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Nigeria: Nigerian runs for EU seat – The Nigeria-born candidate is one of only a handful of non-native Czechs to run in the EU parliamentary election June 5 and 6

Posted by African Press International on May 26, 2009

Lagos (Nigeria) Raymond Asuquo hopes to provide greater representation for minorities in the Czech Republic if he wins a seat in the European Parliament (EP) this year. The Nigeria-born candidate is one of only a handful of non-native Czechs to run in the EU parliamentary election June 5 and 6, and he says he hopes to encourage other minorities “to rise up and take their fate into their hands.”

“I would like my candidacy to mean that the minorities in the Czech Republic [have] a lot to contribute to the development of the country where they live,” Asuquo said. “If eventually I am elected into the European Parliament, I would like to fight for minority rights, equal chances and opportunities, and shared responsibilities.”

Asuquo, who is running as a candidate of the Civic Democratic Party (ODS) from his home in B?eclav, south Moravia, is among a tiny population of Nigerians in the country. The Czech Statistical Office records only around 380 Nigerians living throughout the country. Small as their numbers are, there are signs the Nigerian population is seeking greater visibility and a more active role within Czech society.

Besides Asuquo’s campaign, the Nigerian community is now establishing a grass-roots organization called the Association of Nigerians in Czech, which aims to help integrate newcomers into the greater Czech society and to lobby for the return of a Nigerian Embassy.

The Czech Republic has not housed a Nigerian Embassy since its consul Michael Lekara Wayid was shot dead in February 2003. A local pensioner, Ji? Pasovsk?, was convicted for the murder, which was reportedly motivated by the loss of his life savings in a financial scam by a Nigerian group.

“One of the things we want to do is to brand Nigeria the way it truly is,” said Prague resident Michael Olayemi Olawepo, who is running for presidency of the new association.

Olawepo, who came to the country as an information technology student eight years ago, said there is a wide spectrum of Nigerians living in the Czech Republic – those who study and work legally as well as illegal immigrants. All could benefit from supporting one another and having a collective voice, he said.

“Some [illegal immigrants] are actually graduates. They get here and they are not properly integrated,” Olawepo said, noting that, contrary to the statistical office’s data, the association anticipates a membership of more than 2,000 Nigerians in the Czech Republic. “If we have a community in which we can engage members irrespective of the category they come from, we will be able to help them, either through mentoring or through referring them to programs through seminars and so on.”

Asuquo’s EP candidacy may be seen as an inspiration for Nigerians and other immigrants to become more involved in the country where they now live, Olawepo said, adding that it also indicates the Czech Republic is becoming more receptive to minorities.

“It means [the Czech Republic] has actually gone a long way. It says a lot, but we’d like to see more,” he said. “We’d like to see minorities in the Czech police and the army, in the public services and so on.”

According to Asuquo, native Czechs have reacted positively so far to his campaign, and are accepting of foreigners in general. “The fact that many immigrants including Nigerians and West Africans are coming to Czech Republic shows that the Czech Republic is receptive to foreigners,” he said. “Any country aspiring to make money from tourism cannot afford not to be hospitable to foreigners, whether they are Africans or Asians.”

Asuquo came to the Czech Republic in 1984 at the age of 27 on a scholarship for the Prague Institute of Chemical Technology. He became a Czech citizen in 2002, and is the CEO and director of business development for mineral supplier Zeopol Ltd.

Asuquo said engaging in politics is nothing new for him; he has been involved in the local politics of B?eclav ever since he joined the ODS in 2001 and ran, albeit unsuccessfully, for the EP in 2004.

In interviews with the Czech press, he has expressed that running for the EP is a way of repaying the country for the opportunities it has provided him. “With my knowledge, experiences and exposure, I want to contribute to the development of the Czech Republic within the European Union,” he said.

Within the Nigerian community, reaction to Asuquo’s candidacy is mixed, and Asuquo himself acknowledges that some Nigerians and other Africans whom he has approached have received the news of his campaign with reserved neutrality.

Prague Internet caf owner Daniel Bamidele Esan, 37, of Nigeria said he was unsure about the candidate because he did not know enough about him. “It might be good; it might be bad,” he said. “I’ve never seen him before.”

However, Maxim, 37, who declined to give his full name, said he was thrilled to hear a fellow Nigerian was running for such a high-profile position. “Wow, that would be good,” he said. “I believe if we can have a Nigerian member of the European Parliament, it would be a privilege.”

Olawepo said that, regardless of the outcome of Asuquo’s campaign, the fact that he is running is a promising sign. According to the statistical office, other non-natives running for a Czech seat in the EP include two candidates from Slovakia, one from Italy and one from France.

“I think we’re in the age that everyone feels that, at this moment, if you really try, then anything is possible,” Olawepo said. “I’m not saying it’s going to work or not, and I’m not saying that every minority who aspires for a position has something to offer. But why not try?”

source.This Day (NIgeria)

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