Nigerians who pose as refugees are doing a disservice to themselves and their country

I am a Nigerian priest who came to Dublin from Rome a couple of weeks ago to study

I am a Nigerian priest who came to Dublin from Rome a couple of weeks ago to study. Shortly after my arrival in Dublin I was asked: "Are you a refugee?" I replied: "No, I am not, I am a Nigerian".

It was then I learned that a large number of Nigerians are in Ireland as asylum-seekers or refugees. I met a few who, not realising that like them I am Nigerian, spoke freely of their country's "woes". I wondered whether it is the same Nigeria we are talking about.

Based on what they said, I challenge those Nigerians parading themselves as political or religious asylum-seekers in Ireland to a public debate on what has caused them to flee to these shores.

Many of the stories told about Nigerian oppression are lies and fabrications. For instance, some Nigerian here have claimed that young female family members have been forcibly circumcised. Nigerian law forces no one to be circumcised. The Nigerian penal code prohibits the infliction of all tribal marks and mutilations, with a penalty of seven years' imprisonment.


Another claim made by Nigerian asylum-seekers is that they are fleeing political persecution. But their claims that this is based on their ethnic or regional background is false.

For the record, the Nigerian political situation is one of the military versus the civilians. There is little north-south conflict. Two elections ago, when Mr Abiola topped the poll but the military did not allow him to take power, Mr Abiola won the vote because northerners supported him, a southerner, instead of Mr Tofa, Mr Abiola's main rival, from the north. In the most recent election, Mr Obasanjo, a southerner, became President, although he had little support in the south.

I find it peculiar that those who claim to be fleeing unrest in Nigeria are here, rather than in any of the many stable places in Nigeria, a country many times bigger than Ireland with a population of 126 million. Real refugees can't afford the exorbitant air fares to get here. Most Nigerians in Europe are simply seeking a more comfortable life. A distinction must be made between economic migrants and those seeking asylum from political or religious persecution.

I don't blame Nigerians for coming to Europe, but I weep for those who come here claiming to be refugees. We have a name for fraudsters in Nigeria; we call them 419ners (after a section in the Nigerian constitution dealing with fraud), and some stories about them make us laugh.

A Nigerian pretending to be a legitimate refugee from Sierra Leone was stopped by immigration officials in Italy and asked to prove his bona fides by singing the Sierra Leonian national anthem.

He resorted to a song in his native Nigerian dialect and, obviously taken in, the immigration officials let him through. He pretended to be from Sierra Leone because it is undergoing far more unrest than Nigeria. But by falsely declaring themselves refugees they insult themselves and embarrass everyone else who is a Nigerian.

We want a situation where all will head home to rebuild the "shattered" nation. If we all run away, this rebuilding will not be done. Can we as a people sincerely and proudly proclaim: "I am not a refugee, I am a Nigerian"?

Having falsely renounced their homeland by declaring to be refugees, all self-respect is lost by many young Nigerians. Once in the US or Europe, Nigerians suffer occasional abuse, are often tagged "nigger" and are subjected to second-class treatment generally. Can you blame them for sometimes resorting to begging, prostitution and crime?

It is true that there are violent outbreaks sometimes in Nigeria because of our fragile ethno-religious difficulties, but this is normal in a nascent democracy. However, young Nigerians are capitalising on these fragile situations by twisting and magnifying them to earn a meal ticket on the streets of Europe. To understand the situation, imagine Irish people from Cork or Dublin turning up in Nigeria and taking advantage of trouble in Belfast to claim they are refugees.

There are questions I would like to ask Irish people, too. Your warmheartedness and kindness are known throughout the developing world, but why have you become aggressive to foreigners all of a sudden? Not too long ago, two black young men in tears told me how they were forced out of an Irish pub by customers there who made remarks about the men spending taxpayers' money on drink. In fact, the two young men were students, not asylum-seekers. What's the point of thinking and behaving thus towards visitors and strangers?

Are the Irish not among the most generous supporters of humanitarian and charitable causes? Why now are you disturbed about the arrival of people whom you have so generously supported in the past? Treat them the more kindly. Over the years your minds have been tuned to hearing very awful stories of the jungles of Africa. These "refugee stories" are only satisfying your aesthetic taste for tales of snakes, scorpions, witches and all horrors of the jungle.

I have questions, too, for Mr Obasanjo, the President of Nigeria, and his regime. Our country's founding fathers Zik, Awo and Balewa had a vision to make Nigeria great. What has become of that vision now? Is the Nigerian embassy in Ireland listening?

All these false claims of refugee status and our forgotten self-esteem are pointers that we Nigerians are a dissatisfied lot. We are a nation in search of an identity. We need a national identity we can be proud of. That would partly help Nigerians to never again falsely declare themselves refugees and asylum-seekers. We want a situation where all head home to rebuild their nation.

If we all run away, this will not happen. Why do we not as a people sincerely and proudly proclaim: "I am not a refugee, I am a Nigerian"?