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Maltreatment of Nigerian diplomats

By Editorial Board
29 August 2021   |   4:12 am
The spate of undiplomatic treatments being reportedly visited on Nigerian diplomats lately is worrisome, and indicates a defect somewhere in the country’s international relations.

Geoffrey Onyema

The spate of undiplomatic treatments being reportedly visited on Nigerian diplomats lately is worrisome, and indicates a defect somewhere in the country’s international relations. Considering that diplomats are covered by official reverence from shabby or even ordinary treatment, the government of Nigeria needs to thoroughly investigate complaints coming from Indonesia as well as the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Manhandling and mistreating diplomats is unacceptable and Nigeria should take adequate note of the incidents; and in particular, take appropriate measures to redress the treatment. Nigerian diplomats should be accorded due respect anywhere in the world in accordance with international law.

Nigeria recently recalled her ambassador to Indonesia over the maltreatment of a Nigerian diplomat in Jakarta by immigration officers. Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyema said in Abuja that the assault took place during a random search by Indonesian immigration of illegal and irregular migrants in their country, following which the Federal Government summoned the envoy for briefing to express the displeasure of the country.

Noting that there is a large community of Nigerians in Indonesia, he said: “We have a mechanism for bilateral cooperation with the Asian country and the consular aspect of our relationship is also a very important one because there are so many Nigerians in Indonesia…We have been having complaints about some Nigerians and it is something we have been engaging robustly with the Indonesian government. Some of the issues we do have in a number of countries and Indonesia is no exemption.”

The row brewing with DRC followed the alleged harassment of Nigerian diplomats and other illegal activities in that country. According to reports, in March 2020, there was an attempt to set the ambassador’s residence ablaze in the middle of the night. The culprit was apprehended and handed over to the police. But till date, nothing has come out from the police concerning the young man that was arrested or the event.

On August 17, 2020, the embassy was burgled by one Ilunga Ndaye, the policeman deployed to guard the chancery. The culprit was apprehended and handed over to the police. On arrival at the station, the police freed him. The authorities claimed that he escaped and till date, nothing has been said about him or the incident.

On August 24, 2020, one Congolese, named Kadija Bakaja, accompanied by armed policemen, allegedly invaded 38/40 Avenue Lemera in Gombe, Kinshasa DR Congo. With the active connivance of the government of DR Congo, she illegally took over the property, which is duly owned by Nigeria. One year after the invasion, she is still occupying the property without any form of legal right of occupation.

There was also threat on the life of the Head of Mission, Ambassador Charles Nkem Ibim and the Consular Officer, Mr. Kareem, by land grabbers for daring to stop them; yet the government of DR Congo has not deemed it fit to investigate any of these atrocities.

It is perhaps not unexpected, given the disdain with which the Congolese authorities handled the complaints from the Nigeria’s diplomat, that the disrespect and lack of courtesy have been extended to Nigerians and Nigerian businesses in the DRC, many of whom are facing similar embarrassments from some government agencies.

Diplomats are infallible under international law. The assaults were therefore a clear breach of the Vienna Convention which, under Diplomatic Relations, confers diplomatic immunity to diplomats who represent their country abroad. This protects them against prosecution in the receiving state for the entire period in which they hold their diplomatic post.

However, diplomatic immunity only works if every country abides by the rules. It works on the principle of reciprocity. The way other countries treat Nigeria should impact on how Nigeria reciprocates with them. Under the principle of reciprocity, foreign diplomats in Nigeria can be treated with the same measure and in accordance with the same standards that they accord Nigerian diplomats in their country.

It is unacceptable for Nigerian diplomats to be given shabby and embarrassing treatment anywhere in the world. A diplomat embodies the power and sovereignty of the country he represents even though, under the Vienna Convention, diplomats are also expected to conduct themselves respectably. Diplomatic immunity does not place diplomats above the law and diplomats are obliged to conduct themselves in accordance with the laws of the receiving state.

Unfortunately for Nigerians, travelling abroad or away from home has become a harrowing project mainly because of all the bad news emanating from within. The Nigerian government has failed to accord dignity to the average citizen who is daily subjected to senseless, unjustifiable killings. Arguably, it is easy for foreigners to disrespect Nigerians when the Nigerians are not respected or given decent treatment at home.

Therefore, while government seeks to redress the cheeky treatment of its diplomats abroad, it is necessary to begin a cultivation of a culture of making Nigerians’ lives matter in Nigeria. The federal government, along with states should embark on deliberate measures to improve the living conditions and welfare of Nigerians; Diplomats usually act as a form of guarantee for the good conduct of their state.

Nigeria should portray good conduct in the eyes of international community and that would rob off on her diplomats, and other citizens anywhere. For the incidents in Indonesia and the DRC, Nigeria should pursue its interest to a logical conclusion; and where necessary, demand appropriate redress of the infractions committed by the two countries, if they or their officials are found to be blameworthy. That is the only way to reduce the chances of future ignominious treatment of Nigerian diplomats and citizens in other countries.