Ejike Ukeagbu, 38, sells odd stuff at one of the many flea markets in Berlin Germany. His German is nearly flawless and if he was not black, anybody could have taken him for a normal Berliner trying to eke a decent Euro. However, Ukeagbu has lived illegally in Berlin, Germany for more than a decade. Allegedly a former student of the University of Stalingrad, in the old Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, USSR, he claimed that he was unable to continue with his studies because a scholarship scheme that took him to the old Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, USSR, expired with the collapse of that empire. After he roamed around Europe for a while, he said he finally decided to settle in Berlin. The city fascinated him. ‘Berlin was like a Rolex watch to me. Everything worked to precision. There were many people from Vietnam, India and Africa like me who wanted to live in Berlin legally’, he said.
But more than 20 years of living in Europe, Ukeagbu feels a tension in his guts whenever a policeman chances by. Almost forty, life is yet to begin. As he stood by the rows of refuse bins by the Osloer Strasse underground train station, he looked like one of the commuters waiting for the next train. But as soon as the train leaves with the passengers, he rummages through the bins and scavenges through them quickly. It is the bits and pieces he scavenges from bins like this that he displays as his wares in that Berlin flea market. ‘The government is very strict concerning the things we sell here. The things I sell here must be old stuff. If they find any new wares here, they’ll want to know how I got them. That may lead them to close my shop’, he said.
There are many Nigerians like Ukeagbu in Berlin, Germany, who told the magazine that they can no longer go back home to Nigeria even though offered employment. Obi Okaku is among the many. According to him, he found his way to Germany in the early 80s when it was the fad to ‘travel out’. After he landed in Germany, he fell into the cold hands of a cocaine-racketing clique which he managed to wriggle from. To survive, he said he had to struggle with the cold and some Hitler youths, doing all kinds of disgraceful odd jobs before he eventually got work and resident permit as a hotel consultant.
Other Nigerians prefer to do just about anything to survive, digging up snow in winter, washing corpses and waiting on guests at open-air restaurants. Most of the time, rather than employ seemingly qualified Nigerians, the authorities prefer to give the few menial jobs available either to invalids, women or machines. Some Nigerians that spoke to me in Berlin on conditions of anonymity said that Germans see them as parasites and viruses from Africa, invading and trying to infest their nice neighborhood. One of them recounted a story of a 60 year-old woman who was given the job of supervising Germans who collect waste into the State of the art waste disposal factory in Berlin. He said that even though he had a good degree in waste management from the University of Lagos, the old lady got the job. An official of BSR, the largest municipal waste plant in Berlin told the magazine that most Nigerians have degrees that are not suitable to the German economy. ‘We do not employ women here but rather than give this job to outsiders, we will employ a woman here instead’, he said.
Nigerians have devised al kinds of methods to survive. Ladies exploit the night and sell their bodies to the highest bidder. Three months ago at a Nigerian church in Berlin, frequented by African worshippers, two Nigerian ladies engaged in a no-hold-barred-free-for-all fight over a customer. Even when the pastor of the church tried to broker peace, the ladies brushed him aside and engaged ach other right at the alter of the church.
While Nigerian ladies sell themselves to the Germans to survive, the men try to lure German girls into matrimonies that they think may guarantee them a decent job, a meal ticket and access to the good life. But trust the German ladies. Many of them already understand what their would-be Nigerian husbands are after. Some sterilize themselves against child-bearing or they do all within their power to fleece their husbands, who will eventually stop sending money home. ‘When I got married to a German lady in 1991, I discovered that I had made a mistake: my wife did not want children, preferring her 13-year old cat to having kids. We divorced but it has been difficult to settle down either with another German lady or a Nigerian’, Okaku told the magazine. The inability of Nigerians in Europe to settle down translates to a fear that marriage to Nigerian or African women in Europe either exposes the German women as prostitutes, or a fear than a naïve Nigerian lady in Europe would ‘wise up’ quickly and abscond from their husbands.
Nigerians in Berlin allege that their embassy officials hardly give a damn about their plight. ‘It is usually easy for other Africans in Berlin to get a Nigerian passport than us, the Nigerians. The embassy officials sell our passports to these people for as much as five hundred Euros. When we apply to them normally, they put us on a waiting list for as much as two years or more, only to be told that passports are still scarce’, a source in Berlin said. That is not all. They also allege that Nigerian embassy officials are cold to them. Our reporter in Berlin sought the side of the embassy in Nigerian embassy in Berlin, but was rebuffed at the entrance of the embassy by staff packing and unpacking suits in suitcases. Maccido Duhu, administrative attaché of the Nigerian Embassy in Berlin said that Abdul-Kadir Rimdap, Nigerian ambassador to Germany travelled to Nigeria in August to Lagos for an official assignment to Lagos, and so was unavailable to grant me an interview.
The woes of some of these Nigerians are increased by pressure from relatives at home, who regard them as selfish breadwinners in Europe probably because they do not regularly send them money. ‘I used to strain myself and work very hard to send money home but my relatives frittered them away because they assume that I get these things easily’, Okaku said. Ukeagbu, who said that his wares are much more expensive than any other in his flea market, said that. ‘If I came home tomorrow, you may be the first to ask, ‘wetin you bring from Germany?’.
Quite unlike like Ukeagbu, there are Nigerians in Europe who are well to do. Under the aegis of Nigerians in Diaspora Organisation, Europe, NIDOe, they have set up businesses that are recognized by most countries within the European Union, EU. The 5-man executive council, exco, of NIDOe is made up of top class professionals and highly-educated Nigerians. For instance, Peter Agwi, president of NIDOe, is an architect and town planner whose business empire operates on a tri-axis from Lagos to Berlin and to Abuja. He controls the popular Apo Consulting Firm of estate builders and managers in Abuja, with offices in the United Kingdom and other parts of Europe. Despite being seemingly well-to-do, their compatriots in Europe say that their impact in not being felt. I sought to speak with members of the NIDO exco in Berlin but they did not respond to email and telephone requests for an interview.
Statistics which show that there is a growing number of Nigerians struggling to travel out is not readily available. However, a visit to most embassies in Lagos reveals that Nigerians still struggle to travel out to the other side where they think the grass is greener. Seemingly unperturbed Nigerians who spoke with me said the government must put its act together by providing jobs for Nigerians. However, Okaku said he believed that there is nothing wrong with aspiring to travel abroad. ‘But if you already have a job in Nigeria and nobody is harassing you, why do our people leave that glorious place called Nigeria to come here to be modern slaves?’, he asked.