Article from the Oct 2004 edition, Socialist Voice

Interview with Nigerian family on the citizenship referendum

THE GOVERNMENT has viewed the results of last June's citizenship referendum as a green light to step up the deportation of asylum seekers. However it is clear from cases over the summer that opposition to deportations can be built amongst Irish people and asylum seekers alike. Michael O'Brien interviewed Okoro Daniel, originally from Nigeria but now living in Swords with his wife and two children for Socialist Voice.

What led you and your wife decide to try to build a new life Ireland?

The key thing that drove us as with many other out of Nigeria is the general hardship. Everything from price rises of fuel, rents, food items and school fees to the violence you encounter everywhere from the State and from tribal and religious tensions make life very hard. Economic activity is declining everywhere. I would describe present day Nigeria as a military government in civilian clothes and not a functioning democracy as Michael McDowell would have you believe.

And yet we are all aware of the vast oil wealth that exists.

Indeed, where I come from, Wari in the Niger Delta there is serious conflict. Chevron have a serious operation there not that we see any of the benefits. Some youth in frustration have attacked the installations. Now Chevron, with President Obasanjo's blessing, have a US warship stationed just off the coast for protection. Shell Oil on the other hand have been linked to state paramilitaries.

So turning our attention to Ireland where do you stand now?

I'm still waiting on my residency despite putting in my application in December 2002. My wife put hers in back in April 2002 and is still waiting. I am not permitted to work, that has to be the worst thing. I studied accounting in Jos Polytechnic and know I can contribute and pay taxes. It doesn't make economic sense to keep me on welfare. I perform voluntary work for the Simon Community to fill my time. I was even asked to withdraw an application for an office administration course in Crumlin because I didn't have residency! This situation can ghettoise many Nigerians and lead them to find individual solutions through forged permits or black market trading. It's inevitable in the circumstances.

Because of the scandal at a few recent attempts at deportation there is a lot more awareness about the consequences of Sharia law justice. However that doesn't apply to all people who are deported. What happens in most cases?

When you are deported and flown back to Lagos airport you are then taken into custody at Alagbon prison where you are effectively ransomed for Euro1,000. [The average annual income in Nigeria is Euro200 a year]. While you are in prison, you or your family are expected to pay for the food you get.

What do you think of the call for an amnesty for all asylum seekers in Ireland?

I agree with the demand. McDowell would rather deal with each asylum seeker individually. The call for an amnesty is also an opportunity for collective struggle on the part of asylum seekers and their Irish neighbours which is exactly what McDowell doesn't want.



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