For years now, the Nigerian community in Vietnam has been under the magnifying glass for all the wrong reasons. A group of business-minded Nigerians are working to change their image. Words by Trung Phan.
Ho Chi Minh City Nigerian community has never had the best reputation. Visa problems, drug trafficking and money laundering offenses have all been linked to nationals of this African nation that is home to over 154 million citizens.
Tension between Vietnamese authorities and Nigerians came to a head in March of 2009 when Ho Chi Minh City police raided a number of rented houses in the districts of Thu Duc, Tan Phu and district 7 and arrested dozens of Africans, many holding passports from Nigeria. According to the police, the raids were the culmination of a campaign to target illegal residents in an attempt to reduce a wave of crimes committed by “foreigners.”
In response to the police actions, members from the Nigerian Union in Vietnam (NUV) met with the Vietnamese’s authorities to sort through the mess. Somuadina Chuka Emmanuel, the union’s chairman of immigration matters, was one of the key representatives during talks with the authorities.
“Some of those arrested were innocent,” says Emmanuel. “We wanted to work with the local government to allow those law-abiding citizens the right to stay in Vietnam.”
Established in 2007, the NUV was created as an intermediary with the Vietnamese government to create legal rights for Nigerians interested in doing business; not unlike the handful of chambers of commerce (CanCham, EuroCham etc.). An important role for the union, especially after the raids and the nationwide visa crackdown over the past half year, was to ease the immigration process for Nigerians looking to acquire visas, work permits and residential permits.
“We presented our union’s constitution to the Vietnamese government,” he explains. “As our guidelines coincided with Vietnam’s rules of law, the officials recognize us and then agreed to work together to determine who is legible to live in Vietnam.”
Becoming a Member
A significant fallout from March’s incident is that the number of Nigerians living in Saigon has now decreased. The union’s congress president, Nzeogu Gabriel Ikechukwu, estimates that the Nigerian expat population nearly tripled from 300, when he first arrived in 2007, to 800 before the raids.
“About 250 of our brothers voluntarily received tickets from Vietnam’s government to go home while another 200 went home on their own means,” Nzeogu says. “Now, there are probably 200 Nigerians living in Ho Chi Minh City and 180 of them are members of the union.”
With recognition from all the right people, membership in the union has effectively become a pre-requisite for Nigerians interested in moving to Vietnam and doing business here. To ensure its reputation and maintain good relations with authorities, strict standards have to be met to join the union.
“If you want to join, we must inspect your business activities, travel history and criminal record,” explains the union’s current president, Solomon Bamidele Junior. “You must also agree to our constitution which lays out the principles for conducting one’s self in Vietnam. Our screening process is very stringent and while it may be difficult to ask one of our brothers to leave the country, we will if they have committed a crime.”
The efforts of the NUV have yielded largely positive results. Even though the community has thinned, the new standards have given those remaining an opportunity to conclude their marriage program, seek jobs and establish legal companies in Vietnam; all with the blessing of the government.
To further aid business-minded Nigerians, the union is in talks with government officials to fully register the NUV. If granted, the members of the NUV will have increased legal rights in regards to conducting business here. Currently, most Nigerians in Vietnam play with football clubs, work as teachers or are involved in the purchase of excess stocks from textile manufacturers which are then sent back to Africa and other continents. Going forward, any party from Nigeria interested in coming here can only do so under a business pretense as tourist visas are no longer granted.
“If registered, we could legally represent any of our brothers if there are issues with Vietnamese’s and other foreign citizens in the future,” says Solomon.
The NUV has worked closely with the Nigerian Embassy in Hanoi and will continue to do so in the future on behalf of not only Nigerians but all Africans including those from Ghana, Cameroon and South Africa.A special appreciation goes to the Nigerian Ambassador to Vietnam Alhaji Sani Bako
“Our reputation has changed tremendously in the past six months,” says Solomon. “In the past, some so-called Nigerians decided to spoil the image of our beloved country through sheer arrogance and selfish acts but with the assistance of the Vietnamese authorities we are able to let the whole world know that not all Nigerians in Vietnam are bad.There are many reasonable and professional Nigerians living and working in Vietnam”.