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Nigerian expats protest against ‘unacceptable’ Hungarian loan to Nigeria

Protest march of the Association of Nigerians in Hungary in downtown Budapest on August 24, 2017. Photo: Budapest Beacon/Balázs Pivarnyik

Photo: Budapest Beacon/Balázs Pivarnyik

An umbrella organization for expat Nigerians in Hungary has come out against plans for Hungary to offer a EUR 54 million loan to Nigeria for writing “a detailed study” about river flooding on the Niger and Benue rivers. On Thursday, the Association of Nigerians in Hungary along with other members of Hungary’s Nigerian community protested the planned loan by personally dropping off letters at the Prime Minister’s Office and National Assembly.

News of the loan broke on July 13, when Nigeria’s Minister of Water Resources, Suleiman Husseini Adamu, announced during a press conference that his ministry was awaiting a green light from Nigeria’s Minister of Finance to accept the Hungarian “aid credit”. According to Adamu, Hungarians and Nigerians would jointly conduct the study.

“We watched [the press conference] and circulated it among Nigerians,” Frederick Odorige, president of the Association of Nigerians in Hungary, tells the Beacon. “It was very provocative because a EUR 54 million loan for a study, for a report, not for the actual project, is unacceptable.”

Odorige began sending emails to members of the press and government officials in Hungary, urging Hungary to refrain from giving Nigeria the loan.

“According to Minister of Water Resources Suleiman Husseini Adamu, engineers from Hungary will be working with their Nigerian counterparts on the study,” he says. “But why don’t you take your Nigerian engineers in the Ministry of Water Resources to do this job without seeking external financial aid? That is the big question.”

Frederick Odorige, president of the Association of Nigerians in Hungary; Photo: Budapest Beacon/Balázs Pivarnyik

Perceived corruption

When asked whether he believes there is corruption involved in this story, Odorige picks his words carefully:

“Corruption is a problem everywhere in the world, and it is also a problem in Nigeria. That’s why the new President of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari, is fighting tooth and nail to bring corruption to an end. But the system, the cabal, those who have been corrupting the system, they don’t want this. We must join as Nigerians to assist the president to fight this corruption,” he says. “So we are bringing it to the awareness of the people and we are going to stop it. That is the idea.

“When the Minister of Water Resources [announced this loan], from the body language of the journalists around, I’m sure that you could see that many of them were not happy to hear that a EUR 54 million loan is being spent on something like this,” Odorige says.

Nigerian journalists at Minister of Water Resources Suleiman Adamu’s press conference

“The problem with Nigeria is not the politicians. The problem is the silence of the people that allow politicians to do whatever they want. It’s like allowing someone to steal your common wealth, your common destiny. It should not continue like that.”

Odorige’s campaign to raise awareness of the EUR 54 million loan earned him sharp rebuke from the Nigerian embassy in Budapest. According to Odorige, the embassy’s chargé d’affaires issued a condemnation against the awareness campaign and urged Odorige to drop the issue for the sake of the two countries’ bilateral relations. Odorige did not back down. In fact, he called for others to join a protest against the loan scheduled for Thursday morning.

No word officially regarding the loan

Neither the Prime Minister’s Office of Hungary, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, or the Nigerian embassy in Budapest have responded to the Beacon’s questions regarding the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) and loan referred to by Minister of Water Resources Suleiman Husseini Adamu in July.

However, since requesting this information from the authorities, the Beacon separately obtained information about two memoranda of understanding concerning water-related issues between Nigeria and Hungary:

  • Memorandum of Understanding on Bilateral Cooperation on Critical Water Governance between the Federal Ministry Water Resources, Nigeria and the National University of Public Service, Hungary (confirmed); and
  • Memorandum of Understanding between the Federal Ministry of Water Resources, Nigeria and the Hungarian Ministry of the Interior on cooperation in the field of water management (unconfirmed).

Nigerians take to the streets of Budapest to protest the loan

On Thursday morning, a demonstration led by Frederick Odorige embarked on a march through the streets of Budapest to personally hand-deliver the Nigerian association’s letter of protest to both the Prime Minister’s Office and the National Assembly.

Photo: Budapest Beacon/Balázs Pivarnyik

About two-dozen Nigerian expats attended what Budapest Beacon reporter Balázs Pivarnyik called “the most polite demonstration I have ever seen.”

The first stop on the march was the Prime Minister’s Office on Wesselényi Street, where Odorige handed over his organization’s letter of protest to an employee of the PMO.

Photo: Budapest Beacon/Balázs Pivarnyik

Next, the march headed across the city to drop off another copy at the National Assembly.

Protest march of the Association of Nigerians in Hungary in downtown Budapest on August 24, 2017. Photo: Budapest Beacon/Balázs Pivarnyik

 

Protest march of the Association of Nigerians in Hungary in downtown Budapest on August 24, 2017. Photo: Budapest Beacon/Balázs Pivarnyik

At the end of the march, Odorige delivered an impassioned speech condemning corruption and listing several ways the Nigerian government could use EUR 54 million, such as expanding the electric grid, improving schools and funding the army to fight terrorism in Northern Nigeria.

Photo: Budapest Beacon/Balázs Pivarnyik
Benjamin Novak :