Letter from Washington

July 15, 2010

Ambassador John Musa, Nigerian relations with the Caribbeans

By Emma Okocha
In the few weeks the Vanguard cruised the Caribbean, we have spoken to the officials and the peoples of the many islands of this enchanting and intriguing region. We have been lucky to watch proceedings at the Barbados Parliament.

The exchanges on the floor were generally civil, but before us, the opposition staged a walk out and we remember our acrimonious politics at home and heaved a sigh.

The virus is every where. In the days we have been here, we talked to lots of Caribbean nationals, the French the Spanish etc, to Guyana and Haiti nationals who accused the Eastern Caribbeans of discrimination.

Then we encountered the Jamaicans who wondered why they are not welcomed in Barbados, Antigua St Vincent and Bahamas.That was before we ran into some forgotten African and Nigerian nationals who from their looks and disposition might have concluded that it was all a mistake leaving home.

In these small islands the people need their space and the new regulations and immigration laws are often slated to protect the host citizens and save them from being overwhelmed by any foreign influx that might over burden their growing economy. While you have extremists, xenophobes, narcissists, who indulge in pushing the unsuspecting foreigner into deep waters, there are equally on the other side, very welcoming citizens who would go out of their way to open their doors to visitors.

Most of the hard hit incoming travelers are Nigerians who in coming into the area may not be aware of the fast changing legal atmosphere. They fall easy prey and may not be spared from the short stick of the law.

We were indeed affronted when some of our best ; business executives , prospecting oil engineers some with the renowned Petroleum companies, wandering Pastors were detained inside the airports for ”illegal entry” .

They were indeed disgraced for the mere fact that their names were not submitted to the authorities by the hosts prior to their arrival. This is a new one and it is not the authorities care that the visitors were not aware of that new regulation!

The Vanguard was besieged by these destitute Nigerians and after recounting their harrowing stories, we were forced to book an appointment to talk with the Nigeria’s Ambassador His Excellency John Musa. His Excellency who is based in Port of Spain; Trinidad and Tobago’s capital, was not only willing to talk to Vanguard, but was also ready to esplain to us the origin of the present bilateral discord between Nigeria and Barbados.

He assured the Vanguard that his embassy is bent on ameliorating the deteriorating situation as these tiny islands have enough votes as much as any other region in the world to influence our interests in the United Nations.

Below are the excerpts of the exclusive interview with the Vanguard…

Your Excellency, What is your charge and how many other countries in the Caribbean does your Embassy cover?

The Nigerian Embassy in Trinidad covers over ten more islands including Grenada, Barbados and the Bahamas. We promote Nigerian Interests and seek friendly relations with these sister Caribbean states. While we seek investment opportunities with our hosts, we are primarily concerned with the welfare of our Nigerian citizens and will do everything and employ our diplomatic expertise to protect our citizens whenever they call on the embassy to come to their aid.

Sir, How do you manage your assignments running across the rough elements, as you run across the islands.You know the logistics is not the best. What are your major problems? . In cases where the islands are not readily accessible how do you reach troubled Nigerians in time?

The Foreign Embassies of recent are going out of their traditions, the embassies are being inundated by requests from stranded citizens who have fallen victims to discriminatory laws and stringent immigration statues. Your staff are constantly stressed. What is happening and when will the embassies return to their traditional diplomatic briefs?

The Embassy may be deluged by requests from stranded Nigerians and those who have been victimized by recent laws and regulation which may not be their fault. My charge is to look into every case and seek the best way to ameliorate the situation , save the citizen and at the sametime make sure the laws of the host nation are respected.

It is my primary brief to work and protect my Nigerian citizens. The embassy is the last and the only hope for these forlorn citizens many thousand miles from home.

What in your view is the most critical area of interest for Nigeria as the country seeks technical and economic cooperation with countries in the Caribbean?

Before we go further to seeking Economic and Technical partnership with the Caribbean countries, we need to clean up the damaged Nigerian image that has driven the ugly incidents that have invaded our once cordial relations with the Caribbean. As I talk to you now, I have not been able to see the Foreign Minister of Barbados.

The Nigerian image may be anything elsewhere, but here in the Caribbeans that image has sunk to the gutters. We need to clean it up and re educate the Caribbean on the positive spheres of our country before we do business with them. Otherwise, we can gain a lot from the islands in many areas namely; Solar Energy, Gas and oil Technology, Tourism etc.

What is the story behind the Barbados – Akwa Ibon Solar Energy cooperation. What is the effect of the cancellation of the project on Nigeria – Barbados relations?

For now, I can only comment that it is not fair to allow a contract between a state[ Nigeria has over 36 six states including a central federal government] and a Carribbean state, be given a national attention and now that the contract has gone sour be taken again as those sins committed by Nigerians.

What are your plans to bringing the feuding parties to resolve the issues and is the Federal Government aware of the negative impact of this case on our bilateral relations?

Now that we have identified the origins of these issues we are asking the Federal Government to look into them and my Embassy has alerted Abuja and we hope in the end these issues will be settled to the satisfaction of all the parties.

Sir, how is Nigeria and the Nigerian seen by the average Caribbean? Why is the Nigerian treated with so much humiliation and bitterness and what are you going to do to erase this negative image that has stood against any meaningful restoration of friendly relations?

As the Ambassador of a great country, I’m dismayed that the history and the reality of Nigeria as the foremost Black nation in Africa has been distorted by the unfortunate activities of a very few of our misguided citizens. But we cannot be guided by that distortion.

To present Nigeria through the prism of these few undesirables is detestable. Other countries have more criminals than us. It is my persuasion as long as I’m here to embark on a massive image reconstruction for the real Nigeria in the Caribbeans. That is why we have invited you and the Vanguard to come to our aid