WHILE his colleagues are lobbying and striving to make it to the National Assembly and in the face of the possibility or odd chance that he might never be a federal lawmaker, Mr. John Abraham Godson, recounts how he got a seat in the Polish Parliament known to as SAJM.
He said: “I came to Poland in 1993 as a graduate and as a missionary. As a matter of fact I was lecturing at the university. For four years I lectured at the technical university of Chechnya and at the University of Poznan. I later resigned and for about 10 years my wife and I, who is a Pole ran a church.”
Shortly after I resigned, “one of the political parties proposed that I run for office. Initially, I didn’t accept but in 2010 when I moved over to another city, that was when I was eventually elected into the parliament. I ran for the lowest level of office as a district counsellor and I was eventually elected with the highest number of votes and so the rest is history. I initially ran for the city council and then later I ran for the parliament. I wasn’t chosen to the parliament in when I made the first attempt in 2007 but I was placed on the reserve list. Then in 2010, I made it and I was sworn as the first black Member of Parliament in Poland history.”
On what inspired him to venture into politics, Godson, who hails from Abia state noted: “It is simply the desire to serve. I was serving people around me and I loved to take responsibility.
“We have made efforts to open contacts with MPs in Africa. In the last term, I was the chairman of the Polish Nigerian bi-parliamentary group. We made efforts to have a bilateral relationship with the MPs. The Polish embassy in Abuja was involved and we are still waiting for it to come to fruition.
“I have been in touch with the South African parliament and at a recent meeting in South Africa I represented Poland and Europe and parliamentarians of African origin. I met many parliamentarians from Nigeria. We are making efforts to build those relationships but there is a limit to what we can do. There are not many Africans in Poland. According to available information, there are about 4,000 Africans in Poland and about 2,500 of them are from Nigeria and many times they come to us for help on their situations and we try to help them.”
Debunking allegations of level of racism in Poland, Godson said: “Poland is one of the most tolerant countries I have been to and I have never felt more at home in any place as I feel in Poland. In my constituency, during the council election, out of about 800 candidates, I got the second best result. During the past parliamentary elections, I ran from the 5th place and I got the second best result in our party with about 30,000 votes having even higher number than the person who was number one on the list, who was a former minister.
“I will want to differentiate between racism and what I call low intercultural competence. Post war Poland has been homogeneous, the people are not used to foreigners and so people base their judgment on stereotypes. But Poland has opened up as it has joined the European Union (EU) and people have more opportunity to travel and more foreigners have more opportunities to travel to Poland.
“Unfortunately abroad, there is that negative stereotyping of Poland as a racist country and that it is not true.”
Godson recounts how he managed to settle down in the country and established a presence. According to him, “one of the most important things that help to adapt and integrate easily is the language. I didn’t go to any school to learn the Polish language although it is a very difficult and complicated language. While I was lecturing, my students helped me by teaching me the language. Then I met my wife, who was not speaking English while I wasn’t speaking polish. I was using electronic translator and dictionary. So that was my first language school and today we speak polish in the home. Funny enough, my children correct me when I speak the language.”
While comparing the Polish democracy with the Nigeria experience, he said: “The Nigerian democracy is still developing. I believe that a lot has to be done. We need to continue working on the constitution so that if someone from the North moves to the South, he can also run for office so long as the person is identified where he is living. It is a developmental issue and there is a lot to learn from Poland.”
Continuing the comparison with Nigeria, he reflected on the salaries and remunerations of members of the Polish parliament. He said: “There are two parts to the issue of salaries and remuneration to Polish MPs. All of us are professional MPs. All together we earn about $4,000 (about N600,000) monthly. We also get about another $4,000 for running of our offices. We have free train, and free local flights, and that is basically all. There are additional remunerations for those who are chairmen of committees, deputy chairmen and chairmen of sub-committees.”
He added that, “Africa and Poland can gain a lot by having a closer relationship with each other. We are part of a 25 member parliamentary group aimed at promoting relationship between Poland and Africa. Our main objective is to bring Poland and Africa closer together. We have tried a variety of results. For example a Polish African Chamber of Commerce is being set up now and we are very much in favour of it. Our key objective is to promote and spread knowledge about Africa in Poland because we are convinced that the knowledge about Africa and Poland is not sufficient. We help investors going to Africa and we try to help them whenever they report the problems they encounter to us. We see our work as fundamental. This is the first time in the history of Poland that they are having MPs of African origin and so, we see that there is a lot of work before us.”
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