"Why has AICEP not yet open a delegation in Nigeria?” the chargé d’affaires, Jorge Fernandes, asked. “Sometimes I am contacted by Portuguese companies and I have no competence to respond. AICEP should have come to Lagos a long time ago.
“Of course, there are security problems, but not in cities like Abuja [Nigeria’s political capital],” he went on. “And Lagos [the largest city and economic capital] has the same issues of violence that we find in large cities such as São Paulo, or Mexico City – it’s not very different.”
Fernandes spoke to Lusa in the run-up to elections in Nigeria on Saturday. The country’s 84 million registered voters are to go to the polls to elect the country’s president for the next four years, as well as a new parliament and the governors of the 36 federal states.
Portuguese mariners were in 1472 the first Europeans to visit the site of modern-day Lagos, which was already inhabited by the Awori, a Yoruba-speaking tribe. The city’s name, which means ‘lakes’ in Portuguese, is shared with a city in Portugal’s Algarve region that at the time was one of the main hubs for Atlantic seafaring.
Nigeria, Portugal’s chargé d’affaires noted, has 190 million inhabitants and is the largest market in Africa. In his view, there is no AICEP delegation there “only because there are many short-sighted people in positions to which they are not qualified.”
It was, he recalled, "the Portuguese who founded Lagos, but since then they have forgotten [and] have not yet discovered Nigeria.” This is, he added, not a new problem nor does it relate only to Nigeria.
"Portugal does not invest here, as it does not invest anything in other very important African countries" and this, the diplomat argued, has to do with "the way it looks at the world."
Portugal is “centered on Angola and we know the advantages and problems of that,” Fernandes said, in a reference to the recurrent diplomatic tensions between the former colonial power and its largest former colony in Africa.
“Portugal’s obsession with Angola is like paranoia”, he said. “There are other countries in Africa where we can enter.”
Fernandes, who served as consul-general in Luanda, said that when the Angolans are short of funds, “the first [creditors] whom they fail to pay are the Portuguese”. Portugal, he said, is always “crouching” before Angola in diplomatic terms.
As for Portugal’s attitude in Nigeria, he said, it is most clearly illustrated in its own diplomatic representation in the country, which has "limitations on all fronts". Fernandes has "only one employee, now that the secretary has become ill – it’s unbelievable.”
In fact, he added, the embassy in Abuja "was to be closed" under the previous, Social Democrat-led government, when Paulo Portas, leader of the People’s Party, the junior coalition partner, was foreign minister. Now, though, it "is not likely to be closed".
Last year Portugal had over 6,000 visa applications from the country, including from people interested in investing in Portugal and buying property; Portugal is also among countries taking part in the United Nations Mission in the Central African Republic (MINURCA). Both these are "strong arguments for maintaining diplomatic representation in the African giant,” said Fernandes.
The arrival of Portugal’s new ambassador to Nigeria, Luís de Barros, has been delayed by the "usual bureaucracies" in Lisbon, said the chargé d’affaires. "As soon as he comes, I will return to Lisbon."