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Nigerians Unsafe At Home, Abroad

Nigeria Unsafe Caricature

August 15, (THEWILL) – The ordeal of Nigerian diplomatic officer Mohammed Buba in the brutal hands of Indonesian immigration officials on Saturday, August 7 has once again raised the question of the connection between perception and behaviour and the role of government in shaping both.

Nigerians woke up on that Saturday to see the viral video of the incident in which at least three men in a vehicle assaulted Buba. Two of the little yellow men with slit eyes held Buba’s hands and pinned him down in the backseat while another freely slammed his unprotected head against the backseat of the car as he cried out in pain, “my head, my head, I cannot breathe.”

Though different versions of the assault are still emerging, the bottom line is that an officer of Nigeria High Commission in that Southeast Asian country could be so assaulted like a common criminal, in clear violation of the Vienna Conventions on diplomatic relations, especially after Buba identified himself as a diplomatic officer. Nonetheless, Indonesia on Wednesday confirmed the Nigerian Foreign Ministry statement that she had apologized over the incident.

Speaking with the Associated Press on Thursday, Indonesian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Teuku Faizasyah, said the country regrets the incident.

“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs regrets the incident on August 7th in Jakarta. This is an isolated incident, and is in no way related to the commitment of the Indonesian government in carrying out its obligations as host country or in accordance with the Vienna Convention on diplomatic relations”, he said.

Making an assessment of the scandal, Professor Bola Akinterinwa, foreign affairs expert asked, “Can Indonesia treat an American that way? Foreign policy is an extension of domestic policy.”

Akinterinwa, a former Director–General of the Nigeria Institute for International Affairs and now runs the Bolytag Centre for International Diplomatic and Strategic Studies in Lagos, told THEWILL that he was not surprised at what happened and said he expects to see more of such maltreatment in the future because “Nigeria does not have any known foreign policy of protecting its diplomatic officers.”

A CONFIRMATION

As though to emphasise the linkage Akinterinwa disclosed about foreign policy being a reflection of domestic policy, certain events simultaneously happened following the Indonesian incident.

On Thursday, August 12, the Niger State Commissioner of Information and Strategy, Hon. Muhammad Sani regained freedom after staying five days in kidnappers’ den. The statement on his releases, signed by Malam Ado Ada, a relation, was eye-opening. Ada apparently deliberately put quotation marks in a portion of the three-paragraph statement, thus: “his release was wholly the family’s efforts and no ransom was paid “.

Family efforts to secure the release of abducted victims has become the norm, especially in Northwest Nigerian states of Kaduna, Zamfara, Katsina and North Central state of Niger where kidnapping for ransom now ‘is business.’

Governor Nasir El-Rufai rated kidnapping has main ‘businesses’ in his assessment of the controversy surrounding the arrest of leader of the proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra, Nnamdi Kanu and Yoruba self-determination activist, Sunday Adeyemo, alias Igboho, vis-a vis the perceived official soft handling of bandits and killer herdsmen in the country.

“Since the Kankara students’ release, the government has abandoned families of kidnapped victims to their fate,”, lamented Babajide Otitoju, Director of News at TV Continental during last week’s programme of the station, Journalists Hangout. “Even local hunters that had volunteered to go after the bandits have given up on the grounds of lack of support from governments. Everywhere you turn in the country, the impression is that the government is helpless before bandits, killer herdsmen and terrorists ravaging the country.”

The situation is so bad that parents of abducted students now pay anything from recharge cards to foodstuff, motorcycles and phones in addition to millions that do not necessarily lead to the release of the victims. For example, the first batch of students of the Bethel Baptist High School, Kaduna were released after a ransom of N50 million was reportedly paid and over 80 of these pupils are still in captivity. In the same state, some kidnapped students of Greenfield University were released after millions of naira was paid as ransom while some others were killed by the captors. Internally Displaced Persons, IDP camps litter many states across the country.

The Acting Director, Defence Media Operations, Brig-Gen. Bernard Onyeuku, thinks the military has turned the tables on the terrorists.

He noted that the troops recently responded to a distress call from locals on cattle rustling, kidnapping incidents and armed bandits’ attacks on farmers, at Bagida village in Sokoto State; Shinkafi in Zamfara State and Maigora, Falale and Ungwan Dudu villages as well as Kankara – Katsina Road in Katsina State, adding that in all incidents, troops repelled the criminals, rescued farmers and kidnapped victims as well as recovered arms, ammunition and some livestock, while some criminal elements were arrested. The same action had been taken in Ungwan Ayaba District in Nasarawa State and one along Tahoss – Sopp Road in Plateau State just as troops of Operation WHIRL STROKE raided bandits’ hideouts in Benue and Taraba states where eight armed bandits were arrested and victims released. In the South-East zone, he said security forces ambushed and killed six IPOB/ESN members, who were involved in the killing of a Divisional Police Officer (DPO) at Omuma town in Orlu East LGA of Imo State

“The air strikes in conjunction with ground troops’ assaults resulted in the neutralisation of no fewer than 123 armed bandits and destruction of their logistics facilities in the process”, he said on Thursday.

Helplessness is currently the fate of many Nigerian businessmen and women in South Africa.

On Tuesday, the Consul General of Nigeria to South Africa, Malik Abdul, visited some of the business locations affected by widespread rioting and looting at Jules Street in Johannesburg Central Business District, following violent unrest accompanied by widespread looting there after former President Jacob Zuma was remanded in prison custody over contempt of court.

“Many Nigerians whose shops were looted,” Abdul said, while touring affected Nigerian businesses, “lost close to between 10 million and 15 million Rand. Many cannot feed their families, not to talk of paying their children’s school fees. That is why we would plead with our Federal Government to extend financial assistance to them here.”

The Consul General advised them to relocate their businesses to a more secured location, engage only in legitimate activities as well as ensure they are insured by reputable insurance companies. The incident was a sad reminder of the serial xenophobic attacks in 2016 through 2019 that vexed Nigerians to target South African businesses until Chairman of Air Peace, Allen Onyeama volunteered to airlift many back home before President Muhammadu Buhari paid a shuttle diplomatic visit to his South African counterpart, Cyril Ramaphosa in October 2019.

Apart from South Africa, neighbouring Ghana recently harassed Nigerian traders with all kinds of multiple taxation followed by a well-orchestrated and brazen assault on Nigeria’s sovereignty in June 2020 when the Nigeria High Commission in Accra, Ghana, was invaded by some hoodlums who destroyed a set of buildings under construction. Chargè d’affaires of the High Commission of Ghana in Nigeria, Iva Denoo later apologised on behalf of her country before President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo and President Muhammadu Buhari exchanged phone calls after the statutory ministers of both countries had engaged in some jaw-jaw. In that same year, specifically in April, Chinese security personnel seized the passports of Nigerians who were evicted from their homes in Guangzhou, China, in April, 2020 over the false charge of spreading COVID-19.

According to Akinterinwa, “If you mistreat your people back home you cannot expect fair treatment of your citizens abroad. If you respect international agreements, why do you find it difficult to respect such back home? Coming to the present situation, Indonesians as individuals have opinions mostly formed by what they know about Nigerians and their country. If they have the opportunity to visit their perceptions of Nigerians, they will do it.”

Commenting on the difficult situation in a national newspaper article, recently, Senior Advocate of Nigeria and founder, Afe Babalola University, Ado-Ekiti, Are Afe Babalola said it was important to examine why Nigerians exit their country in droves despite facing humiliation and suffering indignation in hosts countries as exemplified by those mentioned above.

Babalola said: “Without a doubt the current economic challenges have brought about an exodus of sorts of Nigerians to other parts of the world in search of the proverbial Golden Fleece. In Nigeria at the moment, most businesses have either collapsed or are on the brink of collapse owing to a myriad of problems. Job opportunities, where they do exist, are difficult to take advantage of. A few years ago, several innocent lives were lost following a stampede at the screening exercise of a national agency for job applicants.

“Many business ideas have been frustrated due to absence of capital as banks still charge unrealistic interest rates that continue to hamper the growth and development of small businesses. Yet as economists will point out, such small businesses are the required linchpin for the long term recovery of the Nigerian economy. Thus, in my estimation, the immediate response from the government about the unending attacks on its citizens should be the formulation of policies that will make it easier for Nigerians to make a living here.”

Where jobs are available and availability of business credit is not a problem, the attraction of foreign travel for the purpose of basic economic sustenance as opposed to large scale direct foreign investment in the economies of other countries will be reduced. This is where the government should direct its energies. The solution is not in the appointment of special envoys or state visits. The recent attacks, viewed against the history of xenophobia in South Africa, should leave no one in doubt that it will occur again. Government must act fast.”

Meanwhile, the Association of Foreign Relations Professionals of Nigeria (AFRPN) has asked the Federal Government to call for the sacking of the immigration officers involved in the assault.

The group, in a statement by its President, Ambassador Gani Lawal, commended the steps taken by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in summoning the Indonesian Ambassador and demanding an apology over the assault. They recommended that the family of the concerned diplomat be adequately compensated materially and health-wise for the traumatic treatment meted to him while public apology satisfactory to the Nigerian people and government must be tendered and an assurance against repeat occurrence given.

ANY END IN SIGHT?

Akinterinwa is emphatic in saying that there would be no improvement in the coming years. He said when the xenophobic attacks happened in South Africa, he predicted that it would be replicated elsewhere because Nigeria lacks a consistent policy of reciprocity, no diplomatic strategy and policy that seek to protect Nigerians the way other countries do.

Drawing on his professional experience as DG of NIIA and onetime Special Adviser to two Foreign Affairs Ministers (Dr. Oluyemi Adeniyi, 2003 to 2006 and Chief Ojo Madueke, 2007 to 2010), Akinterinwa said Nigeria’s foreign policy is hardly informed by knowledge and research and was usually reactionary. Using the xenophobic attacks as an illustration, he described a period that provided the chance for the country to draw lessons from and rejig its strategy; but Nigeria failed to do the needful.

That was in 2007 when Gen. Buba Marwa was Nigeria’s High Commissioner to the Republic of South Africa. Marwa had called the foreign ministry to inform them about a TV discussion programme he watched in which one of the party leaders claimed that Nigeria made no significant contribution to the fight against the racial policy of Apartheid and advised them to showcase what Nigeria did because the records show that Nigeria spent $61 billion between 1960 and 1995 in the anti-Apartheid struggle.

And for it, the country was named a frontline state alongside Zambia, Tanzania, Uganda, Angola, Mozambique and Kenya. As Special Adviser to the minister, Akinterinwa said he initiated a research project to showcase what Nigeria did during the anti-Apartheid struggle but government did not fund it.

Even when former Nigeria Ambassador to Sweden and Professor of political science, Alaba Ogunsanwo, waded in by raising an alarming development whereby other frontline states and their dignitaries were being honoured and streets named after them by the South African leaders with no mention of Nigeria, nothing happened. Ogunsanwo disclosed that from research the current South Africa leaders falsely claimed that Nigeria did not relate with the internal wing of the African National Congress, who are currently in government, but the international wing most of whose leaders have died and left no record of Nigerian support as a frontline state.

“What most South Africans know about Nigeria is that Nigerians are coming to seek greener pastures, take their women and engage in criminal activities,” said Akinterinwa.

“During the time of Olugbenga Ashiru tenure as Foreign Minister (2011-2013) we reacted adequately to xenophobic attack on Nigerians, I remember South African airlines were refused entry into the country and those which came were returned. Things have progressively degenerated and it is particularly worse under the current government.”

“What we have is a reactive policy of rhetoric. Whenever Nigerians are attacked, mistreated, maltreated, dehumanized, the government will promptly make noise and summon the Ambassador of the aggressive country and the next thing you will hear is that the relationship between Nigeria and such country is cordial and that they will look into the matter. No reciprocity in Nigeria policy. In diplomacy, states engage in some unlawful acts knowing full well that the outcome will be settled diplomatically, you can perpetrate terror in order to score a point and then later come to apologise. Nigeria has no foreign policy that seeks to protect Nigerians as other countries do.”

For how long this ugly situation will continue is obviously when there is a close tie between events at home and abroad because, as it is said, charity begins at home and perception is everything.

When Nigerian lives matter at home, they will matter abroad.