The 2021 has been very challenging for Nigerian citizens living in certain countries of the world as they either faced deaths, molestation, destruction of property and other forms of humiliation.
There was a deluge of harrowing experiences ranging from molestations of Nigerian diplomats as in the recent cases in Indonesia and DR Congo; attacks on businesses and unfair business registration requirements and taxes as in the case in Ghana; killing of Nigerians in extreme cases and humiliation of Nigerians travelers at airports and many more ugly incidents.
On August 7, 2021, a diplomatic row between Nigeria and Indonesia nearly broke out when a Nigerian diplomat serving in that Asian country, Ibrahim Abdulrahman, was almost strangled to death by immigration officials for allegedly refusing to disclose his identity and failing to show his passport when he was required to do so.
A viral video had shown at least three men in a vehicle assaulting Mr Abdulrahaman in front of his official residence in Jakarta, the Indonesian capital.
The Nigerian Government condemned the incident describing it as “unacceptable and unfortunate.”
The Nigerian government said the “unfortunate incident is against international law and the Vienna Conventions governing Diplomatic and Consular Relations between states.”
It also recalled Nigeria’s Ambassador to Indonesia, Usman Ogah for consultations and summoned the Indonesian Ambassador to Nigeria, Usra Harahap for explanation. The Indonesian envoy later apologized for the action but not much was heard from the matter ever since.
In neigbouring West African country, Ghana, Nigerian traders in the outgoing year, continued their struggle to keep their business, which we meet with constant closures since 2019 when the Ghana’s inter-ministerial Task force started to shutdown shops owned by Nigerian traders and requested registration of business taxes, resident permit, standard control and Ghana Investment Promotion Council (GIPC) registration.
According to the President of the Nigerian Traders in the former Gold Coast, Chukwuemeka Nnaji “Most of our members do not have the GIPC registration, because it requires one million dollars cash or equity and they gave us 14 days within which to regularize. The Nigerian government in 2021 tried to intervene in the matter but the Ghanaians have continued to shutdown businesses own by Nigerians in the most humiliating manner.
Also in late August 2021, a diplomatic row almost broke out between Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) following the reported harassment of Nigerian diplomats and other illegal activities.
All attempts by the Nigerian Ambassador to the DR Congo, Omar Suleiman, to get the authorities of the host country to investigate the matter were rebuffed, a source at the Nigerian embassy said.
The source said: “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, 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. She is still, till this moment, one year after the invasion, without any form of legal right of occupation.
“Until date, the DR Congo government has neither returned the property they took over illegally nor taken steps to assure Mission that its properties in the country are safe from any future harassments and invasions. It is important to note that if immediate action is, therefore, not taken at this time, the Nigerian government stands to lose another of its property to another Congolese.”
Also, another official, who does not want his name in print because of reprisals by the host country, said: “We have been facing a lot of harassments and difficulties in performing our tasks here. It is exactly one year since officials of DR Congo burgled the Embassy. It is also one year since some land grabbers who have official backing of the government of the host country invaded one of our diplomatic facilities in Gombe, Kinshasa DR Congo.
“There was also threat to the life of our then Head of Mission, Ambassador Charles Nkem Ibim and the Consular Officer, Mr. Kareem, by the land grabbers for daring to stop them. Interestingly, the government of DR Congo has not deemed it fit to investigate any of these atrocities. Maybe, they are waiting for another Jakarta episode in the DRC?
“This disrespect and lack of courtesy has also been extended to Nigerians and Nigerian businesses in the DRC, where many innocent Nigerians are facing similar embarrassments from some government agencies.”
In Early December, another sad tale emerged from Cote d’Ivoire when according to reports, a 21-year-old Itunu Babalola from Oyo State, a trader based in Bondoukou, Cote d’Ivoire was killed under suspicious circumstances.
Reports said her apartment had been burgled by an Ivorian in September 2019 and she had reported the incident to the police but DPO informed her that the suspect was his nephew. He reportedly offered her a settlement worth roughly N100,000 to drop the case, an amount lesser than the N300,000 worth of stolen effects.
Babalola was subsequently arrested when she refused the settlement, charged to court for human trafficking and sentenced to 10 years in prison, which was a wrong charge.
According the Nigerians in the Diaspora Commission (NIDCOM), which did painstaking investigations in collaboration with the Nigeria Mission in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire, it was confirmed that Itunu Babalola, was wrongfully charged and incarcerated for a crime she did not commit.
“Plans are underway to engage the services of a legal luminary to prove the innocence of Itunu Babalola at the Court of Appeal after the accused had spent two years out of a ten-year jail term for an offence she did not commit,” NIDCOM said.
But before NIDCOM could prove her innocence she was pronounced dead under questionable circumstance. Her body has since been flown back to Nigeria and buried amid bitter protests from the Nigerian government and public.
Another sad incident was recent humiliation of Nigerian travelers in Lome, Togo, a fellow West African country and a member- nation of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).
The sad incident occurred when Nigerians, who were traveling on Ethiopian Airlines from the United States of America (US) to Lagos, got to Lome, Togo on Saturday, December 18, 2021 and were, told that their connecting flight, Asky Airline, was full and that they could not continue the trip.
The travelers transiting through the Gnassimgbe Eyadema International airport in Togo, then protested over alleged denial of connecting flight and were manhandled, with some handcuffed and rough handled by Togolese security personnel and airline staff.
In the viral video, some people were seen with their hands tied to their backs while uniformed men believed to be Togolese airport security men were seen assaulting a lady who was on the floor. A man could be heard screaming that “this is bad, this bad.” The telephones of all the passengers were allegedly seized.
It took the prompt intervention of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama and Nigeria’s Ambassador to Togo, Debo Adesina, to address the ill-treatment and organize a quick evacuation of the almost stranded Nigerians back to Lagos.
It is however, not clear yet if the Togolese officials who manhandled the Nigerians will face sanctions for this flagrant ill-treatment of Nigerian travelers.
The Minister’s intervention may have effectively resolved a potential diplomatic row between Nigeria and Togo over the shabby treatment of the Nigerians but the matter is surely an assault on Nigeria’s image and stature in Africa that must not go without sanctions.
Although the Federal Government had threatened to take tough action against Togo over the ill-treatment even if to teach the Togolese some lessons on how not to mistreat Nigerians next time, it has become pertinent to redefine Nigerian foreign policy to protect Nigerian citizens abroad in the coming year 2022.
Spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Esther Sunsuwa, told LEADERSHIP that the government “will take action against this ill -treatment; it can’t just go like that. The Embassy there has already reported to appropriate authorities so let wait and see the outcome.”
Some experts posit that these incidents happened because the Nigerian government has not taken tough action against such countries and that is why such impunity has continued unabated.
A former Nigeria’s Acting High Commissioner to Singapore Ogbole Ode, recently lamented the ill-treatment which be blamed on the fading ability of Nigeria to impose her stature in the world following the “dwindling economic fortunes of country” which has pushed many of its citizens out in search of the proverbial greener pasture, where the often face humiliation.
He however, admonished the Nigerian government to take more “stringent action” against nations that treat Nigerians in such shabby manner to serve as deterrent.
An expert in international constitutional law, Livingstone Wechie also said Nigeria must impose harsh measures on those countries to serve as deterrent and to protect Nigerians abroad.
He said “The recent assault on Nigerians in that African state of Togo is a grave betrayal of the whole essence of the ECOWAS protocol. It has continued unabated from Ghana to Congo to other West African countries without forgetting others from Europe and the rest of Africa.
“The Nigerian state must exercise some diplomatic force to assert its pride of place as a commitment to her Citizens. Nigeria is under obligation now to impose very harsh sanctions on these countries to teach them some lessons. Most of them depend on us for almost everything including electricity which they barely pay for.
“We must stop playing hypocritical diplomacy with countries that have no regard for our citizens and all that we subscribed to as neighbours. The whole essence of West African integration is as good as defeated as long as this level of disregard for our supposed brotherhood and neighbourhood continues to degenerate.
“Nothing short of a frontal diplomatic approach will compel these countries to know their limits. Within the diplomatic circles, it is the way a nation carries herself and responds to Citizens Diplomacy that determines how she will be treated. Indolence will not suffice until vigilance is instituted to save Nigeria and Nigerians from being continually humiliated.”