Curbing ill-treatment of Nigerians abroad
The mistreatment of Nigerian citizens abroad is nothing new. But the 7th August 2021 man-handling of a Nigerian diplomat in Jakarta by Indonesian Immigration agents was so ruthless, appalling, and undiplomatic, to evoke public outrage.
In a video of the incident, widely shared on social media the visibly distressed Nigerian diplomat, Mr. Abdurrahman Katsina Ibrahim, was forcibly restrained inside a vehicle by several men. “I can’t breathe,” he yelled, at one point in the video, with his head pinned to the seat. The Nigerian Foreign Minister Geoffrey Onyeama strongly condemned the incident, describing it as “an egregious act of international delinquency by Indonesian state actors.”
In an unusual but largely popular move by an administration often criticised for lethargy on public policy matters, the government summoned the Indonesian ambassador to protest the apparent mistreatment of the Nigerian diplomat. The Foreign Ministry also demanded “appropriate sanctions against the relevant (Indonesian) officials,” and recalled Nigeria’s ambassador in Indonesia for consultations, warning that the sanctions could include “a review of bilateral relations” between the two countries.
Indonesia’s immigration office initially defended the actions of its officers, saying the Nigerian diplomat had been “uncooperative” when questioned during what an official called routine checks on the validity of permits held by foreigners in Indonesia. However, the Indonesian foreign ministry spokesperson Teuku Faizasyah later said the ministry regretted the incident and was continuing to communicate with the Nigerian government on the matter.
“That incident was an isolated incident and does not have anything to do with Indonesia’s commitment to performing its duties as a host country as per Vienna conventions on diplomatic relations,” he said, adding: “the law and human rights ministry had launched an internal investigation as a follow up to that incident.”
Apparently unimpressed by the explanation by the Indonesian government, sections of the Nigerian population, from Lawmakers to civil society, weighed in on the matter, all condemning and describing the Indonesian incident as one too many. Many public commentators also recalled several recent mistreatments of Nigerian citizens in other countries including Ghana, Malaysia, and South Africa, and called for concrete remedial measures from the government.
The Association of Retired Career Ambassadors of Nigeria (ARCAN) was very emphatic in its condemnation of what it called “unprovoked attack by Indonesian Immigration Officials on a Nigerian diplomatic agent.”
“The attack was not only unprovoked and unwarranted, but it was also a glaring abuse of established conventions and international norms and conduct as enshrined in the Vienna Convention (1961), on Diplomatic Relations,” the Association said.
It supported the “interim steps so far taken by the Honourable Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry by summoning the Indonesian Ambassador to Nigeria to protest the actions of the unruly Indonesian Immigration Officials and recalling, for consultation, the Ambassador of Nigeria to Indonesia.”
ARCAN goes further to express “the hope that …other rogue officials in Indonesia and elsewhere in the world would have learned the necessary lessons and ensure that this type of clear breach and barbaric behaviour never rears its head again.”
There has been no escalation and it might be unwise to canvas the extreme measure of severance of diplomatic relations, but three weeks on, there appears to be a disturbing silence even on the diplomatic front regarding the incident. Both governments might be working behind the scenes using back-stop channels, but the Nigerian government owes it a duty to keep concerned Nigerians duly and consistently abreast on the incident.
Such matters, even when resolved secretly or in private, the public must be in the know of key elements of the resolution. For instance, an effective public communications strategy would recommend openness, follow-ups, and sensitisation to ensure that the general public is carried along, not only to assuage the anger but also to ensure that there is no repeat of such an ugly incident.
Generally, the recurring mistreatments of Nigerians abroad have to do with the wrong perception that Nigerians are corrupt or criminally minded, which is not only false but grossly unfair on the overwhelming majority of Nigerians who are contributing to development in various parts of the world.
This unfortunate profiling which has persisted over time must, therefore, be rectified, both through the conduct of Nigerians everywhere and the actions and body language of the government at home. Nigerians both at home and in the Diaspora have a responsibility to conduct themselves as worthy ambassadors of their country. It is a collective responsibility on the part of the government and citizens to ensure that the country enjoys international goodwill and a positive public image.
There must be a deliberate public policy commitment and efforts by both government and the citizens to ensure that Nigeria and its nationals command respect at home and abroad.
The Indonesia incident is a reality check and a call on all Nigerians to wake up to their patriotic duties. If a Nigerian diplomat can be man-handled in a foreign land, what is the fate of ordinary Nigerian citizens abroad? It is a diplomat today; it could be anybody else tomorrow.
In 2001, Prof. Wole Soyinka, Nigeria’s World-renowned playwright and Nobel Laureate for Literature had threatened to turn down all British invitations because of “routine obstruction and delay” at that country’s immigration checkpoints. He said then that he suffered “unbelievable questions and degrading treatment” at airports and the Channel Tunnel terminus.
In one of the incidents at the Manchester airport en route to making a speech at Leeds University, where he had studied, Soyinka said he was officially detained and “aggressively questioned” after all other passengers on a flight from Los Angeles via Milan had been let through.
Soyinka’s experience, which has never repeated itself, shows that overzealous immigration personnel could try to overplay their hands by profiling Nigerians, no matter their status, unless and until deliberate measures are taken to correct the negative perception associated with Nigeria’s green passport. The corrective measures should be at various layers – involving the government and its agents, including diplomats, non-state actors, civil society, and citizens at large.
At the international level, the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations is clear on the rights, duties, and obligations of the “receiving” and “sending” countries, accredited diplomats, the Principle of Reciprocity, Diplomatic Immunity, and how it can be waived. As Nigeria plays by the rules, it must insist on the principle of reciprocity in international relations and the treatment of its citizens at home and abroad.
Ejime, an author and former diplomatic/war correspondent, is a consultant on communications, media, elections, and international affairs.
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