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Tuesday, 6 January 2015

EDUCATION/LIFE STYLE

Indiscriminate jail sentences of Nigerians in Ghana embarrassing says Ambassador
Ajayi Oluwapelumi


In this interview by Ajayi Oluwapelumi, Nigeria's High Commissioner to Ghana, Ambassador Ademola Oluseyi Onafowokan, shares his sympathy with Nigerian prisoners in Ghana, his efforts at ensuring their rights are not trampled upon and the constraints in prison exchange agreement between Ghana and Nigeria. Excerpts:

In 2012, majority of the 707 foreign prisoners in Nsawam, Ghana, were Nigerians, and same appears to be the situation in other prisons in the country. Over the years, their population has grown, with Nigerians still topping the list. Is Nigeria High Commission planning to help Ghana Prison Service in terms of infrastructure and funds for feeding?
Firstly, I agree with you that majority of them are Nigerians, but should majority of them be Nigerians? We shouldn't even be saying such things with pride because it is a national disgrace. Every country we go, they are filled with Nigerians, why? It is unfortunate. But I believe if you are ready to take the risk, then you must be ready to dance to the music.
Now to the question of helping with infrastructure and other things; Nigeria High Commission doesn't have the kind of money to build prisons. We are just here to do our core duties such as issuing passports, visa, supporting Nigerians in distress and to keep promoting the diplomatic relationship between the two brotherly nations.
What is the true state of Nigerian prisoners in Ghana? Secondly, is the prisoner exchange plan between Ghana and Nigeria still feasible?
As regard the issue of the report, I want to believe it was written by one of the prisoners and smuggled to someone to publish for them, because the report is not the reality on ground. First of all, I will like to assure you that no Nigerian has died in the prison. Secondly, I want to assure you that I visited them; spoke to them and I always sympathise with them. But the truth is, when you do illegal things in a foreign land, you should know you will be jailed in that foreign land, so why commit such a crime?
Moreover, if they succeeded in making money from such illicit transaction, they use the money to harass everyone on the streets; illicit money source of which you will never know. I have visited them and I make sure people visit them regularly. I usually send my officials to take toiletries and other provisions to them. If you check on them, they are almost more than the Ghanaians in Nsawam prison in terms of population. They wouldn't stop doing drugs and getting involved in armed robbery cases.
I remember a Nigerian was sentenced to death, I personally spoke to the Chief Justice and I wrote a letter to plead for his life, and he has not been executed, and I don't think he'll be executed. About the long sentences they are giving them, which I was told by the Chief Justice of Ghana Mrs Theodore Woods, they assured me that they will look into it, but they told me those sentences are to discourage other Nigerians from thinking Ghana is a safe haven for criminals. It is logical to make a U-turn if you know that you are likely to get a prison sentence of 50-130 years if caught committing crime as a Nigerian or a foreigner. But that has not deter them, as Nigerians fill up the Ghana prisons on a daily basis, and after being caught, they want us (Nigeria High Commission) to come and get them out.
Also, any Nigerian prisoner released comeS to the Nigeria High Commission (NHC), we usually give them GHC100 ($40) which will take them to Lagos. Since I resumed as the High Commissioner, I have been doing that religiously. Sometimes when they come, I will ask them to be brought in front of me, and I ask them what led them into it, and afterwards, I counsel them. The question remains that when you know there is a reward for your crime if caught, why do it?
On the question of prisoners exchange, I have spoken with the parliamentary Committee on Foreign Affairs and I mentioned the issue; I was made to understand that Nigerian prisons are too full, and that the prisoner exchange document has not been concluded yet. If you check countries around the world, you will find Nigerian prisoners there, and it baffles me. I think we need a national orientation because this is becoming a huge embarrassment to the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and this is as a result of the fact that they want to get rich quick. It's not a crime to be rich, but it must be earned. The High Commission is doing its best to ensure that Nigerian prisoners have a humanity touch. The High Commission doesn't have power to get them released; all we can do is to keep pleading.
Is it not out of place for Ghanaian government, through her policy, to give the nationality of a particular country like Nigeria excessive jail sentence, claiming it is an instrument of deterrent?
I agree that policy is not right. Like I told you, I sat down with Chief Justice Theodore Woods, and he promised to work on it. I don't think I can force authorities in Ghana to change its justice system. So also, Ghana High Commission in Nigeria cannot force Nigerian government to change our justice system. In some countries, the law prescribed that you will be beheaded if you commit certain crime, and there's little or nothing diplomacy can do to make them change their mind. I think to go to prison for a long time is better than being beheaded. But the best solution is to walk away from criminality.
How will you describe the loss of Nigeria's former minister of Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Olugbenga Ashiru and your relationship with him?
Ambassador Olugbenga Ayodeji Ashiru was my boss at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for many years. We were in the same department in 1982. He was my brother, mentor and a family friend. He and his wife, Dr Kehinde Ashiru and their children are like my family.
When I was posted to Ghana, he called me and told me "Seyi, I know you're a smart man and I want you to go there and put in your best. Even when he left as a Minister, he invited me and my wife to his house to have lunch together, that was the last time I saw him.
It is very devastating to hear the news of his death. He had worked very hard for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The only consolation we have is that he left a mark. He accomplished a lot, and I believe he died a fulfilled man. He was a very, very good man. I usually call him brother Gbenga.
Sir, you mentioned making provision of GHc 100 for Nigerian prisoners to take them to Nigeria, but it cost almost twice for a Nigerian without a passport to travel to Nigeria, and little less for those with a passport. Moreover, this money won't get them to their home- town where they could reunite with their families. Is the High Commission working on augmenting the cash?
If that's the case, we will look into that, but whatever we give them is meant to get them into Nigerian territory. Once you get to Lagos, you should be able to find your way from there. This money we are giving to them for their transportation to Nigeria is our own initiative; sourced from our overhead cost, not a fund created by the Federal Government. I think we can increase it to GHC200. The time we initiated it, it cost GHC100 to transport oneself through any of the transport firm to Nigeria.
Is Nigeria High Commission ensuring that each of these Nigerian prisoners is given an opportunity to access a lawyer to speak for them in court? Because report has it that the opposite is the case, and neither are they allowed to speak to their families.
That they are not allowed to hire a lawyer is not true. Also, I can tell you that some of the prisoners' family members do come to visit them, and that was as a result of the fact that they were allowed to communicate with them in the first place. Also, some of them wouldn't want their family members to even visit them because of the shame, while some of them won't even want their families to know they are in prison in Ghana. There's a case of a particular man I met at the prison when I visited. He came from the United States, and quickly wanted to do his drug runs, and he was caught. He doesn't want his family in America to know he's in prison in Ghana. These prisoners lie a lot; they will tell you all sorts of things just for you to pity them. But the question I keep asking is: if you know that when you're caught, you won't be treated with kid gloves, why did you commit the crime?
These hard drugs they are peddling destroy lives; the funny thing is they don't use it themselves because they know the implication on their health, and you also know the law frowns at it, yet you keep peddling it. I sympathise with them, but they should stop talking as if someone put them in prison deliberately; blaming the system, because they cause the trouble for the system themselves.
As a career diplomat, what are the things you learn from him?
I learnt a lot from him, such as the passion for the job. Secondly, he was very shrewd in relation to his work and personal life. Thirdly, he was brilliant, and he thought me how to write report, how to navigate diplomatically and economically at the desk. When he came to the NHC in Ghana, he was very proud of what we have done from the physical outlook of the embassy to dispatches we wrote. He kept sending me letter of acknowledgements personally signed.
The welfare of his officers was his priority. He got more career diplomat to serve as Amdassador than any other Foreign Affairs Minister. Policy-wise, he was fearless, courageous and he tried his best to position Nigeria in international organisations.
The former Minister died in South Africa hospital, a country he battled ruthlessly when there was a diplomatic row between the two nations. Is that not an embarrassment to Nigeria as a nation?
I don't think so. We have other foreigners coming to Nigeria for medicals. There may be cases where we may not have the equipment or expertise and patients have to travel, but that doesn't mean some other countries don't travel to other countries because of that as well. I believe the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan is doing a lot to ensure that it is erased in our history through the transformation agenda. 

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Editor's Mail

Love the article on Gaddafi
We must rise above tribalism & divide & rule of the colonialist who stole & looted our treasure & planted their puppets to lord it over us..they alone can decide on whosoever is performing & the one that is corrupt..but the most corrupt nations are the western countries that plunder the resources of other nations & make them poorer & aid the rulers to steal & keep such ill gotten wealth in their country..yemen,syria etc have killed more than gadhafi but its not A̷̷̴ good investment for the west(this is laughable)because oil is not in these countries..when obasanjo annihilated the odi people in rivers state, they looked away because its in their favour & interest..one day! Samosa Iyoha

Hello from
Johannesburg
I was amazed to find a website for Africans in Hungary.
Looks like you have quite a community there. Here in SA we have some three million Zimbabweans living in exile and not much sign of going home ... but in Hungary??? Hope to meet you on one of my trips to Europe; was in Steirmark Austria near the Hungarian border earlier this month. Every good wish for 2011. Geoff in Jo'burg

I'm impressed by
ANH work but...
Interesting interview...
I think from what have been said, the Nigerian embassy here seem to be more concern about its nationals than we are for ourselves. Our complete disregard for the laws of Hungary isn't going to help Nigeria's image or going to promote what the Embassy is trying to showcase. So if the journalists could zoom-in more focus on Nigerians living, working and studying here in Hungary than scrutinizing the embassy and its every move, i think it would be of tremendous help to the embassy serving its nationals better and create more awareness about where we live . Taking the issues of illicit drugs and forged documents as typical examples.. there are so many cases of Nigerians been involved. But i am yet to read of it in e.news. So i think if only you and your journalists could write more about it and follow up on the stories i think it will make our nationals more aware of what to expect. I wouldn't say i am not impressed with your work but you need to be more of a two way street rather than a one way street . Keep up the good work... Sylvia

My comment to the interview with his excellency Mr. Adedotun Adenrele Adepoju CDA a.i--

He is an intelligent man. He spoke well on the issues! Thanks to Mr Hakeem Babalola for the interview it contains some expedient information.. B.Ayo Adams click to read editor's mail
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