By Christopher Oji
Nigeria’s new Ambassador to Benin Republic, Kayode Emmanuel Oguntuashe, recently resumed duty in the neighbouring West African country.
The envoy was given a red carpet reception by the Nigerian community in Benin Republic, who turned out in their numbers to welcome him with pomp and ceremony.
As early as 6:30am, members of the Nigerian community, accompanied by various dance groups, had gathered at the airport, donning assorted colourful clothes.
While welcoming the new ambassador, the Nigerian community presented to him various problems to which they expected solutions.
One of the prominent Nigerian leaders in the country, Mr. Benjamin Madu, said: “We have been going through untold hardship since the border was closed. We had nobody to complain to because we only had an acting ambassador. Now that a substantive ambassador has come, we are very happy that we can now bare our minds.
“What people don’t know is that Nigeria is feeding the other West African countries. Whatever affects Nigeria affects other countries in the sub-region. The economic recession happening in Nigeria is hitting hard on other countries, especially the Republic of Benin. The closure (of the border) is affecting business here. We are down financially but, with the new ambassador in town, I think he will do something on how to reopen the border by the Nigerian government.”
Chairman, Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANCLA), Seme Chapter, Barrister Bisiriyu Lasisifam, pledged the association’s loyalty to the ambassador.
He told the ambassador: “We are an organisation established in 1954. We are most grateful to be part the delegation welcoming Oguntuashe, the Nigerian ambassador, as he starts his duty of overseeing the affairs of Nigerians living in the country.
“We pray that your tenure will bring peace, progress any mutual co-existence between the two countries. We promise to partner with you and the entire Nigerian community in Benin Republic to achieve your goals. Sir, when you settle down, we will brief you of the challenges most Nigerians living in the country are facing.”
“We are freight forwarders licensed by the Nigerian Customs to generate revenue for Nigeria. But since December last year, due to the activities of the people of Benin Republic, business has stopped. The Nigerian government has decided to shut down the passing of cars through the land borders. We can choose our friends, but we can’t choose our neighbours. God has given us Republic of Benin as a country by geographical location; we cannot deny them. Although there are plans to correct the situation, I’m sure the absence of a substantial ambassador was one of the reasons the final conclusion has not been reached. I hope as soon as you resume office, you are going to look into it. There are agreements piled up, waiting for signatures,” the group said.
The Nigerian Students Association, led by Victor Ogbonaya of Pan African University, Porto Novo, said Nigerian students were facing discrimination from the citizens of the country.
“We are being attacked and robbed. In the school, we are discriminated against. After paying school fees, we are asked to repay the same school fees. We pay N250,000 and we were forced to repay it. Many students who could not afford it have gone back to Nigeria. Now that we have an ambassador, we are hopeful that he would address the issue,” he said.
In his response, Oguntuashe said: “I am in the country to bring improvement and increase the relationship the two countries. Nigeria and Benin Republic are like twin brothers that cannot be separated.
“We are going to build on our integration and build both countries, particularly in the areas of economy and security, I mean the border crimes, because goods are passing through the border of the two countries.
“The countries need to work together for the betterment of our economy and security. I am here to work with the authorities. The interest of the Nigerian community in this country is paramount to President Muhammadu Buhari and the Nigerian government. I can go to any extent to defend the integrity Nigerians living in Benin Republic.
“Smuggling of small arms and drugs has been the major challenge on the two routes. I am going to study the ground and do a lot of consultations. We are going to dialogue and have a roundtable discussion. We will proffer solutions. Violence can never solve any issue. Nigeria is a peaceful country and we always resolve issues with other sister counties.”