“People are more concerned about return on investments… We are opening up the Consulate to those who are interested in investing in Nigeria.”
Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja
The Consul-General of Nigeria in New York, Mr. Benaoyagha Okoyen, speaks on efforts the consulate is making to protect and project Nigeria’s image, and the impact of the annual Independence Day Anniversary parade and festival which has been on for 27 years, among other issues.
What are the issues you have had to deal with since your resumption?
I resumed exactly on the 2nd of July, this desk is not new to me, I have been able to handle the issue of serving Nigeria with a focus to improving on what has been done before my arrival. Number one, we have tried to ensure the work environment is friendlier to the customers; in this case of Nigerians and those who want visa to visit Nigeria. Secondly, we have also planned to carry out some renovations to give a facelift to Consulate and project a good image of our country. Thirdly, we have also positioned the Mission to significantly improve service delivery to New Nigerians and other nationals.
We have read severally about Nigerians complaining of poor services from the consulate as regards renewing their passports and getting the consulate to attend to matters affecting them. Has there been an improvement in services rendered?
These complains are not new especially for those who want quick service but our belief is that there must be an improvement on any service you are rendering whether in the consulate or anywhere at all. Our focus is to improve on all services. Before now we were unable to issue visas and passport within a short period but that is no longer the story. Problems associated with issuance of passports have been cleared. You can apply for your passport in the consulate today and get it in a day, we have made that provision. We have cleared the crowd, confusion and chaos that come with issuance of passports in the past. Also, the good news is already going round, most Nigerians prefer to come to the New York Consulate, people are coming from the Washington and Atlanta axis, that attest to the fact that our services have improved tremendously.
How much of foreign investors are coming to the Nigeria considering the negative perception of our country right now?
Well, I don’t know the negative perception you are talking about because investment is what people want to do in Nigeria all the time. People are more concerned about return on investments. As we speak, Nigeria still has those potentials particularly with the current administration’s fight against corruption which in turn is giving hope to those who were hitherto in doubt. So, that confidence is there for those who want return on investments in Nigeria. So the window is open for those interested in coming to invest in Nigeria, we are reorganising to focus more on that, we are opening up the Consulate to those who are interested in investing in Nigeria. We are here to help Nigerians back home as well as protect the country’s interests.
Is the number of Americans going to Nigeria increasing or decreasing?
Well, I may not be able to give you that data for now. But I’m sure they are increasing. Those that want to invest are still interested in the traditional areas of oil and gas, and electricity, but we are working on other areas to attract their interests as we have plans to diversify our economy.
Nigerians complain of being treated harshly when they apply for visa back home, are you giving the same treatment to those applying for Nigerian visa here?
Usually diplomacy is reciprocal in nature and where we have cause to do so, we will. We will continue to protect our own interests. That being said, you cannot use one case to visit a general scenario but where our interest lies is what we will pursue.
What’s the relationship between the Consulate and Nigerians in Diaspora like?
Excellent! During President Muhammadu Buhari’s visit to the 73rd United Nations General Assembly, he had interaction with some Nigerians here who were desirous to meet with him. A lot of them doing well in their various fields came up with different ideas on how they can help the country. They are desirous to integrate their efforts into Nigeria’s economy and want to contribute their quota. As a Consulate, we are ready to engage Nigerians in Diaspora and they are willing to offer what they can do back home. The link we have created has helped to strengthen the current relationship. We attend their programmes and they honour our invitations.
Nigeria just marked her 58th Independence Anniversary, how did Nigerians in the United States celebrate the occasion?
Celebrating Independence Day in the United States is something we all look up to. In New York, October 6th is set aside for the celebration through the Independence Day parade. This parade has been on since 1991, it’s a day every Nigerian living in America looks forward to. I see some Nigerians coming here because of this ceremony, they travel far and near to be part of this event, it is a time to bond, showcase our culture and reunite.
It is a period where our culture is on display. The event is the largest gathering of Nigerians outside of the homeland, in celebration of our independence.
It is the day the Nigerianness is seen on the streets of New York. This year’s was equally grand. Among the several Nigerian groups that actively participated were the Igbo Organisation, USA, Faith-based Organisations, Nigerian Nurses Association of USA, Organisation for the Advancement of Nigerians and cultural troupes.
State associations in the US were also represented, while several decorated carnival floats and green-white-green flags and costumes added colour to the event. Nationals of several countries also joined in the parade with some contingents having their carnival float. Personnel of the New York Police Department shut down half of the Second Avenue from 54th Street to 44th Street to motorists for the Parade by the various groups. The Park at 47th Street between First and Second Avenues were blocked for the event.
We celebrated the very best of Nigeria’s food, music, fashion, people and politics. Thousands of Nigerian youths also had the best of time as they sang and dance to Nigerian music.
Nigeria is a great country and it can never be too much to celebrate our tradition and our culture. I was in town of Hampstead, New York on October 1st to raise Nigeria’s flag in recognition of the contributions of Nigerians in that community. The Nigerian flag was hoisted as part of activities to mark the nation’s 58th independence anniversary.
The contribution of Nigerians in the Town of Hampstead was recognised by Senior Council Woman Dorothy Goosby and the hoisting of the flag says a lot about the confidence reposed on our nation and her citizens. Nigeria is a great nation, with great people. Nigeria flag is flying in communities in the US because of the contributions of Nigerians. The parade is an annual event, and this is my first time of witnessing this in New York. It is a colourful parade in Manhattan which goes further to tell who we are as Nigerians. Nigerians are resilient, strong and happy people. We are happy today because Nigeria is 58 and we have everything it takes to move the country forward.
But there are some Nigerians who feel the country has no reason to celebrate. What’s your message to them?
That is a very wrong notion. Like I will always say, Nigerians, given the opportunity will prove themselves. We celebrate our human capital, our culture, our diversity. It is very important that people don’t deceive us with those negative perceptions out there, our human capital is important and it is important we embrace this, this is the hope we are living for.
Away from celebration, what are the issues the consulate is dealing with in terms of those giving the country a bad name?
That is why we are here, we are always dealing with such issues of Nigerians committing one crime or the other but that is not peculiar to Nigeria. Other nationalities are involved in criminal acts as well. We have been able to offer assistance to those in need, we advise them on the current administration’s intention to deport illegal immigrants and those committing crime. We encourage them to behave themselves and not to project the country in a bad light. We also advise them to invest back home because at the end of the day, home is home. We will always advise them to continue to remove the negative label, Nigerians are great people, we have performed creditably well in every field of human endeavours and our message is that they should continue to do their best so that we can attain greatness.