I was in Norway last week for a three-day series of seminars and public debates on combatting radicalisation through non-violent means. The organisers of the event, the Norwegian Council for Africa, were keen to learn about the strategies that Nigeria has adopted to combat and contain the Boko Haram insurgency outside military engagement. Of course Norway was traumatised by its own home bred terrorism when Anders Breivik, a far right Christian terrorist killed 77 people, most of them young people attending a party convention in 2011. Currently, Norway is living in fear following the realisation that about 150 young Norwegian Muslims have left the country to fight for the Islamic State. Will they return? If they do, will they bring back the spectre of terrorism? Norwegians are puzzled that their country, which has one of the highest living standards in the world and excellent social protection, could breed terrorists.
I was as always interested in the Nigerian community in Oslo. The person that struck me the most was Elvis Nwosu who defines himself as a Port Harcourt brought up Nigerian. He has been a councillor in the Oslo City Council for the past eight years with a background in trade unionism and social work and runs a column in a major Norwegian newspaper. He makes the argument that Norwegians tend to believe that their society only does good things to people and they get shocked when they find people are very upset with them. To provide context, he told me the story of his current battle to rescue 68 Nigerian babies seized from their mothers and placed with Norwegian foster parents. Most of these mothers are Nigerian sex workers who have moved to Norway from Italy and had the mistaken notion that producing children would provide conditions for the legalisation of their stay. The Norwegian scheme however has a caveat, trafficked persons can only have their stay legalised if they can provide sufficient evidence that would lead to the arrest of the traffickers that brought them to Europe. Most of these trafficked persons however do not even know the real names of their traffickers and therefore fail the “expose the traffickers” conditionalities.
Many of them who give birth to children loose the children, as the Norwegian social services believe that people who engage in sex work or associate with drug pushers – the majority of drug pushers in Oslo are Nigerians – are not fit and proper parents. Nwosu is currently involved with the struggle to recover George, a baby born to a 25-year old Nigerian sex worker Joy Ambrose. Joy had been to see a doctor who she complained to that her baby often refuses to eat and is often obliged to force feed him. The doctor promptly wrote the social services department accusing Joy of cruelty to and torturing of her son through force feeding and the baby was immediately taken and handed over to Norwegian foster parents. Nwosu was able to get a culturally sensitive lawyer and anthropologist who was able to make the case in court that Joy is a Benin woman and as such is of Yoruba cultural tradition in which force feeding children with akamu (pap) is the cultural norm and cannot therefore be considered to be torture. The judge admitted that the argument might be cogent but the baby had by then lived with Norwegian parents for 18 months and it would be cruelty to the child to break the strong bonds he has now developed with his Norwegian foster parents. The problem, according to Nwosu is that some Norwegian parents are now developing a strategy of getting children from this pool of Nigerians in Oslo’s underworld but his struggle to recover these 68 Nigerian children would continue.
Nwosu has also made it a matter of public record that he himself is the product of a single mother who became a victim of circumstances. His mother was a 16-yaer old secondary school student in Port Harcourt who strayed into a party in Shell village and got seduced by an old American oil worker who gave a lot of money to his grand father but then soon thereafter left the country at the onset of the Biafran civil war. Its wrong he says, to judge his own mother, who is a great mum and therefore wrong to judge these Nigerian sex workers in Oslo and consider them unfit to bring up their children. I wish my pal Elvis Chi Nwosu the best in his struggles and his message to the Nigerian authorities is that they should continue to resist the attempts by the Norwegian authorities to convince Nigeria to accept that these 68 women whose children have been seized by the Norwegian State be deported to Nigeria.
Not all Nigerians in Norway are in the underworld. I met a Norwegian star, Charlie Chirah Abboh, a man of intellect who had done postgraduate studies in political science before moving into the muscle industry of bodybuilding where he won the Mr. Universe title four times for Norway, his country. The other star I met is the young Norwegian woman, Lioness Oyibo, who is currently rocking the Lagos Afrobeat scene. Lagos, she told me is the world headquarters of the best contemporary music so when she decided to become a musician, the logical place to develop and grow is Lagos. “Check YouTube for my song “Anything for love” and you will see that thanks to Lagos, my music is developing fast”, she told me. I wish Lioness Oyibo great success in the Lagos, rather the world music industry.