President of the Nigeria National Union (Nigerian community) in the Democratic Republic of Congo, John Obi, a one-time Anambra State House of Assembly member, tells GBENRO ADEOYE about how the police and some suspected hoodlums took over a Nigerian Embassy building in DR Congo, latest news about the matter, among others
A building belonging to the Nigerian Embassy in DR Congo was recently taken over by some Congolese with the help of the police, claiming the embassy had encroached on their land. What is the genesis of the problem?
We have people in Nigeria called land grabbers. Such people are here too; they have judges, lawyers and police officers working with them. If there is any land they desire, they approach a judge working for them to get a judgment that will allow them to take over the land. They will use the judgment to evict the owner of the house from the place. There is a syndicate here known for that and this is the fourth time they would attempt to take over a Nigerian house.
How was the recent one done?
On August 24, 2020, the councillor living in the Nigerian House went to work and there was a police car there. Then some people with policemen came with a court judgment that the land belonged to one Hajia Kadijah. They ordered the policeman guarding the place out of the compound. They entered and locked the door from inside.
The policeman called the councillor living there and I was also invited as the president of the union. When we got there, we realised that all of them were inside and they had locked the gate. We were unable to have access to the compound. Till now, they are still inside the house. They removed the Nigerian flag hoisted there and threw it away.
According to the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, diplomats are granted immunity in their host countries and so they don’t go to court. The Nigerian ambassador (in (DR Congo) went to the Congolese foreign affairs minister and told him about the problem. The minister said they would look into the problem but till now, the minister or the government of Congo has not solved the problem. Even Nigerian government has not officially reacted to the matter.
The councillor is sleeping in his office at the Nigerian Embassy up till his moment. They took over his residence. He doesn’t even have access to his clothes. He was only left with the clothes he wore to work on the day they took over the house. I think he has bought some clothes now.
I have documents relating to the house in question. The house was given to the Nigerian government by the Congolese government in 1977 through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the DR Congo. Nigeria did not buy the house.
Why was it given to Nigeria?
Nigeria also gave them land in Lagos at Idowu Taylor, Victoria Island. So it was like an exchange as Nigeria also gave them land for their embassy in Lagos. So I don’t understand how an individual would go to court to get an order to take the land their government gave to Nigeria in 1977.
Were the documents presented to the Congolese authorities by the Nigerian ambassador?
Yes, the Nigerian ambassador did that and he gave me copies as the president of Nigerian community her. When the woman tried to do this the last time, the Minister of Foreign Affairs investigated it and wrote a letter of apology to the Nigerian government, stating that the woman had no case and that the land belonged to the Nigerian government. I don’t know what she is up to now.
You said this would be the fourth time. Is it the same woman that has been coming over and over or others have also attempted to take over land belonging to the Nigerian government in DR Congo?
This would be the second time they would attempt to take that particular building; other attempts were made to take over other buildings belonging to the Nigerian Embassy here. After an attempt, the issue would be resolved, then they would move to another one.
Is it the same woman or family that has been involved in all the attempts?
Yes, it is the same Kadijah from the Jean-Claude Okito family. They are land grabbers. That is what they have been doing.
Is their government not aware of what they do?
If I say their government is not aware, I would be lying because for something of that nature to be going on, they must be aware. It involves the Nigerian Embassy so they must be aware. Immediately it happened, the ambassador called the Congolese authorities but they have been nonchalant about it which shows that they know about it.
Do you know if the Congolese government has sent people to the building to try to evict the family yet?
I don’t know if they have gone there but they know the place and the address. But we know the Prime Minister of Congo, its Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Minister of Justice are aware of the issue but those people are still there. The case has been reported on the radio and published in newspapers so they cannot say they are not aware of it.
Is the family a very prominent family in Congo?
No. The only thing is that the lady in question is well connected and has a group that does that.
In a report, you were quoted to have described the situation as a national disgrace, what do you expect the Nigerian government to have done or to do at this time?
That land is Nigerian territory and the Nigerian flag was there before it was removed. Normally, anyone that enters such a place has entered the Nigerian territory. That is how it works. But these people illegally entered the compound and removed the flag of a nation and threw it away. That is an insult. I believe they would never do that to the US or any of the developed nations.
How do you think Nigeria should have handled this matter?
The Nigerian Minister of Foreign Affairs (Geoffrey Onyeama) should react to it. In international diplomacy, what you do to me, I do it to you. If they decide to take that land, then Nigeria should also take back the land it gave to them in Lagos – it is simple. If you are taking back the land you gave to me, then I should take back the one I gave to you. Then the two countries can discuss it but Nigeria should react.
Was the councillor the man the only person living in the building?
He was the only one living there, but along with some visitors. It is the councillor’s building.
Is the building together with the main Nigerian Embassy building or in a separate location?
No, it is in a separate location. We have about six residences and they are not together.
You were quoted to have said the Nigerian Embassy was also burgled, is the same building?
No, the main office of the embassy was burgled, that is the office of the ambassador. I believe they were looking for the documents of the building in question when they burgled the embassy. They broke all the doors; it happened a week before they took over that building. I cannot categorically say if they took money but I know they took televisions and laptops.
From what you know and your interactions with the Nigerian ambassador there, what is the update on the matter?
The ambassador is a civil servant and there are things he cannot say but I know he has written a report to the Nigerian government. But I have not seen any reaction from the Nigerian government.
Has the Congolese government said anything about it that has been reported over there?
They wrote a letter of apology and said they would look into it. I saw a copy of the letter but nothing has been done up till now, since August 24.
How large is the Nigerian community there?
We have a population of over 7,000 if we count people in other provinces.
Nigerians have had problems with locals in Ghana and South Africa; have Nigerians been having any problems in Congo?
No, there has been no serious issue. What I am saying is that if the Nigerian government fails to tackle this, it may escalate and affect Nigerian citizens here. When they see that Nigeria is weak, they will capitalise on that to do more. When a building in the Nigerian High Commission in Ghana was demolished, the Nigerian government did not react the way it was supposed to react. You can see what is happening in Ghana now. If they know that the Nigerian government is weak, they may start disturbing Nigerians here. If Nigeria handles this issue very well, they will be afraid to do such again. Nigerians have lots of investments here. United Bank for Africa, First Bank of Nigeria Limited and Access Bank are some of the Nigerian banks. There are other investments owned by Nigerians here. There are also many buildings owned by Nigerians here; that is why we need to be protected by the Nigerian government.
We are afraid for our lives and property; we are not safe. Since they are not afraid of the owner of the house (Nigeria), I don’t know what will happen to home help (Nigerian citizens in Congo).
Was there any recent construction done to extend the building which could have made the woman and family in question to claim that Nigeria encroached on their land?
No, the house has remained the way it was since the 70s. Where have they been since 1977 up till recently? Nigeria did not buy the land. The Nigerian ambassador has all the documents with him; I also have the documents with me.
Nigeria should react quickly before it gets out of hand. What they want is to break the diplomatic relations between Nigeria and Congo. Nigeria has done a lot to stabilise democracy in Africa. Nigeria has done a lot for this country. Our leaders have come here and a lot of Nigerians have also invested here. Our banks here employ their people.
Do you know if there was any problem between Nigeria and DR Congo before now that could have made the Congolese government to be nonchalant about this issue?
There was none and there is none. But I don’t know why they have not taken it seriously. To tell you that there is no diplomatic problem between them, their president, Félix Tshisekedi, was recently in Nigeria to encourage Nigerians to come and invest in his country. He met with the Nigerian business community. A lot of Nigerians are interested in coming to Congo but the COVID-19 pandemic has prevented them from doing that yet. But this attitude will prevent Nigerians from coming to invest here because if that could happen to a building belonging to the Nigerian Embassy, then their properties would not be safe. Nigerian government should know Nigerians have a lot of things at stake here. Nigerians have investments in agriculture, mining, banking and other sectors here.