|Mr. Adedotun A. Adenrele|
The Head of Nigerian Embassy Budapest, Mr. Adedotun Adenrele Adepoju CDA a.i talks to African News Hungary in an exclusive interview which is the first of its kind by any Nigerian Diplomat to any media in Hungary. Adepoju who has served his country in different capacity including in Switzerland, Cameroun, the Netherlands and Spain responds to questions some Nigerians had sent to us. He welcomes ANH with characteristic joviality and humble which somehow melt us but doesn't prevent us from asking questions at hand. A career diplomat, Adepoju answers our questions except on the properties of the Federal Government of Nigeria in Belgrade. He speaks about Nigeria @50, the current diplomatic relationship between Nigeria & Hungary, visa issue, the new e-passport, Nigerians in prison and many more. Excerpts:
Can you briefly state where you have served as a diplomat before your posting to Hungary?
Thank you. I was in Geneva, Switzerland in the early 80’s; Abidjan from 1986 to 1989; the Netherlands from 1993 to 1998; and Spain as a Minister from 2002 to 2006.
What is the significance of the Golden Jubilee on the country and its people?
The significance of this golden jubilee is to look back at what we have done wrong in the past and how to overcome it. Things we have achieved and new things that have been done. It enables us to plan for the future. For example, how we can achieve this vision 2020. It’s all about reflection as we look at the past, access the present and look forward to the future of our country.
What impact is it likely or going to have on the relationship between Nigeria and Hungary?
It’s an opportunity to showcase Nigeria. To promote Nigeria through different activities we have organised. It will make Nigeria to be known to the Hungarians through Jummat and Church services, sports fiesta, business seminar and the gala night. It is an opportunity to show Hungarians that Nigeria has a lot to offer. That Nigeria is a great country and good people. We have published brochures on Nigeria which will give more information about Nigeria’s history, culture, politics and development; addresses of government organisations as well as business enterprises. This is an opportunity to sell Nigeria and to correct the wrong impression about Nigeria like 419 and drug. For instance, it will show that Nigeria is aspiring to be one of the 20th biggest economies in the year 2020.
Does this mean that Nigeria has to wait for this historical moment before showcasing what it has?
No…We have done something before but the golden jubilee presents an opportunity to invite Hungarians. We cannot organise these activities every time. If you come to the embassy for instance, you will see display of Nigeria’s artefacts. But this can only be seen by a few who come to the embassy. But this time around, we want to show it to a larger Hungarian population.
While you are doing this, the Hungarian Embassy in Nigeria has stopped issuing visa in Nigeria. It seems there’s no good diplomatic relations between the two countries. Please expatiate on this…
Diplomatic relations with Hungary is still intact. We established diplomatic relationship in 1964 and the relation is still intact. However the Hungarian government said that it can no longer finance or fund all its diplomatic missions abroad hence the need to close some of them. And the embassy in Nigeria happens to be one of those decided to be closed because of lack of fund. That does not mean the end of diplomatic relations. We have relations with some countries that we don’t have embassies there. For example, we don’t have embassy in Slovenia, Croatia and Serbia. There will still be official visits. Yes, visa will no longer be issued in Nigeria which means that Nigerian applicants have to go to Cairo being the nearest to get their visas. But our relationship in particular is still maintained. There’s no break and there is no disagreement. It’s only a question of finance. Nigeria too has closed missions in the past. We have closed mission in Belgrade in 2003. Governments do close embassies.
So what other places apart from Cairo can applicants obtain visa?
Yes, Nigerian applicants can apply for visa in any of the other Hungarian embassies in Africa. Hungary has seven embassies in Africa: Tripoli, Rabat, Algiers, Cairo, Tunis, Nairobi, and Pretoria). I have heard of a Nigerian student who obtained her visa in Nairobi. But Cairo seems to be the easiest because Egypt Air flies from Cairo to Abuja and Lagos every week. In terms of logistics and distance, Cairo is a bit closer than Nairobi or South Africa.
But there’s the difficulty and financial aspect of travelling to those places to get visa?
Yes you’re right. There are financial implications because applicants have to pay for hotel as they are not likely to get visa on the same day. There are financial implications. But for Nigerians who have the Schengen visa, they don’t even have to go anywhere, for they can use their Schengen visa to travel to Hungary. The problem is those who are applying newly, especially students. But there is a way out. The best thing for a Nigerian applicant to do is to first find out the requirements for the granting of visa in Cairo. They should know the number of days it takes, find about all the documents required before applying. There may be the need to download the visa form.
Applicants should get all the documents including invitation letter ready in case of tourists or letter of admission in case of students and official letter in case of government representatives. If all these are ready, you can fly to Cairo and then to Budapest instead of going back to Nigeria. It is important to contact the Hungarian embassy in Cairo to familiarise yourself with documents needed. You should prepare to spend some days but I suppose preference would be given to applicants from Nigeria or non-resident applicants. It is also advisable to travel by Egypt Air instead of KLM, British Airways, and Lufthansa.
Is the Nigerian Embassy here in Budapest going to close down in retaliation?
No. But it is up to our government to react. There are situations where a government may decide to maintain its own embassy while the other party closes its own. Just like Serbia for instance. We closed our embassy in Belgrade but Serbia still maintains its embassy in Abuja. We closed it down in 2003 but Serbia embassy is still in Abuja till today. So it doesn’t mean that Nigeria should reciprocate. You know Nigeria Embassy in Budapest is concurrently accredited to four other countries (Croatia, Slovenia, Serbia, Bosnia & Herzegovina). The government has not reacted officially – for now. Another approach is that a government may decide to downgrade its mission in reaction to the recall of ambassador of the other country. Now that the Hungarian ambassador has been recalled and the embassy is closed, Nigeria government has two options: either to maintain the embassy as it is now (i.e. without ambassador) or at the Honorary level which has no power to issue visa but can still act as go-between the two countries.
Why do you think Nigeria should maintain its embassy in Hungary?
Considering Hungarian economic development, it is one of the leading EU countries in Central Europe. Moreover, Hungary is going to assume the presidency of EU in January. Again there are more Nigerian students in Hungary compare to other countries in Central Europe. If we don’t have an embassy here, it will be difficult for them to process their consular papers. Maintaining an embassy here makes it easier to coordinate Nigerian relations with other parts of the western Balkans like Croatia, Bosnia& Herzegovina, Montenegro). The embassy here can always cover those areas. So if the embassy here closes, that means Nigerians here have to travel far away. It was Poland that was covering here before and it was tough for Nigerians.
What do you think Nigerians here should do in order for the embassy here to remain?
Our government has not reacted. They have not said they won’t retain this embassy so we have to wait for the government decision.
But in case…I mean there is the probability that the embassy here may close down
What I think is that we should wait for the government decision. For now the government has not said anything about closing down the embassy here. You know that the government would also welcome our own input as the embassy officials before decision is taken. They would like to know our views. Secondly, it’s not easy to close an embassy. It takes some time for a Nigerian embassy to be closed down. First of all there may be a committee that will visit the place for assessment. The process takes time. Officials leave in batches. There are many diplomatic representation options. It could be an embassy with an ambassador; it could be an embassy without an ambassador. So the government has to decide whether to maintain the mission at ambassadorial level or to downgrade it to the Charge d’ Affaires level. And that is the case with the Philippines. Nigeria has no ambassador in the Philippines. The agreement is to maintain it at the Charge d’ Affaires level permanently.
Another option is to turn it to a Consulate. The government can have a Consulate in a country which concerns only with consular matters like visas, consular affairs; but no political and economic matters as such. We call this a Consular Mission. For instance, Nigeria has two Consulates in Cameroun. A consulate deals mainly with visas, and other consular matters like the welfare of the citizens in that country. Governments can still send officials but not related to political and economic matters as such. Some big countries have both Embassy and Consulate in a country. However when a Mission is downgrade to a consulate level, it means the activities are restricted. We still conduct economic and political relations with Hungary.
Has there been any pressure on the embassy as a result of the closure?
Yes, there is pressure from Nigerians especially students who are having visa problem to come and study in Hungary. But there is nothing much the embassy can do other than to comply with our government’s policy or decision. Many Nigerian students have got admission to IBS and the medical school but cannot get visa as a result of the closure of Hungarian Embassy in Abuja. They are stranded so they are asking the embassy on what to do. It is a pressure on us but we have written to the Hungarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs to facilitate their visa. Even some of those who have arrived still face another problem of late registration. There is a case of a Nigerian medical student who just arrived but was being denied admission due to late registration. We are appealing to the authority on her behalf.
Some Nigerians have written to us complaining that their proposals for the Golden Independent Jubilee were rejected while the embassy favourably granted certain individuals close to the embassy. What’s your reaction?
Thanks for the question. You see, the Federal government has given directives as to how we should organise the Nigeria at 50 events. And this is the procedure nations take. The USA, Canada, Britain and so on. Here in Hungary there suppose to be stakeholders meetings. We suppose to involve the Nigerian Community, Embassy and Nigerian in Diaspora. But there’s no NIDO (Nigeria In Diaspora Organisation) here. There’s NIDO in Italy, Germany and so on. They are the Nigerian professionals in the Diaspora. So what we did was to have the stakeholders’ meeting. Nigeria Community president was there. Because in anything the embassy does, the president of Nigerian Community must be there. Even if Mr. President comes here today he would ask for the Nigerian Community president. Now concerning the proposals what we did was that we brought in from the Nigerian Community, the Embassy and some business executives. So if some people came with proposals they were told to discuss it with the Nigerian Community because the embassy cannot be dealing with everyone regarding the celebration. Obviously it would cause problems. I have served in Spain, in the Netherlands where we have more Nigerians. In Spain it is estimated that there are 16, 000 Nigerians. The embassy cannot be dealing with individuals. Nigerian community is there. You can go to NIDO which would then present your ideas to the embassy.
In New York for example, there’s directive from Mr. President about the activity to mark the Nigerian celebration. A committee was set up involving the embassy, Nigerians in the Diaspora, academics and the Nigerian Community. Taking proposals from Mr. A and Mr. B is going to cause problems. I am sure you yourself have a proposal. What we are saying is that present your proposals to the Nigerian Community who will now present all proposals to the embassy. The Nigerian Community represents the whole. It is the Nigerian Community leader that would make a speech if Mr. President comes here today; and Mr. President would now react to his speech. Moreover, there are two types of celebration: the official one which the embassy coordinates and then the one involved the Nigerian Community. There are other events which have nothing to do with the embassy. In London for instance, there are lots of celebrations organised by individuals and organisations – more than twenty activities. So everyone is free to organise something outside the embassy.
How has the new e-passport improved Nigeria’s image in Hungary and environs?
Yes. It has given Hungarians more confidence in Nigerian people. This is because the e-passport is standard which means the data can be easily detected It has an international status. So nobody will suspect you with this e-passport unlike the former MRP passport which was not biometric. Nigerians can now move more freely at different airports. You know the Hungarian government opposed to passports sent by post from Nigeria to Hungary in which many were seized. And some of those who held non-biometric passports had problems with the police. They arrested some Nigerians because according to the police, there’s no evidence that they were physically present to sign for the collection of such passports which were often intercepted at the border. It has embarrassed quite a lot of Nigerians and the government here was fed up.
The MRP passport officially expired in December but the Hungarian Immigration stopped recognising it in April. What is the Nigerian government take on such undiplomatic decision?
I wouldn’t say it is undiplomatic decision. Each country has the right to amend its legislation; and issuing new directives regarding immigration procedure. So the Hungarian government said that it would stop accepting MRP passports, especially from Nigeria and Iraq. It was the decision taken by the Ministry of Justice for security reasons. So we cannot question Hungary in this regard as a Sovereign State. It can take any decision on its own. The only thing Nigerian nationals should do is to apply for e-passport at the nearest Nigerian Mission so as to comply with the law.
Of course we have problem of proxy passport in Hungary…Why is it difficult for the Nigerian government to bring the processing machine to Hungary especially when the Mission here is overseeing other four countries?
Well according to the Nigerian Immigration service, the government has not been able to purchase enough capturing machines. Some Nigerian Missions have got these machines though. If you remember the officials from Nigeria were here for intervention exercise with their own machine but they took it along with them.
But I suppose the machine is not that expensive
The thing is that the NIS has given priority to the big nations. You see, in their own record, there are Nigerian Missions that issue thousands of passports. For example, London, Washington, New-York, Berlin, Ottawa Canada even Paris issue more passports. The INS is doing it gradually. In the case of Hungary although we cover four countries, but the number of Nigerians cannot even be compared to that of Spain.
So the number of Nigerians in a country is the criterion for having capturing machine in that Mission
Yes the number of Nigerians is the criterion. As I said I served in Spain and Nigerians are so many there. A Mission like that has to be given priority where there is large number of Nigerians. In the case of Hungary – to them – the situation is not as critical.
You said it is not as critical here. But Hungary’s situation could be regarded as critical because of the problem of proxy passports which obviously had tarnished the image of Nigeria and Nigerians in Hungary
Yes it did a lot of damage to the image of Nigeria. And that is why the embassy wrote several times to the ministry for the NIS to supply us. It’s a question of availability.
The INS called its coming here as intervention when in fact it took more than three months for the delegate to reach here. The money used in sending the delegate here is enough to purchase the capturing machine. What do you think?
Maybe you are looking at it from the general perspective. Professionally, not only will they supply Missions with equipments; officials to use the equipments will have to be trained as well. For instance, there’s a machine in the Netherlands – in The Hague – which has not been put into operation because there are no trained officers to use it. Not everyone can use this machine. But the government is trying to acquire more so that other Nigerian Missions can get
We hope that Hungary will be among the Missions
We’re trying. We have even requested for the machine to be provided for us here. We raised the issue with the INS officials when they came here and they said that the government has placed order. You know they are security equipments therefore they have to make sure they are secured very well. All we can do is to keep putting pressure to supply the Mission. But as I said, training has to be done as well.
Do you mean the Ministry of Internal Affairs?
The Ministry of Interior… Nigerian Immigration Service is under the Ministry of Interior. They are responsible. They are the one that came here last time for e-passports. They are INS officials authorised to issue passports
Some Nigerians are complaining that the receipt given to them for the administration cost of the e-passport is ordinary paper and not the authentic Nigerian government receipt with coat of arms. What’s your reaction?
The thing is that we’re short of treasury receipt booklet. And we have to obtain them from Nigeria. So we cannot print it locally. And it won’t be proper to pay without giving anything as evidence for the payment. We’re short of the booklet and the ones we have is for the issue of visas. This e-passport is special operation. As long as they were given a paper proving that payment has been made is something. The receipt is in Nigeria but we cannot wait till it comes before giving out the proof of payment. It is a logistic problem.
Many Nigerians are in prisons in Hungary for different reasons. What is the embassy doing to make things less severe for these Nigerians?
The embassy has been visiting them in the prison. There is a case of one Favour who did not like the prison she is being kept. We wrote to the authorities to move her from the prison mixed with men and women to women only prison. But there’s the limit to what we can do. Because when it comes to crime, the authorities have to exercise justice. We cannot intervene in this regard. What we can do is to look after their welfare – to find out how they are doing. It is our concern if they are not well treated. There are other cases even in Budapest here. We have visited some detention centres. We spoke to some detainees, we spoke to prison officials. Again we cannot influence them. What we can do is to plead. I mean to be lenient on our nationals. So the embassy is doing its best. We even have their list to be sent to Nigeria. There are some who are detained for the falsification of documents and later released so it’s difficult to actually know the total number. Some have been deported after their cases were over. So this number fluctuates. Some may have left as we speak and some may be coming in. We can only estimate the number. However, the Hungarian government takes the issue of illicit drug seriously.
It seems to us that the embassy hardly keeps records. Why is it so difficult for the embassy to keep record?
Perhaps it is because those records were not computerised. We are trying to computerise our records. What we are doing now is for Nigerians to register online and, or to update the record. Please bear with us. Unfortunately, there are some Nigerians who don’t register at all. We don’t have record of them. But it is in the interest of every Nigerian to register. If anything happens to them, the embassy will be the first point of contact to ask for their next of kin. So if one has record here we just check. For instance, a purse with money in it was recovered by the police at the airport; sent it to us but we don’t know who the woman is. If that person had registered, one would just check the record and contact her. Assuming the person is not visiting but living here. It is good to register at one’s embassy abroad. So we need your cooperation as we look forward to doing more for Nigerians here.
Why is the embassy not having information or press officer to dish out the activities of the embassy to the public and to Nigerian citizens?
Thank you for the question. Of course the embassy has such officer. May be you are not aware but the first secretary is usually in charge of information.
But it seems to us that the office has not been effective
There’s information desk which also serves as commercial desk. We are doing our best to reach out to the media. We believe in the good relationship between the media and the embassy. There is a new officer in charge of this desk whom we will introduce to you for effective communication.
Now, we would like you to discuss with us the properties of the Federal Government of Nigeria in Belgrade…
I can’t talk to you about the Belgrade properties. I am not obliged to talk about the properties. We are concerned and dealing with bilateral relations. The Belgrade property is beyond the embassy here. I am not under obligation to do so…As far as we are concerned, we are dealing with issues relating to Nigeria and Hungary and the Belgrade property is out of it. What is the property has to do with bilateral relations.
What is your advice to Nigerians in Hungary?
My own advice is that Nigerians should be law abiding. They should try as much as possible to avoid breaking the law of the land. They should comply with Hungarian law. If they do that and then their human rights are violated, we can protest. But if they commit an offence against the law like drug peddling, the embassy may not be in the position to do much. The embassy is doing its best to protect the interest of Nigerian nationals.
As the Head of the Embassy of Nigeria, are you satisfied with yourself regarding your duties to protect Nigeria and Nigerians here?
That I feel fulfilled? Yes I feel fulfilled. I am happy with what I am doing. Of course I can do more. Challenges come from time to time. So we try to face the challenges. We are willing to do more than we have done. As of now I am satisfied with what I have done. I am determined to do much better; to face the challenges ahead more effectively.
Thanks for your time
Thank you for being a patriotic Nigerian. We appreciate your efforts as experience journalist and we welcome constructive criticism.