"Always count on us"…Ambassador Tafida tells Nigerians in the UK

Alhaji Tafida< Nigeria High Commissioner

Dr. Dalhatu Sarki Tafida was elected as the Senator for the Kaduna North constituency of Kaduna State, Nigeria, at the start of the Nigerian Fourth Republic, running on the People’s Democractic Party (PDP) platform. He was sworn-in on 29 May 1999. He was re-elected for a further four year term in 2003.

He was also the  former personal physician to former civilian President Shehu Shagari and  appointed as the  Director-General of Goodluck/Sambo Presidential Campaign Organisation while still holding his foreign mission position as the Nigerian High Commisioner to the United Kingdom.

Tafida was a contender to be PDP candidate for governor of Kaduna State in the 2007 elections, but lost in the primaries.After leaving the Senate, Tafida was appointed Nigeria High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, presenting his Letters of Credence to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II on 30 May 2008.

In March 2009, he noted a growth in applications for Nigerian visas at the High Commission, pointing out the importance of economic ties between the two countries despite the negative image due to oil field kidnappings, advance fee fraud and other problems.In January 2010 he formally opened a new visa hall, which was expected to reduce delays in obtaining Nigerian visas.

In April 2010 Tafida reacted quickly when the BBC aired a documentary that showed Lagos as one huge slum. His letter of protest to the BBC2 Controller noted “dismay and disappointment” about the documentary, and registered “strong rejection of this documentary as a deliberate distortion of life in Lagos”.

The 71 year old medical doctor turned diplomat was recently interviewed by some Nigerian journalists in London and our London Correspondent, Dare Lasisi was also part of the crew. Enjoy the interview:

QUESTION: How are you helping to improve the welfare of Nigerians in the United Kingdom, especially those that have issues with their residence papers in the country?
We are doing our best. If you want to know about what we do, come to the mission; ask the people, the Nigerians who live here. We have opened the doors of the Mission for anybody in need of any assistance. We have also created a dialogue between us, the Nigeria High Commission and the UK government. We have a UK/ Nigeria forum pertaining to immigration, whereby those who are qualified to stay even if they don’t have passport we try to grant one once we have confirmed evidence that the government is willing to grant them stay and this is ongoing and if you want to confirm this you can ask your friends and relations living in the UK.

QUESTION: There are about two million Nigerians staying in the UK and in a democratic setting like ours these people do not have the opportunity to vote, which means that they are disenfranchised. What are you doing to grant them voting rights?
We had conveyed their request home. You know that I am a former legislator and I know how this thing is done. I cannot do it by shouting from London. No individual can do it except through the National Assembly through the amendment of the constitution. Once it is permitted that Nigerians outside Nigeria can also vote, which means that the law of Nigeria is being amended. It will be our own responsibility to make sure that during elections whether presidential or gubernatorial they will vote here.

QUESTION:  What manner of advice will you give Nigerians who want to come to the UK?
They should make sure they have a source of livelihood. UK is no longer a safe haven. It is easier to be in Nigeria  without a job than to be in the UK without a job. So unless you have a job, a confirmed job, don’t come here. That is number one; number two, make sure that your papers are correct even if you are a visitor, otherwise you can get into trouble now that they make use of electronics or biometric passport, whereby you cannot have more than one passport. Once you have that one passport you cannot amend what is inside it like  some Nigerians use to do in the past. My advice is that you should make sure that you follow the right process.

QUESTION: What are your challenges?
Of course, funding. Here in the Mission we need more resources, that’s why I thought you could have visited the Mission to see what we have done in the last three years or so. Since I have been here I have tried to make the place look like a mission of envy and Nigerians have started appreciating it that they now have a mission. They now come there and there are processes to get what they want. Once they follow these official processes, they don’t need to bribe anybody. Some Nigerians live here on fraud, 419, we don’t want that  and we advise them not to do that.

QUESTION: What efforts are you making to improve the image of Nigeria because there  are lots of negative impressions about Nigeria and Nigerians?
We start from home. If that negative impression about Nigeria is corrected from home. Here too will be corrected. But here also we tell them this is what we are doing, the best that we can as diplomat and to provide necessary assistance to Nigerians who require our assistance. Every week we get reports from Nigerians who have lost their passports or articles and they need assistance. We always try our best to  assist.

QUESTION: From public opinion there is poor relationship between the Nigeria Mission and Nigerians living in the UK. Nigerians here accuse some of your aides of being arrogant, detached from the people and highly officious?
I have told Nigerians that anybody that has any problem with the officials, no matter how big the person is, they should bringit to my attention and once we can prove it we make sure that we put that right. This is what we have been doing. We have punished people, our workers, for misbehaviour. We have arranged special training programme for workers to enable them exhibit proper customer service manners and I think things are improving. Unfortunately we are all part of the society before now but things are changing. If you know the Mission before now and you go there now you can see the changes that have taken place. Ask your colleagues who are here and they will tell you that there is a world of difference between what was then and what is now.

QUESTION: Nigerians living in the United Kingdom informed us that  it is very difficult to obtain the Nigerian passport from your office?
They are not telling the truth. Please bring one person to me. If you are qualified to get a Nigerian passport you will get it. The process is the same in Nigeria. As I said earlier, it is e-passport. When you apply, we don’t collect your money, you pay online. When you pay, you get appointment. Once you come on that day, your picture will be taken. Do not bribe anybody. When you are coming, bring the old passport and the confirmation of payment; that’s all. If anybody ask you to pay anything, he is a thief; bring him/her to our notice. It is not difficult whatsoever.

QUESTION: In Nigeria they are promoting  foreign investment, but foreigners say that it is very difficult to obtain Nigerian visa in the UK?
It is not true. But we discovered that there is something a little bit wrong with the visa that we issue to Britons who go to Nigeria. Britain issues visa for six months, one year, two years, five years and sometimes they give 10, why can’t we also do like that to their nationals whom we know, who go to Nigeria to do business every now and then? I have made efforts to change this and very soon it will be approved. Even Nigerians who have British passport that want long term visas we can’t give it to them.

QUESTION: How many Nigerians are in the UK prisons?
We have prisoners everywhere unfortunately. But you see, when I came here in 2008 there were about 886 Nigerians in UK prison. As at today we have less than five hundred and this is slowly getting less and less and we are interacting with them. Many of those in prison when they express willingness to go home we get their consent in writing and we get the necessary process ongoing and government of Britain provide them assistance and every month there must be a flight carrying such people.

QUESTION: What is your mission doing about Nigerians who want to leave the UK but are stranded?
Let them write to us officially and we shall see.

Reported by Dare Lasisis
EMNnews reporter/columnist