Alex Enumah dialogues with Nigeria’s Ambassador to Germany, His Excellency Yusuf Maitama Tuggar on how Nigerians are perceived in Germany and the expansion in bilateral agreements that would soon see the return of Nigeria’s stolen artworks
How long have you been Nigeria’s Ambassador to Germany?
One year, eight months.
What has been your experience?
Well, it’s been a learning experience and for me, it afforded me the opportunity to put into practice classroom theories because I am a student of International Relations. Now, I’m seeing it being acted out.
Germany being the power house of Europe and also a regional and global leader, it’s a very significant post. It affords me the opportunity to accomplish our diplomatic aspirations on a wider scale because here, you are dealing with two power houses (Germany and Nigeria) on their continents.
They are shapers and influencers of globalization and my duty is to bring them closer so as to unleash their full potentials, not just for the two countries but for the whole world.
What improvements have been made in Nigeria’s trade relations with Germany in the last one and half years?
It has been giant strides because there have been significant visits and interactions between leaders of both countries. There was a visit by the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel with a business delegation to Nigeria in August 2018. In the wake of that visit, there have been a lot of interests, a lot of linkage between Small and Medium Scale Enterprises in both countries.
In fact during the visit, three, Memorandum of Understandings (MoUs), were signed including the one between Volkswagen and the Nigerian Automotive Design and Development Council. There was another one signed between the Nigeria Incentive-Based Risk-Sharing System for Agricultural Lending (NIRSAL) and a German medium sized company called Petcos Technology that specializes in seeds and grains technology which is a very important segment of the agricultural value chain. You have to have the right seeds to improve your yields.
There was a third agreement between the Nigeria Association of Chambers of Commerce Industry Mines and Agriculture (NACCIMA) and the African German Business Association which comprises all the major businesses in Germany; the global players that are doing business in Africa are part of that association. We are talking about companies like Siemens, Julius Berger, Bayer, Bosch, Volkswagen and the rest of them.
So, we facilitated the signing of an agreement between them and NACCIMA and that is also a very important agreement because it provides room for collaboration.
There was a fourth agreement signed outside of the visit because it took place a day or two before the German Chancellor arrived and it was between Voide Hydro, one of the oldest players in the electricity sector in the world and a Nigerian company called Genesis Energy.
On the other side, the Vice President, Prof Yemi Osinbajo visited Berlin in December 9-11, 2018. During the visit, we had a Business Dialogue in collaboration with the Afrika-Verein der deutschen Wirtschaft or African German Business Association.
It was a very successful one; it turned out to be a huge forum not just for members of the private sector but for the leaders of the German society. There were several bilateral meetings that took place with the likes of GFW, the German Development Bank, and Siemens in terms of what they are trying to achieve specifically on the distribution side of the power sector in Nigeria.
It’s been so huge and I wouldn’t event want for now to give you a specific number in terms of figures and the size of our trade volume because the process is still ongoing and we are still tracking it to see how much it would amount to at the end of the day. However, the last assessment we did in respect of our trade volume, it was pegged at about $3.5 billion.
How are Nigerians in Germany viewed? Is there racism or xenophobic attacks against them as foreigners?
There are two sides to that issue. Nigerians are perceived very positively for those who consider that Okwy Enweozor and Emeka Ogwu are Nigerians. They are among the foremost curators in the world of arts and they are highly regarded and highly respected. There are a lot of successful Nigerians in Germany. Some are doctors, engineers and other professionals living and working in Germany. So, there’s that respect.
Sadly, you also have a lot of young Nigerians that leave these shores, and end up in Germany with little or no qualification or valid travel documents and they end up relying on the social welfare system for sustenance. Such people are perceived very negatively because Germans are very protective of what they consider to be their commonwealth.
It’s good enough for them that a German commits an offence against another German but anybody who takes from the commonwealth is seen to be cheating the generality of the people. So when you go there and you’re on the Social Welfare System, you’re being paid this money that is meant for citizens, they take exception to it and sometimes, there are those that are driven by even racist sentiments and sadly, it doesn’t reflect well. This is a problem.
But the issue of migration is not all together a negative thing because they have an ageing population; they have a need for qualified workers. For instance, there is a demand for computer engineers. If a country like Nigeria can provide computer engineers that know where they are going to work, they’re going to work for some companies, the companies are going to pay them to be able to sustain themselves there; live comfortably and their kids are able to go to school, the parents are able to pay their school fees without taking from that commonwealth or that Social Welfare System, Germans will not have a problem with that kind of a migrant.
This is something that we’ve been dealing with and trying to address as much as possible.
What else are we expecting on the economic and business relations between the two countries?
In the coming weeks, we shall be receiving about three business delegations from Germany.
One of the delegations is into start ups and they are looking for investment opportunities with start up businesses in Information Technology. We are looking forward to linking them up with business counterparts here in Nigeria. They are looking towards investing in agriculture. They’ve come up with templates to manage agricultural projects using cooperatives. They will provide the funds and all of it is done electronically via their online template.
There is another delegation consisting of individuals interested in tourism so we are going to take them to Lagos and possibly, Yankari Game Reserve in Bauchi State. Of course, they are going to be in Abuja to explore business opportunities in tourism.
The third delegation consists of journalists who are also coming to learn and report about Nigeria. I will be here in Nigeria to receive and host them.
What is the Nigerian Embassy in Germany doing about educational cooperation between both countries?
Certainly, we have quite a lot of programmes. Our second work plan had to do with engaging the German states. There are 16 states and we are approaching each state individually and engaging their ministers, presidents, which is the equivalent of a governor in Nigeria. We are also engaging the secretaries of these states to see areas of cooperation both at the sub-state and state levels.
A lot of them have institutions of higher learning namely colleges of science and technology, universities and research institutes that we have identified and are pairing with some of Nigeria’s centres of learning.
Apart from that, we have an ongoing partnership between the University of Abuja and the University of Munster with regards to the study of Grid Optimization and Diaspora Studies. I actually witnessed the signing of the agreement in Munster sometime last year.
Do we have cultural exchange programmes with Germany?
There is. As a matter of fact, the embassy is planning an event on the 20th of July. It will feature Arts, Literature, Music and Culture as a whole. We want to use that opportunity to further promote çultural collaboration.
You know the German Embassy in Nigeria has the Goethe Institute which supports a lot of cultural activities. We have come a long way with Germany in terms of social and cultural interactions.
The first European to cross from North Africa all the way down to the Atlantic Ocean and ended up in Lagos was a German. Later we had a lot of them who came as explorers, researchers and traders in the 19th century.
But what we are pushing hard for at the moment is the idea of returning our stolen art works and artifacts back to the country. When you go to a lot of public museums in Germany, you will encounter Benin bronzes, Ife artworks and a number of other cultural identities that were taken away illicitly. Those that are in private collections, we cannot see them so we cannot agitate for their return but those that are in public collection, we must continue to demand that they be returned because this is at the centre of the identity crisis that we sometimes face as Africans.
It was European enlightenment scholars in the 19th century that came up with concept of the truth being what is created or invented
When you produce Benin bronze mask or figurine or Nok Terrakota, you are establishing something that is there and that can be verified. It also confirms the existence of your achievements as a creative person, a thinking person and as a dignified human being. But when that is taken away and a finger is pointed at you and you are said to be backward or somehow less advanced, there is no way of proving that you are not backward. This is why it is very important for us to have these invaluable artworks returned.
This is the same thing we are having with the study of History in our classrooms in Nigeria where children are growing up and they don’t know anything about their history.
If we have these things on ground and we can show our children that this artwork was created by a Nigerian or somebody who lived within the territory of Nigeria 2,500 years ago, in the case of Nok Terrakota it will help us. If you’re able to show them some Ife figurine or mask showing what our ancestors did, it revalidates our advancement as a culture and a society. We can use these things to defend ourselves with regards to the purported supremacy of other cultures and civilisations. It can also help in fostering our historical authenticity
When the Europeans tell you about their legends, they have some artworks to show what their people were doing thousands of years ago. They can use carbon dating to authenticate them but then ours were stolen and taken away and we have nothing to showcase.
Sometimes, when we challenge this sort of thing, those in custody of some of these stolen artworks come up with downright insulting excuses. It’s very insulting when you tell a Nigerian, ‘Sorry, we don’t think we should give you back these artworks that were stolen when the Benin Empire was sacked in 1897 because you don’t have the proper museums to preserve them.’ So, who was keeping it up to that 1897 when it was stolen? Who was protecting, preserving and keeping it in that condition that you saw it and even liked it? It’s an insult to come up with that sort of response. Give it back to us; we’ll know how to preserve it when we get there.
What exactly is the mission doing about the retrieval of these artworks and what successes have you recorded?
It’s a very complex issue but so far, we’ve recorded some breakthroughs. What we have been doing is trying to understand where these things are? Who will be receptive to this type of dialogue? These questions are very important because you have to approach it in a manner where the discussion will yield results. It is not to start making noise without a proper understanding of what is where and what can be done. In certain situations, these museums are in states that had passed laws that have made these artworks a part of their own heritage or state assets. Because of such legal hurdles, it is going to be even much more difficult to retrieve these items.
Some are very receptive. Those of them who have visited Nigeria are quite receptive to the idea of returning these artworks. These are potential allies in addressing some of these issues.