have the picture and I will send them to you. The man wrote a letter to our ambassador here, he wrote to our union and also sent us the pictures. I went with the junior secretary to see him in prison, even Indonesian prison officials were very angry and could not understand how a human being could have inflicted such an injury on someone else. Up till this day the boy is still in prison and he is still attending court sessions with the injury.
Is it not possible that many of these people in prison would have come in illegally?
There is no way anyone can come into Indonesia illegally, considering the distance between the two countries. Most of them came in legally but along the line, probably they lost their legality by over staying. That is why we are saying the embassy should brace up. We are not asking the embassy to do everything, but they should work with our union, the Nigerian community - we are the people in the field. We live here and we know these bad people. The embassy should work with us to make sure they are flushed out and they should as well enlighten Nigerians on the dangers of coming if they do not have any legal thing to do in this country. If they are properly informed, they wouldn't want to take this risk because most of them were deceived into coming to this place with promises of plum jobs. We know the situation in Nigeria where graduates are roaming the streets looking for job, so at the slightest opportunity they would want to come. But let us educate them properly on the dangers of not have something legal to do here.
How does all of this affect you people who are living here legally and doing legal businesses?
It affects us so badly. You should understand what it takes to bear the shame of your brother walking disgracefully on the street here in a foreign land; with Nigerian blood, like you. It affects us in other areas. We are denied certain things that are easily accessible to other nationals. For example, you will be thoroughly screened before you are given a resident permit here. You cannot open a bank account as easily as other nationals. There are some areas you might not be permitted to live in when they know you are a Nigerian. It has an adverse effect on our citizens.
Why do you think people will leave Nigeria for a foreign land to suffer in this manner?
It is the non-existence of opportunities in Nigeria that drove many Nigerians to come over here in expectation of greener pasture. If we have these opportunities at home, I don't think even an insane man will want to leave his home. When you look at it generally, you find out that it doesn't speak well on Nigeria because majority of our youths are outside. These are the people that could have worked in the industries that we have in Nigeria, help develop the country but we have most of them outside the country because these opportunities are not there for them. I think if it where in Nigeria, light would have gone now. How can a country survive without electricity?
Do you people believe in Nigeria at all?
To me Nigeria is better than the United States of America. I believe it is my country that God puts me. God is not a fool to have created me a Nigerian. And I believe that Nigeria will do better than most other countries that are ahead of us today, if we believe in that country because we have everything it takes to be great. We have natural and human resources. There was an article I was reading sometime ago that was saying that Nigerians are the most educated immigrants in America. What are we doing without these people? We drove them away because we did not allow them the opportunities to work in Nigeria and help it grow. Criminals have overtaken government; people are there to loot, they only think about themselves.
There are so many similarities between Indonesia and Nigeria. Indonesia is a tropical country just like Nigeria; most of the things that can grow in Nigeria can who grow in Indonesia. Indonesia is diverse ethnically. There are so many ethnic groups here in Indonesia. The problem we have in Nigeria about ethnicity is here as well but they have not allowed it to overshadow the interest of the country. Let us have the best from which ever ethnic group a person comes from; the important thing is for that person to have the interest of the country at heart.
There is corruption here as well, but we all have seen how they are dealing with their corrupt politicians. As soon as that person is caught, the court does not grant bail. Court here does not grant bail on corruption cases; you will be there until your case is over. But in Nigeria, somebody loots billions and our court grants him bail, allowing him the opportunity to go and destroy evidence when he is outside; he is given the opportunity to be able to reach higher authorities that will be working for him. Here, the reverse is the case; they do not allow bail for corruption. Nigeria will do very well if we can put ethnicity and religion behind us. Religion should be matter between man and God. It is not about population, but religion in Nigeria is being politicized. When we look at these people that call themselves religious people we find out that they are the worst people we have in the society, but they only using these for their own selfish interest, which is very bad for us.
They say Indonesia is a Muslim country, but you have seen things for yourself. Does it look like a Muslim country? They do everything together both Christians and Muslims; no segregation. That good mix has only helped them to develop that important relationship. They are relating well, much better than Nigerians do. Let us leave religion, give it a place that it belong to in the Nigerian society. Don't mix it with politics.
Government in Nigeria is everyday prophesying that Nigeria will be among the top 20 countries by the year 20-20. Do you think it is possible?
I hope so. My prayer is that it becomes possible but somebody should tell me how we could achieve that without electricity. The political will might be there but what we see on ground does not support that. You cannot do it without infrastructure. We don't even have road in Nigeria, electricity is epileptic, and how could somebody be dreaming so high? It is just a dream.
Let me come back to Indonesia, what does it take a Nigerian to be a citizen of this country?
What it takes a Nigerian is not different from what it could take other people. You are either married here then after the first 3 years you will be given another 5 years. After that if you wish you could apply for citizenship. It is either you are married here or you have a registered business.
If you have an opportunity to talk to young Nigerians wishing to come to Indonesia, how would you address them?
I will only ask them to come with a different mindset from the people we have here now. Let them have something legal in mind that would want to do. They should seek advice first either from the Indonesian embassy or from their peers here in Indonesia. They should drop the idea of hoping to come to do drugs or do 419 here.
How is life generally here, especially for the poor?
I think it is much better here than in Nigeria because most of the times here, if you had the opportunity of staying longer in Indonesia you will find out how the banks deal with their citizens here. The banks give short loans to individuals, even roadside hawkers have the chance to obtain loan from banks. The government as well, is doing her best to provide job opportunities for the citizens. There is no government anywhere that shares money to its citizens; what citizens want are job opportunities, let them have something to do to provide for themselves.
The banks here are much better than the Nigerian banks. They are involved in every facet of development in this country. They are involved in the construction of roads and all infrastructures in the country even trading, agriculture and others. But I find it difficult to understand the kind of banking Nigerian banks are doing. Who are they banking? It is very difficult for anybody to access any loan in a Nigerian bank. I have not heard Nigerian bank getting involved in developing the country. I think they should have to devise better ways of helping grow the Nigerian economy.
There is something I have observed here. The poor of this country do not look abject as we see in Nigeria. I've seen some beggar, but they are not as wretched as what we see on the streets of Lagos…
There are poor people all over the world but we should remember that there are three basic things that a human being needs: food, clothing and shelter. If you have provided all these things, other ones are not serious issues. Here there is no poor person that does not eat three meals a day. Those beggars you see by the roadside, however small the place is, they have television there they watch 24 hours smiling away their sorrows. But a Nigerian that has everything in the house does not have electricity. What then keeps him happy? Even the poor people here are more nationalistic than our politicians in Nigeria.
May be because the poor here are not too ambitious…
How can they be so ambitious since government provides basic things they need? Have you seen excreta at the roadside? There is a market very close to this place, if it where to be in Lagos, everywhere here will be filled with excreta. But here, the toilets are there and water is running. So, their basic needs are being met.
How do you Nigerians cope with the cost of living here?
I think the cost of living here depends on the type of life you want to live. Indonesians are people who would want to live according to what they can afford. It is unlike in Nigeria where a cart-pusher will be dreaming of building a two-storey building. How can that person come by that? But here in Indonesia, even if you ask somebody to get involve in some business he or she will ask you 'how? I don't have the money!' Educate the people, not everybody will be a millionaire, but in Nigeria we think everybody must be a millionaire.
What is your call to Nigerian government?
My call to the Nigerian government is that they should wake up to the responsibilities of Nigerians, both home and abroad. We have a large number of Nigerians abroad and they should understand that allowing our youths to be roaming on the streets of other cities in the world is to the detriment of the country because it is the youth that develops a country. They should put things in place that will attract Nigerian youths abroad to back home.