Born in northern Nigeria, in Zaria, where he grew up, Alfred has lived in Northern Ireland for twenty years. It was the offer of a job, which brought Alfred to Belfast in the early 1990s.
“I was offered a job in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States, and at the same time my wife was living here and I had a choice to make between, either coming to set up a family home here or going to the States, so I came here and gradually grew warm to the idea of settling here.”
As well as the initial culture shock, he experienced on arrival in Belfast, Alfred soon saw the effects of the ongoing conflict.
“I didn’t feel intimidated, because I didn’t really know enough to feel intimidated if you know what I mean. Obviously I had heard enough about Northern Ireland on the news and my family who were already living here had said a few things. I found it hard to comprehend the complexities around the two communities. It was interesting but it was quite difficult to grasp.”
“…to be honest I was quite sceptical about getting involved with what was going on, you know you’re a new immigrant, put your head down and do what you have to do, but as time went on you start building friendships … people from west Belfast, from east Belfast and you start getting involved, albeit very subtly, getting involved with the debate.”
“….like anywhere else in the world, people have their own particular issues that they have to tackle. For instance, in Nigeria, we would have similar issues, Muslims against Christians, killings. Sometimes I would just think about the divide and the sectarianism issue, which is very similar to racism but it’s very hard to comprehend why people who are very similar would be so different in their outlook to life….”
Alfred worked for the Northern Ireland Housing Executive as Race Relations Officer for over five years where he was responsible for the implementation of the Housing Executive’s race relations’ policy. In this role, he contributed to managing and coordinating various initiatives for example, the development of the Black and Minority Ethnic Housing Forum, the Race Relations Charter and the Hate Incident Practical Action Scheme.
“I’ve always had in me this thing about injustice, civic responsibilities, but I think when I first had an incident that made me feel I was different, I think it just wasn’t because I was different, it came with some inferiority message as well, you know, you are different and you are inferior. That sparked something inside of me and that’s how I got involved with working with the ethnic minority sector, that’s where my journey began in terms of promoting equality, opportunity, equal protection, things like that.”
“….for me having a sense of belonging is key, especially coming from an ethnic minority background. There has to be a level of ownership in terms of your rights and your responsibilities, I think people need to be pro-active and not segregate….”
Alfred would go on to become Programme Manager of ACSONI, African and Caribbean Community Support Organisation in Northern Ireland, formed in 2003 as an independent community organisation to address the needs and aspirations of people who are from the continent of Africa and African descendent nations.
“….it’s quite rewarding when you can make a difference and put a smile on someone’s face, or when you can bring about a change in policy. I think when you can actually see the change you’ve been able to bring to a place or to someone’s life, I think that’s the most rewarding, but it’s not something you can do alone.”